In a reversal of Babel, languages no barrier to building church in Congo

May 11, 2015 by and

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A global village came together in February to raise the rafters of a new building that will house Kanzala Mennonite Church in Tshikapa, Congo.

Tom Nickel, Joe Shetler, Majunda Mabongo (seated), Médard Mafuta, Johann Zimmermann and Jules Lubula consult with the Kanzala church building’s architect, Liévin Kuzamba, who is seated between Zimmermann and Lubula. — Merrill Gingerich/MMN

Tom Nickel, Joe Shetler, Majunda Mabongo (seated), Médard Mafuta, Johann Zimmermann and Jules Lubula consult with the Kanzala church building’s architect, Liévin Kuzamba, who is seated between Zimmermann and Lubula. — Merrill Gingerich/MMN

Three years ago, high wind and torrential rain destroyed the previous building, located at the national headquarters of the Mennonite Church in Congo. However, despite the absence of roof and walls, the congregation continued to gather every morning for prayer.

The Kanzala congregation saved money and contrib­uted labor to make and fire bricks from the clay of a nearby river. When the walls were erected, Congolese Mennonites requested the help of North American builders to place the rafters for the cross-shaped edifice.

Arnold Harder, a longtime mission worker in Congo, led a five-member team from North America in response to the invitation. Although retired in Mountain Lake, Minn., Harder has made more than a dozen trips back to help with various projects. Harder and his wife, Grace, served with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and Mennonite Mission Network from 1968 to 2005.

Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, president of the denomination, said North American teams “serve as a lever to lengthen the arm” of the Congolese Mennonite Church.

“The presence of these multiple work teams is a stimulus and encourages our common calling,” he said. “We are convinced that there will always be brothers and sisters from North America who will walk alongside us in our evangelism efforts.”

The highlight of two weeks in Congo for Merrill Gingerich was the bond created by laboring side-by-side on a common project. Gingerich, a dairy farmer from Milford, Ind., found humor in attempts to communicate in many languages — a reversal of the confusion created in the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel, where the workers left their common task because of their inability to understand one another.

In Tshikapa, united by the Holy Spirit, the contours of the church roof took shape through the efforts of people speaking French, English, Tshiluba, Kipende and occasionally Portuguese.

“We worked well together, despite the inability to speak each other’s languages,” Gingerich said.

Congolese Mennonites didn’t wait to worship in their new church building until it was completed. Prayer and praise occured at the construction site each morning before the day’s labor began. And, worshipful work happened after a Sunday service benediction when the men of the congregation combined their strength to move the 1,300-pound rafters into position for winching skyward.

Women and children also did their part, carrying bricks, wood and water. Sometimes classes were dismissed at the nearby Mennonite elementary school to increase the labor force.

Due to a delayed plane and an all-day rain, the North Americans lost two work days and had to leave Tshikapa without putting the final rafter into place. Several weeks after their departure, church administrators gathered for a national conference and made the installation of the remaining rafter part of their agenda. The only remaining task before completion of the Kanzala church building is to put on the tin roof.

Tom Nickel, from Mountain Lake, and Joe Shetler, from Milford, were also members of the North American team.


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