Blog — 12th October 2020
As he studies an MA in Theology and Humanitarian Development at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester (NTC), Dieudonne Nzayi’s heart and mind are returning to his home and people in the Congo, a war-torn nation in East Central Africa.
Living in Sheffield with his wife, Chantal Nyankumi, and their two sons Elohim and Elijah, Dieudonne is training and leading Congolese pastors from Eastern Congo and is an associate minister in the New Testament Church of God in Sheffield. He is also developing a project he calls One Family, One Bible, with the objective of bringing Bibles to every family in eastern Congo, many of whom have lost everything, including their Bibles, in the civil war.
He enrolled at NTC last year, where he is gaining a deeper understanding of theology and how it breathes into a pastor’s leadership in serving the marginalized, and bringing biblical justice to their communities and world.
Orphaned and alone
Born in South Kivu, in Minembwe, Congo, Dieudonne was the oldest of six brothers and one sister.
“From my first year to 25 years of age, I’d never lived in houses where there is electricity,” he recalls. “In the place where I was born, I never saw a hospital. In the village we have one syringe, and everyone borrowed it. There weren’t health utilities and transport. I was walking two hours to go to school every day.”
Lack of hospitals and medical infrastructure was why his parents both died a short time apart. First, his father fell severely ill, dying within a week. Later, his mother died suddenly. They suspect it was a heart attack. But without a doctor’s examination and diagnosis, the children never learned exactly why their parents died.
A teenage Dieudonne was left to raise his younger siblings. Their extended family in the village struggled to feed and clothe their own families, so there was no one to take in the orphaned children.
Juggling school with raising siblings
While he was in high school, his sister fell ill. Having learned a devastating lesson from losing parents to lack of medical care, he traveled with her 185 kilometers to a hospital where they both stayed for three months. His final exams were scheduled for a Tuesday. His sister died the Sunday before.
When I was preparing to take the exams, I took three days of fasting, and said, ‘God, I didn’t get time to study.
“I didn’t get time to study during those three months. When I was preparing to take the exams, I took three days of fasting, and said, ‘God, I didn’t get time to study. I’m an orphan, taking care of my brothers and sister. I need to see your support.’ At that time I swore to God I will work for Him if He helped me.”
Out of the 45 students who sat for the exam, Dieudonne scored third highest. “To me, I can say it was a miracle from God to support me in that hard time.”
But there were even harder times to come.
Fleeing civil war
Minembwe is near the border of Burundi and Rwanda. In 1994, when the Rwandan genocide broke out, those who had committed the genocide fled justice into eastern Congo – where Dieudonne’s family lived. The international criminals brought their civil war with them, igniting war in eastern Congo.
Dieudonne and his siblings were forced to flee the widespread violence into Rwanda
In 1995, among many others, Dieudonne and his siblings were forced to flee the widespread violence into Rwanda, which was then rebuilding and establishing peace.
In Rwanda, Dieudonne remembered his promise to serve God, and enrolled at Adventist University of Central Africa (UAAC) for his bachelor’s degree. He was accepted, but was the only one of 18 students who did not have any financial support. He took jobs at the university, such as working in the garden and cleaning the school. The school credited his salary to his tuition.
Dieudonne recalls how he didn’t know much about cleaning, since he didn’t have running water in his home village. The first time he was asked to clean the toilet, he didn’t know what to do. His village didn’t have water in toilets. When the principal asked him to mop the classroom floors, he simply poured water all over the floor, and then realized he didn’t know how to remove the water. When the principal arrived and asked why the floor was still covered with water just as students were about to arrive for class, Dieudonne feared he would lose his job and entire financial support.
The university was patient with him. He completed his four years of education, despite spending most of his time working, with little time left to study, eat, or even have friendships.
“I was working all day and didn’t have time to sit and read my books. But because the calling is strong in me, I said, ‘Let me move forward. God will take care of me,’” Dieudonne said. “I did the four years with support from heaven, because God, He is able to do everything if we trust in God. It’s not about wealth. It’s about building my personality in faith, to know who I am, to know who God is, and to know why I am trusting in Him.”
Moving to England for ministry
Sensing a call to international evangelism, Dieudonne sold everything and flew to England in September 2011 to continue his studies in Newbold College of Higher Education, near London. He reasoned that if he could eventually receive a British passport, he would be able to move freely around the world in ministry.
In November 2011 he claimed asylum in England, but his claim was denied. On July 2012 he was detained, then held at three different immigration removal centers. On November 2012, the administrative court ordered his release. “I said … ‘I have to fight, because I prayed to come to this country.’”
He went to the High Court, which ruled in his favor. He was released, allowed to legally remain in the country, and given a permit to work.
First he settled in Oxford, joining the community of Congolese immigrants. Then he relocated to Sheffield to become an associate minister at a New Testament Church of God. Having found his place with the expatriate Congolese community, Dieudonne is part of a leadership team providing training and coordination for 20 Congolese ministers in England.
While visiting a friend in Manchester, he met Chantal, who is a Methodist pastor’s daughter from Congo. She had likewise settled in England after spending years in a Burundi refugee camp. They became friends and communicated regularly, quickly agreeing to marry. They now have two sons.
Dieudonne dreamed of finishing his studies in England. So he evaluated various theology schools, deciding on Nazarene Theological College. In December 2019 he enrolled in the Master’s Degree in Theology. His dissertation is entitled “Can the Church Provide Shalom for Asylum Seekers in the UK?”
Evangelizing through justice
“When I went to NTC, I was just a minister. But now I’m an activist,” he said, explaining how his studies are already shaping him. “I thought evangelism is accepting sin and receiving Jesus, but I didn’t think about helping the community, supporting people, social justice, social injustice. I found out that, most of the time, Jesus was helping poor people; the voice of voiceless. [Now], I see injustice and justice is part of evangelism.”
But I’m saying justice according to the word of God.
“I’m not saying justice as in a court, like someone who studies laws, or someone who is a judge. But I’m saying justice according to the word of God. In the Bible there is salvation and justice; not justice as in punishing someone, but justice that brings hope and brings someone to the cross and creates faith in someone. Like the good Samaritan: what he did is justice, when he said I’m going to pay everything. I think the one who had been attacked now saw the love of God in that man.”
It is this urgency for justice that has compelled Dieudonne’s heart and thoughts to return to his home village and the war-torn region of Eastern Congo. Without even the benefit of bicycles, the people must walk everywhere. In the absence of medical infrastructure, members of the village still conduct surgery on each other with household knives and without anesthesia. People still share one syringe among an entire village. Amid the civil war, women are raped. There are too few schools, too many unpaved roads, and no electricity. Many families have lost everything, including their Bibles. And it is in God, first, where Dieudonne has found his own hope and strength, a hope and strength that he wants for his people to experience.
One Family, One Bible.
“We’ve got like 160,000 people without Bibles, and I’m trying to raise money to see if we can get money to buy the Bibles. They are meeting for worship without any Bibles.”
Dieudonne is praying for people to join his cause and is searching for partner organizations who will share his vision and bring resources to the table. He is planning a series of ministry visits to eastern Congo to serve his people in whatever ways he can.
“NTC opened my mind and now I can see a big picture of evangelism,” he said. “And my vision is, when I finish my studies, I will try to train my fellow pastors from Congo about this course.”
Dieudonne plans to be an ambassador for NTC and asks everyone to consider enrolling to study theology.
NTC would like to thank Dieudonne for allowing us to write his story.