Pastor Israel N’Sembe never intended to be a pastor much less a church planter in his home country of Democratic Republic of Congo. He accepted Christ as teenager and to the best of his ability he tried to live a fully committed life to Christ. He had dreams of pursuing his university education in Belgium and establishing a career in Europe after graduation. Israel was born in the Congo during the time of Belgian colonization. As such, he had a Belgian passport that opened the door for him to go to Belgium. His family was able to save enough money to send him to Belgium to study in hopes he would find a good job and be able to support the family back home in the Congo.
His call into the ministry came while he was attending a Billy Graham conference on World Evangelism in Amsterdam, Holland. Many African’s who were living in Europe attended the conference. Throughout the week many of the different speakers challenged the Africans in the audience to consider how God might use them in their home countries once they completed their studies and would be willing to return home. However, Israel never really gave it much thought as he didn’t see going back the Congo in his future once he completed his studies. On the last day of the conference the speaker gave one last altar call directed to those who felt called into the ministry. People went forward but Israel remained in his seat. Sensing that God was still speaking to someone but not knowing who the speaker turned and looked out into the crowd in the area where Israel was seated and said someone over here is afraid to answer the call but needs to come forward and let God give them the courage to do what is right. Israel knew that God was speaking to him through that speaker. He stood and made his way to the altar. As he approached the altar to pray and surrender his life to the call of God he was met at the altar by Billy Graham. Billy Graham was seated on the platform and saw Israel approaching the altar. He stood up and greeted Israel with a handshake and hand on his shoulder and said to Israel, “It’s ok son, we are going to pray that God will give you the courage to do what He is asking you need to do.” From that day forward Israel knew that he was to return to the Congo and be a pastor.
Upon returning to the Congo, Israel became a part of young, growing and vibrant local Assemblies of God church that was very strong in evangelism and discipleship. The church was young but was already having a great impact upon the capital city of Kinshasa. After observing Israel and seeing the call of God upon his life the senior pastor sent Israel to the opposite side of the city to start a children’s bible study at a technical school in a very poor and rapidly growing part of the city. Pastor Israel began a children’s bible club with a small group of children. Israel felt strongly that the children needed to be discipled. He taught them how to pray for one another, how to witness to their friends and families. After awhile many children started coming to the weekly bible study and were giving their lives to Christ. Children were being healed and their lives were being changed by the transforming power of Christ. They would go home and witness to their parents and other family members. When parents were sick the children would lay hands on them and pray for them. After awhile parents started getting saved and so they came to Pastor Israel and asked him if he would teach them the bible and how to pray in the same way he was doing for the children. Although it was not in his plans to do so he agreed to start a church in the neighborhood with the parents. Sensing that this neighborhood was in a strategic part of the city and that Pastor Israel was the right man to plant a church, the Missionary Team was able to secure funding to buy a large piece of property at an affordable price to help pastor Israel. He moved into the neighborhood and together with the parents and children they began going door to door witnessing and inviting people to church. He named the church Ark of the Covenant.
From the beginning pastor Israel put an emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. He also adopted a strategy of developing young leaders to train them for the ministry by sending them to Bible School and giving them practical ministry application in the church. The church grew very quickly and very soon they were in need of a new building. On one particular Sunday Pastor Israel announced to his church that the church was not about a building but about people. Rather than embarking upon a building program, he felt that they should plant another church elsewhere while at the same time they added a second Sunday morning service to accommodate the growing crowds. With the young men and women that he was training he planted a new church before starting on their own church building campaign.
The success that pastor Israel had did not come without much trial and suffering. On one particular occasion a general in the army became very jealous of the large piece of property that belonged to the congregation. He made an attempt to intimidate Pastor Israel and steal away some of the property. Pastor Israel was not intimidated and refused to give away any of the land. On one particular occasion the general had him arrested and him taken away to a secret place for interrogation in an attempt to intimidate him and to give away some of the land. On another occasion, the country was in civil war. As the opposition army marched into town Pastor Israel remained in his office to pray. His office was riddled with bullet holes but no serious damage was done to the church or property. They repaired the church office of all its bullet holes but he didn’t repair the door to his office. He prefers to leave those bullet holes there as a daily reminder to him of the faithfulness of God.
Meanwhile his burden for church planting kept growing. His own church needed a building but he couldn’t bring himself to concentrate all of their resources upon building a church when there was so much need elsewhere. They decided to formalize a balanced strategy of putting their resources towards church planting, bible school training for future pastors of these church plants, and finally towards their own building fund. Pastor Israel felt strongly that if he prioritized church planting and honored God in this way eventually they would have their own proper church building as a place of worship. With that in mind they added a third service so that they could put their resources towards their first two priorities of church planing and pastoral leadership training. At the same time they saw a need for education in their neighborhood as the quality of education was lacking. Since they had a large enough piece of property they began a school and started building classrooms with the local resources that they had on hand. The school met a need in the community and grew very quickly. Through the efforts of the school many more people in the neighborhood came to Christ. As time went on they continued planting more churches around the growing city of Kinshasa but sensed that other parts of the country was in great need. They began planting churches in other parts of the country especially in the Eastern part of the country where the war continued to ravage on. One particular church plant has been very influential in their community to meet the needs of people who have lost their homes and fields due to the war. Several doctors and medical professionals attend the church and offer their services to attend to their physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people traumatized by the war.
Under Pastor Israel’s leadership the Ark of the Covenant has grown to approximately 8,000 in weekly attendance has planted over 40 churches. Many of these churches have also planted churches. The elementary and secondary school that they started has grown to an enrollment of 1,000 students. In partnership with the missionary team a bible school training program has been established on the property. It has nearly 200 students attending the main campus and approximately 1,000 students enrolled in extension training centers throughout the country. Finally after many years of patience, a priority on church planting and leadership development their desire to have their own church building has been fulfilled. Today they are meeting in a modern sanctuary. The Ark of the Covenant is truly a model of church planting and Pastor Israel is a model of the kind of visionary and sacrificial leader that it takes to be a church planter in Africa.