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Shared Mission with the Congolese

“Most of them came to America as refugees, with very little,” said Terry Hunt, Eastern District Minister for the US Mennonite Brethren, “but when I saw the vibrancy in their spiritual lives, I said to myself, ‘They’re so much richer than us.’”

For the past couple of years, Hunt and other USMB leaders have been developing a special relationship with a network of about thirty Congolese congregations spread out across the US. 

“This is a God thing,” said Rick Eshbaugh, Central District Minister for the USMB. “Initially, these churches were asking for our help with some very practical needs, especially for the members who had recently immigrated, but it quickly became apparent that we shared so much in common, including a shared mission.” 

These congregations are made up of recent immigrants from Africa, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years, due to ongoing conflict and injustice in DR Congo, thousands became refugees. Many left the country in search of freedom and peace, including thousands of Congolese Mennonite Brethren. Many of these emigrated to the United States where they began again as families, and as churches. 

Within the global MB family, it is well known that Congo is home to the second largest MB conference in the world, second only to India. “North American MBs have been sending missionaries to Congo for more than a hundred years,” explained Eshbaugh, “but today something different is happening, now they’re sending missionaries to America!” 

For Hunt, this was a humbling reality. “As Americans, we are the ones in need,” he stated plainly, “Look at our nation, how divided we are, politically and racially. Our Congolese brothers and sisters are bringing a fresh perspective on our shared mission. They’re bringing hope to our nation.”

About five years ago, Eshbaugh felt similar when he met Claude Tambatamba, Pastor of the New Jerusalem Temple in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “I was introduced to a very vibrant church community,” said Eshbaugh, “and Claude was a very progressive leader and networker.”

“Our Congolese brothers and sisters are bringing a fresh perspective on our shared mission. They’re bringing hope to our nation.”

Very quickly, the networking began, and global connections were made between MB leaders in Congo and the US. Soon after, a meeting was held with some of the key leaders of the Congolese churches, as well as USMB leadership and representatives from Multiply. The simple question was asked, “How can we help each other?”

“There were a variety of needs that we became aware of,” said Galen Wiest, Mission Mobilizer with Multiply from Fresno, California, “but mostly we recognized the need for friendship. Before anything else, we just wanted to build strong relationships with one another.”

Henri Ngolo, another key Congolese leader, was a bi-vocational pastor in Ohio who also held a senior position with Costco’s marketing department. “Henri was already doing a great job of networking immigrants for support and practical help,” said Eshbaugh, “but he was also intent on providing mentors for the Congolese pastors.” 

Ngolo invited USMB leadership to connect their pastors with Congolese pastors. It was a way to build friendship and to help these immigrant leaders to better understand their new context in America. Some of them also needed practical and logistical support, even with tasks like starting a bank account or getting a driver’s licence. 

“Sometimes it’s hard and messy, and sometimes it’s exhausting. But we are family, and we need each other.” 

“We’re trying to be there for one another,” said Wiest, who went on to explain that the pandemic was particularly challenging for certain Congolese communities in the US. “They were hit hard by COVID. A lot of people got sick, some lost jobs and went hungry. When we were able to step in and help in simple ways, trust was built between us.” 

Ngolo began connecting regularly with Doug Hiebert, Multiply’s Regional Team Leader for Sub-Saharan Africa, who lived and served in Africa for many years but recently transitioned back to Canada where he still serves with Multiply full-time. 

“For me, it feels like I’m returning the favor,” Hiebert said, “because when my family moved to Africa, we needed a lot of help from our brothers and sisters there to learn the culture. Now we need to offer the same kind of help to immigrants who not only want to adapt well to their context but who want to make an impact for the Gospel among their new neighbors.”

That missionary zeal was what impacted Terry Hunt. “Make no mistake,” Hunt said, “they are on a mission. When I first heard these Congolese pastors saying that God had called them to be missionaries here, I was won over. That pushed me to pursue them and to build relationships and forge partnerships. Our churches need that kind of vision and passion.” 

Hunt said that about twenty Congolese congregations are now formally affiliated with the USMB, but there are many more in the network and the number of churches keeps growing. 

When asked why the Congolese churches sought out relationship with the USMB, Hunt made it clear: “They identify as MBs. They feel very at home in the global MB story and in the MB Confession of Faith. And so, in that way, they’re just seeking out their extended family.” 

Language barriers and cultural differences make these partnerships challenging at times, but the sense of family and the mutuality in mission keep pushing these churches together. “They are our brothers and sisters,” said Hiebert, “so we have a responsibility to one another. Sure, sometimes it’s hard and messy, and sometimes it’s exhausting. But we are family, and we need each other.” 

Pray

Please pray for strong relationships and fruitful partnerships among these churches in the US. Pray for each of the leaders mentioned in this article, that they would be catalysts for effective shared mission.

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