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!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

50 Kitwe Pastors Pray For Zambian Kwacha

A friend recently tagged me on Facebook to an item on an online news website and asked me what I thought of it. It was the news that more than 50 pastors in Kitwe had gotten together at the Oasis of Love Ministries Church to pray for the weak Zambian kwacha.

The way in which the Zambian kwacha was depreciating was indeed a great worry to anyone who earns money in Zambia. On one day recently I remember hearing of it going from K10 to $1 to about K12 to $1 within hours. If that does not alarm you, nothing else will.

So, the fact that a few pastors decided to get together to pray about this should not surprise anyone. After all, a currency that heads in that direction is likely to hurt all of us—church pastors included. I would have joined in the prayers if that was all that was going on.

What bothered me was when I read that each pastor was asked to pull out a kwacha note from his pocket and raise it in the air during the prayer meeting. While other pastors were praying in tongues others were now prophesying that the currency should appreciate in three months.

Later, the kwacha notes were collected and taken to “the altar” where some senior pastors who were present continued to pray over the notes. Then the pastors collected their money again and continued to pray over the notes so that the money gains value.

Whereas many people responded in the comments column and simply called this a joke, I responded to the person who sent me the link saying that this was witchcraft. Since the query was on Facebook, someone else asked, “How is this witchcraft?” Here is my answer.

Bank notes are not the economy

As I have already said, there is nothing wrong with people getting together to pray for the Zambian economy. Prayer is basically a humble acknowledgement that we desperately need God to intervene in our situation. So, I commend whoever initiated this—up to that point.

However, when educated people start confusing a piece of paper with a national economy that begins to worry me. What has gone wrong is not the piece of paper in our pockets. It is the national economy of Zambia that is sick. We cannot carry that in our pockets.

What we ought to be praying for is that God will give wisdom to our national leaders so that they can come up with a team of well-trained economists who will put together fiscal policies that will drive the national economy forward. If we need a miracle, that is where we need it.

The thought that simply by pulling money out of our pockets, raising it in the air, collecting it in a basket and putting it on some imagined “altar” is what is going to turn the economy around belongs to the world of witchcraft and not to the world of biblical Christianity.

This is senseless witchcraft

It is the witchdoctor who counsels you to kill a white chicken and put its feathers on the four corners of your home to keep away sickness, even if that sickness is malaria. What has the feathers of a chicken got to do with the malaria parasite that is ravaging your body?

It is a witchdoctor who calls you to his den, then takes you on top of a hill in the middle of the bush so that he can remove whatever curse is standing in the way of your progress. Is this not what is now being done by church pastors, resulting in many women getting raped on hilltops in the bush?

It is this darkness of witchcraft that has now invaded the evangelical church through so many of these ministries. People have stopped thinking simply because “the man of God” has spoken. They have fallen prey to the mentality of African traditional religion.

For instance, when a person says that he has applied for so many jobs but he is not being employed, these “witchdoctor” pastors do not even ask questions about that person’s qualifications. They immediately start prophesying a job for him within a few months.

Similarly, when a person says that his business is not doing well, they offer to go and march around his business premises chanting phrases and sprinkling oil around the place as a way of reversing his fortunes. Of course, he has to part with some “seed money” before they do it.

Is this not what is causing so many women to be raped by these “witchdoctor” pastors? The women go to them to seek help in relation to their troubled marriages. The “man of God” tells them that if he has sex with them the evil spirits tormenting their marriages will go.

This epidemic is inside evangelicalism

Once upon a time, these things were the preserve of cults that were clearly distinguishable from evangelical Christianity. Sadly, today this is the common fair in many “born again” churches while the wider evangelical community looks elsewhere in criminal silence.

Who among us does not know of a relative or friend who has been defrauded or raped by these charlatans? Who among us has not lost a relative to death because the person was told to stop taking medicine since the prayers of the “man of God” had supposedly cured him?

These “witchdoctor” pastors have become an epidemic. In the prayer meeting being referred to, the district commissioner said, “Everyone is a prophet now… They are cursing the land with their fake miracles… They are the same crooks who are raping young girls.”

Yet, arresting the known notorious culprits alone will not solve the problem. We need to see that there is a womb that is giving birth to these “prophets”. It is the growing syncretism of evangelical Christianity with traditional religious beliefs within Charismatic circles.

