Nazarene churches of the Africa Central Field have sent out one of their own families to serve as missionaries.
While districts and fields in several other areas in Africa have sent missionaries, it is the first time for the Central Field to send missionaries outside their field.
Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Milly and Agnes Ibanda are now settling into their new home on the island of Madagascar with their four children: Gustav, 11; Alphonsine, 10; Bertha, 3; and Theresa, 7 months.
The Nazarene denomination has had a thriving presence for 27 years in the North Kivu Central District of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the Ibandas grew up and began their family. Joyfully, yet in the midst of many challenges, local churches pledged a support offering of US $700 for the family.
The other four districts in DRC pledged prayer support as they leave their country, language, culture and families.
Gavin Fothergill, field strategy coordinator, says, “They not only left all that but also their [field], as Madagascar has now separated to become part of the new Africa Indian Ocean Field. We miss their presence among our leaders.”
The Ibandas will work with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) to serve vulnerable street children, help in church growth and leadership development, and coordinate education. They also hope to be part of planting churches in Seychelles, Mauritius, La Reunion and other parts of the island where the church is not yet, and where the people may never have had the opportunity to hear and know about Jesus Christ personally.
Their life experiences have certainly qualified them for these ministries. Along the way, God has moved them from personal commitment to Jesus to serving their local community and nation, and finally to recognizing His call to cross-cultural service outside their home country.
Loss and suffering
Both born in the Congo, Milly and Agnes experienced painful childhoods, which has given them an affinity for suffering children.
Milly was the only son of his parents. Until he was 4, the family lived in the neighboring central African nation of Burundi. They were forced to leave when Congolese citizens were no longer allowed to live and work there.
Both of his parents died while he was still in primary school – his father was tragically murdered. He was moved from family to family, as no foster care agency existed. Finally an uncle adopted him.
Milly’s parents had been Catholic, but his uncle was Pentecostal, and he was very influential in encouraging Milly to follow Christ. Although at first he had to force Milly to go to church, Milly felt it helped build his faith. One day in children’s church, he made his own decision to accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord and was baptized.
Yet, Milly became disillusioned with the church while in his teens. He decided to boycott all churches. But after two years, he recommitted, along with his friends, to give Christianity another chance. He asked God to lead him to where he should worship.
In 2000, a Nazarene pastor moved into the area and started a worship group in his living room. Eventually from this small beginning, the Himbi Church of the Nazarene was formed. Milly renewed his commitment to Christ and was among the first members of the church.
Agnes’s parents separated when Agnes was only 5. She was then obliged to live with her father who took on his 6th wife. She had many painful experiences, but her father was determined to keep her in school. She focused on her studies, wanting the opportunity for a better life.
In high school, Agnes loved biology and chemistry. She wanted to attend medical school and become a doctor. Her father believed in her dream, but could offer no financial help. She failed to complete even one semester because of sickness and inability to pay the tuition fees. The only work she found was cleaning offices, but much of the time she was not given her paychecks.
During these years, DRC was torn by rebellion. In the midst of this societal turbulence, Agnes came to know Christ. After she surrendered her life to Him, a burning love for God and His service ignited inside of her. That passion led her to study theology. She met Milly at the Nazarene church and in 2005 they were married. They both worked hard to earn bachelor’s and then master’s degrees.
Agnes was the first woman to be ordained in the North Kivu Central District in March of 2015. Milly has met ordination requirements and is awaiting ordination.
Both have worked as lecturers at Africa Nazarene University, at Nazarene Theological College of South Africa, and Nazarene Theological Institute in DRC .
Preparation for a missionary calling
The Ibandas have a passion for working with youth and sharing the gospel. Milly began a Congo DRC Youth in Mission (YIM) team. During their three consecutives summer missions, the Ibandas and the YIM teams fed abandoned babies in orphanages in Uganda, fed children who were suffering from malnutrition in Burundi, taught English in Congo and Rwanda, showed the JESUS Film, and conducted public evangelism campaigns through performances and door-to-door ministries. Milly says, “All these were preparing me for mission work.”
While Milly and Agnes were in Nairobi, they felt God directing them to partner with a pastor in Kabiria, one of the slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Today that church is doing well and again Milly felt it was molding them for mission work. It was at that time they began to feel a call for cross cultural ministry.
While he was still at ANU, Milly attended an Africa-wide conference of Nazarene churches in 2015. It came at a time when he was discouraged and unsure of his future. Then regional director Rev. Filimao Chambo gave a powerful message from Romans 10:13-15 challenging the audience not to become complacent.
Milly said, the call for “sending and going to make Christlike disciples in the nations was like a spear pointing directly to my heart. I went to my knees and asked God to use me.”
He left that conference with a renewed passion and confidence to continue reaching people for Christ wherever God might lead.
Milly feels his call to missionary service was shaped and mentored by many leaders in Africa and professors at Africa Nazarene University who challenged and encouraged him to follow God’s call.
The Ibandas are facing many challenges and need the prayer support of their global church.
-- They arrived in Madagascar just a few weeks ago in the midst of a national crisis dealing with Pneumonic plague. Public gatherings are not encouraged and schools have been closed.
-- They need to learn a new language (Malagasy) and adjust to a new culture and to new foods.
-- Adjusting to narrow roads and mountainous terrain is a challenge in driving.
In spite of it all, they have experienced friendliness from the people and believe God has a purpose in sending them to Madagascar. They believe in the race they have begun, and rely on His strength and the prayers and support of the church to sustain them to the finish line.