Church History Writing Workshop for Congolese Mennonites March 20-24, 2023 - Centre Universitaire de Missiologie, Kinshasa, DR Congo
A personal report by Charly Ntumba Malembe
Initiated by Anicka Fast, Doctor of Theology, the Workshop on Writing Church History for Congolese Mennonites, held from March 20 to 24, 2023 at the Centre Universitaire Missiologique in Kinshasa, is the very first initiative of its kind in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The selection of the sixteen participants (including two assistants) was based on a points system whereby the best candidates—from a total of 40 applications—were chosen. For my part, when I received the registration forms, I hesitated to apply. But an inner voice kept reminding me every day: “Go ahead, Charly, who knows? Maybe you will be selected. I was among the last, maybe even the very last one, to apply. The day Dr. Anicka contacted me to tell me the good news, I cried tears of joy.
The purpose of this workshop was to develop the talents of Congolese writers and historians by equipping them with the necessary tools to write the biographies of the Mennonites (men and women) who contributed to the emergence of the Mennonite Church in the DR Congo. Produced by two eminent teachers, Dr. Anicka Fast (worker with Mennonite Mission Network) and Dr. Michèle Sigg (executive director of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography or DACB, www.DACB.org), in collaboration with Maurice Matsitsa of the Lay Protestant Ministry (MILAPRO) of the CEFMC, the workshop received financial and logistical support from several organizations including the Schowalter Foundation, the CUM, Mama Makeka House of Hope (MMHH), the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM). The result was a collaboration between Congolese Mennonite churches (CMCo, CEFMC, and CEM).
The workshop began with an opening worship service led by Reverend Matwala. The speaker, the Rev. Mupepe, provincial representative of the 4th CEFMC, city of Kinshasa, delivered the opening remarks and praised the initiative. He was preceded by the Rev. Vunda Michel, provincial representative of the CMCO. Mr. Maurice Matsitsa, coordinator and one of the participants, introduced the church officials.
To begin the program, Dr. Michèle told us the story of Lydie Mengwelune (1886-1966, Cameroon)—a powerful testimony in the DACB that inspired us to pay attention to the other pioneers in our manual. Her presentation on the ancient and medieval church in Africa shed light on a little-known chapter in our history. It was the very first time that we learned that there were also black pioneers, both men and women, in the establishment of Christianity in Africa.
As for Dr. Anicka Fast, the story of the Mennonite Church attracted a lot of attention from the participants, the majority of whom still knew that the first mission began in Djoko-Punda. Through her teaching, we learned the smallest details of the Mennonite mission. We are now able to even give lectures in our communities on the history of the church. The workshop presented several highlights. First, the fact of bringing together members of the three Mennonite communities among which there was a diversity of languages (ethnic groups), ages, and provinces of origin (Kasai, Kasai Oriental, Sud-Kivu, Kwilu, Kinshasa) really proved to us that we are one body in Christ Jesus. The love and unity of the group was tremendous. Comedian Papa Mihala made us burst out laughing at all times, especially during our practical work.
Secondly, the candidacy of women was very much encouraged by the organizers. We saw how much this project showed consideration towards women: there were two women professors, a female village chief , five women out of sixteen participants, and the cooking was coordinated by women. This is the very first time that a woman was a village chief in a workshop with men and women where there were church leaders in the group. It was a very good memory for me, as village chief, to be the leader of our authorities! The women felt very valued in this workshop and cast off the inferiority complex that gnaws at us daily. Inspired by this first experience, women feel capable of assuming any responsibility in our Mennonite communities in particular and society in general.
The morning worship was another fantastic moment. The spirit of the Lord was present during our workshop and in the wonderful songs of each day. Sometimes I interrupted my teachers to wake up tired participants. God was present during our training.
In conclusion, the different lessons taught by our two teachers encouraged us to always remain Mennonite Christians in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our church leaders greatly appreciated the initiative and would like to see this workshop project on the writing of the history of the church continue. We, students, have mastered the scientific standards of this training and we are already at work in the field. We look forward to seeing our work published by the DACB.
May God bless the work of our hands.