|Shungu, first indigenous bishop in Congo, is dead|
By Elliott Wright*
May 11, 2007 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
Retired former Bishop John Wesley Shungu, the first indigenous United
Methodist episcopal leader in what is today the Democratic Republic of
Congo, died May 9 in Kinshasa.
He became a bishop in 1964 and had been retired for many years.
Shungu’s eight years as leader of the Central and Southern Annual
Conferences coincided with the tumultuous early days of Republic of
Congo after it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. The country
later became known as Zaire. Shortly after his election, he made a
heroic trip to rescue his wife, Louise, and 11 of their 13 children who
were behind rebel lines near Lodja.
"Bishop Shungu was a pioneer as a church leader facing incredible
political and social challenges," said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief
executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. "Our
prayers are with his family, whose members reside in several countries."
"Bishop Shungu was a pioneer as a church leader facing incredible political and social challenges."
–The Rev. R. Randy Day
John Wesley Shungu was educated in Methodist-related schools in Congo
and grew up at a Methodist mission station, where he met his future
wife through the matchmaking of missionaries, according to Dr. Daniel
Shungu, the couple's third child.
"Our house was an open door house," Shungo told an interviewer in
2005. "People would come and go around breakfast, lunch and supper
because they knew they would not be refused." Daniel Shungo went on to
become a physician specializing in infectious diseases.
In 1964, Bishop Shungo was one of two Africans – along with Bishop
Eserivao Anglaze Zunguze of Mozambique – elected by the African Central
Conference to what was then the Methodist episcopacy. Previously, most
bishops in Africa were Americans named by the Council of Bishops.
In 1965, Shungu came to the United States to recruit missionaries for his episcopal area.
He told a congregation in Harlem that "the fact that I am standing
before you as the product of a missionary school is a credit to you and
your work," according to a report in The New York Times.
Shungu told The Times he was a member of the Otetala tribe
but, indicating his desire to work across tribal lines, he said: "The
church is one institution where the tribal divisions, which create so
much political difficulty, are not important."
During the Shungu years, the Protestant churches of Congo/Zaire were
engaged in efforts to form a united Church of Christ in Congo. The
Methodists initially were involved, but the bishop was never a strong
supporter of the concept. In 1972, he withdrew The United Methodist
Church from the ecumenical denomination.
* Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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