Monday, May 14, 2012

Leopoldville 1934 – The Salvation Army Marches In

In September 1934, Adjutant Henri Becquet of the Belgian Salvation Army and his wife Paula arrived in Leopoldville to establish the missionary work of this Protestant church in the capital.  The Salvation Army traditionally had a vocation to work in urban areas, but the arrival of a Belgian Protestant mission would have heartened the other Protestants in Leopoldville, the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) and the British Baptist Mission Society (BMS), which had been working here since the founding of Leopoldville at the beginning of the 1880s (See Jan. 6, 2011).

Becquet had earlier visited Leopoldville in March and negotiated with Texaf for a building on Ave. Telegraphie (now Commercants) near the current Marché in the Cité in Kinshasa to use for church services.  The Becquets moved into the former L.C. Gillespie headquarters on Ave. Cambier, which had gone out of business at the start of the Depression (See Mar. 13, 2012).  While Becquet was thorough in his preparations, there was no shortage of buildings available in Kinshasa at the time; there were 333 vacant structures in Leopoldville-Est alone.  The Salvation Army’s arrival in the Cité coincided with both Catholic Scheut and BMS missions establishing churches in the Cité to serve the growing African urban population (See Aug. 5, 2011).
The L.C. Gillespie store on Ave. Cambier - "Mogul" was the firm's telegraphic address

The first open air service was held at the Zando ya Imbwa market near Ndolo on October 14.  The impact of these missionaries in their white uniforms was electrifying.  The response from the Congolese was so enthusiastic and overwhelming that by Christmas Becquet had to suspend further proselytizing in the African neighborhoods out of concern that the burgeoning church would upset the colonial status quo.  There was another factor to explain the growing number of adherents and worry the colonial authorities.  The Salvationist “S” on the collar of their uniforms was interpreted to herald the return of Simon Kimbangu, a former BMS catechist who established an indigenous Congolese church in 1921 and was subsequently arrested and transferred to life imprisonment in Elisabethville in Katanga Province.

On the anniversary of the first service in October 1935, 2000 Congolese attended.  The Colonial authorities urged the Becquets to move their work outside the city. Instead, the Salvationists opened a second church in Binza, built entirely by the Congolese themselves, on the heights above old Leopoldville.  By 1936, there were 9 European missionaries in Leopoldville and the church began to expand into the eastern villages of the city along the rail line to Matadi: Kimbanseke, Kimwenza, Maluku, Yolo and Kasangulu.  A military school to train cadets was established in Barumbu in September 1938. 
The original church on Ave. Telegraphie -- 2010
The rear of the church -- 2010

In May 1937, Becquet was assisted at a “matondo” thanksgiving service in Yolo by Simon Mpadi, a former ABFMS catechist sacked by that mission at Sona Bata for adultery. But in September 1939, Mpadi broke with Becquet and set out to establish his own church.  Subsequently, Governor General Ryckmans received a petition signed by Chiefs in 151 villages in Madimba and Inkisi Territories outside of Leopoldville to establish a “Mission des Noirs” along the lines of the Salvation Army.  As precedent, the letter cited the “Mission Musulmane” serving the Senegalese community in Leopoldville.  Mpadi was arrested in December and exiled to a Belgian concentration camp at Befale in Equator Province.  But the Salvation Army had suffered a setback.  When the mission applied to join the Congo Protestant Council in October 1939, its acceptance was predicated on adherence to CPC principles, to only work in urban areas and break with Kimbangu, Ngounzists and kindokism (the latter two were other Congolese millenarian sects).  The mission focused its work on education, including vocational training, with over 1000 students enrolled in its schools in Leopoldville on the eve of World War II.
Salvation Army students parade around Monument Albert 1er -- 1944
A church was built on Ave. Telegraphie and the headquarters of the Church moved from the Gillespie property down Ave. Cambier to the corner of Ave. Plateau, a block from the Hotel Memling (See Mar. 29, 2011).  During the riots in January 1959, the church’s facilities in the Cité were damaged but rebuilt in the following year with grants from the Salvation Army’s International Headquarters and the Belgian authorities. New schools were built at Ndjili Brasserie, Kimbanseke & Kinzambi.

The Salvation Army Headquarters on Ave. Ebeya -- 2006
In May 2002, President Kabila named David Nku Imbie as Governor of Kinshasa.  A Teke Humbu born in Makala Commune in 1952, Nku Imbie was a medical doctor heading up the Salvation Army’s medical services in DRC and the first Governor of Kinshasa chosen from among the original settlers of the town.  In September 2003, plans were announced to build a new $40,000 health center in Barumbu Commune, to be managed by the Salvation Army.

·         Etambala, Mathieu Zana, 2005. “L’Armee du Salut et la Naissance de la ‘Mission des Noirs” au Congo Belge, 1934-1940” Anales Aequatoria 26.