A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Experiencing pastoral internship at Kabwata Baptist Church

The two pastors with the 2017 pastoral interns at Kabwata Baptist Church
It has been a joy pouring our lives into 6 men who have left their homes (and for some of them their countries too) to come and experience the pastoral internship at Kabwata Baptist Church. I asked each of them to share how they have found this experience. Here is what they say!

Andrew Mulendema
Andrew Mulendema (from Lusaka) says, “It is a privilege to be part of this internship program here at Kabwata Baptist Church. I beg to express my experience, challenges, and the great lessons I have learned. To start with, my experience in this first six months has been a great joy. Very few churches have such internship programmes. The love and care the church offers to us, the fellowship and the liberty we are given to interact with all, and the freedom to do our work without close supervision is great. The great lessons learned have been integrity, discipline, hard work, and creativity.”

Ntungamili Mashumba in the Kabwata Baptist Church library
Ntungamili Mashumba (from Botswana) says, “During the first six months of my internship in Kabwata Baptist Church, I have learnt a great deal of how ministries operate successfully. I have seen how the eldership works in harmony. I have been mostly impressed by the peace and transparency that reigns in church members meetings. Above all, I praise God for the faithful biblical preaching during Sunday services. In my living arrangements, I’m thankful to God for the allowance I get. For the purpose of the internship I’m happy and privileged for the learning experience. Glory be to God for his mercy and goodness (2 Corinthians 3:5).”

Wal Abraham leading worship at Kabwata Baptist Church
Wal Abraham (from South Sudan) says, “First, thanks be to God for his providence in my internship. It has been a great opportunity for me to be exposed to new things here. I have been learning partly through observation. It has been a great joy to share the gospel with outsiders who have been groaning to be encouraged by the precious words of God. It has also been good to pray for those who are subjected to various frustrations. I have been seeing God’s grace at work. Pray for me to have a greater desire to reach the lost through the gospel of Jesus Christ.”      

Daniel Sitali
Daniel Sitali (from Kitwe) says, “From the time I came here, I have seen a lot and I have learnt a lot in terms of how a church should run. One thing that has stood out for me is the way the different ministries in the church run, including the other programmes that I have been attending. I have attended the missions retreat, pastors fraternals, and some short courses at Lusaka Ministerial College, to mention a few. I have also had the privilege of leading the Sunday worship services and Bible studies. I am also thankful for the fact that all my needs are being met.”

Abutu Peter Joshua with Conrad Mbewe in Lagos, Nigeria
Abutu Peter Joshua (from Nigeria) says, “I came seeking a veritable soil where my classroom experience may be nurtured towards effective God-honouring pastoral service delivery in the African context. My expectations were surpassed in the areas of expository preaching, reformed leadership (especially team work and openness), capacity building (especially freedom and independency of thinking in leadership), training in personal piety (e.g. living by example, prayer, Bible reading, deliberate mentorship), inclusive and participatory church membership, the primacy of the Bible in church life and polity, genuine interest in missions and soul winning activities, and the place of functional home cell groups in church life.”

Hiskia Tjindere bidding farewell to the church after 6 months of internship
Hiskia Tjindere (from Namibia) says, “What I have appreciated the most at KBC is how the elders are well organised. I have learned how they plan and organize church activities, including the visitation of members. They have taught the members of the church well in biblical doctrine by fostering a culture of reading sound books. It was also an eye opener for me to see how missions work is taken as a life’s commitment even by ordinary church members. I will gladly recommend this internship programme to people considering missions work so that they can know how to go about this work.”

NB: In case you get inspired to join this programme, the 2018 space is full but the sooner you apply for the 2019 the better—before even that gets full. Although we have had interns from outside Africa, our preference is for individuals coming from African countries. The application process is quite demanding and we only have 6 spaces per year. It is our joy to serve future pastors and the church in Africa in this way!


Monday, August 14, 2017

Erroll Hulse (1931–2017)—The End Of An Era

Erroll and Lyn Hulse
Today, the remains of Erroll Hulse, a dear friend and elder statesman in the Reformed faith, will be interred in Cuckfield, England. My mind is, therefore, very much in that part of the world as the sun comes up here in the heart of Africa. I wish I could be there to witness the ending of an era.

