Saying yes to God
Partner Profile: Dr. Mulumba, General Secretary of the Congolese Presbyterian Church
An exciting history of Presbyterian witness for basic human rights began in the 1890s with William Sheppard, Presbyterian missionary to Congo. The church continues to grow and provide a vibrant ministry through leaders like Dr. Mulumba, who says the PC(USA) is a valuable partner to the Presbyterian University of Congo, Sheppards and Lapsely and to the various hospitals, schools, and departments, which are part of the Congolese Presbyterian Church’s overall ministry to the Congolese people.
By Bob Rice
Our story begins with a teacher. This teacher challenges his pupils to pray about serving God. One boy, Mulumba, went home to pray. He placed two pieces of paper under his bed, marking one “no,” the other “yes.” On two consecutive mornings, he reached under his bed and found the paper marked “yes.” He returned to tell his teacher he wanted to serve God.
Mulumba Musumbu Mukundi was born in 1945 in the small Congolese village of Luvungula. He was the third of eight children. He grew up singing in church. He enjoyed playing soccer and basketball. His mother was a deacon, and his father was a committed Christian and businessman. After finishing high school, Mulumba left his family to attend the School of Preachers. He finished first in his class every year. His family was pleased, and Mulumba’s good results confirmed his call.
Our story continues with faithful persons who nurtured Mulumba. “Early on, my mother and teacher had great influence,” he says. “At the School of Preachers, missionary Charles Ross encouraged me forward. Later, at Union School of Theology, missionary Walter Davis took an interest in me.” Professor Davis offered Mulumba a full scholarship to study in Cameroon. Once there, Mulumba earned two master’s degrees in Theology and Sociology. He returned to Congo where he served as a local pastor and teacher/chaplain at the Union School of Theology. Professor Elizabeth Dunlap, a colleague and mentor, asked Mulumba if he wanted to continue advanced studies. Through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mulumba received a scholarship to study at Fuller Theological Seminary. Presbyterian World Mission Director Hunter Farrell, who was serving in Congo at the time, helped Mulumba fill out the application.
In 1985, Mulumba completed an MA in Missiology, and in 1990 he was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Missiology from Fuller. He also received the “Folk Religion Award” for his well-documented and researched thesis on witchcraft in the Kasai of Congo.
Upon his return to Congo, Mulumba served as a delegate to the General Assembly of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC). “At this meeting, the decision was made to elect a new General Secretary,” he says. “A small group of wise men gathered. They felt the church needed someone with a theologically astute mind. They approached me, asking me if I was willing. As I answered yes as a child, I once again answered yes to God’s call.”
Four years later Mulumba was also asked to serve as rector of the school now known as the Presbyterian University of Congo, Sheppards and Lapsely (UPRECO). Mulumba has faithfully served in these roles over the last 18 years as the CPC continues to thrive and expand.
A lasting legacy is Mulumba’s commitment to persons caught in witchcraft. “In my studies in Congo and in Cameroon, my professors told me not to worry about witchcraft,” he says. “They told me that witchcraft doesn’t exist, it is superstition, and that I should forget about it. I wasn’t able to forget about it, however, when I returned to Congo after my studies in Cameroon.” Serving in a local parish in the city center of Kananga, he observed that 85 percent of his pastoral work related to witchcraft. “Telling people that witchcraft was superstition was not helpful,” he says. “Witchcraft is real in the minds of the people. It is a central part of their worldview and culture. To deny it is pastorally irresponsible. For this reason, I chose to focus my doctoral studies on the topic of witchcraft.”
After completing his doctoral work, Mulumba began to tackle this issue. “I tried to affirm people’s beliefs, finding culturally sensitive ways to set them free by the power of Christ,” he says. He published booklets and manuals. He led seminars. He helped people speak openly about witchcraft. He began teaching a class at UPRECO called “African Religions and Christianity.” In this class, through theory and practice, he teaches his students how to help people trust in Jesus’ power over witchcraft. “These students, now pastors serving in different parts of Congo, are setting people free in the all-powerful name of Jesus,” he says. Mulumba’s ministry to those caught in witchcraft has grown exponentially as he has trained others to carry on this vital, life-giving work.
Mulumba expresses a rousing “thank you” to the PC(USA). Our denomination, through missionaries and resources, has nurtured him and helped him fulfill the various roles to which God has called him. “I am thankful for the scholarships the PC(USA) provides,” he says. “I am thankful for the various mission grants that have helped the manifold ministries of the CPC. The PC(USA) is a valuable partner to UPRECO and to the various hospitals, schools, and departments which are part of the CPC’s overall ministry to the Congolese people. I pray for the PC(USA), and covet your prayers as well. The presence of PC(USA) mission co-workers is a big help, and I hope that more missionaries will come. Because Congo is such a poor country, I hope that the PC(USA) can continue its financial commitments to Congo. One of my dreams, however, is that the CPC will become self-supporting.”
Mulumba is married to Helen Kapinga. They have five children and three grandchildren. He is pleased that all of his children are Christians serving in their local churches. In October 2012 Mulumba will attend the Congo Mission Network in Newark, Delaware, hosted by Newcastle Presbytery. He is also itinerating this fall in the U.S. Perhaps you will have the special privilege of meeting him in person. If not, please pray for him as he visits our congregations and blesses us with his presence.