Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Remembering Tshangand Kayeke, former slave, prayer warrior and messenger of God to the Lunda people

by Nancy Woodcock Riley

At the Kapanga mission station in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I was born and raised by my United Methodist missionary parents, Everett and Vera Woodcock, we met many people and heard many stories. I would often listen to my parents in their later years tell the story of Tshangand Kayeke. The story went something like this.

In the late 1800s, when Kayeke was a young boy, Portuguese slave traders came through his village. He was among the men and boys who were shackled together and marched into Angola. Along the way some died. When the rest arrived in Angola, Kayeke was too sick to be put on a ship. He was sold as a slave to a local chief. Noticing the potential in his young servant, Kayeke’ s Angolan master made it possible for him to go to school at the mission station across the river.

Kayeke studied the Bible and became a believer in Jesus Christ. Following the example of the missionary Walter Currie, he began to fervently pray for God to send missionaries to Musumba in the Belgian Congo, near his home village. When someone from Belgian Congo visited the mission station, he would ask if there were missionaries yet at Musumba. They would say no, and he would continue to pray.

When Kayeke’s enslavement ended, he decided to continue to work as a free man for his master. He went on several expeditions into Belgian Congo and Northern Rhodesia to trade goods. All the while, he continued to pray for missionaries to come to Musumba. In 1910, when he was about 30 years old, Kayeke was on one of his trading expeditions at a town on the border of the Belgian Congo when he met Methodist missionaries John and Helen Springer. He asked them, “Is it true you have come to open a mission among the Lunda, the people of Mwant Yav at Musumba?” They said yes! It was a happy day for Kayeke.

He went back to Angola for his wife and children and they all moved to Musumba. When they arrived in Musumba, he went straight to the Mwant Yav (the Lunda paramount chief) to announce the good news that slavery was over and that he and his family were back. Kayeke passionately shared the Good News of Jesus Christ and the good news that missionaries would soon be coming to Musumba. Mwant Yav prayed that God would also send a doctor to his people. In 1914, Dr. Arthur and Maude Piper arrived in Kapanga to set up what is now Samuteb Hospital.

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Young missionaries as they entered service for the Congo mission: Maude Garrett Piper and Arthur Lewis Piper, 1914; Vera Woodcock and Everett Woodcock, 1945. PHOTOS: GENERAL COMMISSON ON ARCHIVE AND HISTORY

Kayeke was a passionate preacher, song writer and strong leader in the Southern Conference of the Methodist Church, serving at Musumba and later in Sandoa, where he passed away.

Prayers answered

In June 2018, I was blessed to travel with Dottie Loving and Cathy Strate to Musumba/ Kapanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Dottie’s grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Piper, and our parents served as missionaries. It was a special trip to memorialize our parents and to visit Samuteb Hospital. While considering what to take with me on our trip, I came across a binder called “The story of Dr. Piper,” written by Cathy’s father, Harry Little. I felt compelled to make copies of the chapter about Tshangand Kayeke to take with me. In my mind was the thought, “His story must not be forgotten.” I also framed a copy of a picture of Kayeke with his wife Kalenga and Bishop Springer.

What struck me the most regarding our side trip to visit Victoria Falls in Zambia and then to Kapanga in the DRC was the spirit to spirit interconnectedness of believers in the United States, Zambia and Congo to accomplish God’s work. And God is still working among the Lunda people in answer to the prayers of Mwant Yav Ditend for doctors and a hospital and of Kayeke for missionaries to teach the gospel message.

On our flight from Livingston to Lusaka, I sat with a missionary couple working with Overland Missions. They described their work with the Mwant Yav of the Lunda people to train village chaplains to go back and disciple the people in their villages. Another generation of four American missionaries were also being trained to go to Lubumbashi to work with the Lunda chiefs in Southern Congo.

