“It is with great sadness that the World Council of Churches received news about the passing away of Rev. Dr Micheline Kamba Kasongo, an outstanding theologian and ecumenist who contributed enormously to many areas in the ecumenical movement,” said Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, interim general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
“Her voice was essential to our work to bring about justice and peace. The thoughts and prayers of the ecumenical community are with Rev. Kamba’s family and friends. We are grateful for her service and contribution to the World Council of Churches and the global ecumenical movement. Her memory will be alive in our midst,” added Sauca.
Born on 16 February 1968, Rev. Dr Micheline Kamba Kasongo was the Francophone Africa coordinator of the WCC’s Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN). She was a member of the WCC’s central committee since 2006 and a professor at the Faculty of Theology at the Université Protestante au Congo. She also led IMAN’ENDA Ministries (a pastoral ministry for people with disabilities) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In a letter sent to Rev. Kamba's family, Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC central committee, wrote: "Her lifestyle was a source of blessings and inspirations to people that had the privilege to work with her. Let the outpouring of love you have received since her demise serve as a reminder to you of how much she was loved by all who knew her."
Kamba first joined the ecumenical family when she was recommended by her church Eglise du Christ au Congo - Communauté Presbytérienne de Kinshasa, to attend the WCC 8th Assembly, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, 1998.
During the Assembly, she joined the other participants with disabilities to establish the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, a forum through which the pioneer members who had been invited to the WCC Assembly could institutionalize disability issues into the work of the Council. EDAN afterwards become a programme of the WCC after the recommendation of the central committee meeting held in September 1999, and expanded its network to the regions to incorporate representatives from all the member churches of WCC.
WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri first met Kamba during the time she studied at The University of Kwa Zulu Natal and Phiri served as the dean of the School of Theology there. She was sponsored by the WCC for her PhD studies.
“As a student she highlighted a biblical perspective of the challenges of African women living with disabilities,” said Phiri. “We will miss her greatly. The legacy she has left through her writings, sermons and the programme she established will outlive her.”
After completing her PhD in theology at the University of Kwazulu Natal in South Africa in October 2011 on “Developing a Holistic Education Programme through Contextual Bible Study with People with disabilities in Kinshasa, DRC: IMAN’ENDA as case study,” she felt that her contribution after the research would be to provide an educational programme for persons with disabilities who would serve the church, theological institutions and training centres for clergy because she believed that the Bible was a powerful instrument and source of change and authority towards developing a positive identity for persons with disabilities.
She was able to actualise this when she started the masters program in Social Transformation as the result of her doctoral work.
Anjeline Okola, WCC-EDAN programme coordinator, remembered that “the ecumenical network gave her many opportunities to work with the churches, crafting her own path which led to her work in ministry and to her professorship.”
She has also done research, published several books, written articles in various journals and made presentations both nationally and internationally in the area of theology, gender and disability.
Church of Norway’s presiding bishop, Most Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, former WCC general secretary, published on social media: “Our dear sister Micheline was a remarkable, brave women contributing to the church and the ecumenical movement in so many ways,” he wrote. “She was dealing with her physical disability in a remarkable way. I was blessed to know her and work with her in the WCC.”
“Since so many years she was one of the faces and important voices of WCC-EDAN. I learned a lot from her,” said Rev. Heike Bosien, from the Evangelical Church in Germany. “A ‘church of all and with all’ was her vision for the worldwide ecumenical family. We will miss her in the ecumenical movement! Peace be with her and her family.”
For Rev. Frank Chikane, moderator of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), of which Kamba was also a member, “Micheline was a courageous woman, a committed ecumenist and an outstanding advocate of the marginalised and less privileged. It’s difficult to dry my tears.”
For Prof. Evelyn L. Parker, a CCIA member, “Micheline would always bring a critical perspective to conversations on behalf of the marginalized,” she said. “I often marveled at her brilliance to articulate what was nagging in my gut but I didn’t have the right words to express. I will always remember how she urged the WCC central committee to take note and act on behalf of women and girls in the DRC who were sexually exploited, raped as a weapon of war.”
