The camera was an essential tool for Mennonite missionary enterprise in Africa, as well as on other continents. Photographs enabled missionaries to share information with supporting families and congregations back home. Through slide shows, photographs in church periodicals, and photo albums, North Americans learned about people and places on the mission field. (Strangely, the missionary family in Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, although overloaded with consumer comforts from home, seems not to have had a camera. They remembered their misbegotten mission work without the aid of photographs.)

The Congo Picture Book, from the collection of photographs in the Mennonite Library and Archives at Bethel College, was originally created as a kind of photo album. The original photos are mostly prints about nine by eleven inches in size. The photographer is unknown. Perhaps someone among our readers can help fill in some details.

The photographs are not well dated but seem to come from around 1960. They show people and situations from the work of Congo Inland Mission, later Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. The photo captions, written for a North American audience, betray a paternalistic style of missions publicity typical of an earlier generation. Note in the photo of the gymnastics group, for example, the reference to a curriculum which teaches them to obey instructions. The Africans are pictured as people of great dignity, but the viewpoint implies outside ownership. This is our work, belonging to the mission and to the supporting churches in North America.

The captions in the Congo Picture Book are quoted directly. Some photos are missing from the set, but the captions are all included here, and the gaps are noted in the series of links.

[photo 1 missing; no caption]
2 — Kabanga Thomas models a village chief’s hat.
Thomas is the pastor of the church in the large Forminiere Diamond Camp across the Kasai River from our station at Tshikapa.
3 — A new literate and a printed page.
Pray for the ministry of our C. I. M. Press and the work of the missionaries engaged in revision and translation work. Remember our Bible and Christian Literature Fund!
[photo 4 missing; no caption]
5 — A day’s supply of fire wood.
This picture, taken in the Nyanga girls’ compound, illustrates the approach of the C. I. M. to Congo womanhood. Physical labor is not regarded as a sign of servitude but rather a labor of love in a home where the Mother is loved by husband and family.
6 — Useful toes
Because of the loyal support of the C. I. M. Women’s Auxiliary, girls like this can find a home on a mission station and away from the pagan practices and customs of their home abroad. Only in this way can we introduce the Christian marriage in Congo.
[photo 7 missing] — A congo hammer mill.
(2 stick power) Girls often come to the station from the village, thin, in poor health, with skin sores or itch, jiggers in their toes, etc. After a few months of eating regular meals, simple medication and observing simple health rules, they develop into plump, healthy Congo belles.
8 — A type setter in the Charlesville print shop.
One of the fringe benefits of a mission program is the variety of trades and skills which may be learned there by empolyed Africans. Much of the training of skill African workmen in days past has been done by missionaries.
9 — I might as well enjoy my work!
Often a mechanical task such as the operation of this stapling machine will prompt the singing or humming of some tune or refrain in time with the rhythm of the operation. Much of the work done by the Africans is done in time with the singing of gospel hymns. Some of their best choir rehearsals take place in corn patches.
10 — A congo lumber mill.
A roughly squared tree trunk resting on a framework over an open pit in the forest; the murmur of voices, occasional laughter and then the leisurely sh = sh = sh = sh as the two man pit saw nibbles its way along the charcoal sawing line. The missionary has ordered some boards. He needs them right away. Maybe they’ll be ready next week, maybe next month. It’s the land of the approximate time.
11 — The secret is mostly elbow grease
As the Congo carpenter works with the missionary builder, it proves to be an excellent school in which to learn not only how to make a square window frame and solid chair, but also to learn more of another humble Carpenter who labored many years ago in a town called Nazareth.
12 — A true ministry of love
John and Jeanne Zook, medical doctor and nurse, devote their skills to a ministry of love for the sake of Christ. They are two members of a growing medical corps chosen and given to us by God for service in our Congo field. We rejoice at the ever widening field of Gospel witness that is opened to us in this manner.
13 — Is it perhaps malaria?
Much of the tedious, daily routine of a large medical program on our stations is carried on by a devoted group of medical aids trained largely by our own doctors and nurses. Their service, when coupled with a personal witness of faith in Christ, makes a powerful contribution to the mission program.
