Missionaries Are Different

Missionary to America Kasongo Gui Kabeo

Missionary Kasongo was forced to flee his home country, a country on the west coast of Africa,  the Congo.  A revolution forced a president from power, and Kasongo and his family had to flee to America. From his time working in the banking system in the Congo, he had made friends in the United States. He was known as someone who was smart, hard working and intelligent – just the kind of people needed in the US. He was confident he would become successful in his new country.

Kasongo had been active in his home church; he was a lay leader who took on difficult projects. But the most difficult was yet to come.

He and his small family landed in Chicago, Illinois. Kasongo had dreams of “making it big in banking.” He had heard the stories of wealth in his new country; he knew he had what it would take to become a leader in that industry. But for Kasongo, first things first: he had to find a place of worship for his family.

He tried a nearby Christian church, but the worship services were in English. The immigrant from the Congo spoke some English, but French was his heart language. He could not understand the English sermons, hymns or prayers.  Other immigrants near his family’s small apartment were in the same situation as the Kabeos. Kasongo Kabeo was not someone to give up easily; he began a house church, in French, in his apartment, inviting the immigrants who spoke French to worship in the house church. The church grew to over thirty in that small apartment.

African worship is a little more lively than it is in most American worship services. There are guitars, and drums, and loud singing. Like Lutherans in general, they sang boldly.  As you might expect, that did not go over well with the other renters, particularly those above and below the house church.  A move to Milwaukee by the family only caused the church to grow – to fifty, sixty, seventy; but this time it was in the welcoming walls of a Lutheran Church.

Part of the genius of this Missionary to America was that it was not just the number of worshipers that was increasing.  Kasongo recruited leaders to work with him, and, with the encouragement of Rev. Peter Kelm, he recruited and trained missionaries to begin French speaking churches in other parts of Wisconsin and Illinois, and that is what makes him a missionary. Local churches offered financial support, as did the mission arm of the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS.

Missionaries are different. They do many pastoral tasks, but, they are different from pastors. This is not well understood. I learned this when I was in Japan for the fiftieth anniversary of the Japan Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church sent wonderful missionaries to Japan, however, they were forced to leave too quickly. They had nurtured great Japanese pastors, but did not have enough time to teach them how to be missionaries. Fifty years later our partner church in Japan was just beginning to take steps to become a  “missionary church.”

We need pastors who will care for those who are already followers of Jesus. I know it sounds strange, but today in America, we also need pastors who will be missionaries. We need missionaries who will see part of their ministry as finding laity, women and men, who have a heart for starting new churches – like Kasongo, like Aquila and Priscilla, who had a church meeting in their house. It is for this reason that some seminaries now offer a distance education track to prepare pastors and missionaries without having to abandon the missions they had begun.

Missionaries are different: they take more chances, they are not afraid to fail, they see themselves developing a mission field, not caring for just one congregation. We need pastors, and, today in an increasingly agnostic America, we need missionaries. Like Kasongo Gui Kabeo.