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Simon Kimbangu is perhaps one of the most famous founders of an African initiated church. The church body he found remains highly influential in the DRC, counting over five million members. He began his ministry after a vision, which led him to become an itinerate preacher and healer. His activities put him in conflict with the authorities, who gave him a death sentence which was commuted to life imprisonment. After his death in 1951, stories circulated about his resurrection. Kimbangu was the founder of a truly indigenous African church, which continues to address the spiritual needs of African people with a creative theology.
Family and education background
Though Simon Kimbangu did not write much except for a few letters, literary sources about his life and ministry are numerous. Son of Kuyela and Luezi, Kimbangu was born most likely in September 1889 at Nkamba village (DRC), near the Ngombe-Lutete Protestant Station of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). After the death of his mother Luezi, Kimbangu grew up in the house of his aunt Kinzembo. He attended the Baptist Mission School in Ngombe-Matadi. His early jobs ranged from being a cook for the Baptist missionaries to working as a catechist in his native village. He also did some casual work in Kinshasa and Matadi. He married Marie Mwilu who gave birth to three children: Charles Kisolekele (1914), Salomon Dialungana-Kiangani (1916) and Joseph Diangenda (1918).
Simon Kimbangu’s leadership story started with the vision he had on March 18, 1921. According to the testimony he entrusted to one of his friends, the vision showed him a strange person bringing the Bible to him and asking him to read it and preach. He was also told to go to a neighboring village to pray for a sick child and heal him. Simon Kimbangu went to this village the next day, found the child, prayed for him and the child was healed. After that, Simon Kimbangu began to travel around the villages, preaching the Good News and healing the sick. Yet, his divine mission is reported to have started especially on April 6, 1921, which happened to be the 430th anniversary of the baptism of King Afonso. The date also corresponds to the number of years that the Israelites spent in slavery in Egypt. 
In May 1921, about four thousand pilgrims rushed to Nkamba village. Consequently, Catholic and Protestant catechism schools, hospitals and medical centres emptied themselves, as well as local businesses. Under the instigation of the Redemptorist Fathers, the colonial administration issued an arrest warrant against Simon Kimbangu. He went underground while his movement developed in hostility to the colonial power. Some days later, Simon Kimbangu was nevertheless arrested and brought before a military council of war.
During a public trial on October 3, 1921, he was condemned to death. The motives of his condemnation read as follows: attacks perpetrated by his followers on the administrator of Cataractes Division on May 11 and June 6, 1921; the rumours about his healings and resurrections; the preaching of a new God far mightier than the State; the announcement of a national and black church; and the breach of national security. However, civil administration officers and Baptist Missionaries managed to introduce a petition for a reprieve on behalf of Kimbangu, which King Albert granted in November 1921. As a result, Simon Kimbangu’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was put into jail in Stanleyville (Kisangani) and then Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) where he died on Friday, October 12, 1951, after thirty years of suffering. 
Simon Kimbangu’s disciples claimed that he was resurrected on Sunday, October 14, 1951. He was seen alive in places such as Lubumbashi, Kinshasa, and Lowa, to name but a few. In 1956-57, his youngest son Joseph Diangenda gathered different Kimbanguist sects and formed one church: The Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by the Prophet Simon Kimbangu. 
Historically speaking, the ministry of Simon Kimbangu consisted of preaching the Word of God, and condemning witchcraft and polygamy. He healed some sick people through prayer while his mother was known as a traditional healer who restored health on the basis of medicinal plants. He announced an imminent coming of Christ who would bring down the colonial powers. In the views of the most famous Congolese historian Isadore Ndaywel, Simon Kimbangu’s actions can be considered part of the messianic creations and reactions of an oppressed people who, under severe pressure, struggled for their survival. In any case, for Ndaywel, this is a variant of a Christianity which the missionaries intended to be “classic,” but which in practice had always conveyed an ambiguous code and language. The Congolese prophet had his own vision of Christianity and enshrined his own reading of the sacred message.  As a matter fact, MacGaffey described the Kimbanguist Church as “one of the world’s best known religious movements” and “the largest African-founded Protestant Church.”  Since 1969, it has been a member of the World Council of Churches. On the basis of a radically authentic view of the Trinity, the Protestant Church in DRC ceased to recognise it as a Christian church in 2002, whereas the Catholic Church in DRC suspended “spiritual ecumenism” with it in 2004. The doctrinal teaching of the official Kimbanguist Church holds that the persons of the Holy Trinity have metamorphosed and incarnated themselves in the three sons of Simon Kimbangu: the Father as Charles Kisolekele, Salomon Dialungana-Kiangani as the Son and Joseph Diangenda as the Holy Spirit. One might agree that this reflects a radical inculturation or an extreme “appropriation of a faith dogma in an African culture.”  Nonetheless, Kimbangu’s legacy continues its historical trajectory through the Church named after him the way it started with little or no support from the Catholic Church or Protestant Churches.
Since Mobutu’s regime, the Congolese government remains the strongest ally of Kimbangu’s Church. Moreover, Kimbangu’s followers honor the memory of their spiritual father through constant Bible reading and local fundraising campaigns for self-reliance in order to avoid financial dependence on Western donors. They are also engaged in evangelizing Western countries. Indeed, the Bible is the most precious legacy that Kimbangu left for his followers with the power to interpret it in an extremely inculturated way that supports not only the dignity of black people but also their supremacy over the whites. In other words, Kimbangu’s legacy led to an extremely inculturated church and an extremely authentic church. Nonetheless, the stand of the Kimbanguist written theology is noteworthy: “The EJCSK believes in the Trinity, yet the Trinity is symbolized by Simon Kimbangu’s three sons, paths to the Trinitarian God.” 
Jean-Claude Loba Mkole
1. Charles Ekutu, Op. cit., p. 24.
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Zana, Aziza Etambala. “Les missionnaires catholiques face au mouvement kimbanguiste à partir de la mort de Simon Kimbangu jusqu’à l’indépendance congolaise en 1960.” In Revue Africaine des Sciences de la Mission 12 (2000): pp. 128–207.
This article, received in 2016, was written by Prof. Dr. Jean-Claude Loba Mkole (OP), professor extraordinary, University of Pretoria, visiting professor, Hekima University College (Kenya), global translation advisor, United Bible Societies, and DACB Advisory Council member.
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