(Correction: The burial of Erroll Hulse's remains will take place on Monday 21st August, 2017)

For those of you who do not know Erroll Hulse, here is what I found on the Semper Reformanda website: “Erroll Hulse was born at Fort Beaufort in the Cape of South Africa in 1931. He graduated from Pretoria University, 1954, in architecture and later studied at London Bible College. In 1957 he co-founded The Banner of Truth with Iain Murray. Hulse also serves as editor of Reformation Today (since 1970) and director of Evangelical Press (since 1974). His pastoral experience includes Cuckfield (1962-1984), Liverpool (1984 to 1988) and as elder and associate pastor at Leeds Reformed Baptist Church (1988 to 2008).” (https://www.semperreformanda.com/men-of-god/erroll-hulse/)

I first got to know about Erroll Hulse soon after I became a pastor in the late 1980s through the Reformation Today magazine, which he founded and edited for many years. In due season I came across a few of his early books. Then when I began to visit South Africa in the early 1990s, I found that his was a household name among the Reformed Baptists there. It was as if he lived there. He had continued to visit South Africa and minister there over the years.

I recall the late Martin Holdt who was then pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in South Africa telling me how he came to the Reformed faith through the ministry of Erroll Hulse. He said, “Erroll used to carry a bag full of books. Each time he visited me he would engaged me in doctrinal discussion and then open his bag to pull out a book or two, which he would highly recommend that I read. As I was reading these books, my understanding of biblical truth grew and one day everything fell into place. I am grateful for Erroll and his bag of books, which he carried around like a physician on home calls!”

Erroll Hulse was an African in a white skin. Although he left Africa as a young adult to pursue theological studies in the UK, his heart always yearned for the health of the African church. He invested immensely on this continent both in terms of time and money. He was as familiar with the church scene in Cameroon (in West Africa) as he was with the church scene in Kenya (in East Africa). There was not a corner of Africa that he was ignorant about. He turned his knowledge into prayer and often sent books and encouraged sound preachers there. He was also involved in the start of the Skogheim Evangelical and Reformed Conference in South Africa, which continues to run up to now. In 1995, he spent part of his year in Namibia filling in for Pastor Joachim Rieck at Eastside Baptist Church who had gone on furlough.

In 1991, Erroll Hulse decided to come and visit Zambia to verify what he was hearing about the fledgling Reformed Baptist movement here and to encourage us. He came in the company of Trevor Roberts, who at that time was pastor of Germiston Baptist Church in South Africa. He dubbed that historic visit, “In the footsteps of David Livingstone”. Erroll was in his element as he spoke to us about the uniqueness of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. He said it had Reformation roots, Puritan roots, and Baptistic roots. The few of us who were gathered at that meeting went away sensing that we belonged to a great pedigree of those who never bowed their knees to Baal across church history. Erroll had inspired the Reformed Baptists in South Africa to start a magazine called Reformation South Africa. After this visit, he encouraged them to change its title to Reformation Africa South so that it would include the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement. In due season, we began our own magazine, Reformation Zambia, from the same inspiration.

Erroll Hulse (seated) visiting Zambia with Trevor Roberts (at the back)
What I remember most from Erroll Hulse on that trip was the time we were together in the same car for the 4 to 5 hours drive from Lusaka to Kitwe and back. He took out the church membership list of Leeds Reformed Baptist Church and quietly prayed for each member as we travelled. I remember thinking to myself, “Here is a true shepherd. He carries his members with him and prays for them at every opportunity. I should be doing the same!”

Why do I think that the passing on of Erroll Hulse into the presence of his Master is the ending of an era? It is because while Erroll lived he was the unofficial but indefatigable roving ambassador for Reformed Baptists worldwide. He formed the International Fellowship of Reformed Baptists (IFRB), which struggled to take off due to the fragmented nature of Reformed Baptist around the world. The IFRB itself became another point of contention, which did not help matters. Despite all that, in his person, he brought the family of Reformed Baptists across the whole world together.

Erroll was a journalist par excellence. He told us about one another and about what the Lord was doing in various parts of the world through the Reformed Baptist movement. He never attracted attention to himself but always drew our attention to the Baptist forefathers, the Puritans, the Reformers, the apostles, and ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ. Frankly, I cannot currently see anyone taking up the mantle left behind by Erroll because he had a rare combination of gifts—energy, enthusiasm, clarity of mind, doctrinal stability, passion for the lost, prayerfulness, journalistic prowess, etc. Truly, an era in history has come to an end!

Perhaps Erroll Hulse’s final lasting legacy to Africa will be the African Pastors Conferences (APCs). Initially, he worked closely with Dennis Hustedt, a former pastor in South Africa who now lives in the USA. At some point the two felt it better to work independently. That was when Erroll Hulse looped Irving Steggles and me in as directors and the APCs were fully born. That must have been around 2008. The board of directors has expanded further since then. In the APCs, I saw first-hand Erroll’s passion for the health of the church in Africa.

Erroll Hulse canvassed both sides of the Atlantic for finances to buy books, which were then sold to pastors at prices they could afford or even given out to them freely at the conferences that were also highly subsidised. The last time I counted there were 40 such conferences taking place per year right across southern, central, and eastern Africa. In those conferences, Reformed Baptist pastors from Zambia have been the main preachers. The last time I met Erroll on African soil was at an African Pastors Conference in South Africa. He was with Lyn his wife of many years. She was not well and it was clear that this was the last time I would see her. Sure enough, Lyn went to be with the Lord soon after that. It was during one of those conferences in November 2013 in Empangeni, South Africa, that Erroll Hulse suffered the stroke that finally took his life a week ago—almost 4 year later!


At the start of 2015, it dawned on me that my coming visit to England was probably going to be my last opportunity to see Erroll. I asked Kabwata Baptist Church members who had been around long enough to remember how he helped us as a church in our early years to express their gratitude to him in a remembrance book. I carried this book and personally gave it him on that trip. He embraced it warmly. As I travelled to England on that trip I read some of the comments and was really touched by the sentiments expressed in that book. He had touched more lives than he knew here in Africa. Thank you, Erroll. Thank you and farewell, my friend!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bible texts prosperity preachers wish did not exist


Every so often when engaged in discussion on the subject of the prosperity gospel, I hear voices sympathetic to this doctrinal poison say, “But surely God does not want us to be poor, does he?” This is viewed as a trump card, as if there is no middle ground between being stinking rich and being in abject poverty. The Bible has many texts that answer that question.

People who say such things suffer from deliberate amnesia. They choose to forget the words of the wise man who prayed to God, saying, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

If you survey the Bible you will not find a single verse that warns you against the detrimental spiritual effect of material poverty. Yet you will find many passages in the Bible warning you against the detrimental effects of wealth—and especially love for wealth. You never hear prosperity preachers preaching on such verses. It is as if their Bibles do not have such verses.

Here are a few from the lips of our Saviour.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-24).

Then the Lord Jesus in Mark 10:17–25 dealt with a rich young ruler who wanted eternal life as long as he was not asked to sacrifice his great wealth. When Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor so that he would have treasure in heaven, the Bible tells us that the saying disheartened him. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus went on to make the unequivocal statement, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God...! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” I repeat; you never hear these words from the lips of prosperity gospel preachers. Rather, they give the impression that being materially wealthy is the sure sign that all is well between your soul and God.

One more example from the ministry of Christ should suffice. On one occasion, someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus refused. This should surprise not only prosperity gospel preachers but also advocates of the social gospel. Instead, Jesus warned the person asking for this favour from him. He said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:13–15). Material wealth is not blessedness.

In order to drive home this lesson even further, Jesus cemented it with a parable. He said,
 “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16–21). Jesus seems to have been saying that the accumulation of wealth can often be due to many lost opportunities to invest into the kingdom of God. So, it is poverty!

What about the apostles? What do they say about financial prosperity?

A good example is the apostle Paul. Writing to Timothy, his protégé, he talks about “people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, [who imagine] that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). I cannot think of a better description of prosperity gospel preachers. They are people of depraved minds and deprived of truth, who view godliness as a means to only one thing—to become wealthy. They are not interested in the salvation of souls and so have lost the content of the true gospel long ago. All they want is money. But, I digress….

We are looking at Paul’s warnings. He stands where the wise man in Proverbs 30 stood, advocating a middle financial position as the best place to be. He says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (6:6–8). This is the answer I keep giving those who think that by opposing prosperity gospel preachers I am inadvertently advocating for poverty. Why go from one extreme to another?

