Raphael Assimoa was born in 1923 in the village of Bokobele, located in the Boso Djanoa Sector, Bongandanga Territory, Mongala District, Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Son of Alula Assimoa and Monique Motsingea, Raphael married Antoinette Limebi. Seven children resulted from their union, the eldest of whom, Basili Raphael Assimoa, is now in the service of God.
At the age of 20, Raphael Assimoa became acquainted with Catholic missionary priests, specifically those from the Bopako Catholic Mission, located in Equateur Province’s Lisala vicariate. Through this contact with the missionaries, Assimoa received the Word of God and made the decision to leave his family so that he could live at the Bopako Mission as a catechumen. After his baptism, he pursued an additional course of studies in order to become a catechist.
His formation completed, Assimoa was assigned to his first missionary posting: the village of Boso Ikolo. There, he proclaimed the Good News and founded a Catholic base community. Due to Assimoa’s diligent catechetical work, the people of Boso Ikolo received the faith.
Assimoa spent many years at the Boso Ikolo Catholic base community where he trained and installed another catechist to serve the people. Seeing this, church authorities decided to send him to establish a base community in Boso Djanoa territory’s chief village, which was the colonial authority’s local administrative seat. In this way, Assimoa was promoted by Church authorities to the rank of Senior Catechist for the Boso Djanoa sector. He served in this capacity along with a priest who had been assigned to the area.
In this base community, which had a primary school that went through the Third Year, many heard the Word of God and were baptized. Among them were workers, students, villagers, and chiefs of the Boso Djanoa village.
After his work at Boso Djanoa, Assimoa continued his mission of establishing base communities throughout several villages and areas of the Boso Djanoa sector. Eventually, more than twenty-five communities were established, resulting in the conversion of a large number of the local populace. The missionary fathers from the Bopako Catholic Mission rejoiced at Assimoa’s success.
Assimoa supported his family by fishing, farming, and hunting. To earn his livelihood, he was an expert canoe and paddle maker, a work that enabled him to meet the social and financial needs of his family in the tradition of St. Paul the Apostle, who was himself a tentmaker. Thus, Assimoa was self-supporting throughout all of his missionary labors.
Assimoa had an excellent relationship with the Belgian territorial authorities, and his conduct with them was exemplary. A proof of their admiration for him was the fact that they permitted him to purchase a hunting rifle, something that was not at all easy for the native Congolese to obtain during the colonial period. Additionally, upon reviewing the numerous citations of meritorious conduct in Assimoa’s dossier, the Belgian government in Leopoldville [Kinshasa] granted him immunity from the colonial military and judiciary authorities, saying that he was of equal rank with the white missionary fathers.
Due to his lack of formal education, Assimoa was unable to participate in the preparatory work that was being undertaken to create an independent Congo.
The influence of Assimoa’s missionary life extended even to his own family, including his parents, who were all pagan. Due to his work, they received the faith and were baptized, along with many others of his native village, Bokobele.
The crowning joy of his missionary life was to receive the honorary title of “Senior Catechist” for all the Catholic base communities established in the Boso Djanoa sector.
Assimoa’s beloved wife, Antoinette Limebi, died on July 14, 1990, after 45 years of exemplary married life. On November 19, 2001, Papa Raphael Assimoa, lay missionary, died at the age of 78, after a well-lived, active, and missionary life.
Basili Raphael Assimoa
Personal testimony of Basili Raphael Assimoa, eldest son of Raphael Assimoa.
This article, received in 2008, is the product of Basili Raphael Assimoa’s research work. He is a student of missiology at the University Center for Missiology in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Assimoa’s adviser is Rev. Fohle Lygunda, Francophone Coordinator of the DACB [DIBICA]. Translation from the original French in 2011 by Mrs. Elizabeth Mullen.