Simon Kimbangu was an infant when he received a blessing from a Protestant missionary and nearly 30 when he heard the divine call: "I am Christ. My servants are unfaithful. I have chosen you to bear witness before your brethren and to convert them. Tend my flock."

"I am not trained," he argued, though he had been schooled at a Baptist mission, "and there are ministers and deacons who are able to serve in this way." He fled his village to toil in distant oil fields, but the call hounded him.

Finally, he returned home to preach the Word. Women gave up their pagan fetishes. Men gave up all but one of their wives. Then in 1921 the healings began. A sick woman got out of her bed and walked. A dead child was reportedly raised to life. And a blind man named Ngoma regained his sight after the prophet daubed his eyes with paste made of soil and saliva.

Soon thousands of people left their jobs and flocked to N'Kamba in Central Africa to see the Holy Spirit's power and hear the prophet. Missionaries resisted his efforts. One charged the prophet with unforgivable sins against Caucasian Christianity: "Kimbangu wants to found a religion which is in accord with the mentality of the African."

Since there were no provisions for stoning native heretics, officials did the next best thing. They punished the prophet with 120 lashes and packed him off to a solitary cell in a far-off prison. They hoped that would take care of the "crackbrained" Simon Kimbangu and the gullible fanatics who followed him. But they were mistaken.

African advent

Simon Kimbangu was born in 1889, into a Central Africa already changed by the long presence of white foreigners spreading their often-conflicting notions of God, civilization, race, and commerce. Portuguese explorer ...

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