Thinking Christian Mission as Encounter and Missiology as Encounterology

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Chapter Three HISTORICAL OVERVIEW ON CHRISTIAN MISSION AMONG THE MBUTI PYGMI

Introduction

After providing some knowledge about the Pygmy peoples in the previous chapter, the present chapter outlines the history of missions in the DRC with a particular focus on the Mbuti Pygmies. By the end of the 15th century, the DRC was introduced to Christianity through the Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries who, along with explorers, opened this country to the Western world. During the 18th century, a new awareness arose among the Protestant denominations in Europe and North America, and led to the formation of several mission Societies whose main goal was to spread the gospel and Western civilisation to the different parts of the non-Western world. Through many mission expeditions, the DRC became one of the biggest mission fields worldwide, where both the Roman Catholic Church and different Protestant mission Societies were deeply committed to spreading the gospel among several people groups. It is in this broad context that the mission among the Mbuti Pygmies can be addressed. How have the Mbuti Pygmies been affected by Christian mission in the DRC? What are the results of the mission endeavours among the Mbuti Pygmies and for the Christian mission today in the northeast DRC? Today, how do the local churches in the area of research minister to the Mbuti Pygmies?
Answering these questions in order to verify whether encountering the Mbuti Pygmies is or is not a challenge to Christian mission in DRC, this chapter examines:
• the historical background of mission in DRC, which in turns provides the historical context which can help understand the way the Mbuti Pygmies have been or have not been targeted by the missionary action; • the mission attempt among the Mbuti Pygmies;
• the reasons behind the lack of mission encounter with the Pygmy peoples; and
• the consequences of the oversight regarding Christian mission towards the Pygmy peoples, through which their obvious status of being an unreached and unchurched population group is highlighted.

Historical Background of Mission in DRC

Christianity in DRC is fundamentally the result of the effort of the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant mission societies, and the Kimbanguist Movement (cf. Sundkler & Steed 2000:768). Though these three Christian movements began their activities in the same area, the former Kongo kingdom, their mission approaches have been quite different. Their mission approaches can be referred to as dominion mission, mission struggle for survival and integration, and mission struggle against Western slavery and colonial Christianity. This section provides an historical background that gives a better understanding of the way Christianity was established in the DRC through these three Christian movements, and of what was the place of the Pygmy peoples within that Christianity.

