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October 12 — Simon Kimbangu

In the Name of the Father, the Son and Simon Kimbangu - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Today’s Bible reading

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 

He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” — Exodus 3:7-12

More thoughts for meditation about Simon Kimbangu  (September 12, 1887 –  October 12, 1951)

Simon Kimbangu  was an infant when he received a blessing from a Protestant missionary to the Congo and was nearly 30 when he heard the divine call: “I am Christ. My servants are unfaithful. I have chosen you to bear witness before your brethren and to convert them. Tend my flock.” Like Moses, he argued, “I am not trained.” And like Jonah he fled his village to work in distant oil fields.

But the call hounded him. He finally returned home to preach the Word. The results were striking. Women gave up their pagan fetishes. Men gave up all but one of their wives. Then in 1921 the healings began. A sick woman got out of her bed and walked. A dead child was reportedly raised to life. And a blind man named Ngoma regained his sight after the prophet daubed his eyes with paste made of soil and saliva.

Soon thousands of people left their jobs and flocked to N’Kamba in Central Africa to see the Holy Spirit’s power and hear the prophet. European missionaries resisted his efforts. One charged the prophet with unforgivable sins against Caucasian Christianity: “Kimbangu wants to found a religion which is in accord with the mentality of the African.” Government officials were also alarmed. They punished the prophet with 120 lashes and packed him off to a solitary cell in a far-off prison, 1200 miles away in what is now called Lubumbashi. They hoped that would take care of the “crackbrained” Simon Kimbangu and the gullible fanatics who followed him. But they were mistaken.

Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao was looking for a route to India when he sailed into the Kongo River in 1482. Catholic missionaries arrived a decade later, and while they baptized kings and chieftains who imposed Christianity on their people, their success was superficial—the gods of ancient ancestors continued to reign supreme. When Protestant missionaries began to arrive in the 1870s, they found a popular pagan piety lightly embellished with Christian touches, including a belief that crosses conveyed magical powers.

British Baptists, energized by England’s evangelical revival, came to Africa to save souls and fight the slave trade. But they nurtured a paternalistic and patronizing attitude toward the native people, viewing them as depraved children who needed the white man’s correctives. Kimbangu’s aunt sent him to a school run by these Baptists when his parents died. He stayed for many years. He and his wife were baptized there in 1915 and became a lay preacher and evangelist there in 1918. It was also at the mission that he began experiencing the visions that would change his life.

The Kimbanguist church traces its beginnings to April 6, 1921, the day Kimbangu healed a sick woman. His fame frightened white religious leaders and colonial government officials who suspected unorthodox theology, feared competition, economic disruption and rebellion. Kimbangu’s message seems, however, to have been both orthodox and apolitical. None of his sermons survive, but followers described him as a humble and sober man who taught submission to authorities and racial reconciliation. Nevertheless, the first attempt to capture Kimbangu came on June 6, 1921, but the prophet escaped in an episode followers describe as a miracle. Three months later, however, he voluntarily gave himself up. Charged with sedition and hostility to whites, he was sentenced to death. Concerned Protestants had the sentence reduced to life in prison, and Kimbangu languished in the Elizabethville prison for decades, where he died.

“Just as the work of Jesus was carried on by the apostles after His death, the same was true of the prophet Simon Kimbangu,” said Solomon Dialungana, one of three sons who guided their father’s movement through heretical schisms and government persecution. Officials clamped down on Kimbangu’s rapidly expanding following. They forbade them from holding public meetings, deported as many as 100,000 to distant areas of Africa, and killed as many as 150,000. “We have been forsaken by both Catholics and Protestants,” said one distraught follower. But the Kimbanguist movement kept growing. The forced deportations only spread the movement throughout the continent.

Persecuted followers poured their sorrow into hymns that were collected by the Belgian authorities: “Jesus was a prisoner,/ Jesus was smitten./ They are smiting us, too./ We, the blacks, are prisoners./ The whites are free.” Another hymn describing the armor of God was misinterpreted by colonial officials as a call for armed rebellion: “We who are carrying on our cause/ Let us be clothed and armed!/ Jesus will protect us./ Let us clothe and arm ourselves!”

Diangienda describes his father’s role in the booklet “The Beloved City”:

“Our fathers cried for a ‘chief,’ a saviour, but no saviour came, until they said in resignation that God did not know us black people. He only knew the whites. . . . The people hid from the missionaries and remained in the grasp of fetishism, of witchcraft, and of other evil practices. Then on 6 April 1921, the first miracle occurred. . . .

“Through Simon Kimbangu, who was obedient to God, the promises of Jesus have been fulfilled and the Name of the Father and the Son has been glorified. Through him the Congolese realized that God and Jesus had turned to us in mercy. The sorrow and suffering of our fathers had been heard by God the Father, and our tears were wiped away.”

Eventually, on Christmas Eve 1959, the Kimbanguist Church was recognized by the Belgian government, equal to Catholic and Protestant  and could then could conduct themselves freely.  In 1969 Eglise de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par Son Envoyé Spécial Simon Kimbangu was included in the Wolrd Council of Churches.

Want more?

The People’s Prophet by Christian History Institute

A 2008 French news article on Kimbanguist worship:

Article: Is the Holy Spirit living in Africa? BBC News.

MCC has a long relationship with partners in the Congo.

Suggestions for action

The followers of Simon KImbangu learned that black lives matter in the middle of one of the most repressive colonial regime ever perpetrated on a people.  He challenges us to have a voice.

In a pluralistic society like the United States, how do we work together all sorts of expressions into an indigenous whole? How do you unite instead of divide?

Pray for the Congo. The legacy of racism, slavery and colonialism have a long half-life.