One Light Kindles Another


   by Keith & Senga Lake

Keith and Senga served in the Dem. Rep. of Congo as full-time missionaries from 1979 to 1994 and in ongoing visits up to the present day.

"The bringing of the whole of Africa to Christ was his [David Livingstone's] incentive to action, his enthusiasm and deeds so kindled the hearts of others that now the light of the gospel shines in many parts of Africa."1Truly, one light does kindle another and the once 'dark continent' of Africa now shines brightly with lights set on fire for God.


One of those, whose heart was so kindled as a young child, was Fred Stanley Arnot, who heard David Livingstone speak at a prize-giving when he was only six years old. "Possibly the great explorer never knew that, through him and what he said, that day the divine Spirit was separating to himself an apostle to the dark continent."2 At the age of 23, with no other assistance, Fred Stanley Arnot set off from Durban, to reach the region called Garenganze, lorded over by the powerful Chief Msidi. Arnot finally arrived at Bunkeya in February 1886. He discovered that diviners and wise men had reassured Msidi that Arnot's "heart was as white as his skin"! Arnot, through patience and kindness, endeared himself to Chief Msidi, and through acts of mercy he used opportunities to present the gospel of Jesus Christ. He sought to understand and love the people he had come to live among.


Arnot realised that he would never reach the whole region alone but proved inspirational in attracting new missionaries. Many young men and women responded to the challenge in the late 1800s, and some of their graves still lie along the 'Beloved Strip'. Arnot was self-effacing and in his own words, after the arrival of Charles Swan and William Faulkner at Bunkeya, he noted, "We may say then that December 1887 marked the real beginning of missionary work in the Garenganze".3


Another of those whose vision was kindled for Africa was a fellow young Scot, Dan Crawford, a strong individualist who found it difficult to work in a team. However, many caught the fire from Crawford and spread out all across the 'Beloved Strip', eastern Angola, southern Congo, northern Zambia and beyond. Mission stations sprang up and the Word of God was preached; schools were built; hospitals provided health care; and translation, literature and printing work flourished. This mission outreach would be significant in its care for the whole person, particularly in the midst of persecution, health challenges, loss and death. The work still continues with national Christians, since few mission workers now remain.


Key centres were established at Bunkeya, Chamfubu, Kasaji, Katoka, Lwanza, Mulongo and Mutshasha, some providing education from primary school up to teacher training college.


"Arnot's successors are working. All over this wide wonderland of central Africa the gospel is being daily preached, indigenous churches are springing up everywhere...missionary frontiersmen are directing this vast and vital evangelical effort for the Kingdom of God."4


In the early 20th century, the 'Scramble for Africa' resulted in Congo becoming a Belgian colony, which imposed heavy regulations on all communities. Much against the wishes of the majority of missionaries, in 1904 the Brethren were forced to found the Garenganze Evangelical Mission, now known asFreres en Christ (Brothers in Christ).


Up until 1946, mission strategy was focused in rural areas. However, many Christians who had migrated to the mining cities to look for work, discovered very little Brethren ministry. In July 1946, the fire was rekindled in the heart of another remarkable pioneer, William Rew, who at the age of 65, responded to the call of these urban Christians. He moved from Dilolo, a bush station, to Lubumbashi, the second biggest city in Congo, which proved to be highly significant. The churches in the main mining cities of Kolwezi, Likasi and Lubumbashi are now the driving force that influences the wider community. Today there are many strong and growing Brethren assemblies in the main mining cities.


In 1960, Congolese independence was heralded by huge optimism, but in such a vast country, political development was always going to be a challenge. Over 30 years of despotic rule by General Mobutu Sese Seko followed, with countless revolts and revenge killings. He Africanised everything, renamed the country Zaire and forced people to change their names and wear African clothing. Bureaucracy and corruption rampantly increased, impoverishing the economy and the people, while Mobutu became the fifth richest man in the world! He wanted to throw off the shackles of Western civilisation and, in forging this new independence, he claimed to be "the only hope and saviour" - how wrong he was.


Sadly, Congo has seen more than its share of civil war and revolt. We were evacuated by the Belgian military in 1992, which heralded the beginning of the civil unrest, and culminated in Mobutu's downfall. The continuing turmoil and war has seen over 5 million people killed in the last 12 years. Many of the churches, clinics, hospitals and schools were destroyed during that time, but in more recent days much of this work has been resurrected and rebuilt. Many of the hospitals are flourishing in the hands of the local church, and have their own doctors and staff. Today there are no expatriot doctors in the whole of Katanga Province but the hospitals are growing, with indigenous doctors gaining great respect among the local population.


There has always been a real desire for discipleship and Bible teaching, and as a result a number of Bible schools have emerged in Kasaji, Katoka, Kiolo Likasi, Lwanza, Lubumbashi and Manono, allowing gifted young men to develop into the leaders of tomorrow.


Today, with some assistance from outside, but primarily through the passion and faithfulness of the local Christians, the ministry of God continues in a strong way. The 'kindled flame' has not been put out; instead national Christians are ensuring that the fire continues to burn brightly. The following indicates the strength of the Brethren community: 73 church mission stations; 810 churches with 150,000 members; 383 primary and 159 secondary schools; one school for the blind and handicapped; seven primary and secondary schools for deaf children; five hospitals and 11 health centres.


Local Christians have caught that initial fire and are now blazing their own trail in the spread of the gospel. Some assembly ministries are expanding, having had no missionary involvement for decades, yet maintaining a strong growing witness. Every year the region of Moba has a Bible teaching conference with over 6,000 attending. The ministry among women is also strong; the annual women's conference sees over 2,000 attending and this year it will be held in Lubumbashi, with delegates from all over Katanga and Zambia. Youth ministry is very active and this year they will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of theGroupe Biblique des Jeunes (Bible Youth Group - GBJ). There is an active Sunday school organisation, with regular teacher training sessions and also fun days attended by many hundreds of children.


As evidence of the remarkable growth of Brethren work in Katanga, we can highlight the significant increase within the environs of Lubumbashi. In 1946 William Rew recorded that, "...there were only three bush assemblies at Luano, Chikanda and Kilobelobe". Then in 1950, the first main city assembly was opened with 450 believers meeting around the Lord's Table. By the turn of the new millennium there were about 25 assemblies; today there are over 50 and many are actively developing their premises to accommodate upwards of 500 congregants.


Going forward, there are clearly still many challenges for the church in Congo, politically and strategically. However, it is vibrant and there is a role for the worldwide Church to stand in partnership and prayer alongside fellow Congolese believers, for the future advancement of the Kingdom.


We could not finish this report without paying tribute to our many faithful African colleagues and to the few mission workers who remain, the majority of whom are single women. Recently some of these ladies celebrated significant milestones in their missionary service: Mary Ratter has served in Katoka for 50 years; Rachel Newby in Lubumbashi for 40 years; Sandy Meikle (New Zealand) in Katoka and Ruth Willenbrecht (Germany) in Likasi, both for 30 years. This is an impressive grand total of 150 years of faithful service for their Master. Murray and Joy Stevenson (New Zealand) are also making a significant contribution to the ongoing work and development in southern Congo. We honour them all for their perseverance and commitment down through the decades.


Many hearts have been kindled over the past 150 years and the challenge to each one of us is summed up in the words of John Wesley: "Light yourself on fire, with passion, and people will come from miles to watch you burn."

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