Dr. Denis Mukwege, who has just received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, shows us one example of what global Pentecostalism can look like. Mukwege is sharing the award with Nadia Murad of Iraq for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital, located in Bukavu at the heart of the conflict-ridden South Kivu province, treated over 50,000 survivors of sexual violence during the last 20 years. Mukwege has also repeatedly criticized the Congolese government. In 2012, he was almost assassinated and his family was held at gunpoint.
Mukwege is a full-fledged Pentecostal. The son of a pastor, he's been part of the Congolese Pentecostal movement known as Communauté des Eglises de Pentecôte en Afrique Centrale (CEPAC) all his life. in his autobiography, co-authored with Berthil Åkerlund, he writes: “I was born into this movement, it has a central place in my life”. He also shares his life-transforming experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. Apart from working as a medical doctor at the Panzi Hospital, he pastors a Pentecostal church in Bukavu.
Mukwege’s medical studies and the construction of Panzi have partly been financed by the Pentecostal movement. I recently talked to Maria Bard from the Swedisch Pentecostal International Relief and Development Agency (PMU) about Mukwege’s faith. She told me, “Whenever he’s asked what motivates him and gives him strength – a question he gets a lot – he points to two things: the strength of the women and his faith.”
In 2015, Mukwege was a main speaker at the national Swedish Pentecostal conference, Nyhem, where he shared the following: “From this place, people have been praying for my beloved country and tonight it is a privilege for me to stand here as a fruit of your prayers. My congregation belongs to the Congolese Pentecostal Movement Cepac, and with about one million members it is a fruit of your prayers. The Panzi hospital is a fruit of your prayers.”
Mukwege's combination of a bold, Spirit-filled faith and a solid commitment to peacemaking and women's right is not an anomaly. He represents what sociologists Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori call “progressive Pentecostals,” Christians who both claim to experience miracles and work for social change within their communities. This form of Pentecostalism is radically changing societies around the world.
Dena Freeman at London School of Economics points out in the anthology Pentecostalism and Development:
Pentecostal churches are often rather more effective change agents than are development NGOs…they are exceptionally effective at bringing about personal transformation and empowerment, they provide the moral legitimacy for a set of behaviour changes that would otherwise clash with local values, and they radically reconstruct families and communities to support these new values and new behaviours.
Historically, Pentecostalism originated from the Holiness Movement, which had a clear emphasis on social justice and helping the poor. It also had a high view of gender equality, allowing women to preach. This was also true for early Pentecostalism, even though it quickly conformed to the normative patterns of male dominance that was prevalent in other church movements. Early Pentecostals were also predominantly pacifist and champions for peace in times of world wars.
With this history in mind, it makes sense that Mukwege does not need to fuse his Pentecostal faith with something else in order to become a feminist activist, fighting for peace and women’s rights. I believe this is at the heart of Pentecost. We read in the Holy Scriptures that the consequence of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring on the apostolic church was not merely tongues and healing, but also economic redistribution and social equality (Acts 2:42-47).
Mukwege is a great representative and role-model for the world’s 600 million Pentecostals and charismatics. I hope that we will follow his example of combining spiritual gifts with activism for a better world.