Father, doer, and caring minister
His death was a shock for his small flock in Europe and his big flock in Africa. District Apostle Higelin passed away 25 years ago to the day. He was a man of action and a father figure of a unique build.
Whenever the District Apostle travelled it was always with a lot of luggage. In fact, excess baggage at least on his way there. Every time he travelled to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he took a huge suitcase with him, which was almost empty on the way back, lightened from such things as clothing and everyday necessities. And he could hardly understand why not everyone did this.
“Robert Higelin saw the poverty of the people and it hurt him,” a long-time companion recalls. “He wanted to help where he could.” This led to fundraising campaigns early every year in his home district of France. “We won’t be able to eliminate every need,” was his motto, “but to do nothing would be a sin.”
An early start
Fatherly, spontaneous, affectionate, and captivating are the terms that always come up when District Apostle Higelin is mentioned. He knew his flock by name, knew who belonged to which family and who had which concerns. He was happy to give advice and also knew how to help when decisions had to be made. He was a father to lean on, something the children of God of the 1970s and 80s appreciated.
He had to get used to this role already early on at the age of 23, shortly after his father, Apostle Josef Higelin, died in a car accident in 1957. “Take your father’s place,” his mother said, meaning his chair at the family dinner table. In fact, less than two weeks later, he was ordained a District Elder for the area of Strasbourg.
Getting down to business
And he got cracking, leaving the brothers and sisters completely dazed. “District Elder Robert Higelin’s enthusiasm and fervour induced him to tackle things which many would have considered undoable and impossible.” This is what it says in the district’s chronicle, in which one can read about church expansions and organ relocations. The district rector’s home was both the command centre and the company cafeteria.
After his ordination as a District Apostle in March 1972 his tasks grew significantly. Now he had to deal with church construction. In France, divine services were from then on conducted in French, and no longer in German—as was the case for many years. In 1980 he took over responsibility for five provinces in south-eastern Zaire, which until then had been in the care of the New Apostolic Church Canada.
Full speed ahead
“Whoever works together with me will be crushed underfoot,” Robert Higelin said about himself. He meant that he expected the same commitment from his co-workers as he demanded of himself, namely to give everything. Hardly any decisions were taken without his involvement. If necessary, he intervened at the district or congregation level.
“Anyone who works together with others learns by observation to say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ and will recognise in their co-workers the divine attributes which God has laid into each of them,” he wrote in an article “Working together” in the Our Family magazine in 1991 and cited the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Stones have no hope of ever being anything but stones. But through collaboration they get themselves together and become a temple.”
His death was sudden
The constant stress he was under took its toll. In July 1995 the District Apostle returned home from the Congo. The fatigue he had been experiencing turned out to be an incurable tumour. He died on 16 March 1996 shortly before midnight. In Kinshasa hundreds of brothers and sisters gathered for a wake. They prayed and danced the whole night.
Memorial services took place all across the south-eastern part of the Congo on 25 March 1996, while the Chief Apostle and dozens of District Apostles and Apostles took leave of Robert Higelin in a funeral service in Metz (France). And Apostle Kim Kabamba Mukenge said: “Merci, Papa!”