African Immigrant Sets Missionary Course
Thierry Mugabe began attending Northpoint Bible College only two years after gaining asylum to the U.S. as a refugee.
While still a toddler, Mugabe and his family fled their home in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent the next 18 years in a Rwandan refugee camp. His father, Patrice, died in the camp that housed 19,000 refugees when Thierry was only 6. Growing up, the boy didn’t have enough money for a toothbrush, let alone schooling.
At 18, Thierry accepted Jesus in the settlement, thanks to the witness of a fellow refugee, Alex Ndemezo, who always seemed joyful and hopeful. At 20, Mugabe and his mother and four siblings — who now live in Dallas — came to the U.S. at no cost thanks to the refugee resettlement program.
Although passionate about Christ because of his transformation from a depressed, ashamed, and hopeless refugee to born-again Jesus follower, Mugabe wanted to learn more about the Lord. After taking English as a second language classes, he found Northpoint, which is located in Haverhill, Massachusetts, through the Assemblies of God website. The school’s International Students Scholarship, financed by small gifts from individual donors, partially paid for his tuition.
At Northpoint, Thierry soaked up information by taking classes on the Old Testament, New Testament, church history, spiritual formation, hermeneutics, and homiletics. He also heard for the first time about unreached people groups.
Although the soft-spoken Mugabe says he didn’t have a ministerial calling when he came to Northpoint, he knew he wanted to evangelize others. When he heard about unreached people from missionary speakers at the school, it gripped his heart.
“As an African immigrant in the United States, I didn’t picture myself as a missionary,” says Mugabe, now 28. “I fought the idea, subconsciously thinking, I cannot be a missionary.
Yet when he read Romans 15:20-21, the writings of the apostle Paul resonated with him: It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known … Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.
“I had such an ambition,” says Mugabe, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies, with a minor in missions.
After he graduated in 2019 (and became a U.S. citizen), Mugabe helped with Mount Zion Chapel, a Northpoint AG church plant in Wells, Maine. In 2020, he became a credentialed AG minister and approved AG world missionary associate. His itineration is complete and he is preparing to move to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation (with over 230 million adherents of that faith). Only about one in 10 in the country of 270 million claims to be a Christian.
Initially, Mugabe will be on the staff of International English Service (IES), an international church in the capital Jakarta pastored the past 22 years by David Kenney. IES has four campuses in the metro area with a combined attendance of more than 2,000.
Eventually, Mugabe wants to be a church planter in Indonesia. Jeff Hartensveld, AGWM Asia Pacific regional director since 2017, can relate. Hartensveld, 56, served as an AG world missionary to Indonesia from 1989-2012, during which time he planted and pastored several churches.
“Thierry is one of what we hope to be many missionaries from ethnically diverse backgrounds, “ says Hartensveld, who personally supports Mugabe financially each month. Although Mugabe has raised his budget, Hartensveld notes the Asia Pacific regional office has established an empowerment fund that has distributed $10,000 to ethnic minority candidates who need a hand up financially because supporting missions isn’t part of their culture.
Mugabe figures his refugee experience will help him adjust more easily to the mission field than if he lived his entire life in the U.S.
“If I did not have an experience being a refugee, it would not have been as easy to transition to another culture,” Mugabe says. “I am not nervous about living anywhere in the world, because I am not that attached to the American lifestyle.”
Mugabe identifies with the apostle Paul’s satisfaction in all circumstances as outlined in Philippians 4:12: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
“I can live with abundance, and I can live without,” Mugabe says. “I have experienced both, and I have survived both.”
Nevertheless, Mugabe doesn’t define himself by the past, which involved spending the majority of his life at Gihembe Refugee Camp with not enough to eat, deadly diseases running rampant, and illicit drugs and sex occupying the time of many.
“I would rather be known as someone who serves God than someone who survived a refugee camp,” Mugabe says. “I try to forget about the past and press on forward to the future.”
Just like living in Maine — the whitest state in the U.S. — Mugabe will be an ethnic minority in Indonesia. Although he is not naïve about ethnic differences, Mugabe says it doesn’t bother him being in the minority,
“If God really called me, He gave me the color of my skin for His purpose,” Mugabe says. “It’s part of who I am. It will open and close doors.”
While he itinerated, Mugabe lived in an apartment on the Northpoint Bible College campus, where he worked as a security guard. Northpoint President David Arnett is a booster.
“Thierry is one of the most dedicated young ministers I know,” says Arnett, 68. “I was surprised by his call to Indonesia — because he is from Africa — but he articulates a compelling missionary vision.”
“If I didn’t come to Northpoint, I wouldn’t be going to missions,” Mugabe says. “God placed me here at the right time.”