It is very clear that the apostle Paul warns against an insatiable thirst for wealth. He says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (6:9–11). Prosperity preachers need to heed such warnings and preach them to their hearers. It has been a failure to heed such godly counsel that has made many of their followers to pursue wealth at great cost to their spiritual lives, their marriages, and their families.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews seals these counsels for us when he writes succinctly, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). Nothing can be clearer than that. This is the general atmosphere in the Bible about wealth. It is the exact opposite of what prosperity gospel preachers are saying. The message of the Bible is that we harm our souls and the souls of others when we make them chase after wealth as an end in itself. We are putting them on an impossible task. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money!”

Judging from the silence on these passages of Scripture in the pulpits of prosperity preachers, I have no doubt that they wish such verses did not exist in the Bible because they fly in the face of their teachings. Prosperity preachers swallow entire camels and strain gnats. They go to those verses that talk about holistic prosperity (i.e. general success, to use a more modern equivalent) and torture them until they apparently start talking about material prosperity only.

Do not get me wrong. We should praise God for those in our midst whom God has favoured with good jobs and businesses, which have resulted in wealthy bank accounts. Some of them have had a fat inheritance. We need to pray for them that God will give them godly wisdom in utilising their wealth for the eternal benefit of their souls and the souls of others. However, let us not envy them because with riches come many sorrows. Let us rather pray that God will give us neither poverty nor riches. It is a less hazardous load to carry in this fallen world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Handling the fall of ministerial colleagues



It has been a long time since I last posted on this blog. As I get closer to my 30-year mark as pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church there are a number of thoughts that are concurrently running through my mind. Many of them are thoughts of gratitude while some are thoughts of regret. One thought that is an odd mixture of both gratitude and regret has been my recollection of ministerial colleagues that have fallen over the years. Almost all of them have been due to sexual scandals, though one or two of them have been related to financial misconduct. Thankfully, they have been few and far between. But each time it has happened I have said with pain in my heart, “There go I, but for the grace of God.”

As I have reflected on this, I have realised afresh that the greatest difficulty each time such news has reached me has always been related to how to handle this news and the people involved henceforth. This has been from a number of fronts. Let me share some of these in this blog post. I will speak in the second person, though I will be speaking about my own experiences over the last 30 years. I will also give the hypothetical name “John” to the fallen ministerial colleague.

Usually, before such bad news reaches the rest of Christendom as an unearthed scandal or as official news of church discipline, the bad news does its rounds within ministerial circles. In the latter case, it is often when church leaders are consulting for the purpose of ensuring that they do what is right and fair in the case before them. It is at that point that the first great difficulty comes in. You stay wide-awake long into the night because of the weight of responsibility suddenly thrust upon your shoulders when you least expected it. Those are the hardest first days and nights.

Difficulty of confidentiality

To begin with, there is the difficulty of confidentiality. Sexual sin is very private. Thus when it is first unearthed it is within a very small circle. Then confidants are informed, and usually it is at that point that information gets to you…and it leaves you devastated and heartbroken. In that state of depression, you must still be a responsive husband to your wife and responsible father to your children. You are expected to carry out your ministry to them and to your church as if nothing has happened. Every so often, someone sees through the mask and asks, “What’s wrong?” To keep confidentiality, you mumble swords like, “Do not worry, it is something to do with work. I will get over it.”

Worse than this is the fact that sometimes this information leaks to those who know that you are close to your fallen ministerial colleague and so they determine that they will get first hand information through you. Instead of saying, “We have heard that John has been found guilty of an adulterous affair,” they instead simply ask, “How is John?” You can see from the stare that this is a loaded question. It is a catch twenty-two situation. To simply say, “He is fine,” and change the subject is to put one’s own integrity on the line. To divulge what you know is to betray confidentiality. It is a poisoned chalice! What to do? What to do?

Handling anger

Then there is the issue of anger towards the devil and the fallen brother because of a sense of betrayal. Ministry work is moral work. You are battling against sin not only in your own heart but also in the hearts of others. You are absorbed with zeal for the glory of God through the extension of his kingdom in a world intoxicated with self-love and sin. That is what ministry is all about. So, when a ministerial colleague is found to have been secretly feeding the very enemy you are seeking to destroy, anger rises within the heart. It is like being in a crucial cup final in a football match and your competitors win the cup because your teammate scored into your goal, and that goal clinched the other team’s victory. The guy may apologise, but the damage done is irreparable.

