This month’s profile features Sepa Nashale
Interviewer: Welcome, Sepa! I think most people at COS know who you are. But I don’t think most of us know much about your story. I wonder if you could tell us about your home country and what circumstances brought you here.
Sepa: I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I came here because of persecution. Our country has been under political problems since 1996. And sometimes with these people, if you denounce what they are doing, the government will not be happy with that and you will be in trouble. Our country has been badly known for sexual violence, using women as a weapon of war and that was my problem. I didn’t like it! I had to denounce it. Perhaps you have heard of Dr. Denis Mukwege.1 Last year he got the Nobel Prize for helping women. He risked his life also; he was attempted to be killed three times… But God is good and protected him. And even now he is not safe. He is helping people who don’t know anything about politics but who are victimized. There has been much turmoil for many years around the politics of minerals.
Interviewer: Do you know him personally?
Sepa: Yes, I know him.
Interviewer: Did you work with him?
Sepa: We are from the same church. I was baptized in the Pentecostal church. I worked with him when he was a physician in a missionary hospital. The hospital he is working in now is also a missionary hospital. My place and his are about 100 km – 60 miles – apart. We know each other. I was very much inspired by what he was doing.
Interviewer: Were you a pastor?
Sepa: Yes, I was a pastor in the Congo. I planted two churches. My churches were non-denominational, but my background is Pentecostal.
Interviewer: So, it was in your role as a pastor that you were advocating for these women.
Sepa: The government wanted us as church leaders to be on their side. But we knew the government was not being good. It was manipulating people – we had to stand on the side of the people. We are shepherds and a shepherd has to defend his sheep. So I was forced to leave.
Interviewer: You grew up in the church. Can you talk a bit about your faith?
Sepa: My parents were non-Christians and when I went to the Catholic Church, I was baptized when I was ten years old and I grew up as a Catholic. I went to a Protestant school because I wanted medical education – it was a Pentecostal school – and there I grew in my faith and I was baptized in much water when I was about 25 years old.
Interviewer: In a river?
Sepa: Yes. In the river. I continued to be a Pentecostal believer and then I developed the desire to serve the Lord as a full-time minister. It’s when I began planting churches. My first was in 2005; my second in 2007. They were in eastern Congo.
Interviewer: Are you still in touch with those churches?
Sepa: I am in contact with them. I minister at a distance. I am an overseer now. I have a web site I am trying to build so that we can communicate.
Interviewer: Would it be safe for you to go back there?
Sepa: I think it would be safe now. I passed my US citizenship interview and I will become a citizen on December 8.
Interviewer: Oh! Congratulations!
Sepa: If I go to Congo now, I won’t have a problem because I will have a US passport. But the problems are still there. Nobody will ask me to talk about the Congolese government; I will be a US citizen – my citizenship requires me to be loyal to the United States.
Interviewer: After you came to the US, what attracted you to the Church of the Servant?
Sepa: When I came to the US, I went to Iowa. I stayed there for one year. I got my asylum seeker status. I came to Grand Rapids as a visitor and when I came here, I met with Pastor Mitogo and he introduced me to BES. And then I started from there. I was more than interested. I went on. My whole family was in Uganda at that time and this church helped me go through the process of family reunification. My wife and kids came here. My two daughters were baptized in this church.
Interviewer: It was quite some time before your family was able to join you, wasn’t it?
Sepa: Yeah. I came to the US in 2012 and to Michigan in 2013. My family came in 2015.
Interviewer: And you have been very involved in ministries here. Talk a little about some of those ministries.
Sepa: I was involved as a prayer leader and I was recently appointed as chair of the BES leadership team. Also, I’m conducting a bible study for Swahili speakers. I am also doing trauma healing sessions for Swahili speakers. I coordinate worship and preach at times.
Interviewer: And you are involved in youth ministry with the Congolese community as well, right?
Sepa: Yes, I work as youth coordinator with the African Resource Center mostly as an educational mentor. I am also involved in the African pastors’ fellowship.
Interviewer: You were working with refugees through Samaritas, but no longer.
Sepa: I worked there from March through October as a case manager, but I stopped working because of the presidential actions. They no longer have funds.
Interviewer: Tell us a little about your family.
Sepa: I have five kids ranging from 26 years old to 13 years old. I have two grandsons.
Interviewer: We all know about the health issues that your grandson, Beneluc, has faced.
Sepa: Beneluc is doing good. Now we are waiting for the third surgery.
Interviewer: When is that going to be?
Sepa: I will be next year, I think. My son-in-law is coming.
Interviewer: Your daughter tells me that he has gotten a visa and he is coming before Christmas. Have I got that right?
Interviewer: But he is not allowed to stay, is he.
Sepa: No. He is going back to Africa. He is going through the green card process. When he gets that he will come.
Interviewer: He works for Doctors Without Borders, right?
Sepa: Yes, he works for Doctors Without Borders in Mali, West Africa.
Interviewer: Mark & Claudia Beversluis’ son, David works for them, too. Do they work together?
Sepa: Same organization but different countries. David works in Congo, in Beni. Beni’s headquarters is in Nguima, the town of Beneluc’s dad. But they haven’t met. My son-in-law went to the office to see David, but he wasn’t there! He was far away in another town.
Interviewer: Do you see any consequences of Beneluc having had so many surgeries or is he recovering well?
Sepa: There is hope. He looks good. He is still only eating by feeding tube, but we hope soon that he will be eating by himself.
Interviewer: How old is he now?
Sepa: One year and one month.
Interviewer: And what work are you doing now?
Sepa: I am working for Hope Network with children who have mental disabilities.
Interviewer: Can you think of anything you would like to add?
Sepa: Just one thing. I have a concern for our internationals here at Church of the Servant. Many are gifted people, but they are working here in factories. I would like to see if we can find a way to train these people for ministries.
Interviewer: Hmm. You have given us a serious challenge here. We will need to give this some thought. Thank you, Sepa. We are grateful for all that you give to COS!
- “Denis Mukwege (/mʊkˈweɪɡi/; born 1 March 1955) is a Congolese gynecologist and Pentecostal pastor. He founded and works in Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where he specializes in the treatment of women who have been raped by armed rebels. In 2018, Mukwege and Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict’.” For more information, see the complete article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_Mukwege
This interview was conducted by Jim Bradley on Tuesday, November 29, 2019.