Death of Kathryn Williams , Former Missionary in Democratic Republic of Congo

Death of Kathryn Williams , Former Missionary in Democratic Republic of Congo

Global Ministries was saddened to learn of the death of Reverend Dr. Kathryn Taylor Williams, former missionary to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Reverend Dr. Williams served the church as an ordained minister in a rich variety of institutional and geographical settings for over sixty-three years.  The list of individuals, congregations, regions, and community organizations whose lives have been touched and transformed by her presence is extraordinary.  The evidence of her contributions to the church and to the community includes congregational work in Waco and Corpus Christi, Texas, nine years for the United Christian Missionary Society (UCMS-the predecessor mission body of the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries) in central Africa, service in Disciples of Christ regional offices in Texas and Kansas, and a decade of development work for the Board of Church Extension in Indianapolis.  To understand her contributions to the church and the world, the record of her formal employment must be set in the context of her personal and community life.

Born in 1925 in Texarkana, Arkansas, Kathryn Taylor grew up in poverty in northeast Texas in a family that had been part of the Stone-Campbell movement for generations.  The kindness of friends enabled this remarkably gifted and hardworking woman to go to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947 (Major: Christian Education; Minor: Church Music), immediately followed by a Master of Arts degree in 1948.  She began her professional ministry with Central Christian Church in Waco, Texas, where she met and married Clarence Williams.  Kathryn and Clarence made a decision to become missionaries, for which they trained in Lexington, Kentucky, and Hartford, Connecticut, before departing with their infant daughter, Sharon, for Brussels, Belgium; and, eventually, the village of Mondombe and the town of Boende in central Congo (then Belgium Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo).  In addition to bearing three children – Carl, Paul, and Susan – in the central African rain forest, Kathryn worked with Congolese women and children on behalf of the Disciples of Christ Congo Mission.  Called Mama Losengya by the Congolese, Kathryn was already deeply involved in encouraging women to take roles of leadership in their own families, communities, and churches. During the upheavals after Congolese independence in June 1960, Kathryn and her family were evacuated and returned home to Texas.

After the rigors of missionary life, Kathryn launched vigorously into speaking to churches, camps, and conferences about the work in Congo and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ on behalf of the mission society.  When the family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, she served as the Minister of Education for First Christian Church and as the Texas Christian Women’s Fellowship (CWF) President.  Among many other Disciple, ecumenical, and community ministries, she served as the Administrator for Dos Mundos, a bi-lingual school sponsored by the Coastal Bend Christian Service Association.  She also participated actively in the school desegregation struggle and joined with other Christians opposed to the wars in Vietnam.

As her children grew up, she returned to school herself to earn a Doctor of Ministry degree from Brite Divinity School, and continued her service to the church as an Associate Regional Minister of the Southwest Region.  She was also honored to serve as the Director of Development with Reverend Harold Watkins in the Board of Church Extension for many years until she retired and returned to the family home in Corpus Christi.  Even during retirement, she continued to contribute to the church at the local and regional levels, including a few years as an Interim Associate Regional Minister in Kansas.

The first bus trip that took her from Texarkana to Fort Worth in 1944 was the beginning of a life of travel.  From the late 1940s to the 1960s, her ministry in Texas led to Indiana, Kentucky, Connecticut, Belgium, and Congo.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the rigorous travel schedule domestically on behalf of the Board of Church Extension was complemented by international travel to Northern Ireland and Scotland, China, Zambia, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, travel that included multiple meetings of the World Council of Churches.  Anyone who regularly attends the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will have crossed paths with Kathryn Williams sometime over the past five decades.

As mentioned above, her community activities include active support for peace, justice, and environmental organizations, as a part of her active resistance to racial segregation, war and violence, environmental degradation, and sexism in the church and in the society.  A small part of the list such organizations and activities includes her participation in and support for the YWCA, NAACP, Urban League, Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the movements to stop the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine.  In addition to these examples, one of her most notable contributions to the life of the church and the larger society has been her efforts to support the rights of women and the role of women in ministry.  A true pioneer in breaking barriers for women, she was a mentor to countless others in Congo and in the United States, in addition to being a longtime member and active participant in the International Association of Women Ministers (IAWM).

For the Reverend Dr. Kathryn Taylor Williams, Christian ministry is not only about seeking converts for Christ, it is always about living a life as a disciple of Christ and also about working to transform the society and the world to reflect more faithfully the kingdom of God.  The Reverend Dr. Kathryn Williams, known to her Congolese friends as Mama Losengya, called herself a New Testament Christian, and she was proud to have friends of all nations, races, and faiths.  Despite the health problems that led to her move from Corpus Christi to Los Angeles in January 2010, Kathryn’s perseverance, intellect, faith, and love informed a ministry that leaves a rich legacy.