From 3 to Over 60,000: How Latter-day Saints in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Helped the Church Be Recognized

Contributed By Scott Taylor, Church News managing editor

  • 29 April 2019

Just a few weeks after the Church's branch in Uvira, Democratic Republic of the Congo, was established, the first baptismal service in the actual city of Uvira was in the nearby waters of Lake Tanganyika. The newly called branch president walks with his young son to where the witnesses are for the baptism.   Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Article Highlights

  • The Church was officially recognized in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1986.
  • Three Latter-day Saints helped the Church complete the necessary documentation.
  • The country now has more than 60,000 members and a newly dedicated temple.

It all started with three.

In fact, three were required.

For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be officially recognized in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in early 1986, law required the signatures of three Congolese members.

And three there were, present and available—Nkitabungi Mbuyi, Mucioko Banza, and Régine Banza.

They became the Church’s representatives for the document to be signed by the country’s president, culminating an effort of seven years and multiple trips to Zaire by Church legal counsel Oscar W. McConkie Jr.

How the Banzas and Nkitabungi Mbuyi were able to represent the Church in their homeland was the result of conversions in Europe and unexpected returns to Zaire, where the meaning of “faith” meant their own testimony and not an organized, functioning religion.

It was not for a lack of effort or desire.

For more than a decade, Church headquarters had received letters from the area requesting literature, missionaries, and baptism. Some interested in the gospel and the doctrine formed study groups; others formed their own unsanctioned churches.

As for the Banzas, they left Zaire in 1976 to study in Geneva, Switzerland, afforded scholarships by a homeland religious council. When they were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 1979, however, the scholarships were terminated, and they and their sons, Junior and Philippe, returned home.

It wasn’t until three years later that the Banza family connected with the first of several Latter-day Saint families to work in the American Embassy in Kinshasa; they would meet on Sundays to partake of the sacrament.

In Belgium since 1969, Nkitabungi Mbuyi was tracted out by missionaries and baptized in 1980. Two years later, he left to serve as a missionary in the England Birmingham Mission. Once back in Brussels, visa problems resulted in his forced return to Zaire.

They aren’t the only Congolese “pioneers.” Jean Jacquaes Tamba was baptized in Belgium in October 1977, a year before the 1978 revelation that all male members could receive the priesthood. Facing opposition from his African friends for joining the Church, he returned to Zaire after completing his graduate studies and continued to be ministered to by his former home teacher in Belgium, who remained in contact and also looped in the International Mission for communication and correspondence.

Some learned of the Church on their home soil, well before the official recognition. They included 18-year-old Gilbert Mingotyi, who came across a copy of Elder LeGrand Richards’s book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder in 1985, borrowed it, closely scrutinized it, received confirmations of its truths, and joined a study group with Kasongo Mulunda Ngoy in the town of Lubumbashi.

 

More than a decade earlier, Kasongo himself had discovered a library book mentioning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ended up writing to Church headquarters, receiving a reply from President Spencer W. Kimball and ongoing correspondence from the International Mission.

Missionary lessons soon followed the early 1986 official recognition. Elder R. Bay Hutchings and Sister Jean Hutchings were the first missionary couple assigned to Zaire in 1985 when the Church was established as a nonprofit organization; they led the Zaire Kinshasa Mission when it was organized in 1987.

Democratic Republic of the Congo has over 60,000 Latter-day Saints and is roughly the size of the Eastern United States past the Mississippi River.

Meetings were held—the first in the Nkitabungi Mbuyi living room, then the carport. A branch was formed, with Michael C. Bowcutt—who worked at the embassy—called as branch president. Then baptisms, the first being Junior and Philippe Banza, in the swimming pool behind the Bowcutt home.

On August 30, 1987, in the garden area of the Bowcutt home, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the country for the preaching of the gospel.

Both the Banzas and Nkitabungi Mbuyi and his wife, Lumbay Mujinga Maguy, have since been sealed in the temple. The two men served as translators, branch presidents, and bishops, with Banza a patriarch. And both families claim a posterity of Latter-day Saint members, missionaries, and leaders.

After having put pen to paper for the Church’s official recognition 33 years ago, they have witnessed the reality of a temple in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Banzas traveled for the dedication from their home in Utah, and Nkitabungi Mbuyi is a new ordinance worker in Kinshasa.

1986

January—Ralph Bay Hutchings and Jean Hutchings are set apart as the first missionaries in Zaire (now the DR Congo).
February 12—Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seku à Gbadolite gives verbal permission for the Church to hold meetings and send other missionaries to Zaire
February 23—First official meeting of the Church is held in the Nkitabungi Mbuyi home in Kinshasa. The meeting includes the ordinance of the sacrament, with 25 people attending.
April 12—The presidential order is signed, granting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the right to operate throughout the country.
June 1—The first baptisms in Zaire—brothers Junior and Philippe Banza—are performed in the swimming pool of the Michael C. Bowcutt home in Kinshasa
June 12—The Kinshasa Zaire District is created, with Elder Robert L. Backman of the Presidency of the Seventy as acting district leader.
Sept. 14—The Kinshasa Branch is organized.

1987

May 3—The Kinshasa Branch is divided into two branches—Limete and Binza.
July 1—The Zaire Kinshasa Mission is opened, led by President and Sister Hutchings. Membership in the country reaches 300.
August 30—Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicates Zaire for the preaching of the gospel. A branch conference is held later that day with 215 in attendance.
September 11—A branch of the Church is organized in Lubumbashi.

1988

September 18—The first Kinshasa District is organized, and the two local branches are divided to create four now in the city.

1991

January through June—The first missionaries called from the DR Congo begin their missions.
June 9—The Makelekele Branch in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, is organized. Brazzaville is located north of Kinshasa, on the opposite bank of the Congo River.

1993-1994

December 29 through July 17—After relocating mission headquarters to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo in the fall, the mission in Zaire is closed, due to wars in the region. Mission headquarters eventually return to Kinshasa.

1996

July 30—The first group of Congolese Latter-day Saints—10 couples and one child—leave to attend the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.
November 10—The Kinshasa Zaire Stake is created.

2011

October 1—President Thomas M. Monson announces five locations for new temples, including Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

2016

February 12—On the 30th anniversary of the Zaire’s president given verbal recognition of the Church in that country, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presides over the groundbreaking of the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple.

2019

April 14—Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicates the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple.

The Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple was dedicated on April 14, 2019.