When evangelical pastors take out bank notes from their pockets and pray and prophesy over them as a way to heal the economy, they are on their way to do everything that the district commissioner was worrying about. It is the same faulty “witchcraft” logic at play here.

The approach of biblical Christianity

True Christianity is first of all about a person’s relationship with God. The foundation of reconciliation has been secured in the person and redemptive work of Christ. Individuals must come to him in genuine repentance and faith for them to be reconciled to God.

As pastors, this is the most crucial question we should ask when anyone comes to us with any problem: Are they reconciled to God in this way? We have no right to turn God into a fetish or lucky charm to bring people goodwill irrespective of how they live. God is holy!

Once we are convinced that a person has come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our task as pastor is not to simply pray for a breakthrough in their lives but to counsel them along biblical principles. People need to learn to think God’s thoughts after him in their daily lives.

Understanding this is what will cause the Zambian church to offer its members who are godly and astute economists to the government to help the nation build its economy on biblical principles for sustained growth. Witchdoctor antics performed on bank notes are utter folly!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bird watching in Cape Town

I was recently in Cape Town for a Sola 5 Conference and took time to do a little bird watching both at the home of my hosts (Winton and Barbara Gibbs) and at "the water front". I captured quite a few of them on camera and posted the photos on Facebook and Twitter. It crossed my mind afterwards that although Facebook and Twitter get a lot of immediate attention, in the long run hardly anyone ever fishes out your old updates and photos. Blogging does not get as much immediate traffic but the visits continue in trickles for a very long time. In the light of the comments I got on the photos, I thought I might as well preserve them here. So, for those of you who saw these photos on Facebook or Twitter, you might as well go on to other business. This is for those who did not!

I like to think that my bird-watching is done in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ who said, "Look at the birds of the air..." in Matthew 6:26. He wanted us to learn from them how they went about life without anxiety or worry. I also look at them in order to admire the beauty that God has put into the bird-kingdom. The beauty of some of these birds is breathtaking!

Last year I was asked by a book publisher in the UK for permission to use one of my bird photos, which they saw on this blog. It was one that I took of the African Sacred Ibis, while Felistas and I were on our 25th wedding anniversary in Livingstone. This has compelled me to conclude that this must be the final resting place of the bird pictures I took in Cape Town. Here they are!

* * * * *
Apart from attending the Sola 5 Conference in Cape Town, I enjoyed the beauty of God's creation--especially the bird kingdom. My hosts—Winton and Barbara Gibbs—have a bird paradise in their yard and so I took a few pictures. Here is one of them, a Cape White-eye, enjoying a drink.

Below is a male Cape Weaver. Male Weavers make the most brilliant nests in order to lure females to themselves. If you have seen one you know that they are incredible! I keep one of their creations in my office.

Above is a photo of a male Cape Weaver. Some of you may have begun to wonder what the female Cape Weaver looks like. Here she is! Below is the female Cape Weaver, with one eye on me making sure I do not pull a fast one.

If you want to be visited by birds, one of the small investments you should make is that of a bird-bath. Birds love to come in for a bath after a hard day's work! Here below, a Cape Bulbul had one eye on me while enjoying a good bath. The Bulbul is common back home in Lusaka, Zambia. However, the white eye-ring is a unique characteristic of the Cape Bulbul.

Okay, after a few photos of birds that are named after the Cape, here is a nice break. Below is the White-backed Mousebird. It's white bill and red legs set it apart from other Mousebirds. I first saw this bird in Namibia in the 1990s. It did not endear itself to me!

Below is another "Cape" bird. This is the Cape Spurfowl, which is in the family of the tasty guinea-fowls that we enjoy in Zambia. The Cape Spurfowl has a red bottom bill and a dark grey top bill. They are normally seen in pairs, and so if you look carefully you will see the other one. What amazes me about them are the details in their feathers. Look at this!

The Olive Thrush is a common bird in South Africa, especially on the southern and eastern areas of the country. We do not have it in Zambia. Here it was sneaking in for a bath but watching me very closely...

In an effort to see more birds in Cape Town, we went to the sea front. Below was one of the birds I found relaxing there. It is the Little Egret, named thus in comparison to other Egrets. It is also found in Zambia. Egrets, like Herons, have long legs and necks, which enable them to stand in water and by quick action grab under-water creatures for food. This one was making its way into deeper waters "to go fishing" when I captured it on camera.