Handling sympathy

Surprisingly, on the heels of the emotion of anger comes the emotion of sympathy as you realise that your grief-stricken repentant brother has to work through the implications of this on his marriage, his family, and his church. Those who watch from the outside often overlook this. Behind the curtains, there are many casualties when a pastor falls. His wife and older children will have to handle the devastating thoughts of public shame together with him as word begins to do its rounds concerning what has happened. Individuals in the church who are aggrieved or who fail to handle the public shame leave the church and go elsewhere or stop going to church altogether. The biblical prophecy fulfilled in Christ is fulfilled in more ways than one: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). Sometimes you, as a ministerial colleague, will have to be involved in counselling individuals in the family and the church through this pain. The loss of employment with the church, which often follows this, means there will be need to look for another job to bring in the much-needed income. One ministerial friend of mine committed suicide because he did not want to go through the shame. He left behind a devastated widow with very young children. How can one fail to be filled with emotions of sympathy in the light of this?

Handling personal fear

Then there is the emotion of fear. You know that you too are a fallen creature, with fallen appetites like that of your fallen brother. What will stop you going the same way? Sometimes it is a minister that you have looked up to and whose shoelaces you are unworthy to untie. “Lord, are we safe?” becomes the question. You feel as if you are besieged in battle and have called for reinforcement but the help is taking too long to come. How much longer can you hold out? A boxing or football match is timed and the referee’s whistle is soon blown, but ministry is for life. You begin to ask yourself, “Am I sure I will still be standing when the Lord’s call for me to enter eternity finally comes?” Thankfully, as someone once said, “The will of God will not take you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” That is the only source of confidence when gripped by this fear.

Very closely related to the emotion of fear is the trembling and humbling realisation that your own past weaknesses, failures, and sins could have been the cause of your ministerial fall too, save for the fact that the Lord was pleased to stop you in your tracks. This is the most difficult to handle in the conscience. All sin is sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). You know that in your unguarded moments you have failed God in this area a number of times. The famous “seven deadly sins” are deadly—lust, greed, gluttony, slothfulness, anger, envy and pride. So, what makes John’s sin more heinous than yours? A tender conscience causes you not to be too hard on your fallen brother.

Handling guilt by association

When a ministerial colleague messes up, we all suffer guilt by association in the eyes of those who get to know about this. Even when you do not know what has happened, it is assumed you know and are in a conspiracy of silence due to the fact that you do the same things. That is tough. Even if you knew, were you expected to write on your T-shirt, “Yes, it is true, John has committed this atrocity; I have already heard about it but, believe me, I am totally innocent”? Of course not! Yet, the guilt by association is a scarlet letter on your back that you have to walk with in public for some time, whether you like it or not. You feel unfairly judged but there is nothing you can do about it.

Another form of guilt by association is in the eyes of God. When news gets to you that a ministerial colleague has messed up, one question soon comes to mind: “When did I last pray for him that God may watch over his soul and give him the grace to walk in genuine holiness?” Whereas on some occasions you may find that you have consistently prayed for the brother that has fallen, there are other occasions when you realise that you are guilty of the sin that the prophet Samuel said he was not guilty of before God. Looking the people of Israel in the face in his farewell address, Samuel said, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). Oh, to be able to look fallen ministerial colleagues in the face and say that you never ceased to pray for them!

Handling future relationships

This is perhaps the most difficult. A fallen ministerial colleague remains alive many years after the sordid details have been published abroad. He does not disappear to another planet. You still have to relate with him. You were friends, very dear friends, as you held hands in the trenches and covered each other’s backs in the battle for the crown rights of Christ. Your families integrated as well. John’s kids and your kids literally became one family. Your wives became buddies as they empathized with each other in their supportive roles to their husbands. All this cannot go away overnight because of an act of indiscretion by your colleague. Sadly, you soon discover that relationships can never be the same again. You can never talk with gusto about the fight of faith as you once did. What a loss! What a loss! This is the most difficult of all this.

Conclusion


Well, such has been my lot on a couple of occasions in the 30 years of ministry. As I reflect on this sad reality, all I can say again is, “There go I but for the grace of God.” Do pray for me that I may run my race well to the very end, despite my own weaknesses.