Mbanza Manteke church
I just completed a trip to a place named Mbanza Manteke, which is translated “Mudville”. Mbanza means town and Manteke is the kind of mud that sticks to your shoes and keeps you from moving.
Mbanza Manteke is where the first “Livingstone Inland Mission” missionaries worked. This missions group sought to establish church centers from the mouth of the Congo river all the way up to the East of the continent. After a few years, the LIM spread itself too thin, and the missionaries were taken over by the American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU), which later became the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS).
Mbanza Manteke was the second stepping stone inland, but the first place really where the church was established.
This week, I was at Mbanza Manteke and was told the stories of the early missionaries. The most celebrated is Henry Richards who was called “Ngwankazi”. The name means maternal uncle. The people of Mbanza Manteke explained that there was a lot of mistrust and bad treatment of Ngwankazi, but he never had a problem with anyone. Just like an uncle who is the head of the clan and has the role of getting along with everyone.
All my life, I have heard about Mbanza Manteke, but I had never been there. Since I teach Baptist history, I wanted to go and see the place for myself. Getting to Mbanza Manteke is not for the faint of heart. I set off from Kinshasa in a 40 person bus. I wasn’t so sure how far I was going to get since the driver kept two phones in his hands and was texting on both while he was driving, often keeping his hands off of the steering wheel. After about six hours, I disembarked at the turn off to Nsona Mpangu. This is another one of our traditional Baptist church centers. Many missionaries have served at Sona Mpangu at one time or another. The road into Sona Mpangu is not well travelled. There were no buses going down that road, so I put my life on the back of a motorcycle. The driver had been recommended by the pastor, and he turned out to be very skilled in the mud. I hung on for dear life as we splashed through one mud hole after another. It is amazing that we were never dunked.
I spent the night at Sona Mpangu and the next morning we hired two motorcycles so that the pastor could accompany me to Mbanza Manteke. It was another rough ride through the mud , the flooded streams, and up the mountain to Mbanza Manteke. The villages were established on the tops of the mountains because in the early days the villages fought each other. Just like in the Bible lands, a stronghold was established on the high places. These are called the Crystal mountains because of all the quartz. Beautiful place.
At Mbanza Manteke, I sat down with the elders to hear their stories.
One of the amazing things about Mbanza Manteke is the church. This church was built in Texas, at least according to the people I spoke with . It was then disassembled, shipped to the port on the Congo river, then transported by porters to Mbanza Manteke where it was reassembled. It is an awesome wooden structure. Amazing that it has survived this long. They said the roof has blown off twice, but they have been able to repair it.
The people love to talk about “Ngwankazi” Richards. They regaled me with stories of what he said and what he did. I was taken to the mountain which was his prayer spot. He had gathered stones and spelled out the words “Nzambi wena vava” which translated means “God is here”. To this day, his prayer spot is sacred ground. Ngwankazi was quite fearless and got in the midst of battles to try and keep people from fighting. He lost one eye in the scuffle to keep the peace.
Henry Richards served for six years without any converts. When Henry Stanley passed through, he asked the missionary why he was wasting his time teaching these savages ? Not long after, Henry Richard’s persistence paid off. The first person baptized was a woman, and then many more followed. In fact there was such a movement to embrace Christ that the period is referred to as the “Congo Pentecost”. In “Diatungwa Va Tadi”, the history of the Baptist work in Congo it says: “When the people were truly converted, and the Holy Spirit reigned in their hearts, they were animated by the same zeal as the first apostles and went about announcing everywhere the news of the Kingdom of God” (my translation of the French).
A Congolese medical doctor reflected that Mbanza Manteke was the place where the door was opened for civilization to enter Central Africa. It is there that people first learned to read and write. It is there where they heard the word of God and learned about taking care of their bodies. Mbanza Manteke is where the spark caught fire that spread to Central Africa. Most of the Congolese now embrace some form of Christianity.
I also visited the early missionary cemetery. Ngwankazi’s first wife only survived a year and died of sleeping sickness. He returned to England where he remarried, but his second wife did not even survive the boat trip to Central Africa. His third marriage to a missionary already serving in the area lasted nearly 35 years.
I am inspired by the sacrifice of the early missionaries. I am in awe of their courage, their steadfastness in the midst of conflict, and their conviction in their cause. What a heritage !
It feels like I am often stuck in mudville, but It is inspiring to remember those who have labored so diligently in spite of the mud, in order to bring the Kingdom of God to this land.