It all started with three.
In fact, three were required.
For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be officially recognized in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in early 1986, law required the signatures of three Congolese members.
And three there were, present and available — Nkitabungi Mbuyi, Mucioko Banza and his wife, Régine Banza.
They became the Church’s representatives for the document to be signed by the country’s president, culminating an effort of seven years and multiple trips to Zaire by Church legal counsel Oscar W. McConkie Jr.
How the Banzas and Nkitabungi Mbuyi were able to represent the Church in their homeland was the result of conversions in Europe and unexpected returns to Zaire, where the meaning of “faith” meant their own testimony and not an organized, functioning religion.
It was not for a lack of effort or desire.
For more than a decade, Church headquarters had received letters from the area requesting literature, missionaries and baptism. Some interested in the gospel and the doctrine formed study groups; others formed their own unsanctioned churches.
As for the Banzas, they left Zaire in 1976 to study in Geneva, Switzerland, afforded scholarships by a homeland religious council. When they were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October 1979, however, the scholarships were terminated and the two and their sons, Junior and Philippe, returned home.
It wasn’t until three years later that the Banza family connected with the first of several Latter-day Saint families to work in the American Embassy in Kinshasa; they would meet on Sundays to partake of the sacrament.
In Belgium since 1969, Nkitabungi Mbuyi was tracted out by missionaries there and baptized in 1980. Two years later, he left to serve as a missionary in the England Birmingham Mission. Once back in Brussels, visa problems resulted in his forced return to Zaire.
They aren’t the only Congolese “pioneers” — Jean Jacquaes Tamba-Tamba was baptized in Belgium in October 1977, a year before the 1978 revelation that all male members could receive the priesthood. Facing opposition from his African friends for his joining the Church, he returned to Zaire after completing his graduate studies and continued to be ministered to by his former home teacher in Belgium, who remained in contact and also looped in the International Mission for communication and correspondence.
And some learned of the Church on their home soil, well before the official recognition. They include 18-year-old Gilbert Mingotyi, who came across a copy of Elder LeGrand Richards’ book “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” in 1985, borrowed it, closely scrutinized it, received confirmations of its truths and joined a study group with Kasongo Mulunda Ngoy in the town of Lubumbashi.
More than a decade earlier, Kasongo himself had discovered a library book mentioning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ended up writing to Church headquarters, receiving a reply from President Spencer W. Kimball and ongoing correspondence from the International Mission.
Missionary lessons soon followed the early 1986 official recognition. Elder R. Bay Hutchings and Sister Jean Hutchings were the first missionary couple assigned to Zaire in 1985 when the Church was established as a non-profit organization; they led the Zaire Kinshasa Mission when it was organized in 1987.
Meetings were held — the first in the Nkitabungi Mbuyi living room, then the carport. A branch was formed, with Michael C. Bowcutt — working at the embassy — called as branch president. Then baptisms, the first being Junior and Philippe Banza, in the swimming pool behind the Bowcutt home.
On Aug. 30, 1987, in the garden area of the Bowcutt home, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated the country for the preaching of the gospel.
Both the Banzas and Nkitabungi Mbuyi and his wife, Lumbay Mujinga Maguy, have since been sealed in the temple. The two men served as translators, branch presidents and bishops, with Banza a patriarch. And both families claim a posterity of Latter-day Saint members, missionaries and leaders.
After having put pen to paper for the Church’s official recognition 33 years ago, they have witnessed the reality of a temple in DR Congo — the Banzas traveled for the dedication from their home in Utah, and Nkitabungi Mbuyi as a new ordinance worker in Kinshasa.
January — Ralph Bay Hutchings and Jean Hutchings are set apart as the first missionaries in Zaire (now the DR Congo)
Feb. 12 — Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seku à Gbadolite gives verbal permission for the Church to hold meetings and send other missionaries to Zaire
Feb. 23 — First official meeting of the Church is held in the Nkitabungi Mbuyi home in Kinshasa. The meeting includes the ordinance of the sacrament, with 25 people attending.
April 12 — The presidential order is signed, granting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the right to operate throughout the country.
June 1 — The first baptisms in Zaire — brothers Junior and Philippe Banza — are performed in the swimming pool of the Michael C. Bowcutt home in Kinshasa
June 12 — The Kinshasa Zaire District is created, with Elder Robert L. Backman of the Presidency of the Seventy as acting district leader.
Sept. 14 — The Kinshasa Branch is organized.
May 3 — The Kinshasa Branch is divided into two branches — Limete and Binza.
July 1 — The Zaire Kinshasa Mission is opened, led by President and Sister Hutchings. Membership in the country reaches 300.
Aug. 30 — Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicates Zaire for the preaching of the gospel. A branch conference is held later that day with 215 in attendance.
Sept. 11 — A branch of the Church is organized in Lubumbashi.
Sept. 18 — The first Kinshasa District is organized, and the two local branches are divided to create four now in the city.
January through June — The first missionaries called from the DR Congo begin their missions.
June 9 — The Makelekele Branch in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, is organized. Brazzaville is located north of Kinshasa, on the opposite bank of the Congo River.
Dec. 29 through July 17 — After relocating mission headquarters to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo in the fall, the mission in Zaire is closed, due to wars in the region. Mission headquarters eventually return to Kinshasa.
July 30 — The first group of Congolese Latter-day Saints — 10 couples and one child — leave to attend the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.
Nov. 10 — The Kinshasa Zaire Stake is created.
Oct. 1 — President Thomas M. Monson announces five locations for new temples, including Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Feb. 12 — On the 30th anniversary of the Zaire’s president given verbal recognition of the Church in that country, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presides over the groundbreaking of the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple.
April 14 — Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicates the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple.