Emmanuel Rupande Musinga, known locally as Pastor Emmanuel, is a self-described “Jungle Boy.” He was born in the remote village of Kabembwe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1977, at least 50 kilometers away from the closest road. Even though he grew up in a mud house with no electricity or running water, as a kid Pastor Emmanuel says he didn’t know he was missing anything. “Life was really tough… according to the life I’m seeing now. You know, in the village if you have 50 cows and you have some food, you think you are rich.”
Every Thursday, people from the dozen or so villages in the surrounding area would walk to a gathering spot on the mountains to meet, sell and buy from sunup to sundown. Pastor Emmanuel would have to walk more than three and a half hours to get there, cows, corn and all. To get other resources such as oil, candles and sugar, it was a six-hour walk to the closest store. Due to the remoteness of the community, a strong support system was vital. If you ran out of something, you’d borrow some from a neighbor until you could get more. “We share everything with the community. If you don’t have milk, and you have children… we have milk, we must share what we have,” Pastor Emmanuel says.
In the 1990s, war came to the DRC, and to Pastor Emmanuel’s village. At age 22, he was shot in the leg. “When war broke out in the village, we passed the night in the bush. No food, no anything. The whole family,” he says. His father transported him 145 miles to Rwanda where a volunteer doctor from Germany saved his leg. While he and his family were in Rwanda, Pastor Emmanuel finished his high school education and wrestled with what had happened to him. At first he wanted to become a lawyer to enact justice and vengeance on the people who hurt his community. However, one day in 2002, he asked himself, “‘Why I don’t forgive the people who persecuted me? I keep carrying them in my mind. Why do I do that? I’m supposed to help myself, focus on my dream.’ I said, ‘I need to forgive them and focus on my life.’”
In 2005 he moved by himself to Kenya, where he started the process to become a minister and walked seven miles each way to learn English. In 2008 he was ordained, and soon after he met his wife, Clementine. They adopted a little girl from the Congo and applied for refugee status in the United States. In 2010, the three of them moved to Rock Island, Illinois. He got a job cleaning bathrooms at Walmart – and loved it. In fact, he loved almost everything about the United States – with the exception of two things: “Too much cold. And I don’t like bills. Too much bills.” Most of us would agree.
After a few years, he felt called to relocate to Indianapolis and start a church. Even though he didn’t know of a Congolese community already in the area, he was confident that if he built it, they would come. He transferred his Walmart job to Indianapolis and his family moved with him. Today, Pastor Emmanuel is the leader of a thriving Congolese church community, but that’s not his only job. You see, he is a volunteer pastor, so over the years he’s worked as a case manager for Exodus Refugee, in factories and now in home health care. The way he puts it, “I have two jobs. My church is my third job. My family is my fourth job. Now I’m going to school and will have a fifth job.”
In August, Pastor Emmanuel will continue his education, pursuing a master’s degree at Christian Theological Seminary at Butler University. He now has four kids – three girls and a boy – all of whom have grown up in the United States. “The kids, they are Americans. They eat macaroni and cheese. I don’t,” he says. “If I keep eating American food, I’ll get fat,” he says with a laugh. As for their future, he gives them the same advice he has always given himself: “If you do something and you have the passion, one day you will succeed.”
Written by Hannah Lindgren