Rev Mbangiye Remembered as Initiator of Ngakpo Evangelism

Remembering the passion and impact of Rev. Mbangiye Epolapola, friend and former Congo missionary wrote this story about being mentored by Rev. Mbangiye to bring the Gospel to those who were unreached.

“How would you and Ruth like to go to Ngakpo?” asked Gordy Christensen in 1974. Not having any clue, we said yes. It took two days of trucking, crossing rivers, and slogging through the forest to get there. We brought bicycles for the last part through the forest, but with all the fallen trees across the path, they were more of a hindrance. This was where I first got to know Mbangiye. At every fallen tree, Mbangiye stopped and first lifted Ruth’s bike over it before his own. It was amazing to be there in this village literally carved out of the jungle; not only was it remote, it’s ratio of believers to non-believers was the opposite of our normal experience . That first night the very small group of believers built a huge fire and dancing began. They enacted in very dramatic form the sins they had been delivered from (drunkenness, adultery, doing magic, etc, singing “Baninga Tobongwani– Friends, we have been transformed!). We could feel the tension, fear and even anger from villagers as they were in fact being made fun of by these new Christians. The only reason we felt secure was because we were sitting between Gordy and Mbangiye, two Warriors of the Faith!

young Rev. Mbangiye

During that first trip to Ngakpo, I learned a little of Mbangiye’s story…(I hope most of what I remember is more or less correct!). He grew up in that area and eventually became an elephant hunter. He described a rifle that he had fabricated called a “poo poo,” probably because of the “poo!! “ sound it made as it discharged the projectile! On one such occasion the wounded elephant turned on him and managed to gore him even as he took refuge under the legs of the elephant. He was transported by canoe downriver to a regional hospital, a two-day journey. A chaplain from the CEUM witnessed to him, and that began his spiritual journey to faith in Christ Jesus. As he read the Bible given to him, he became convinced of the truth and eventually surrendered to the Lord. He recovered (on occasion he could be persuaded to show his scars!) and returned to Ngakpo where his testimony led to the salvation of a few other men.


The Spirit was leading Mbangiye to leave for Bible School (then eventually to the Seminary at Goyongo). He was concerned that none of those early believers could read and so couldn’t continue in the scriptures. They earnestly prayed about this and the Lord answered in a very unusual way: one of the men,Madukana, was suddenly given a gift of reading. This, as you can imagine, was also a powerful testimony to the village. Other Pakabetes believed, as well, and the nucleus of a church was formed. However, there was strong opposition from Lopi, the local shaman.

Mbangiye and Brad studying map of Ngakpo area and the Dua river

At the Seminary, Mbangiye was one of Gordy’s students and Mbangiye’s burden for his people also became Gordy’s. Gordy then made a couple of trips into the village with some of the students. As a result, many others in the area came to faith and the church grew. Mbangiye, mindful of how remote the village was and eager to see the Gospel spread throughout the jungle, was convinced Ngakpo needed an airstrip.  A project was devised to cut an airstrip, all by hand. The trip Ruth and I made, I believe, was the third trip into the village for Gordy. It was hard to visualize an airstrip in the middle of that jungle, but they had begun to clear some land!

Mbangiye and Brad laying on hands and praying for a new believer

Ruth and I were teaching at the Bible school at Gbado Boketsa (1978-1981). Two of my students were from Ngakpo. Through them I learned of several villages along the Dua river (the river we had crossed en route to Ngakpo) that had no church and no known Christian presence. They referred me also to Mbangiye for more information. The conviction that these villages should be reached grew!  Back in the colonial era, a number of villages had moved off the roads and deep into the jungle to avoid government interference (enslavement to plantations and taxes), and the village of Edungu was the largest of these. It was difficult to even figure out how far up the river it was and how to get there.

Mbangiye persuaded some of the up-river Pakabete believers to fell a giant tree and carve out a huge canoe. This project took well over a year, then they had to drag this “ark” through the dense jungle to the river. In early 1980, they floated it down to a place along the river near Monveda. In the meantime I had secured an outboard motor. Arden Gustafson (then a short termer) was confident he could build a transom to secure the motor. We all had lots of faith … and lots of doubts. What could go wrong? Through all this Mbangiye had indomitable faith that the Lord would open the way. We christened the canoe l’Evangeliste and painted it on one side with CEUM/Monveda on the other.

Arden cutting off tail end of dugout before installing a transom and mounting the outboard motor

Arden was successful and we started the motor and shoved the enormous canoe into the river. I was pretending to be confident of my abilities to steer this thing…LOL. Four guys who could swim got in, including Mbangiye, who was the one with all the faith, and aimed it up river…slowly. All was well. The motor stayed on, we didn’t tip over. Adding more power, we picked up speed until we came to the first corner. I managed to jam the canoe bow first into the floating grass along the bank. Eventually we got the hang of cornering. This was a very serpentine river and that was skill we needed to learn!

Heading up river

We loaded ten men and lots of gear into the boat, including one senior missionary Harvey Widman, who brought his rifle…just in case! There were hippos in that river! We quickly learned that they couldn’t sit on the edges!! Once settled on the bottom, the boat proved to be very stable. We had arranged for MAF to fly over us during this time, just to check on our safety.

Dugout named the “Evangelist” for the CEUM Monveda sub-region


Maybe six hours later we came to Edungu. We couldn’t see it, as it was just inland from the river, but they came down to greet us, having heard the outboard. The village chief was the first one we met. He was a relatively young man and seemed very assertive and aggressive, but welcoming. Mbangiye carried the outboard up the hill to the village.

We didn’t have to work very hard to get a hearing! Everybody immediately gathered around and we held several outdoor services, where many became Christ-followers. We left one of the CEUM’s predicateurs there to continue teaching and discipling. We learned of other villages further up the river. We didn’t have enough gas to make that trip, but we took note. Other villages were somewhat inland. Apparently the people of Edungu and their sister villages were not Pakabete, but many spoke it, and of course they knew Lingala.

On a subsequent trip, also in the canoe along with Pastor Mbangiye (and with Terry Harder), Mbangiye preached a powerful message and then asked all the believers to bring their magic amulets and potions (nkisi) to the next service. There, just as in  Acts 19:19, he publicly burned them. When he dumped this stuff on the fire, a gasp went up from the crowd. Certainly they thought something bad was about to happen to him, or worse, to all of them. Yet nothing did. On this trip the Chief also assigned a nice piece of land to the new church and building was begun. On the third trip we did a very extensive TEE (theological education by extension) course with these believers.


Mbangiye and Brad with believers in Edungu along the Dua river

I believe we made one more trip on L’Evangeliste. Then Covenant Missions bought an inflatable Boston Whaler and a new short-shaft 25 hp Evinrude. By then the church building had been completed (basic mud and thatch), and we were known entities. With Mbangiye in the lead, we went further upriver and ventured back into the jungle to some of the nearby villages. As far as I know, maybe 3-4 churches were birthed out of the Edungu church.

Thus ends my account of “Adventures with Pastor Mbangiye.” Throughout these evangelism ventures, he always had great courage (well, he was a former elephant hunter after all!), deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to provide and to protect and just to get His will done through us one way or another. He was always generous, being the first to serve, and always thinking about “what next.” His example and his teaching were very formative for me as a missionary. In fact I would say he very much shaped my worldview as a missionary and teacher. Because of him I remained very concerned for those yet unreached in the Ubangi-Mongala and continued doing evangelism with my students and later with Pastor Mbewa.

Peace be to his name.

Brad Hill,  May 7, 2018


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