Many years ago, Claude Tambatama received a clear vision from God about his calling. He stood before a towering mountain and was given a tool to make the terrain flat. Sweat beaded down his face, and he wished he wouldn’t have to complete the task alone.
“This is your job,” God responded. “Nobody else can do this. I will be with you. If you get tired, I will help you.”
When the ground was finally flat, Tambatama was given a heavy tent to set up. Again, he doubted he could do it by himself. Again, God offered his help. Soon, the thousands of people that had been watching him came inside the tent.
“Your calling is not to be a pastor,” God said. “Your calling is to dig new places where they don’t know about salvation, to dig the hearts of people and bring them to the kingdom of God. After bringing those people in, you are to make another mountain flat. I call you to be an apostle.”
“I am very happy to have that calling,” Tambatama says. “It’s fun to win the hearts of people to Jesus. If only one person came to receive Jesus, I will be happy to give. I will go to every country to do his work.”
Tambatamba has fulfilled and continues to fulfill this calling in many places, including as the pastor of a new congregation that recently joined the U.S. Mennonite Brethren family.
A young evangelist
Tambatamba was born in 1977 in the Minembwe territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His parents, who were leaders in their Christian church, had 10 other children. At age 14, Claude, who came to personally know Jesus around age 8, preached at his school and was a leader for over 200 youth.
After he moved from his home village to attend a university, he would pay for time with prostitutes so he could share the gospel with them. Two accepted Christ as their personal Savior.
He even shared the love of Jesus with his persecutors.
War in DR Congo made life dangerous for many civilians. Claude’s family was no exception—two of his brothers were killed unarmed.
One night as he was traveling by boat across a large lake, militants attacked him and riders from another village. Tambatamba was disrobed, thrown off the boat and left for dead.
In his panic, he was given a vision. A man clothed in white told him, “Do not fear, I am with you.” As a promise of his safety, he saw himself traveling back to his home village. Coming out of his vision, Tambatamba found himself on the shore of the lake the next morning.
Captured but confident
But militants were headquartered in the area. They tied his hands and legs and beat him so severely that he temporarily lost his memory. For 34 days he had no food or water. When he regained his memory, he leaned on God’s promises.
“I wasn’t thinking about myself,” Tambatamba says. “I was meditating on his love. Even though I was hurting and hungry, I didn’t remember that. My spirit was free to praise him. I was joyful.”
His captors threatened him.
“You can’t stop me,” Tambatamba told them. “God promised me I will go back to my village and travel to the nations and tell them about Jesus. Now it is time to release me.”
This joy and confidence turned the hearts of three captors. They believed Tambatamba’s God was alive and begged him to pray for their salvation. Soon after he was sent back home, the only survivor of that prison.
“It shows me there is nothing to fear when I have God,” Tambatamba says. “There is no bad person. I was a bad person, but God forgave me and gave me salvation. God can use me to change other people to be good, even though they are bad to others.”
In 2006, he took his wife and two children with him to Kenya. They wanted to flee the violence of DR Congo and also attend theology school there. He reached out to many homeless youth and led 45 adults to Christ. Some of those adults are now leading the four churches he helped plant in the area.
“We are not in the world by accident,” Tambatamba says. “We are here on behalf of Jesus to give good news to the enemies of Jesus. There are brothers and sisters who are lost, and we need to bring them back.”
Called to a new continent
In 2014, Tambatamba, his wife and their children came to the United States as refugees, as there will still threats on his life. He felt God calling him to be an ambassador of the gospel on a new continent, which gave a broader meaning to God’s promise to preach to the nations.
In 2015, he started New Jerusalem Temple in his apartment in Sioux Falls, S.D. The congregation has expanded to 126 members, the majority of attendees originating from Kenya, Rwanda and the Congo. Services are conducted in Swahili and English.
“I believe they are a family,” Tambatamba says. “I consider it a joy to see brothers and sisters coming together to do the work of God.”
This congregation, led by Pastor Emanuel Nkunda, has already planted churches in Uganda and Kenya. The congregation takes offerings each week for their church plants, local ministry and for renting a meeting facility.
Securing a meeting location is one of the biggest challenges the congregation currently faces. They bounce between two facilities where they can meet when the buildings are not in use.
New Jerusalem’s short-term goals are to reach out to Muslims and other non-believers in the area. Eventually, just like any other place he’s lived, Tambatamba hopes to plant other churches.
“That’s the command of God,” he says. “Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will obey my commandments.’ That’s the great mission of the church.”
But that is easier said than done, he’s observed.
“Some churches are focused on the numbers inside, but our vision is to look outside,” Tambatamba says. “The church without preaching the gospel of God are doing spiritual genocide to non-believers. They will be accountable one day in the presence of God.”
A divine connection
One resource available to New Jerusalem is their partnership with USMB. In November 2017, the church has become an official member of the Central District Conference. This connection began when a member needed a facility for their wedding. Ethiopian Christian Fellowship, a Sioux Falls congregation that is also a member of the CDC, offered their building.
Leaders from both congregations began to discuss partnerships and core beliefs. Although the New Jerusalem Temple had received many offers of partnerships from other churches, Tambatamba felt the CDC was best aligned with Scripture and calls that first meeting a “divine connection.”
“We are honored to have this vibrant community of believers join our district,” says Rick Eshbaugh, CDC district minister. “Apostle Claude is a hardworking, humble servant who truly loves the Lord and his people.”
When Tambatamba is not participating in the church’s weekly prayer groups, discipleship or inviting at-risk youth to his apartment, he is often flying back to Africa to train pastors and leaders. He also works as a translator of 14 languages.
“What makes me happy is I have the opportunity to share the good news,” Tambatamba says. “We have the freedom to share our faith. I can stop eating, but I can’t feel good when I don’t share the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Jenae Suderman is a freelance news writer. She and her husband, Adam, live in Wichita, Kansas.