Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905

Chapter XXVII : Missions and Schools (pp.298-307)

It will be remembered that clause VI. of the Berlin Act enacts that "They [the interested Powers] shall, without distinction of creed or nation, protect and favour all religions, scientific or charitable institutions, and undertakings created and organised for the above ends, or which aim at instructing the natives, and bringing home to them the blessings of civilisation. Christian missionaries, scientists, and explorers, with their followers, property, and collections, shall likewise be the object of especial protection."
For this enlightened enactment the thanks of the world are due to the Count de Launay of Italy. In proposing it's inclusion in the Berlin Act, Count de Launay said : "it is to scientific men and explorers that we owe the marvellous discoveries made during these latter years in Africa. The missionaries, for their part, lend valuable assistance in winning these countries over to the civilisation which is inseparable from religion. It is our duty to encourage them, to protect them all, both present and future."
How faithfully the Congo Government has carried out clause VI. of the Berlin Act, impartially and completely administering it in the spirit in which it was conceived, is apparent in the number and diversity of the Christian missions at present existing in the Congo State.
Upon Protestants rests the honour of being first in the endeavour to evangelise the races inhabiting the countries of the Congo Free State. Of their numerous missions, the Baptist Missionary Society of London was the forst in the field, it having been established so long ago as 1877. It has posts at Matadi, Tumba, Takussu, Bopoto, Monsembe, Bolobo. Lukolela, Kinshassa, and Gombe Lutete, and it's missionaries are the Messrs. George Grenfell, Ross Phillips, J.H. Weecks, A.E. Scrivener, Kerend Smiths, Lawson Forfeit, Whitehead, Stapleton, Bentley, J. Howell, Kirkland, Frame, and Kempton.
Next, in respect of age, comes the Americam Baptist Missionary Union, founded in 1883, which now includes the earlier Livingstone Inland Mission, founded in 1879. It has posts at Matadi, Pallaballa, Lukungu, Kimpese, Banza, Leopoldville, and Bolengi and is served by the Messrs. C.H. Harvey, A.M.D. Sims, W.S. Leslie, J. Clarke, and Faris.
The Congo Balolo Mission is very active. Though it has but six posts - Lulangi, Bongandanga, Bonginda, Ikau, Leopoldville, and Baringa - it has a numerous staff, including Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, Gilchrist, Whiteside, Armstrong, Ellery, Lawes, Ruskin, Gamman, Jeffrey, Harris, and Frost; the Messrs. Beale, Bond, Padfield, Rankin, Boudot, Wallbaum, Steel, McDonald, and Stannard; and the Misses Padfield, Cork, and Amory.
Other important missions are the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Swedish Missionary Society, the Garenganze Evangelical Mission, the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, and the Bishop Taylor Self-Supporting Mission.
Each mission owns lands, either absolutely or in tenancy, the Baptist Missionary Society Corporation heading the list with no fewer than fifteen, being followed by the American Baptist Missionary Union with fourteen, and the International Missionary Alliance with thirteen. The other missions have between one and eight locations each, their field of action being throughout the Upper, Middle, and Lower Congo.
Alle these missions are Protestant. Their work is done by between two and three hundred white missionaries, to say nothing of native evangelists, and they dispose of a considerable revenue, subscribed, for the most part, by the Protestants of Great Britain and the United States.
Of the five large missionary steamers in the Congo State, four are owned by Protestants. The Peace and the Goodwill belong to the English Baptist Mission, the Henri Reed to the American Baptist Mission, and the Pioneer to the English Balololand Mission. Roman Catholics own only one steamer, Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
As might be expected from it's history, the prevailing faith in Congoland is the Roman Catholic. The Congo Free State tolerates all religions, no one of them enjoying a privilege denied to the others. Unfortunately the Protestants are split up into several sects; but there is no division among the Roman Catholics, and this fact has resulted largely in favour of the growth of the latter.
The White Fathers began their mission in Congoland in 1878, a year later than the first Protestant mission. They were followed by the Scheut Fathers in 1888, the Trappists, 1892; the Jesuits, 1893; the Priests of the Sacred Heart, 1897; the Premontre Fathers, 1898; and the Redemptionists, 1899. There are also the missionaries of the Ghent Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Notre Dame, the Trappistines, the Franciscans, and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary.
The wide-reaching results of the earnest labours of these self-denying evangelists is apparent in the existence today of 59 permanent and 29 temporary posts; 384 missionaries and sisters; 528 farm chapels; 113 churches and chapels; 523 oratories; 3 schools of the second degree; 75 primary schools; 440 elementary schools (in which native teachers instruct in the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic); 7 hospitals, 71 Christian villages, and 72,383 Christians and catechumens.
From statistics such as these, pregnant as they are with proof of the onward march of civilisation, it is a relief to turn to records in words. Here are two extracts from a diary kept by the Rev. Father Grison, missionary in charge of St. Gabriel's, Stanley Falls. The diary from which they are taken was written in odd moments snatched from an exceptionally busy life in a far-off land, with no idea that any line of it would ever be given to the world.

Aug. 16, 1902. Yesterday we had 17 baptisms and 1 administered Holy Communion to more than 300 people.

Holy Week. If it had not been for the colour of the congregation kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, you could not have believed you were in Central Africa. The church was filled with flowers, and a large number of people kept coming during the whole time.

We did not know exactly how things were going on at Banalya, but we did hear that our Christians were prosperous and had won over several catechumens. As soon as we came within a distance of about one and a half hours from the place, a number of the village people came out to meet us, laughing, singing, and kneeling in the mud of the marshes for our benediction. They told us that some little catechists, who could hardly read themselves, had managed to teach a number of the others to pray every morning and every evening, and to teach them some catechism, so when we came over we found that a large number of the people had already been converted. We immediately landed 150 catechumens at Banalya, 80 at Yambuga, and nearly 200 at Basoko, where a young woman, baptised the year before - although she is unable to read - superintends morning and evening prayer for the whole village.

The following, written from the diary of the Rev. Father Wulfers, written at Yanonghi (Romee Mission), June 22, 1902, accurately portrays the hopes and fears, the triumphs and disappointments, which attend the life of a missionary in Central Africa.

Our station is flourishing. We have a fine spring of rock water near the house, and a beautiful vista across the river, about two miles wide. The coffee groves begin near the house, affording shaded walks for hours. Within a short distance, we find the Arab settlement; and, somewhat further away from the river, immense rice fields. Fruits and agricultural products abound. It is from here that rice is supplied for a number of stations and missions, all the way down to the Falls and Leopoldville. The missionary of Romee supplies our other posts with large quantities of rice, besides the seeds furnished by the State Agricultural Station, and a number of articles which we get from the Arabs in exchange for cotton cloth. Of course everything has to be bought; they will give nothing for nothing. The railroad Romee-Ponthierville will start from here. The survey is progressing. That branch will help to avoid the rapids on the river on both sides of Bertha Island and the Lakes, which frequently interfere with navigation. Our situation, therefore, is pretty good from the material point of view; but, of course, we have some troubles. The Arabs are not peaceful, and the State contemplates the establishment of a military post here to protect the whites against them and the Turumbus, who are fierce cannibals. When Monsigneur van Ronsle was here last year, he wanted to establish a mission at Romee, because the State maintains there a force of about 600 men to protect the new rubber plantation. At present there are here about 120 catechumens and 20 christians. I baptised ten of them last March, and three in May. They come to Mass every Sunday, sometimes arriving Saturday evening to sleep here. I expect to have a great many more Christians when the work on the railroad begins. Although the Turumbus are still very savage, I hope to do a good deal with them, for they have already helped me to build my house. Yesterday I gave them some presents. One got a pipe; another a looking-glass; another some cotton cloth, with some rice for their children. They went away very happy, saying the Father is a good man. The people of the neighbouring village sometimes come to me saying they want to stay a year and then be baptised. I promise them when the chapel is built that I will visit them, teach them to read and write, and then get them to teach the catechism to others. They seemed very happy. As regards the Arabs, I am afraid they will not come to the catechism so soon. They sometimes listen to it out of curiosity. They appear to understand it, and acknowledge that it is true; but a virtuous life seems hard to them, and they have no inclination to it. Their chief often inquires about the beginning of the world, the origin of the white settlements in Africa, the story of Christ, etc. He works with me, comes to see my pictures, and asks for explanations. Some of the Arabs want to learn French. I shall teach them some in order to gain their confidence. When the chapel is finished I will see what I can to to Christianise the Arabs, who are about 200,000 strong.
I have had a disheartening experience at Yafolo, where I found the community, which had inspired me with so much hope, had gone over to the Dilwa worship. This is a form of public worship of the Dilwa. It lasts for two or three months. During that time all the young men, from seven to twenty years of age, devote themselves to the Dilwa. Of course I denounced the falsity of that superstition. I went into the middle of the crowd with a revolver in my pocket, because I did not know what they might do. They were sorry that I came, because they thought I was going to drop dead as a punishment for my temerity. They told me if I touched any of the Dilwa men my arm would wither and fall off. I touched some of them and of course nothing happened; but they kept on, and during the three months of the Dilwa work I could not do anything for them. I went again a month ago and learned that about two thirds of the catechuimens were willing to return to Christianity, but their parents would not let them come, believing all those who have gone through the Dilwa to be sacred people and to have no further need of God. Some old people that when the Dilwa is over they will all come back. I wonder if they will !