 Dawn of Christianity through the Roman Catholic Church

The DRC came into contact with Christianity thanks to the European explorations in the former Kongo kingdom (Cummins 1997:237-57). Established around the mouth of the Congo River, in Central Africa, the kingdom of Kongo was the most important early Congolese state. The Portuguese had had some contact with this kingdom since 1482, when the navigator and explorer Diogo Cam45 visited the mouth of the Congo River and claimed the surrounding region as Portuguese territory. Through his voyages, between 1482 and 1491, Diogo Cam has been known as the first European to explore the western coast of Africa as far south as Cape Cross, near what is now Walvis Bay, in southwestern Africa. The Portuguese named the Congo River Rio de Padrão, that is, Pillar River. At its height, the Kongo kingdom extended from the present-day northwestern Angola to Gabon (cf. Fegley 2005). When Diogo Cam returned to Portugal for the first time, in 1483, he took along with him four Kongolese to learn the Portuguese language in order to serve later as the first interpreters in the Kongo kingdom. It was on Diogo Cam’s second visit in 1491 that evangelism began in the kingdom (Sundkler & Steed 2000:49). This pioneering mission was indeed undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church, the only emerging mainline Church in Europe at that time, beside the Orthodox Catholic Church in the Middle East. Both Churches derived from the Great Schism between the Eastern or Byzantine church in Constantinople and the Western church in Rome, in 1054 and before the Protestant Reformation within the Western Roman Catholic Church from 1517. These are indeed the two great divisions that have occurred in Christianity. Diogo Cam himself was not a missionary but, through him, as commander of the expeditions, the first group of missionaries from Portugal, one of the early Roman Catholic leading powers in the world,46 arrived in the Kongo kingdom in 1491. Among those first missionaries were masons, carpenters, and other skilled artisans, who came to build the capital of Mbanza Kongo. Sensitive to the relationships with the Portuguese, the king N’zinga Nkuwu, his wife and his oldest son, Alphonso, together with six leading noblemen, were baptised on May 3, 1491. N’zinga Nkuwu took the baptism name of Joao 1st. To emphasize the significance of the baptism, the king N’zinga ordered all idols and fetishes to be brought together and burnt (Sundkler & Steed 2000:50). His son Alphonso became the governor of the province of Nsudi in 1504, and welcomed a new group of missionaries. In 1506, Alphonso sent his son Henry to Portugal for studies. As a Christian, Alphonso devoted his efforts to the development of his country, and he supported the work of missionaries by enabling new groups to arrive from time to time. A significant development took place in the Kongo during Alphonso’s reign. There were at least six churches in San Salvador, and other churches and schools could be found in other provinces of the kingdom. In 1518, the young Henry, formerly sent for studies in Portugal, had been consecrated as the very first African bishop, and he was appointed as apostolic vicar of the Kongo. He unfortunately died early in 1530, but other Africans were later ordained as priests. Apparently, however, the effort to create an indigenous clergy was unsuccessful. Even though Alphonso energetically supported the Christian mission, and many people were baptised, very little evidence of radical change among the people could be seen. Unfortunately, after his death, the kingdom declined rapidly (Musolo W’Isuka 2008:32). A number of Roman Catholic societies served with great success in the Kongo kingdom during the 16th century. Through these mission societies, a significant part of the kingdom was brought under Christian influence for more than two centuries. There was a great turnover, however, among these workers because of tropical diseases, the death rate among missionaries, and ill health. Furthermore, the Portuguese did not maintain the quality of the effort to evangelise and bring European civilisation to the kingdoms of Kongo and of Angola, which were both under their rule. The deep involvement of Portugal in the slave trade, the diminished interest in missionary work, and the unwillingness to allow missionaries from other countries to come into these parts47 certainly led to the collapse and death of Christianity in the two kingdoms (Lagergren 1970:32; cf. Molyneux 2000:266; Roy 2000:63). Paas (2006:55) makes it clear by saying that, in addition to the slave trade, many Portuguese missionaries were sexually immoral. According to him, when the Benin kings stopped selling slaves, in 1516, the slave trade shifted southwards to the Kongo kingdom. The king Alfonso, who had become very dependent on Portuguese, then produced from his wars of conquest many captives whom the Portuguese could use as a trade commodity and in their plantations of São Tomé. As a matter of fact, Nelson (1961:32) considers that the close connection between Portuguese political influence and the missionary effort caused the decline of Christianity, which had kept pace with the decline of Portuguese power. In the same way, Falk (1979:80) maintains that even though external factors contributed to the failure of Christianity, the main reason for this sad outcome of several centuries of Christian presence is probably the life of the Catholic Church itself. In any case, even though a few men were trained for the priesthood in Portugal, Falk goes on, priests were not trained in proportion to the large number of people who were baptised. As a result, baptised people were not thoroughly educated in the Christian faith and easily deserted it. Thus, Christianity did not become a part of the life and culture of the people. In addition to the above reasons, the Roman Catholic mission venture also collapsed in Central Africa and elsewhere because both Spain and Portugal were no longer the leading powers in the world. So from the 1600s onwards, the Protestant powers, such as England,48 Holland, and Denmark, began to enter what the Roman Catholic nations had regarded as their exclusive lands (Nyasulu 2004:54). During almost two centuries, from the end of the 17th to the second half of the 19th century, there was almost no Christian activity in the Congo. The later exploration of the Congo by the Anglo-American journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley from 1876-77, however, opened a new door to the interior of Africa, and led to the establishment, in 1884, of the Congo Free State (Dwight, Tuppe & Bliss 1975:193). Stanley’s work played an important part in bringing about the Scramble for Africa, the frenzied seizing of African territory by European powers, where the most important prize was the Congo territory. In fact, conflicting territorial claims advanced by various nations, notably Portugal and France, around the mouth of the Congo River led to the Berlin Conference in 1884. The representatives of all European powers that had colonial interests in Africa attended this conference. As a result, the Berlin Conference outlawed the slave trade, established rules for the division of the continent of Africa and the boundaries of the Congo Independent State (CIS), and later, in 1885, permitted the Belgian king Leopold II to assume the title of “sovereign” over all this vast territory. Henceforth, the CIS became the personal property of the Belgian king Leopold II. The king Leopold II quickly occupied his new territory with Belgian soldiers, traders (Fegley 2005), and commissioned the construction of railways around non-navigable sections of the Congo River. As a faithful Catholic believer, Leopold II fervently lobbied Belgian Catholic missionaries to come to Congo, and this commitment was first officially recognised in a concordat signed between the CIS and the Holy See in Rome in 1906 (Covington-Ward 2007:75). Paas (2006:117-8) puts emphasis on the fact that the king Leopold II did not prefer any religion, but he wanted Belgian missionaries in the first place, which practically excluded the Protestants. According to him (2006:119), “The ruling elite consisted of the ‘colonial trinity’ of State, Roman Catholic Church, and the agro-industrial companies.” To this end, the king Leopold II even made an agreement with the Vatican, which gave way to the newly Catholic Society of Scheut and to Belgian Jesuits. Owing to the above, MacDonnell (1969:181) says, “There never was a promise more fully or more conscientiously performed than that which King Leopold made to spread Christianity in the Congo State.” By the way, the main motives of the king were, first of all, an economic conquest. So anyone who seemed to be not able to contribute to the achievement of this economic goal, such as the Pygmy peoples withdrawn within the evergreen forests could not be taken into consideration for any interest and assistance. In line with this understanding, the church workers in the CIS and the following Belgian Congo were at the same time concerned with both mission and the economic goals of the State. To this end, some church leaders, without ceasing to work for the church, were appointed as administrative and political leaders.

The Protestant mission Societies

Protestant mission Societies intervened in the DRC several centuries later alongside the Roman Catholic missions. Rooted from the Reformation that took place in 1517, Protestant officials were involved in mission outside the Western area during the course of the 18th century. The British William Carey pioneered a successful mission endeavour in India from June 1793 by means of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) (cf. Stanley 1992:15), while Hudson Taylor, from the same country, did the same in China, where he established the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865. These two early successful mission endeavours carried out outside the West, formerly the so-called natural “cradle of Christianity mission”, opened the vision for mission in the African continent. Coming back to the Congo Independent State, which had almost become a Roman Catholic estate, it is necessary to point out that the Belgian Roman Catholics were unable to fulfil the need for missionaries whereas the rapid spread of Protestant missionaries could not be stopped (Paas 2006:118). Accordingly, in January 1878, George Grenfell and Thomas Comber from the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), which had already been well established in Cameroon since 1843, became the very first Protestant missionaries to explore the mouth of the Congo River at Banana. Having been prevented by the approaching rain season from reaching San Salvador, the capital city of the Kongo kingdom, these first missionaries returned to Cameroon (Lagergren 1970:33-4). In the meantime, in February of the same year, Henry Craven and the Danish mariner, Ström, from the Livingston49 Inland Mission (LIM), arrived in Matadi, inwards on the Congo River bank, from where they opened the very first Protestant mission station in Palabala. Later that year, Craven and Ström began, with other newcomers, a second station in Mbanza-Manteke. On July 30, 1878, Grenfell and Comber came back to the Kongo again at San Salvador, which became their foothold to continue north to Stanley Pool and Leopoldville (Kinshasa). They reached these places successively in 1881 and 1882. This was the beginning of Christian ministry in the Congo by Protestants and of the effort to penetrate the country with the gospel and establish a chain of mission stations along the Congo River, in order to link up with the ministry that had already been established in East Africa. Such an effort was also the implementation of the will of Guinness50 who, from Hudson Taylor’s successful endeavour in establishing the Chine Inland Mission, wished to see missions in Africa to penetrate inside the continent instead of limiting their activities to the coasts (Braekman 1961:59-72; Falk 1979:375; Stanley 1992:117-139 & Paas 2006:55). The first mission Society in Congo, the Livingstone Inland Mission, thus derived from the missionary perspective of reaching the interior of the Congo. In the Congo Independent State as well as the Belgian Congo, which succeeded it, Protestant missions were working under the control of a “Roman Catholic State”. They could not work freely and establish mission stations wherever they wanted. In this respect, Sundkler and Steed (2000:780) refer to the Belgian Congo as “a primarily Catholic country”. Falk (1979:394) puts emphasis that, “Helped by the government, the Roman Catholic missions worked in close collaboration with the state… Until 1960 the Catholic missionaries regarded the Protestants with disfavour.” Sundkler and Steed describe the situation in the following terms:
The church in Belgian Congo was structured into three tiers: Catholic, Protestant and the Prophet movement… At the top of pyramid in Belgian Congo was the dominating Roman Catholic Church. Its position was emphasised by King Leopold in the concordat of 1906, and maintained by the Belgian state when it took control from the king in 1908. Church and State in the territory were definitely all-Belgian in character. King Leopold had insisted that Catholic missions should have exclusively Belgian staff. They were referred to as ‘national missions’, an ironic term in the African context… The dominant Catholic position in Belgian Congo was evident in regard to both land grants and educational subsidies. Both policies were developed from the concordat of 1906. A comparison of land grants in 1932 to two Catholic and two Protestant missions is revealing. The Jesuits received 37 000 hectares, and the Scheut Mission 16 000, while the American Baptists were granted only 209 hectares, and the British BMS 226 hectares! Below the Catholics in the three-tiered pyramid were the Protestants (…) the majority of them Baptists. … Officially, they were ‘foreign’ missions, operating on the periphery of the Catholic colonial society. Seen as outsiders and intruders, they were either scarcely tolerated, or vigorously pushed from a precious foothold, as in Shaba and the Kasai regions. The Belgians realized that their small European country ruled a very large Africa colony, and that their precious possession was possibly in danger of being appropriated by other countries with imperialist designs. Protestant missions tended to be suspect representatives of such countries. They lacked the privileges granted to the Catholics, particularly with regard to government support for mission schools. Given these handicaps, it is surprising that the Protestants managed to persevere and progress so well. In addition to being political irritant, Protestant missions also supposedly posed a religious danger to the souls of Africans… The danger to the souls applied even more to the third group in the three-tiered system: the Prophet movement, an unfortunate offspring, it was held, of the Protestant libre examen – the free and unchecked study of the Holy Scriptures From that dangerous practice of Bible study no good would come – only unwanted questioning and ambition in the Africans masses.51 (Sundkler and Steed 2000:768-70).