WCC’s programme executive for a Just Community of Women, Rev. Nicole Ashwood, first met Kamba during a 2018 WCC’s “Women of Faith” Pilgrim Team Visit to the DRC. “She was passionate about women’s rights and a clear advocate for persons with disabilities. Despite her small frame and visible signs of physical disability, Micheline had a sharp mind and was persistent in realizing her goals. She was soft-spoken, diplomatic and amiable.”
The news of the Kamba’s passing cause great sorrow to other members of the WCC delegation that visited DRC in 2018.
Canon Nangula Kathindi, former member of the WCC central committee, admired her strong faith and determination, especially in studying theology away from home in the DRC to the doctoral level.
“I was impressed to see the end results of her brain-child Iman’Enda, especially in which it provided employment and enabled those on the margins to be less reliant on others for their financial well-being,” said Kathindi.
Rev. Dawn Gikandi, a minister of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, stressed that Kamba always tried to uplift persons with disabilities, especially at Iman’Enda. “She always sought to help others, especially those whose voice had been ignored and silenced," said Gikandi. They had shared moments of sisterhood and solidarity during the pilgrimage and beyond, because of their mutual experiences as clergywomen with disabilities.
Rev. Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, WCC programme executive for Ecumenical Theological Education and professor of Ecumenical Social Ethics at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, remembers Kamba for the social justice programme she instituted at the university to elevate those in need. "The masters programme in social transformation at the Faculty of Theology, Protestant University in Congo that she pioneered is an admirable demonstration of the deep passion and concern she had for her people," said Nalwamba.
The general secretary of the Angola Council of Christian Churches, Rev. Deolinda Teca, who was also part of the delegation, expressed shock and dismay upon hearing the news of the passing. “Micheline was as an inspiration and encouragement for her studies and her leadership of her church. As a human rights defender, we were in the process of planning a visit to Angola to address issues of theology and disability among the churches there,” said Teca.
Former WCC staff Dr Dietrich Werner said: “Her difficulties, her determination, her braveness, her care for her son, very long correspondences and the celebration of her final degree and then the university teaching position - all this comes back to my mind. She has set an example for the struggle for dignity and recognition of disabled people.”
In 2013, when Kamba facilitated an Ecumenical Conversation at the WCC 10th Assembly, she said:
“My experience as a young lady with disability influenced the most my spiritual life and my calling into the ministry. It was so difficult to be accepted as God’s creation. (…) I attempted many times to commit suicide but I had not succeeded. One day my sister knew that and she came to me and said ‘my dear sister what you want to do is not a solution of your problems. Pray and ask your God what life means to you as a young lady with a disability and why God likes you to remain like this’. (…) My sister and I spent three days in fasting and praying so that Gold helps me. That time was really a healing time. Since that time I have never prayed to God to heal me physically, because, I know as Paul recognized that ‘God’s grace is sufficient for you, His strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:10). Then I took courage and I believed in what my sister told me, she was inspired by Holy Spirit and since that time I am accepted as a woman with disability and knew that God had a good plan for me; this was in 1984. Today, I understand my vocation concerning encouraging those who have physical impairments like me to ‘raise up and walk’ spiritually so that they can be independent, full of life for the transformation of their situation, both in church and society.”
The funeral service will take place on 7 August. Kamba is survived by her spouse and a son.
The family announced that a thanksgiving service will be held online, on the Zoom platform, in her memory on Thursday, August 6, 2020, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM (CEST).
“Mission to Persons with Disabilities” - an article by Rev. Dr Micheline Kamba Kasongo for the WCC’s International Review of Mission (June 2019)
"As long as women are being abused, there is no peace" – WCC video interview with Rev. Dr Micheline Kamba Kasongo