The next photo was by far my best shot as I continued my bird-watching. This is the Hartlaub's Gull caught in mid-flight. Sea gulls are fairly common around the world, wherever you have seas or large fresh waters. This species is found along the west coast of southern Africa. Perfect shot!

This next one is a young Egyptian Goose paddling away in a pond near the sea front in Cape Town. Adults have more colour in them. Ducks and geese were certainly created for water bodies by God. He gave them webbed feet for swimming and their feathers are totally waterproof. What I loved about this photo was the fact that I could see its paddling feet in the water and at the same time see its reflection clearly. You usually only achieve one or the other!

Below is my final shot from Cape Town. You can breath now! Here is another bird that makes the Cape special; it is the Cape Sparrow. It is very much like the House Sparrow that hangs around Zambia, except that God has given it a little more colour. It is fantastic! That "C" formation of white around its black head is also its unique characteristic feature. Well, that is all the photos of birds from the Cape that I had for you. I hope you enjoyed seeing them!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The tragic loss of the doctrine of sin

I started writing this blog post on a flight across the Atlantic. I was disturbed. I left the USA on the same day that the Supreme Court there announced the legality of same-sex marriages. I had intended to write this post about a month ago but it now seems the right time to do so.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, the more I think about it the more I am persuaded that many of the world’s philosophical errors and its failures in practical solutions and resolutions are primarily because of a faulty understanding of the awful thing the Bible calls “sin”.

According to the Bible, sin is not only the wrong that we do but it is also the root cause of the wrong that we do. We seem to have largely lost the second aspect of the definition of sin and are only grappling with the first part. We talk about the shoot but totally forget about the root.

The modern understanding of human beings is that we are essentially good and are only made bad by outside forces, e.g. the abuse of drugs and alcohol or a bad neighbourhood. The more “spiritual” ones add generational curses and demons to the list of corrupting outside forces.

That is certainly not the biblical concept. According to the Bible we are essentially bad. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created they were good. However, when they sinned against God in Genesis 3 they became guilty and a moral degradation took place within them. Their hearts became sinful. They became enslaved to a foul power called sin.

There is perhaps no better treatment of the experience of sin as a foul power within us than is found in Romans 7. The apostle Paul said, “For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7-8).

Sin is here pictured as a factory of evil, producing all kinds of covetousness. It makes us desire what we have no legitimate right to. That desire can be overpowering, as overpowering as an addiction is to an addict. This is what made Paul realise that he needed salvation.

This foul power within us not only craves what is wrong but its craving is heightened when it is confronted with a command that forbids what it desires. The apostle Paul wrote, “It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure” (Romans 7:13).

Paul is here referring to what took place within him when he came across the command of God that said, “You shall not covet.” The command is good. However, this foul power filled him with all kinds of covetous desires as soon as he became aware of this command of God.

We learn something else, therefore, about this foul power. It is rebellious. It hates being under authority. It must have its own way. It pushes boundaries. As soon as it hears, “You shall not…” it goes, “I will!” It seizes an opportunity through the commandment to do evil.

This foul power is also present in Christians. The apostle Paul testified in the present tense as a mature believer, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:15-17).

Paul had explained earlier in Romans 6 that when we become Christians the reign of this foul power is broken. However, he is under no delusion that we are totally free from its influence. It is still present within us, waging war against our renewed humanity (see Romans 7:21-24).

I am very concerned that much of modern evangelicalism has lost this clear biblical teaching. We seem to see the source of sin purely in terms of the devil and the world. We see ourselves as good people who are victims of outside forces. We fail to see that we are born fallen.

This tragic loss of the doctrine of sin has left us unable to explain what is happening in our world today. The argument of Romans 1:18-32 is that where God is truly acknowledged, he puts a restraint upon this foul power of sin. However, where people think they can manage pretty well without God he removes his restraints and this foul power takes full control.

Paul argues that the first pillar that goes down when this foul power is let loose is sexual purity (Romans 1:24-25). The second pillar that goes down is sexual sanity (Romans 1:26-27). So, homosexuality is a fruit of this foul power demanding what is contrary to nature.

