My great-grandfather was a Mennonite: Odette Mukole L Mukanzo

Dan Dyck
November 13, 2012
Mennonite Church Canada
woman dressed in red top, white skirt, lawn and garden in the background
Winnipeg, MAN.

Although Odette Mukole has surely told her story hundreds of times, she speaks softly. She is patient, humble and gracious.

Mukole reaches for a now familiar book on her shelf. Thirty-five years in the Congo is a history of Mennonite mission in what was then known as the Belgian Congo. She finds page 170. Her finger traces the lines of text, stopping at the reference to her great-grandfather, Kizongo a Makina.

Odette Mukole was born in Nyanga mission station in what is now the west central region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Established in 1921, Nyanga was where Kizongo a Makina, a sub-chief of the village in his area, was first introduced to Christianity.

“He was the second person in that area to give his life to Jesus,” says Mukole.  “People were making fun of him, saying ‘This is ridiculous, this is stuff for kids.’ But he said it was a matter of the heart,” says Mukole. A year later he passed away. “He left that [message] with our family. You can play with something else, but you cannot play with faith.”

Her grandparents Pierre Kambembo and Marie Mukole Kizongo, and her parents Louis Mukanzo Kambembo and Marie Louise Bongesa Mayimbi Mukanzo became well known Mennonites in the area.

Mukole’s B.A. in Education proved unviable in a country where teachers can work for two years without being paid. She took additional training in public relations and found work as a public relations agent for a 5,000-employee sugar cane company.

On the side, Mukole led a 250 member women’s group, Action des Maman Chrétiennes Entrepreneuses, which helped women stand up for their rights in a cultural environment where abuse was considered normal. “They didn’t know that they could make change happen,” she says.

Her employment at the sugar cane plant was stable for 13 years, until her activist work compromised her personal security and that of her daughters.

Mukole arrived in Montreal with her three daughters in January 2000, a penniless single mother. After six months it became clear that she would need to improve her English language skills, so she moved to Calgary, found a community at Trinity Mennonite Church, enrolled in English classes, and found a job as a homecare support worker.

“My father always told me that if you need help, find the Mennonites,” she says.

It soon became clear that if she wanted to improve her employment prospects, she’d need to go back to school. With help from her church community and Mennonite Women Canada members in Alberta, Mukole received some financial aid and encouragement to study Conflict Resolution at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. She graduated in 2007 with a major in Social Science and minor in Theology and now works full time as a Newcomer Case Coordinator at the Family Centre of Winnipeg. She continues to work an additional quarter-time job at a local school, helping refugee and immigrant parents adjust to life in Canada. And if that does not keep her busy, she also works on casual basis with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority as a Language Access Lingala-English Interpreter.

Mukole carries her Mennonite identity with pride – though other Mennonites in her new home country do a double take when they learn about her Anabaptist heritage. Having lived among Mennonites in Canada for 13 years, she understands that Canadians often see a cultural stereotype of Mennonites; primarily white and of northern European descent. But she also wants to share the message that people of other ethnic backgrounds can and do trace their Mennonite faith back through several generations. When asked, she readily agreed to be featured in one of Mennonite Church Canada’s Mennonites Everywhere video series.

Meanwhile, she keeps busy with two jobs, and staying connected to her three now-adult daughters as they find their way and vocations in Canada. Whenever time and energy allow, she attends worship at her new home congregation, Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg and is active in her small care group (K-group) there.

And she’s not shy about sharing her message with others. “My name is Odette Mukole. My great-grandfather was a Mennonite, and so am I.”

You can view her Mennonites Everywhere video here

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