Feature

Growing from the Center

Watering seeds of faith in Pointe-Noire

By and

Wilfrid Malanda-Madzou—Willie to his friends—had advantages that other Congolese didn’t. He was well-educated and had a wife, Mireille, who loved him and had given him three lovely children. But living the Congolese dream didn’t mean the Madzou home was a happy one. Willie had developed several enslaving habits in school, and by the time he moved into his profession as a fund manager, he was a confirmed alcoholic, adulterer and bar surfer.

Mireille had come to Christ and was praying for a miracle in their home. Willie remembers the date and time—September 20, 1999, at 5:30 a.m.—when he was suddenly overwhelmed with dismay at what he had made of his life. Something spoke to his spirit and told him the time had come to break with the past. He stood and prayed, “Jesus, I want to follow You and leave this way of living. Show me a church where I can go to pray and hear the message that can change me.”

That morning, he accompanied his wife for the first time to Bethel Alliance Church in Mpaka, a sector of Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo. After the service, his wife introduced him to the pastor. Sylvain Mouanda explained the gospel to Willie and led him in a prayer of salvation.

Willie’s life changed. His activities began to revolve around his family and the Mpaka congregation. He developed a growing hunger for the Word of God and was excited to discover the Christian Studies Center.

The center, a leadership development project of the C&MA and the Congolese Alliance church, equips Congolese Christians with tools to carry out their ministries more effectively and to avoid doctrinal error in a city rife with heretical teaching. The center hosts several training opportunities, including a six-month discipleship program, Sunday school and youth leadership training, numerous seminars, an evangelism school and a two-year evening Bible institute, known by its French acronym IBAC (Institut Biblique de l’Alliance Chrétienne). Unlike a traditional Bible institute, most of the students at IBAC are laypeople—professionals, business owners, government workers, policemen, masons, electricians and housewives. Consistent with its mission as chiefly a lay training site, the center is not a residential campus but is located in a busy section of Pointe-Noire.

The Christian Studies Center began in 2001 in a converted nightclub/discotheque called the “Cabana,” which had served as the gathering place for Cuban soldiers during Congo’s communist era. It was still notorious as a place where brawls and shootings had frequently occurred. Bare bulbs hung from the smoke-stained ceiling over students’ desks, which were set up on the raised tile dance floor in the middle of the hall. It was a difficult place in which to learn. Lessons some nights were all but drowned out by noise from the adjacent market. It would have been hard to imagine a less conducive environment for a Bible school.

In 2005, the Lord miraculously provided money for the center’s leaders to buy a narrow strip of property in a nearby neighborhood called Mawata. It was a definite improvement. Tucked into a residential pocket behind restaurants that faced a major intersection, the locale was less noisy while remaining easily accessible to students, most of whom arrived by taxi-bus.

However, this sector of town also had a reputation for raucous nightlife.

Pointe-Noire is a port city of 700,000 people. For more than 20 years, it has served as a support base for off-shore drilling operations that bring together engineers and technical experts from around the world. Mawata is the playground of the expatriots and the Congolese who work the oil rigs. Offshore two weeks, they come back to Pointe-Noire with pockets bulging. Mawata, with its bars, discotheques and casinos, is where many spend their earnings. After dark, it is a magnet for pick-pockets, drug dealers and prostitutes.

In 2008, through a series of miracles and with generous support from the Alliance family in North America, the center was able to annex a second parcel of land and head off the building of a casino next door. This would have significantly interfered with our ability to offer evening classes in a safe environment.

Four years later, the buildings are still under development, but the center continues to have a profound impact on this part of Pointe-Noire. The center has become a meeting location for followers of Jesus and is known as a place to find Christian literature. It has hosted numerous evangelistic outreaches in the immediate neighborhood and prepares men and women for outreach throughout Pointe-Noire and in areas beyond the city limits.

After discovering the center, Willie took advantage of every training program possible. Eventually, he enrolled in IBAC and completed the demanding two-year night class program while maintaining his day job. He says of those studies, “They gave me a good foundation and changed the way I thought, taught and directed others.”

At IBAC he developed a passion for evangelism. Equipped with what he had learned in class and from Alliance workers, Willie joined in a house-church–planting ministry with Alliance worker Stan Hotalen. Willie and Mireille began evangelizing door to door in Mpaka. The couple was instrumental in setting up 11 house churches with 7 to 10 members each in that section of town.

Willie returned to more traditional ministry at the Bethel congregation when the influence of a false prophet threatened to hijack the church. At the request of the regional president, Willie assumed pastoral responsibility for the troubled community. He not only led the church back to a sound doctrinal footing, but he also mobilized the members to begin evangelizing effectively.

Since 2011, three church plants have been birthed by the Mpaka congregation under Willie and Mireille’s leadership. They hope to develop into evangelism centers from which more churches will grow. Forming new leaders is a vital part of their vision.

In March 2012, Willie was ordained as an Alliance pastor. Once again, his thoughts returned to the Christian Studies Center. He asks all of his church leaders to join the six-month discipleship program and has encouraged three members of his congregation to enroll in the center’s training program for Sunday school teachers. Three other members of the Mpaka church are attending IBAC at his recommendation, and more will be joining them in the next academic year.

“We can’t build the church without IBAC,” Willie says. “There are too many churches where the leaders teach incorrect doctrine because they do not know how to interpret God’s Word. I can tell the difference when I hear someone teaching or preaching after they have been to IBAC.” He considers the school the pacesetter in leadership development in Pointe-Noire and looks forward to teaching at IBAC himself one day.

We asked Pastor Willie what he would want to communicate to Alliance people of North America. He said, “Thank you for establishing the Christian Studies Center. Please pray that God will uphold us and equip us to reach the villages surrounding Pointe-Noire.”

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