Finally, this foul power brings down all the other pillars of morality (Romans 1:28-31). It does not stop with pulling down our pants; it runs amok and pulls down anything and everything in its way. Society becomes filled with every kind of irrational wickedness.

In the goodness of God, he has provided civil government in order to restrain human beings from falling headlong into this abyss of total depravity. However, when civil government gets obsessed with rights rather than responsibilities it becomes complicit in the downward spiral. It gives approval to those who practice obvious irrational wickedness (see Romans 1:32).

This is what is happening with Western civilisation. God was kicked out long ago. Civil government is so drunk with so-called rights that it is even willing to redefine marriage. We are told sex must have no boundaries as long as those involved are two consenting adults. If you try to talk about the elephant in the room you are shouted down as a religious bigot.

In case I am seen to be throwing stones across the Atlantic Ocean, let me quickly add that this is also the Achilles heel of the growing deliverance movement in Africa. It blames all human moral failure on generational curses and demons. If a man is adulterous it is because there is a curse or evil spirit on him that makes him chase after skirts. He needs deliverance.

I was at a meeting yesterday where this was played out. A bishop was praying for Africa and he alluded to the USA Supreme Court’s judgement. “We bind the demon of homosexuality. We refuse this spirit here in Africa,” he prayed. You should have heard the hearty amens!

This popular movement in Africa has lost the biblical doctrine of sin despite being within evangelical circles. There is no effort to explain to people that we are all born fallen creatures with desires that are morally warped. You are born bad. I am born bad. We are all born bad.

What we all need is not deliverance from some external curse or spirit through the prayers of “men of God” but salvation and sanctification through Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit. Jesus supernaturally subdues this foul power as we submit ourselves to the word of God.

“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.” (Charles Wesley)

It was because the apostles of Christ knew this that they refused to concentrate their efforts on feeding widows. They knew that this foul power in human hearts could only be brought down through preaching Christian truth in the power of the Spirit of God (Acts 6:4).

The modern bane of motivational speaking that has taken over the Christian pulpit, where sin is not even mentioned, is as useless as shooting peas at a charging lion. It will certainly not arrest this foul power within us. We must restore powerful biblical preaching in our pulpits.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Farewell, Dr John Anderson

It is now one week since the remains of my dearest friend, Dr John Anderson, were interred in the graveyard at Newhouse Baptist Church in England. I am now objective enough to reflect on what that man meant to me while the Lord lent him breath. Sorry the post is long!

The beginning of our friendship

Having a meal with John in the UK in 2007
John sprang into my life in 1991. I was about to make my first overseas visit the following year and, as part of the preparations, I wrote an article about the start of the Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia in the Grace magazine of the UK. John read it with great interest.

The reason John was interested in the story I wrote about the Reformed Baptists in Zambia was because he had been coming out to Zambia to stand in for doctors who were going on furlough at a rural hospital in Katete called St Francis Hospital, some 600 km east of Lusaka.

Thus far, he only knew of the Reformed Baptist church in Chipata but had not known that there was another one in Lusaka. He kept the magazine clipping, in his characteristic way, and on his next visit to Zambia he made sure he invited me to meet with him.

In those days my form of transport was a bicycle. So, I cycled to Ridgeway Hotel where John was staying and we had a meal together. He kept a notebook where he took copious notes as we talked. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until God took him to glory!

John’s labours on my behalf

John offered to organise the itinerary for my coming UK trip so that I could visit as many churches as possible to preach and share the story of what God was beginning to do among the fledgling Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia. I gladly consented.

Upon returning to the UK, John shared with his church, Newhouse Baptist Church, about our need for hymnbooks. They bought and sent us enough brand new Grace hymnbooks. On my first visit to the UK, I visited this church and became friends with his pastor, John Woollam.

I have never forgotten John’s first visit to Kabwata Baptist Church. The hymnbooks had arrived and were in use during our worship service. John’s eyes were wet with tears as we sang, “Revive Thy work, O Lord,” from the hymnbooks he had organised for us.

Two years later, in 1994, I had another overseas trip coming up and again John offered to organise my UK itinerary. By this time, we had acquired a plot of land to put up our church structures. John asked the churches I was visiting to contribute towards our building project.

Newhouse Baptist Church committed itself to support our building project with a sizeable annual amount, which gave us quite a push once it was converted to the Zambian kwacha. John also opened a UK account, “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church.”

