The community lined the sides of the road to welcome six vehicles rolling in from an arduous 500-mile journey from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
More than 30 Congolese Mennonite leaders and mission representatives had accepted the Kandale congregation’s invitation to attend a reconciliation ceremony.
The four-day event, which began Oct. 12, brought closure to more than a half-century of unresolved remorse for betrayal and strained relationships between mission workers and Kandale’s residents.
Kandale was one of eight original stations of Congo Inland Mission, a predecessor agency of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.
The need for reconciliation stemmed from events that began Jan. 20, 1964. On that evening, missionary children were listening to bedtime stories when Jeunesse rebels attacked. This movement of Congolese youth accused North Americans of collaborating with the corrupt national government and of destroying African culture with Western education and values.
“We could see flames leaping skyward and, against the red backdrop of burning homes, the running figures of the attackers brandishing bows and arrows,” wrote Jim Bertsche in CIM/AIMM: A Story of Vision, Commitment and Grace.
Mission workers were beaten and threatened with death. Gas was poured in a circle around the families, who huddled together. But no spark ignited into flame.
“And yet, during the hours of greatest confusion, tension and danger, there was a quiet reality of God’s presence. . . . Ours was an inner calm of spirit that we shall never forget,” Bertsche wrote.
As the mission families were led to the rebel camp to stand trial, two Congolese nurses stepped out of the shadows. At the risk of their own lives, the nurses negotiated for the mission families to spend the night in the dispensary instead of the forest.
Four days later, the mission workers were evacuated by United Nations helicopters. The Congolese who protected them were left behind to bear the consequences of not being loyal to the rebel cause. In the chaos, all parties inflicted pain on others, intentionally or unintentionally.
“These events divided the Kandale community and created distance between the community and the mission,” said Rod Hollinger-Janzen, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission executive coordinator and part of the delegation participating in the reconciliation ceremony.
Macaire Kilambo, a lay leader of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church in Congo), the largest of the DRC’s Anabaptist denominations, recognized the negative consequences of violence and unconfessed shame on his homeland. For several years, he worked with Kandale church and community leaders and mission representatives to organize the reconciliation ceremony.
Several traditional chiefs were present, including a descendant of the chief who had given the land on which the mission was built. Four North Americans who had been missionary children in Congo were also in attendance.
André Ndjoko, a Kandale Mennonite Church elder, knelt before the Congolese and North American Mennonite delegation to ask forgiveness on behalf of his community for how it mistreated missionaries.
“We acted against our doctrine, against our community [in 1964],” Ndjoko said. “We destroyed houses that you built. What we have done is against our ancestors, against our parents, and our God.”
Then, Hollinger-Janzen knelt before the Kandale leaders, accepted their apology and extended forgiveness on behalf of AIMM workers. He asked for forgiveness for the mission’s failings and neglect of the Kandale community following the rebellion.
A village chief offered gifts — ceremonial hatchets, horsehair fly-whisks and a tiny braided-grass rope that symbolized a cow.
More than 1,000 people praised God for the renewed relationships in a six-hour worship service.
Brad and Stan Graber, part of the delegation, shared a letter written by their mother, Gladys, who had been in Kandale with her husband, Harold, during the rebellion: “As God alone can do, he turned this experience into blessing. . . . May the Spirit of God assure you today that we are one in Christ who offers forgiveness to each one of us.”