In 1912, medical missionary Dr. William Leslie went to live and minister to the Yansi tribal people in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After 17 years, he returned to the U.S. a discouraged man – believing he failed to make an impact for Christ. He died nine years after his return.
But in 2010, a missions team led by Eric Ramsey with Tom Cox World Ministries made a shocking and sensational discovery. They found a network of reproducing churches hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle where Dr. Leslie was primarily stationed.
With the help of a Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot, Ramsey and his team flew east from Kinshasa to Vanga, a two-and-a-half-hour flight in a Cessna Caravan. After they reached Vanga, they hiked a mile to the Kwilu River and rowed in dugout canoes to cross the half-mile-wide expanse. Then they hiked with backpacks another 10 miles into the jungle before they reached the first village of the Yansi people.
Based on his previous research, Ramsey thought the Yansi in this remote area might have some exposure to the name of Jesus, but no real understanding Christ or the Gospel. They were unprepared for their remarkable find.
“When we got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle,” Ramsey reports. “Each village had its own gospel choir. They even wrote their own songs and would have sing-offs from village to village.”
They found a church in each of the eight villages they visited scattered across 34 miles. Ramsey and his team even found a 1000-seat stone “cathedral” in one of the villages. He learned that this church got so crowded in the 1980s – with many walking miles to attend — that a church planting movement began in the surrounding villages.
“There is no Bible in the Yansi language,” Ramsey says. “They used a French Bible, so those who taught had to be fluent in French.” Apparently, Dr. Leslie crossed the Kwilu River once a year from Vanga and spent a month traveling through the jungle, carried by servants in a sedan chair.
Dr. William Leslie
“Dr. Leslie He would preach the Bible and teach the tribal children how to read and write.” Ramsey notes. In fact, Dr. Leslie started the first organized educational system in these villages.
When Ramsey returned home he did some additional investigation and discovered Dr. Leslie was affiliated with the American Baptist Missionary Union. The American Baptist Missionary Union was founded in 1814 by Adoniram Judson, who was the first missionary sent from the United States to Burma.
Yansi church in Congo
If there is one thing we learn from Dr. Leslie’s legacy it is what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3:6-8, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” God has called us each to specific tasks in the harvest of souls. Some of us are planters, some are waterers and some are harvesters, and our job description may change from day to day. A planter may not see the seed he buries in the ground come to fruition, it may be harvested by another.
Just so, we may not see the rewards of our Kingdom labors in time, but only in eternity. Dr. Leslie may have not been “successful” in man’s eyes, but clearly he used his life to plant seeds that would grow after his time. In the same way, let’s labor for eternal rewards, knowing that our God will not forget even the smallest deed done in His name (Mark 9:41). -DM
 Mark Ellis, “Missionary died thinking he was a failure; 84 years later thriving churches found hidden in the jungle,” God Reports, 19 May 2014 <http://blog.godreports.com/2014/05/missionary-died-thinking-he-was-a-failure-84-years-later-thriving-churches-found-hidden-in-the-jungle/>