Mission Crossroads

SPR 2017

Mission Crossroads is a three-time-a-year magazine focused on worldwide work of the PC(USA). It offers news and feature stories about mission personnel, international partners and grassroots Presbyterians involved in God's mission in the world.

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6 Spring 2017 By one estimate, the Congo was producing 20,000 tons of crude rubber a year at a 900 percent profit. e high return was due largely to cheap labor. As word of atrocities leaked out of the Congo in 1896, Leopold responded with sham investigations and hollow promises of reform. e American Presbyterian Congo Mission (APCM) decided to become a whistleblower. In 1899 it directed Sheppard to investigate personally the villages that were purportedly being attacked by the Zappo Zaps, a subtribe of the BaSonga Menos that Leopold's agents employed in the Kasai district. ey were cannibals who filed their teeth to a point, tattooed their faces, and carried poisoned-dipped spears and arrows. Leopold supplied these mercenaries with guns to terrorize the Congolese into harvesting rubber for him. On encountering the Zappo Zaps, Sheppard feared for this life. He soon discovered, however, that they assumed all foreigners were allied to Leopold, so they did not hesitate to describe their activities to him. Sheppard carried with him a Kodak camera, which was William Sheppard Missionary to the Belgian Congo Michael Parker E arly in our Presbyterian history of international mission, William Sheppard took on the challenge of evangelism in a distant, unknown land. His faith helped to build the church; his advocacy for the Congolese changed the world. ough often neglected today, William Sheppard (1865–1927) was an important black leader and the first African-American to serve as a missionary in central Africa. He played a crucial role in exposing the scandal of Belgian King Leopold II's depredations in the Congo, a story revived in popular culture by Adam Hochschild's 1998 bestseller, King Leopold's Ghost. Sheppard was born in Waynesboro, Virginia, about a month before the end of the Civil War. In 1880, at the age of 15, he attended the Hampton (Virginia) Normal and Industrial Institute (later Hampton University) and then Tuscaloosa eological Institute (later Stillman College) in Alabama, graduating in 1886. After serving for a year at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. ordained him as a missionary. e region of the Congo, which had only recently been explored, caught the attention of King Leopold II of Belgium. e Berlin Conference, held in 1884-85 to regulate European colonization and trade in Africa, officially recognized the king's rule over the Congo Free State as a personal possession not subject to review by the Belgian government. Sheppard, who arrived in the Congo in May 1890, was well aware that he was entering a region deadly to Westerners. e rivers and lakes were filled with crocodiles and hippopotami, and the dense forests with elephants and panthers. One was not safe at home, as the houses were invaded by scorpions, chigoes (small fleas or "jiggers") and snakes. Common illnesses included deadly "blackwater fever" and malaria. Sheppard suffered 22 bouts of malaria in his first two years. e Congolese soon grew to love Sheppard, whom they referred to as Mundele Ndom. William Phipps, a recent biographer, translated this name as "black man with clothes." Sheppard learned Bushonga, the language of the Kuba, which he described as "highly inflected and musical." Sheppard came to appreciate the culture, becoming a collector of Kuba crafts. However, he was not a cultural relativist. He opposed belief in witchcraft and practices such as interring live slaves with deceased superiors and the "trial by ordeal" of drinking poison. Ivory and slaves had been the Congo's main exports, but Leopold focused on rubber. e mass marketing of bicycles and automobiles in the 1890s greatly increased the demand for rubber and sent prices soaring. When a rubber producing vine was discovered in the rainforests of Congo in 1890, Leopold forced out the competition and acquired a monopoly on the scarce commodity. African-Americans bless the mission of God from past to present For many, God's call to mission service is unmistakably clear and based on the universal love of Jesus Christ—a love so deep and so wide that it knows no boundaries. The Rev. Dr. William H. Sheppard, his wife, Lucy, and their children, ca. 1900 Presbyterian Historical Society

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