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Left to right: the daughter of Mwant Yav Ditend, Dottie Hardee Loving, Nancy Riley, and the son of Mwant Yav Ditend. PHOTO: COURTESY NANCY RILEY

Our United Methodist missionary pilot, Rukang Chikomb, inspired as a young boy to become a pilot by watching my father fly the mission plane in and out of Kapanga, shepherded us in Zambia and in the DRC (the spirit of God at work for the future of aviation in Congo). On our trip back into Congo, we visited the city of Lubumbashi. Dottie asked Rukang if there were any people in Kapanga that might still remember her grandfather. Within an hour of arriving at the guest house in Lubumbashi, two of Mwant Yav Ditend’s children came to visit, Mujing A. Ditend and Nawej Mbaku. They brought a book written by their father, “Ngand Yetu,” about the history of the Lunda people, the lineage of paramount chiefs and the beginning of the Methodist Church among the Lunda people. The story of Kayeke is in this book written in Uurund, the language of the Lundas. When I was in Kapanga with my husband Joe for an earlier visit in 2015, they had come to the guest house to ask us to find a way to reprint the book. For them, it was urgent that younger generations learn of their Lunda heritage and the beginnings of The United Methodist Church. Sadly, I had not found a way to have it reprinted. Dottie asked if they remembered her grandfather, Dr. Piper. With great joy, they answered “yes!”

As Rukang flew us in the mission plane to Kapanga, my heart was warmed when I saw Bishop Kasap Owen Tshibang reading the folder I gave him about Kayeke. There in the front of the airplane was a Lunda pilot and a Lunda bishop. We were greeted by a throng of people from Kapanga and Musumba singing and dancing as we were taken to the guest house. Was this overwhelmingly joyous celebration similar to what Dr. and Mrs. Piper had experienced when walking the trail near Musumba, greeted by Kayeke and a throng of people singing? Along the parade route were Lunda pastors and superintendents, Kipendano women of the Methodist Church in their green tops and yellow scarves, the doctor and administrator of Samuteb Hospital, Dr Chimwang Kaumb Faby, who is also Lunda, standing together with the medical school students. Kayeke and Mwant Yav Ditend would be so proud.

The following day during a very moving memorial service for our parents, Bishop told the story of Kayeke and how our parents were among the missionaries God sent in answer to Kayeke and Mwant Yav Ditend’s prayers.

Worship and praise forever

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Kayeke Tshangand (left) and Mwant Yav, chief of the Lunda people, in portraits taken in 1917. PHOTO: JOHN SPRINGER/GCAH AFRICA MISSION ALBUM #6, PP. 40 AND 45.

After an unforgettable week at Kapanga, we returned to Lubumbashi. The day before we were to leave for the United States, Pastor David Kayeke Tshangand, a descendant of Kayeke Tshangand, came by to greet us. He had written down for us his family tree back to his great, great grandfather Kayeke Tshangand. Later two women came to the guest house. They introduced themselves as Georgette Maud Tshangand and Clementine Sela Tshangand, descendants of Kayeke. They came with one request: that their great grandfather Kayeke not be forgotten. I showed them the framed picture I had of Kayeke, Kalenga and Bishop Springer and assured them his name would not be forgotten. Bishop had a copy of his story and had shared it at the memorial service for our parents in Kapanga. I believe he will continue to tell Kayeke’s story.

I told them Kayeke’s story is captured in the book “This Is Our Story, This is Our Song: Missionaries!” by Harry and Phyllis Little (Cathy Strate’s parents).

The story is also in Mwant Yav’s book “Ngand Yetu.” I asked them to pray with me that God will help us find a way to help Bishop Kasap Owen Tshibang reprint and distribute it. In gratitude, they wanted to end our time together by singing “Kayeke’s Song,” which we often heard sung while at Kapanga, and which you can watch on vimeo: Below, the words are translated by Mij Andre Yav, a young man in Musumba who is passionate about learning English and presently teaches English classes.

God is the creator! King forever!
He is the one who created everything the world! King forever!
He is the one that created everything! Worship the King forever!
May he be praised! May he be praised! May he be praised!
May he be praised! King forever!
Hosanna, Glory to God, King forever. Amen.

Note: Earlier accounts of this story have spelling variations for the Lunda names. Kayeke Tshangand is also known as Kayeka Mutembo from John Springer’s journals, and Mwant Yav as Mwant Yavu or Mwant Yamvo. Spellings used in this article were provided by the Kayeke and Mwant Yav families.

Nancy Woodcock Riley was born in Kapanga, the daughter of Everett and Vera Woodcock, who served more than 40 years as United Methodist missionaries there. After a career as a high school teacher in Indiana, Riley currently works with a ministry called Women and Girls Alive, which brings together women from churches in the community with women in recovery to learn from each other and build a joyful community together.