All UK support towards Kabwata Baptist Church’s building project went into this account and then John would remit the funds as and when the money was needed. He would send the bank statements to us regularly so that he kept all the dealings above board.

Until the work was done

John was a medical doctor but his heart for Africa, and Zambia in particular, went far beyond the physical well being of our people. He wanted the saving faith of God’s elect to be known among our people. Thus he gave people like me all the support that he could garner.

John Anderson’s notebook became the place where more and more Zambian Reformed Baptist churches were being scribbled for prayer and practical support. Before long, John would speak about the various Zambian pastors and churches as if he lived in Zambia.

Every so often, John came to St Francis Hospital for his tour of duty. He made sure that on each visit he included Kabwata Baptist Church. He took his usual copious notes and photos, which he used when he went back to the UK to raise support for our building project.

John swapped his Ridgeway Hotel accommodation for my little home in Libala on his future visits to Lusaka. This really melted my heart. He loved my family and became part of us. My children grew up knowing “Dr Anderson from the UK” who often visited us.

The support from John Anderson’s church, Newhouse Baptist Church, lasted for as long as our building project continued. We built our church manse and church auditorium while their support flowed from the UK. We will remain ever grateful for their kind gesture.

My eyes are teary as I write this. I became a pastor in 1987 at the age of 25. Ten years later when I clocked 35 years, Kabwata Baptist Church moved into its new building. It was but four un-plastered walls and a roof but I knew we had crossed a major milestone.

A friend not to be forgotten

As John’s strength began to wane due to old age he would often say to me, “Conrad, this may be my last visit to Zambia. I am praying that I will find someone with a heart for Zambia to take over what I am doing.” His prayer was answered in the person of Andrew Alsop.

With Andrew and Jo Alsop in the UK recently
Hence, a few years ago, while I was with John in the UK, we went together to close the “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church” account in his town and transferred the funds to a new account opened in the town where Andrew Alsop lived. John was elated.

In two years, God willing, I will have been at Kabwata Baptist Church for 30 years. Many people will be rejoicing at what God has done and continues to do at KBC. If God spares me to be part of those celebrations, I will remember my friend John who has gone to his reward.

How can I forget such a friend? John saw in me what I did not even see in myself! He often assured me of his ardent prayers for my family and my church. When he called from England or when I visited him he would often ask about each member of my family by name.

As John’s health waned, Felistas and I made sure we visited him in his home. He called it his “departure lounge”. When he knew I was coming, he put together all the magazine clippings he had kept of my ministry and gave them to me. They are now in my memorabilia box.

Handing over a book from Kabwata Baptist Church to John
Earlier this year, knowing that John may not have long to live, I made a concerted effort to visit my old friend and found him in hospital. I delivered a book full of messages of love from Kabwata Baptist Church members. I left knowing we will not meet again on earth.

John’s home going and interment

Sure enough, on May 17th, John went to be with the Lord. He has left behind his widow, Dorothy, who stood by his side throughout the years when he used to come out to Zambia. She encouraged him in his support for the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement.

After John died, Dorothy sent me this note: “Dear Conrad, you will be sad to learn the news that John has died, but not surprised I’m afraid…The end during the night of 17th May was very peaceful (I know that sometimes people say the end was ‘peaceful’ when it was not, but it truly was for John).” I am not surprised. The man served his God with distinction.

John’s pastor, John Woollam, also wrote, “We would be grateful for your thoughts and prayers for that day [of the funeral], the preparations for which John had thought about and planned very carefully. Please pray that I will be enabled to carry out everything in a way pleasing to the Lord and in accordance with John's wishes.”

John’s “successor”, Andrew Alsop, wrote me after the burial, “On Wednesday I attended Dr John Anderson's funeral. It was a powerful testimony to God’s saving & restoring grace and the chapel was almost full of people to witness it. When preparing his funeral service, Dr John told Pastor John to ‘tell them about heaven & how to get there’. Pastor John certainly did that with great liberty and honesty…. John was buried in the chapel graveyard on a beautiful sunny afternoon, with birds singing their hearts out. It was almost impossible to be sad, even though many of us were solemnised.”

Farewell, my friend John. Thank you for everything you did for me. Your sun has set. You have gone to your reward. Enjoy the reward of your labours in the presence of your God!