Homepage
Home Read stories Africa maps The Project Resources Our Writers News
 

Jeremiah Chi Kangsen
1917 to 1988
Presbyterian
Cameroon

 

Introduction

The Basel Mission from Switzerland began its activities in 1886 in Cameroon, two years after the territory became a German protectorate (Schutzgebiet). Seventy years later, in 1957, Basel Mission activities in Cameroon were brought under a new and independent outfit—the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC). Jeremiah Chi Kangsen, the village boy who became a missionary, was one of the pillars upon which the new autonomous church built its future. If the PCC has become one of the biggest Protestant churches in English-speaking Cameroon (with 1440 clergy or pastors), it was because of the enigmatic character Kangsen. Today the PCC, which has between 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 members in over 1,475 congregations and more than 29 presbyteries, owes its gratitude and its missionary dedication to Kangsen. Like so many local African converts, Kangsen picked up where the foreign missionaries left off, keeping the gospel aflame, and spreading the Word to thousands more.

Early Life and Education

Kangsen was born in 1917 as a prince in the Aghem community in the Menchum Division of the North West Region of Cameroon. As a prince, he had countless siblings from his step-mothers from among whom a new chief could be chosen. Becoming a preacher as prince had deep implications. He was from a typical polygynous home, and one day he could be chosen chief, which eventually happened in the midst of his ministry. When he became a Christian he took the name of Jeremiah, a biblical prophet, and became known as Jeremiah Chi Kangsen.

Kangsen started school at the age of ten. It was expected at the time that within six years of formal school, a brilliant child would be ready for the job market. Kangsen’s education did not start with regular primary school but with what was known as the vernacular school, which prepared pupils for primary school. After three years in his home village, he went to Bali Primary School and finally completed his primary education in Mbengwi. There, he met the future politician and his bosom friend Solomon Tandem Muna. Kangsen finished his primary school at the age of sixteen in 1934 and became at the time one of the few qualified people on the job market. Many employers wanted him, including the colonial government, but his dream was to become a missionary. His qualifications made him a suitable candidate to enter the Catechist Training Institute in Nyasoso, which trained teachers and preachers. At the end of his studies, the brilliant candidates were engaged as teachers in existing mission schools while the less brilliant ones were sent to preach the gospel. Kangsen graduated among the top students, and his vocation of becoming a preacher was virtually put on hold while he was sent to teach in a primary school in Mbengwi.

This policy had a tremendous impact on the early ministry of local pastors. Pastors with low academic qualifications earned low salaries while those with better academic credentials were engaged as teachers and had better salaries. As the years went by, the need to adjust to the realities of the time led the church to change its policy. Preaching the gospel could not be left in the hands of the academically mediocre. The reversal of the policy would later lead some of the most brilliant minds like Dr. Bame Bame, Dr. Osih, and Dr. Toko to the pulpit. The church quickly transformed the ministry of the Word into a vocation, in which vows had to be taken to lead an appropriate lifestyle.

From Teaching to Politics

Having been a brilliant student, Kangsen was offered a teaching position for a couple of years. His performance and academic standing impressed his superiors, and they sent him for further studies. In 1945, he was withdrawn from the classroom and sent to Kumasi in Ghana to pursue theological studies. When he finished his training in Kumasi, he was ordained as a full pastor in 1948. After briefly teaching and working as youth pastor at the Training Institute in Nyasoso, his superiors sent him for more advanced studies in theology in Edinburg, Scotland. His solid training convinced the Basel Mission to rely on him. In interviews, some members of his family spoke of him as a committed and dedicated servant of the church.

Muna was another teacher at the Basel Mission but he left teaching to join politics. Muna convinced Kangsen that, as a youth pastor, he had developed the necessary skills for politics. Kangsen developed interest in politics and when it was time to campaign for seats in the Eastern House of Assembly in Nigeria in 1951, Muna encouraged Kangsen to contest the seat in his constituency. The two of them stood in their respective constituencies and won. It was an event to celebrate, especially for Muna.

