Many couples believe their love is meant to be, that their paths crossed as a part of a greater plan. After hearing about the shared dreams and aspirations of Kahindo and Emmanuel Mbodwam, it is clear Providence brought these two former missionary kids together to pursue an intense passion. This missionary couple is preparing to embark on a grand adventure as they return to the continent of Africa to share the gospel through youth ministry and mission aviation.

Emmanuel, a licensed mission aviation pilot, was born to a Nigerian father and French mother in Nigeria, where he attended an international school. Christian missions were always a part of his life as both of his parents were missionaries, so it was with intention that he decided to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL. Kahindo was raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, also to missionary parents. Her father’s work with CRU (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) required that the family relocate from the French-speaking Congo to Kenya to learn the English language. In 1987, when Kahindo was about nine years of age, her family would relocate again. This move brought them to the United States, where Kahindo’s family would eventually settle in the suburbs of Chicago, IL so her father earned his Ph.D. in Christian Education. Kahindo was first exposed to mission aviation and bible translation while attending a missionary school in Cameroon. After completing high school, she decided to pursue her calling in youth ministry by attending Moody Bible Institute back in Chicago.

Kahindo explained that the mission-minded couple “met during international student orientation” at the Christian university. As their relationship blossomed, they quickly discovered they shared not only a love of mission work, but also a desire to return to the continent of Africa. They shared a vision and understood their priorities.

She recalls “[the decision to go] back to Africa is not necessarily something we thought ‘I’m going to go back to make my life big there’.” They were going to live lives dedicated to making a difference.

After three years at the main campus in Chicago, the pair moved to Elizabethtown, Tennessee so Emmanuel could complete the technical aspect of his education. During this time, Kahindo taught French at a nearby private school. Kahindo also gave birth to the couple’s first child, Michael. Eventually, they decided to move back to Nigeria, where there was a  greater need for mission aviation than in the U.S.

Their tenure with the missions program they were to serve in was short when it was discontinued following the passing of its leader.  They, then, began instructing students in Nigeria at the Hillcrest school, which Emmanuel once attended. Eventually,  Emmanuel briefly became principal of his alma mater. While carrying their third child, their doctor discovered Kahindo would likely deliver prematurely, forcing her and Emmanuel to restructure their plans. They were told they had one week to leave Africa where they simply did not have the resources to assist such a high-risk pregnancy. This dire situation took the new family of four to France. They anticipated remaining in the country for about a month, returning to their duties in Nigeria.

Eight years and four kids later, the parents and soon-to-be full-time missionaries are preparing to embark on yet another journey with a return to Kahindo’s country of origin, the Democratic Republic of Congo. The family will join the Mission Aviation Fellowship where Emmanuel will use aviation to support mission work, churches, and humanitarian organizations going into remote areas, and Kahindo will develop youth ministry for school-aged children in the region. Kahindo observes there are a lot of Africans returning to the continent for various reasons, including increased business and employment opportunities. But she says that she and her husband “are moving with different intentions,” which also offer different obstacles.

One of the most noted challenges is the uncertain political climate that awaits the family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Emmanuel notes, “with [Congolese President ] Joseph Kabila  stepping down, relationships with foreign aid is currently unknown.” Also unknown is the family’s source of income. Emmanuel shared that many of their friends returning to the Continent have direct links with established companies, affording them the security of employment with salary packages. As missionaries who are not based in the United States, where there is greater support for non-government organizations, these necessities are not guaranteed. The effort to raise enough funds, not only to survive, but to lead a quality of life Kahindo and Emmanuel’s children will find comfortable, is a barrier the two are attempting to overcome in a country where only one to two percent of its population identify as evangelical Christians.