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgements
Summary
Abbreviations
Table of contents
Figures and tables
Chapter One Orientations to the Study
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Statement of the Research Problem
1.3 Research Question
1.4 Aims and Objectives of the Study
1.5 Rationale of the Study
1.6 Scope and Limitations of the Study
1.7 Research Methods
1.8 Review of Relevant Literature
1.9 Structural Overview of the Study
1.10 Conclusion
Chapter Two Learning about the Pygmy Peoples
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Overview of the Pygmy Peoples in Africa
2.3 The Pygmy Peoples in DRC
2.4 Challenges Facing the Mbuti Pygmies
2.5 Attempts for assisting the Pygmy peoples
2.6 Conclusion
Chapter Three Historical Overview on Christian Mission among the Mbuti Pygmies
3.1 Introduction
3.2. Historical Background of Mission in DRC
3.3 Mission Attempts among the Mbuti Pygmies
3.4 Reasons behind the Lack of Mission Encounter with the Pygmy peoples
3.5 Consequences of the Oversight regarding Mission towards the Pygmy
3.6 Conclusion
Chapter Four Thinking Christian Mission as Encounter and Missiology as Encounterology
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Understanding the Concept of Mission as Encounter
4.3 Theological Foundations for Thinking Mission as Encounter
4.4 Implications of Thinking Mission as Encounter
4.5 Conclusion
Chapter Five Strategies for the Missional Encounter with the Mbuti Pygmies
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Conversion
5.3 Perceiving the Mbuti Pygmies as being fully made in the “Image of God”
5.4 Promoting Formal Education among the Mbuti Pygmies
5.5 Sustaining the Churches by an Integrated Theological Education
5.6 Conclusion .
Chapter Six Consolidating the Findings for an Effective Christian Mission
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Review of the Use of the Pastoral Cycle
6.3 Summary of the Findings
6.4 Recommendations
6.5 Suggestions for Further Studies
6.6 Conclusion
Bibliography
Appendices
A. List of the Camps of the Mbuti Pygmies visited during the Field Researches
B. Guiding Questions
C. Recommendation Letter for Conducting Research among the Mbuti Pygmies.
D. Informed Consent Letters

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ENCOUNTERING THE MBUTI PYGMIES A Challenge to Christian Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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