kimbanguism (Religious Movement)

Kimbanguism originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), and has spread to many countries in Africa and beyond. The movement takes its name from the founder Simon Kimbangu (see Kimbangu, Simon). It claims to have some 15 million followers worldwide, although this is unproven.


Simon Kimbangu was born at N’kamba near MbanzaNgungu in the Lower Congo in 1887. Simon received instruction from Baptist missionaries, and was baptized in July 1915 along with his wife Mivulu Marie near NgombeLutete. In 1918 Kimbangu believed he received a call from God to go and look after his people for the Europeans had been unfaithful to the call of Christ.

On 6 April 1921 Kimbangu began his ministry of healing, and extraordinary scenes are said to have followed, with vast numbers flocking to N’kamba to hear his message and to be healed. But this was too much for the Belgian colonial power who feared a political uprising. A state of emergency was declared, and in September 1921 Kimbangu was arrested, flogged, and sent into exile to what is now Lubumbashi: 1,500 miles from his home. He died in solitary confinement on 12 October 1951.

Between his deportation and death Kimbangu was not able to see his wife and three sons again. But Kimbanguists are convinced of a rash of miraculous appearances by Simon to people all over the Congo, and beyond, whilst he was still technically in prison. These are not simply visitations through visions and dreams (although Kimbangu is said to appear to them in these ways too) but actual fleshly manifestations.


The persecution of Kimbanguists in the period of Kimbangu’s solitary confinement was severe. Wherever Kimbanguists were found throughout the Congo there were deportations to other areas, so that an oft-quoted figure of 37,000 deportations of heads of families (meaning at least 100,000 people in total) between 1921 and 1959 is possible, although this may be exaggeration. During those years Kimbangu’s wife, Mivulu Marie, effectively helped run the movement. Following her death in 1959 the third son, Joseph Diangienda, was appointed Spiritual Head, something which Kimbangu himself had instructed shortly before being deported.

Diangienda’s leadership was an important period for the Kimbanguists. It was a time of expansion and conscious unification. Diangienda himself travelled widely around the Congo and beyond. In addition he presided over the vital decision of the Kimbanguists to join the World Council of Churches—something which took place on 16 August 1969. They are now officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through his Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu: the term ‘Special Envoy’ replacing a previous title of ‘Prophet’, probably to confer a more pneumatological title on the founder.

Practices today

Kimbanguist practices are a blend of different influences. Main church services take place on Sundays. However, prayers are also held on other days: officially five times a day, though the morning and evening prayers are the most publicly attended of these. Polygamy, smoking, drugs, alcohol, the eating of pork, sleeping naked, and trading on Sundays are all forbidden. Wailing at the time of death is also forbidden, as is dancing unless confined to a gentle rhythmic movement. But marching, especially during collections when there is a formal march-past in front of the most senior person present, is very much encouraged. Among other positive obligations, Kimbanguists have to pray and read the Bible regularly. Shoes are removed before entering places of worship because they are said to be holy ground.

All women are required to cover their heads, and are required to dress modestly (e.g. to cover their legs). Kimbanguists prefer the colours of green and white, and most of their churches, and indeed the believers themselves, are decked out in these two colours. Green is said to represent hope, and white purity. Kimbanguists have their own alphabet: a language which they believe has been given to them miraculously by Kimbangu known as Mandombe.

Services close out with major social collections, known as nsinnsini for which there are often specific projects directed by the leaders of the Church. These include the running of a hospital in Kinshasa and medical dispensaries elsewhere. The temple at N’kamba is the most famous example of such a project. The 37,000 capacity temple was built with the help of ordinary believers, many of whom carried rocks and stones several kilometres to the site on the hill at N’kamba. The village itself, known by believers as ‘N’kamba New Jerusalem’, has regular numbers of visitors. Many of them go to bathe in a site where they believe there is holy water: and both this water, and the very soil from N’kamba, are taken elsewhere for healing.

A more recent major project has been the building of a substantial number of luxury apartments near N’kamba at Kendolo. These appartments have been constructed in response to a prophecy ‘received’ by the Church that many Afro-Americans will return to Africa—and specifically to N’kamba. Great financial sacrifice has been extracted from ordinary believers for this project, but it has also had the benefit of bringing in considerable interest, and with it money, from the United States.

Doctrinally, and after much thought, the Church eventually settled on the doctrine that Simon Kimbangu is the ‘Holy Spirit made flesh’ and, as such, the Special Envoy of Christ. However, controversy was sparked when the late leader of the Church, Diulangana Kuntima, the only surviving son of Kimbangu, not only announced that he was Christ returned, but also moved the date of Christmas to 25 May, which happened to be his own birthday. On his death in 2001 he was succeeded by the oldest surviving grandchild of Simon Kimbangu.

The Kimbanguists are strongest in the Congo area, but have members in other central African countries, as well as France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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