As college graduates from well-educated families, the parents of four value education and have dedicated ample time to examining the schooling options in DRC. When asked about how each of their national environments have impacted their children’s racial and cultural identities, Kahindo and Emmanuel agreed that while the youngest children are not fully aware of race and identity, the eldest son shows signs of strongly identifying with his American cousins. “He visited during the summer and loved it and wanted to go back.” Young Michael confirmed this sentiment when, while attending a Christmas service at La Basilique du Sacré-coeur de Marseille, the middle school student stood to represent the United States as they conducted a sort of nationality roll call. Though Michael has had the privilege of interacting with diverse student bodies through various school systems, his parents are comforted by the fact that their children “tend to see people as people,” says Emmanuel.

The ability to see people as people, without defining them by race or other superficial characteristics will likely serve the Mbodwams well as missionaries. Many people view missionaries as white Westerners eager to inject cultural change into societies that differ from their own. Many missions organizations are run predominantly by white leadership, often in countries with populations predominantly of color.

When asked what it is like being a black missionary couple, the two acknowledge there can be some difficulties. Kahindo recalled a time when she was hired by an organization to help start a Congolese-run school in the Congo. Unfortunately, she discovered she “was selected more as a figurehead or Congolese face with no real authority or decision-making power.”

Though she was disappointed by this misleading experience, she did not allow it to deter her from fulfilling her calling to conduct youth ministries.

Emmanuel and Kahindo decided to partner with Mission Aviation Fellowship, an organization they have both known about since childhood because its reputation of  understanding how to work cross-culturally.  Emmanuel believes organizations like MAF may “appeal to many educated Africans who would like to return to Africa as people who can make a difference without being stifled by people who have no experience with or understanding of Africa and its culture.”


Image: Jeroen Knevel

Emmanuel goes on to explain there was once a point at which leaders of missions organizations may have expressed concern about technical certification of black missionaries, but he does not feel that is the case any longer, as technical qualifications are no longer a challenge to prove. The pilot says “I think historically, what an organization like MAF has tried to do is make sure all of its mission aviation staff are competent.” The greater challenge remains financial trust as they continue their fundraising efforts. The public at large remain leery of foreigners seeking monetary support for social programs.

Despite the various obstacles Kahindo and Emmanuel may face, they are confident they do not have to climb these proverbial mountains alone. When asked about being a missionary couple, Emmanuel emphasized the importance of “recognizing that you are choosing a certain lifestyle in terms of raising funds.” Kahindo echoes his sentiment of being on the same page when she says that “we both have to want to go overseas. The spouse has to support the work and be in it one hundred percent.” She goes on to explain they both dreamed of returning to Africa to do mission work before they met. Once they began their missions journey together, they had to make sure they both understood one another’s roles clearly, ensuring that one spouse’s work would not interfere with the other’s work and that the children remain a priority. “It has to be a collaborative effort,” Kahindo insists.

The couple plan to begin their assignments in the Democratic Republic of Congo in mid-2017, a start date dependent upon raising all necessary funds prior to departure. So far,  they have received a lot of support from the United States, but are also very encouraged by the support they’ve seen from Africans who are excited about their work. They’ve explained they do not receive any of the funding raised until they leave France for the DRC. Those interested in donating may do so as one-time donors (to assist with initial setup, home furnishings and the like), or the desperately needed monthly donors (responsible for salary, medical coverage, and other living expenses).

The Mbodwam family does not know exactly what the future holds once they leave France to return to their home continent. They do hope their presence in missionary capacity makes a positive and lasting impact on the lives of the youth and fellow servants with whom they interact. They are proud to be able to serve in fields they are passionate about in a place they truly call home. Kahindo sums up their excitement this way: “Sometimes I lose sight of how exciting it really is, but it’s so exciting for us as Africans to go back. We’ve been so blessed in terms of the privilege we’ve had of Western education, living in different parts of the world, to have different perspectives. We appreciate being able to share a glimpse of the story and a bit of what we’ve been given to others.”

If you are interested in following Kahindo and Emmanuel’s journey, or if you would like to support their mission trip, please visit the links below.

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