William Leslie, Democratic Republic of Congo
In 1912, medical missionary Dr. William Leslie went to live and minister to the Yansi tribal people in a remote corner of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After 17 years he returned to the U.S. a discouraged man – believing he failed to make an impact for Christ. He died nine years after his return.
But in 2010, a team journeyed into the area in which that Dr. Leslie had served. What they found there was amazing. When they hiked into the jungle where the little-known Yansi people lived, they found a network of reproducing churches hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle. The Yansi people in this region had been operating autonomously, essentially as a church as described in the Book of Acts.
Based on previous research, the missionaries who trekked into this region thought the Yansi in this remote area might have had some exposure to the name of Jesus, but no real understanding of who He is. They were unprepared for their remarkable find.
“When we got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle,” they reported. “Each village had its own gospel choir, although they wouldn’t call it that. They wrote their own songs and would have sing-offs from village to village.”
They found a church in each of the eight villages they visited scattered across 34 miles. The team even found a 1000-seat stone “cathedral” in one of the villages. They learned that this church got so crowded in the 1980s – with many walking miles to attend — that a church planting movement began in the surrounding villages.
Apparently, Dr. Leslie crossed the Kwilu River once a year from Vanga and spent a month traveling through the jungle. He would teach the Bible, taught the tribal children how to read and write, talked about the importance of education, and told Bible stories. Without realizing it, he had started a New Covenant church movement among the Yansi. These faithful people in the eight villages are a testimony to the work of God among those who walk in a simple New Covenant faith.
Interestingly, this vibrant New Covenant church had few bibles. Dr. Leslie had taught them from a French Bible, of which they had only a few copies. After Dr. Leslie left the area, the church began to grow and thrive. In order to stay true to the Word of God, the Yansi saw to it that several people knew the French language and could read God’s Word to the rest of the people.
This is very much how the early church functioned for hundreds of years. It is amazing how simply and powerfully the church can thrive and spread when it is focused upon the three key elements of a healthy congregation: The Holy Spirit as the source of life and revelation, the Word of God, and the true fellowship of the believers together.
Image of Kwilu river via prnewswire.co.uk