The church, however, had mixed feelings about Kangsen’s entry into politics. An extract of a letter from the congregation to wish both of them well read like this:

It gives us gladness and satisfaction to see two members of our church in the magistracy. However, we regret your resignation, yet we believe that God himself may be your gift to work and act within the new circle as Christian members of the evangelical church and that in Christian responsibility you may be effective help in this country. [1]
The church expressed mixed feelings concerning his resignation and in it reminded him that his resignation was not a departure from the church. On the contrary, they expected him to be of great assistance to the church and to the school system. They wished him God’s wisdom and wanted his personal presence in church to continue to inspire many. The Synod Council added, “There are men in responsible positions who know about God’s will and are familiar with His Commandments; it is our desire to see you further into our midst as members of our church and the Basel Mission.”

Kangsen became a member of the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly and also served in several capacities, including minister of education, minister of health and social welfare, a member of the Board of Southern Cameroons Development Agency and a member of the Inland Revenue Board of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He was a pioneer member of the New House of Assembly of Southern Cameroons when it became a region. He also served as a member of the executive council in Buea. Kangsen served a full term with the government: four years renewable once in both the governments of Nigeria and Southern Cameroons.

Minister and Moderator

The system was designed so that when a person had served two terms, he or she was free to retire to his or her previous occupation. When Kangsen knew that he had exhausted his two terms, he returned to his original job, teaching and preaching for the Basel Mission. According to Jonas N. Dah, the church was reluctant to accept him back, because they were deeply afraid that he could pollute the church with a new style of leadership. In order to reform the once eloquent pastor-politician, the church sent him back to Edinburgh with the aim of reeducating him and dismantling the politics in his mind. The next stage was to have him teach as a lecturer at theological seminary, formerly the catechetical training institute, while he was being monitored. According to Dah, Kangsen was asked to write a short essay on the church and politics so that the church could assess his fidelity to the faith in an indirect way. [2]

In his answer, Kangsen wrote that politics could be a clever way of telling lies and consequently the attitude of the church towards politics was obviously confrontational. At the same time, he believed that the church had to be present in political circles. Politicians are members of the church and politics should not divide them but build a sense of brotherhood in the congregations. On the whole he believed that we cannot avoid politics but that partisan politics were out of place in official church circles. For him the pastor had to play the role of a village chief where all are under his counsel but are diverse in opinions. All the Christians have one pastor and the pastor should never be partisan towards any of them.

This answer satisfied any lingering questions church authorities held about Kangsen’s fidelity. After briefly serving as vice-principal at the seminary, he took up the position of synod clerk of the church and began to introduce some remarkable changes. With his experience as a onetime lawmaker in the government, he defined the duration of service in church offices. Pastors elected into office could only serve for four years renewable only once. Furthermore he became the moderator of the church and had the task of implementing his proposed changes. The Basel Mission, which was not actually a church per se, was also thinking of granting independence to its outfit in Cameroon. The Basel Mission wanted to concentrate its missionary efforts on bringing the gospel to other parts of Africa. It selected Kangsen as a reliable and committed man of God to become the moderator of the new church, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, on November 13, 1957.

Kangsen downplayed his position as moderator. He did not attach so much importance to the title nor to the personality. The moderator for him was, as the definition stands, to moderate what the rest are doing like a chairman or a supervisor. A clerk to him was just a subordinate who went about collecting data to present to the main body on how the church was running. He humbly referred to himself as a piece of meat. Mrs. Nku, one of his daughters quotes him as telling his children “My children, when I die, just throw the meat into the grave and cover it up.” From the frown on the faces of the children, he modified it, saying, “Just put on my pastoral gown on me and give my clothes to those who don’t have.” [3] As a modest person, he drew neither pride nor honor from his title of “Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon.” Being the highest person in the church hierarchy, he played his role as moderator of the activities of the church and he wanted his subordinates to regard him as such. He never called himself a moderator but others saw him as one. He used to refer to his previous office as that of a mere clerk and his collaborators as secretaries who should assist him with information gathered from the field.