The same missionary records yet another of his experiences, which throws a vivid light upon the horrid subject of cannibalism. It is dated February 7, 1903.

While the Rev. P. Kohl was staying with me, a young chief named Kalonda visited us. He told us that he had said to his warriors : "Come, let us visit our Father. He is such a good man that he is sure to give us something !" Speaking to the Rev. Kohl, he added, "He certainly is a very good man. He visits our village and tells us beautiful things about God. You will see that he loves us, because he certainly is going to give us something". In the meantime he was slapping his stomach, to show what he expected. We could not help laughing, but he took no offence. Turning to his warriors, he began again : "Children, here is the Good Father of whom I have so often spoken to you." There I stopped him, saying : "That will do, Kalonda. Look here, now. If you answer my questions well, I shall give you a present."
"To be sure, Father, I am going to tell you the truth."
"Are you a great chief ?"
"Yes, Father."
"And you formerly used to go to war very often ?"
"Now listen, Father ! I used to have a great many more men than I have now. They were vigorous, and understood war. I went through all the villages with them as far as Lindi."
"Then you killed many people ?"
"To be sure."
"You have carried away and eaten quite a number of women and children ? Of course", said I, immediately, in order order to prevent an explosion of wrath on his part, "you do not do so any more ?"
"No", said he, very deliberately "I do not do so at all now; but formerly we ate a number of men. We used to kill as many as we wanted at the time and take away the rest to fatten. The flesh of women and children is the best."
"How does it taste ?" I asked the young boy who was standing near the chief [his father].
He answered quite naturally : "It tastes like boiled rice."

It is out of material such as Kalonda that Christian missionaries and just laws carefully administered are evolving a peaceful, pastoral people. That so large a part of this prodigious task should have been achieved during the brief period that the Congo State has existed places it's triumphant completion in the near future beyond all doubt. The patience, skill, and energy of the men who in circumstances so difficult have achieved so much, if not appreciated at their true worth now, will assuredly be regarded by posterity as one of the brightest pages in the history of our time.
There are no harder workers in the world than the Catholic missionaries of the Congo. The following passage from the diary kept by the Rev. Father Grison, missionary in charge of St. Gabriel's, Stanley Falls, by no means depicts an exceptional experience :

Oct. 19, 1902. - It is Sunday, 9:30 p.m. I have been busy in the church since 6 a.m. Said Mass at 7, and preached. Had a little coffee and wanted to retire to my room for a brief rest, when 60 to 80 people called. They had come from Vincent yesterday in order to hear Mass today. They complained that they had not brought enough supplies and they wanted me to give them some rice; which, of course, I did. Then an important palaver turned up ad Adela, and I was called upon to act as interptreter between the natives and the State. Then I had to patch up the quarrels of three or four married couples who had fallen out. Next, I had to grant about sixty permits to work on account of it's being Sunday; and, finally, I found a little time to do my Breviary. My brother missionaries are in the same fix. The Rev. Father Kohl, who has charge of the Sisters' Convent, gave them a lecture, and then had to busy himself with the choir boys whom he teaches the ceremonies. About noon I received a visit from two gentlemen from Stanley Falls, who are on their way toward the Great Lakes surveying for the railroad. Towards one o'clock the blacks warned us that the boat was coming on, and we knew that in about an hour we should have news from home. The steamer arrived, bringing some stores, which we hurriedly landed, deferring until tomorrow to put them in their proper places in the storerooms. After that we said the Rosary and gave Benediction. Then came the Catechism lesson and a Marriage; then a sick call, Breviary again, and then supper. Such is our Sunday, supposed to be a day of rest !

The Rev. Father Grison is typical of Catholic missionaries in Congoland. Other missionaries there are, of the Protestant faith, equally sincere and ardent; but it is an unfortunate fact that among the latter have been included certain quasi-political agents who believe that they find advantage in depreciating the Government under which they voluntarily elect to live. Others again, for the purpose of increasing the zeal of the congregations of the churches in their fatherland to provide for them sufficient support, have permitted themselves to excite the sympathies of the home associations by exaggerated tales of oppression and cruelty. Acquisitiveness is not an unknown quality among missionaries. Mr. Stokes, the so-called martyr, who suffered for supplying arms in time of war to the enemies of the Congo Free State, was originally a Protestant missionary, but he abandoned that vocation to become a trader.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 14th 2002

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz