Ties to the family run deep

Henri Ngolo joins USMB staff in Integrated Immigrant Ministries

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Henri Ngolo, integrated immigrant coordinator, speaks during the Congolese Gathering that followed USMB Gathering 2022. Photo: Janae Rempel

As a third generation Mennonite Brethren, Henri Ngolo’s ties to the family run deep. Like his grandparents before him, who planted Mennonite Brethren churches in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ngolo has welcomed opportunities to serve his family of faith.

Ngolo is USMB’s new integrated immigrant coordinator, adding another layer to his ministry story, which includes serving the MB church in Kinshasa, working in Rwandan refugee camps and aiding immigrant churches in the United States.

“This job for me is not a job,” Ngolo says. “It’s being a part of your family, a part of what God is doing.”

A heart for immigrants

The youngest of nine, Ngolo grew up in Kinshasa, Zaire, in present-day DRC where today, unemployment tops 95 percent. As a child, Ngolo raised chickens and goats to fund his schooling. He sometimes relied on bread and Coca-Cola for sustenance and went to bed hungry.

Ngolo began serving the MB church at a young age, first as choir director, then as youth minister.

Ngolo earned his master’s degree in missiology at the University Center in DRC-Kinshasa. While studying God’s call of Abraham for his thesis, in July 1994 Ngolo sensed God calling him to aid Mennonite Central Committee’s response to the refugee crisis in eastern Congo following the Rwandan genocide.

“I obeyed by faith, and God opened the doors when I did,” Ngolo says. “Since then, my life has changed.”

The experience gave Ngolo a heart to serve immigrants and refugees affected by war. He also planted an MB church in eastern Congo.

Ngolo came to the U.S. through an MCC exchange program. He continued his studies—and learned English—at Bluffton College, then pursued an associate degree in business management at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. He also married his wife, Bienvenue. The couple has three children.

Ngolo advanced from stocking shelves to supervising at Sam’s Club. He moved to Dayton in 2014 to open a Costco Wholesale, where he works as marketing director.

“This is where the Lord wanted me to come to start the ministries,” Ngolo says.

A new mission field

Ngolo’s ministry in the U.S. began when he could not find a Mennonite Brethren church to attend.

“I was kneeling and praying about it until the Lord said, ‘Look around,’” he says. “I thought I left the immigrants in the Congo. (The Lord) put the same passion in me again. A lot of churches were getting planted by immigrants. He said, ‘Here is the field.’’’

A resurgence of violence in DRC has internally displaced six million Congolese, and others are fleeing to surrounding countries or coming to the U.S. Ohio is a popular destination for immigrants, Ngolo says, because the cost of living is low, and factories provide accessible jobs. According to the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, refugees from DRC comprised 43 percent (4,876 refugees) of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2021.

Ngolo began connecting with independent immigrant pastors, explaining Mennonite Brethren faith and practice and helping organize MB churches. In DRC, Ngolo had worked with MB leaders, and these individuals connected him with U.S. Mennonite Brethren.

“We’re going to be reaching 7,000 immigrants that are freely walking our way,” Ngolo says. “Migration is great. I said, ‘Family, wake up. We have a new mission field.’”

All in the family

USMB has hired Ngolo to build on his work the past five years serving immigrant congregations.

“With 10 new Congolese MB member churches and many more that are showing interest in becoming a part of our USMB family, we have a huge need for someone knowledgeable about specific Congolese immigrant issues, expertise in dealing with immigrant churches and having the necessary language/communication skills to assist us in this ministry,” says USMB national director Don Morris.

According to Terry Hunt, EDC minister and chair of the Integrated Immigrant Council, Ngolo is a good fit for the job.

“Henri is a great communicator, and his 25-plus years living in the U.S. enables him to use his experiences here and in Congo to be the perfect fit for Integrated Immigrant Ministries,” Hunt says. “In addition, he can speak three or more languages and understands both cultures well.”

Ngolo provides resources to help Congolese leaders understand U.S. culture, legal requirements, budgeting and education with the goal of helping immigrant churches join USMB and become self-sustainable. It takes five to 10 years for immigrants to assimilate, he says.

“Immigrant churches are not a burden,” Ngolo says. “Those churches are going to become so productive they will engage in the church planting and evangelizing America in the years to come.”

Ngolo works 15 to 20 hours per week with USMB, sometimes more, while continuing part-time at Costco.

“One of the things I’ve learned in this journey (is) with us or without us, God will do what God will do because he’s God,” Ngolo says. “We can’t correct him. So, me coming to (the) USMB family to work and to participate, it’s (about) being in the family so we can accomplish what God is doing now.”

To hear an intreview with Henri Ngolo, listen to LEAD Pod Episode 70. https://www.buzzsprout.com/972541/12116895

 

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