A Christian Kesu Chief

On his retirement, Kangsen did not forget his roots; he was a village boy transformed. He believed his wide experience in the Lord’s vineyard and in government could be of use to his people. He was convinced that God had a plan for his people and they were only in need of someone to show them the path to follow. Kangsen submitted himself to destiny and occupied the empty throne of the Kesu people, a position he had never aspired to. It seemed that destiny had chosen him from among the princes. Having risen to the highest ranks in the Presbyterian Church, he was being called to the highest position among his people. Were the two incompatible? How could he navigate around longstanding customs and traditions of his people? With his great exposure and learning, he was the workable link between traditions and Christian culture. Having accepted being their traditional ruler, he cautioned and warned them that, as he began to re-educate himself with rules and norms of tradition, he would reject and discard whatever was contradictory to the Christian faith. Once he was at the center of the traditional hierarchy he began to define how the two could co-exist. Christianity became the center of the social and political life of the people, rituals that contradicted the faith were abandoned, kinship relations were maintained and polygyny associated with the ruler was also eliminated as a practice. The people could honor their ancestors but not adore them for Christ was the greatest.

Paul Jenkins’s intimate conversation with Kangsen seven years after he became traditional ruler while remaining a pastor revealed how skillfully he handled issues among his local people both as a pastor and as a traditional ruler [4]. As a traditional ruler he did not take the front seat as long as he had been the moderator of the PCC. He only had accepted the role of traditional ruler after his people persuaded him three times pleading with him that he become their chief. He rejected the request twice but he finally succumbed reluctantly to their plea in 1977, but on two conditions. First, he would not marry any of the widows of the late ruler. The women would be given the freedom to marry someone else. Second, he would not perform sacrifices to the ancestral spirits. For him, the ancestors were dead. He would concentrate his efforts on the living. In his leadership, his focus was on how to rejuvenate the living and encourage sharing among them without much attention to the dead. Any customs and traditions that were not progressive or compatible with Christianity were eliminated. To him, Africans do not need to deny their culture but instead they should modify aspects of it so as to improve their lives and create a more acceptable context. His Swiss partners and friends, Jacques Russell and Eberard Renze, seemed to agree with his approach to culture. His impact on culture as a missionary transformed the customs and traditions of his people as long he was their chief. His successor, it seems, would restore some of these customs and traditions such as polygyny, which is still part of the legacy of the Kesu royal lineage. [5]

Kangsen was the village boy who became a missionary. He presided over the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon during an important period of transition. His educational, religious, and political background qualified him to act as moderator of a fully independent church. In this capacity, his humility was only exceeded by his effectiveness. He modeled a new form of Christian Kesu leadership. Kangsen was a sincere Christian and his work led to an enduring political and ecclesial legacy for his people.

Paul Nchoji Nkwi/Mih Clement

Notes

1. J.N. Dah, ed., Kangsen as they saw him (Buea: Unpublished, 1989) 18f.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid., 9
4. Paul Jenkins, “Kangsen on Mission and Culture,” in Kangsen as they saw him.
5. Jacque Russell and Eberard Renze, in Kangsen as they saw him, 97 and 89.

Bibliography

Anyambod, Emmanuel A. “Theological education and mission.” In Mission in a post missionary era, ed. Jonas N. Dah. Limbe: Cameroon PCC, 2007.

Dah, J.N. “Partnership in mission: its origin and development.” Mission in a post missionary era. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Limbe: Cameroon PCC, 2007.

Evans-Prichard, E. E. “Social anthropology, social history”. In Vision of culture: an introduction to anthropological theories and theorists, ed. Moore, Jerry D. Pp. 95-106. New York, NY: Altamira Press, 2012.

Jenkins, Paul. “Kangsen on Mission and Culture.” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Lysonge, Sammy M. “Kangsen, His faith and ecumenical vision: clinical psychologist.” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

“A humble servant of God has departed.” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Nku, Mbong Nyansako. “Kangsen as a Parent.” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Rossel, Jacques. “I shall teach you how to dance: in memory of Jerry Chi Kangsen, friend Moderator and chief.” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Renz, Eberhardt. “Jeremiah Chi Kangsen: the Moderator, the politician, the chief.” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Su, Aaron. “Kangsen ‘Mr. Good Man.’” Kangsen as they saw him. Ed. Jonas N. Dah. Buea: Unpublished, 1989.

Warren, Rick. “The text of Rev. Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation”. In greatest speeches of historic black leaders. Angwonye, Ben C. ed. Benin City: Nigeria, Mindex publishing company, 2010.


This article, received in 2016, was written by Paul Nchoji Nkwi and Rev. Mih Clement, Catholic University of Cameroon in Bamenda, Cameroun. Paul Nkwi is a member of the DACB's 2016-2017 Advisory Council.