“Bringing the Gospel to the Congo,” Global Histories: Democratic Republic of the Congo (2020)
“Bringing the Gospel to the Congo,” Global Histories: Democratic Republic of the Congo
As early as the 1960s, people living in present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as Zaïre from 1971 to 1997) began corresponding with Church headquarters. Although the Church had no presence in the country, Church representatives sent literature and encouragement to those who had written. Many of them began teaching the gospel and organizing unofficial congregations. Responding to these efforts, Church leaders sent representatives to establish an official presence beginning in 1979 and extending into the mid-1980s.
At the same time, many Congolese emigrants found the Church in Europe and the United States. Mbuyi Nkitabungi was baptized in Belgium in 1980, served a full-time mission in England, and then felt prompted to return home in 1985. “One of my righteous objectives is to build … Zion in the heart of Zaïre,” he wrote to Church headquarters. “I know there is quite a few members from my country who are waiting for that opportunity. … Tell me everything I have to do.”
Nkitabungi was put in contact with other members in Kinshasa, who met in the home of Mike and Katie Bowcutt, an American couple. Like Nkitabungi, many members were Congolese Saints who had joined the Church abroad. Because the Church was still not legally recognized, however, the members held no public meetings. Nevertheless, the group quickly outgrew the Bowcutts’ home and moved their meetings to Nkitabungi’s garage.
In February 1986 the president of the country promised during a broadcast on state-run television that he would grant the Church legal recognition, and members soon began preaching the gospel openly. That same month, Ralph and Jean Hutchings, the first missionaries called to Zaïre, arrived and found a growing group in Kinshasa. Recognition was granted officially in April, and by June 1987 the Church was growing so quickly in Zaïre that a mission was organized, with Ralph Hutchings as president.
Missionaries also reached out to the unofficial congregations near Lubumbashi. Although the transition proved difficult for some, a second center of strength soon emerged. Between May and July 1987, 170 people were baptized. Some were traveling as far as 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Pweto, Kolwezi, and Likasi to attend meetings.
When 21-year-old Elie Monga of Kolwezi read the Book of Mormon in 1987, he was impressed. “I strongly felt,” he later said, “that that’s what I need.” Monga traveled the 300 kilometers to Lubumbashi to meet with the missionaries. After only one discussion, he decided to be baptized. After his baptism, with encouragement from missionaries, he held Sunday School meetings in his home. “We started gathering and teaching our friends [and family],” he said, “bringing them the message of hope through the restored gospel.” A large group was soon meeting in Monga’s home. When the first baptismal service in Kolwezi was held the next year, it took more than three and a half hours for Monga to baptize the 82 converts who had accepted the gospel. It was one success among many: in 1990, just four years after the Church received government recognition, branches and districts were thriving in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and many other cities throughout the country.