The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…(Isaiah 61: 1-2a)
For members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we can be proud of our involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only have our missionaries been pioneers in evangelizing the vast Kasai region with the Good News of Jesus Christ, they have also shared this Good News by working tirelessly and sacrificially to protect the Congolese people against the brutal practices of the rubber industry and the slave trade in the late 19th and early 20th century. These early missionaries are remembered to this day for their advocacy of simple human rights for the Congolese people. Although I have read this history (particularly in regards to Rev. William Sheppard), it became more real to me on our recent trip to Mbuji-Mayi.
On a mid-morning visit to a local church leader, we sat with Mukulu (Elder) Kabaseli in his quiet home as the mid-morning sun began to penetrate his earthen-carved sitting room. Mukulu Kabaseli shared with us the history of his family. He shared where he was born. He shared the many different places where he had lived. We began to get a fuller picture of what life had been like, not only for him but for the generations preceding him.
His story became particularly poignant when he told us about his grandfather. He made a statement that didn’t seem to make sense. He told us that his grandfather had moved from a village called Kabeya Kamuanga in East Kasai, to the village of Luebo on the farthest reaches of West Kasai. “Why,” I asked, “did your grandfather move that huge distance?” “Bupika,” was his reply. ‘Bupika’… “What is that?” I thought. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh yes, ‘Bupika’ – slavery! He then went on to tell us about the incredible ways Presbyterian missionaries had ‘set free’ Congolese back in those tragic days. With passion and verve, he made motions with his arms and neck to show how missionaries had literally cut the noose from around the neck of Congolese slaves who were meant to perish, setting them free. He spoke with passion about the tremendous work those early missionaries had done to help the Congolese in the midst of the atrocities of King Leopold and also the Belgium government in the colonial days.
This tremendous work continues through the lives of Congolese believers. Inspired by the example of those missionaries who set Congolese captives free, Mukulu Kabaseli is the elder of a church in a town full of refugees from the Katanga Region of Congo. These refugees fled from Katanga in the early 90’s due to political problems in the country. Mukulu Kabaseli continues to serve this marginalized community of immigrants and refugees, recognizing that our God cares for the brokenhearted, the captives, and those living in darkness and isolation.