14 — I want my mommy!
Part of the maternity program is to have mothers bring their babies in to the station for weekly check-ups. Not only have many young lives been saved through preventive medicine but the weekly contact has made telling impact on the lives of many mothers.
15 — The doctor says that it will be as good as new!
Immobilized at the mission hospital by a broken leg, this man has nothing to do but sit and watch the activity of a mission station about him and reflect on the messages he hears at the daily devotions given by the hospital evangelist or missionary doctor. Many are the souls who return to their villages cleansed in soul as well as healed in body.
[photo 16 missing] — This must be the jar the doctor wants
The African assistants and patients alike regard the missionary doctor’s medicine with considerable awe and have the utmost confidence in his pills, capsules and hypodermic needles. Surgery is the ultimate favor that can be bestowed upon them!
[photo 17 missing] — The beauty of christian motherhood speaks a universal language
18a — my forefathers before me scorned work like this!
The tilling of the soil has traditionally been considered the work of women among many of the Congo tribes. This task added to the dozens of others combined to make the work of the woman a grinding, crushing routine. One of the objectives of missionaries everywhere is to instill in the thinking of Congo men the dignity and worth of physical labor without which their country will never rise above its backward state.
[photo 18b missing] — A lighthouse on a hill cannot be hid
Across Congo on river banks, in the forest clearings, at cross roads and on hill tops there now rise solid symbols of a faith and a way of life that is new to this land. This is the Charlesville church, the first that was built in the C. I. M.
[photo 19 missing] — They hear in their own tongue the wonderful works of god
The miracle of Pentecost is re-enacted daily in our time on the mission fields of the world, i. e., men hearing spelled out in their own dialects the eternal message of life. Here an African pastor speaks from the pulpit of the Charlesville church on a Sunday morning.
[photo 20 missing] — And he put a new song in my heart
Where once there was only the wild, compelling rhythm of an African drum to be heard, there now is a new song, a new melody.
21 — A grand daughter of lois
In African tradition, the woman is considered incapable of learning, unworthy of trust and certainly inadequate for public discussion of any subject whatever. It is their lot to be seen, summoned and sent but not heard. Many an African leader has expressed his amazement at the able contribution made by African women as they find their places in the emerging Church of Christ in Congo.
22 — We like gymnastics!
This is a part of their curriculum which teaches them to obey instructions.
[photo 23 missing] — As a twig is bent, so grows the tree
The Congo of tomorrow is today to a large extent in the hands of missionaries. Pray for our program of Christian education that it may make an eternal impact in the Congo.
[photo 24 missing] — Sumbai mikanda — Achetez des livres — Buy books
The Banga Bookmobile; Rev. Robert Bontrager in the cab.
[photo 25 missing] — Here’s one that tells about jesus and it costs only 5 francs
World communism has an annual budget for literature sufficient to place two pieces of literature in the hand of every living soul on earth! But evangelical Christian literature comes in pitiful insufficient dribbles here and there. Thousands of Africans are learning to read each year. To read what? In the picture, Rev. Levi Keidel of Banga sells Christian literature from his Bookmobile.
26 — She seeketh wool and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands
The training of Congo girls for Christian motherhood is one of the most rewarding of all tasks. Each year there are scores of marriages and scores of new Christian homes established in the C. I. M. area.
[photo 27 missing; no caption]
[photo 28 missing] — Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it . . .
29 — . . . even as these
African masons aid in the building of a physical mission plant, they themselves, as believers, are being fitted into the body of Christ by the Master Builder.
[photo 30 missing] — The printed page, a tireless missionary
31 — Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you
On the mission field, the hand maid of the chapel pulpit is the class room desk. Mission history gives abundant proof that an illiterate, uneducated church crumbles quickly and disappears.
32 — Charlesville
Teachers’ Training School in the foreground, and part of the Primary School Building to the right at the Charlesville station.
33 — Teachers’ training building
A close-up of the brick constructed Teachers’ Training School building (E. A. P.) at Charlesville.
34 — The Nyanga Dispensary
Loyal Schmidt, builder.
unnumbered — [no caption]