Swiss baptisms planted gospel seed in the Congo

By Ernie Shannon

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 29 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

What the elders didn’t realize was that the Banza family’s residence and schooling in Geneva was sponsored by another church in the Congo. When that church's leaders learned that the Banzas had been receiving Mormon missionaries, they threatened to revoke the sponsorship. If the Banza family continued their contact with the missionaries and were baptized, they would be forced to leave Geneva and return to the Congo.

The Banzas had a decision to make. A critical decision. To join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meant forsaking their father’s education in Switzerland and returning home. But the family had been touched by the light of the gospel and the spirit had borne witness to them of its truthfulness. It only remained for the Banzas to exercise their burgeoning faith.

On Oct. 2, Elder Clement exclaimed in French and English in his journal, “Incroyable! Nous avons eu un Bapteme merveilleux! The Banza baptism was amazing and there were a lot of members and missionaries there to witness it. This has been such a blessing to be a part of and I thank God to have had a part in teaching and testifying to this family."

Only a few days later the elders learned the Banzas' sponsorship had been rescinded and they were preparing to return to Zaire. The day of the Banzas' departure at the Geneva airport was a sad one for Elders Call and Clement, but Brother Banza, sensing the elders' concern, assured them he and his family would remain faithful to their baptismal covenants. They would seek to build the church in their native land. Those were the most worthy of intentions, Elder Call thought, but how likely when so much would be arrayed against their determination and for how many years?

Elder Call returned home to Columbus, Ohio, in October 1979, and Elder Clement followed him back to the United States a year later.

“I have always said that my mission was the most spiritually intricate time in my life,” Call remembered. “The growth in my testimony was remarkable. I knew it was the Lord’s work and that I had been a part of that work. I had great companions, saw amazing things and had moderate success. I would not have traded those two years for anything."

Yet, in terms of conversions in which people remain actively engaged with the church throughout their lives, Call felt some disappointment.

“I have always said that I felt a little empty in that I received so much personally from serving but that I did not accomplish very much as far as moving the work forward. I wasn’t sure that any of the converts that I had been a part of were still active in the church and certainly not the Banzas who lived in a country devoid of the gospel. Still, the memories were incredible. As far as the Banzas, I pretty much resigned myself to the comforting fact that they were awesome people who the Lord loved, and that at least they were baptized and that some day, even if in the life hereafter, they would be back in the arms of the Lord’s church. This did bring some comfort.”

During general conference weekend in October 2005, Brother Call attended the 25-year anniversary reunion of the Switzerland Geneva Mission. His former mission president, Stevens, delivered a slide presentation that explored his and Sister Stevens’ missionary service in various countries, including Africa. Stevens spoke of the tremendous growth of the church there and it reminded Call of the Banza family.

In May 2007, while preparing for a sacrament meeting talk on the church’s worldwide missionary program, Call came across a Deseret News Church Almanac from 2003. While thumbing through the pages, he came to the Congo.

Having known the African nation by the name Zaire and not the Congo, and having fruitlessly looked for information about the church in Zaire, “I saw the Democratic Republic of Congo and my eyes immediately fixed on these words: ‘renamed Zaire in 1971 and the Congo in 1979.’ My heart began to pound a little. Then I totally lost my emotions when I next read, ‘The first baptisms in Zaire were on 1 June 1986, they were Banza Mucioko Jr., and Banza Philippe, sons of Banza Mucioko Wa Mutumbo. Banza Mucioko was baptized in Switzerland on 2 October 1979.’

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