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!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We must keep the work of evangelism central

The more I climb the ecclesiastical ladder the more I am disturbed by the discovery that many Christian leaders tend to abandon the gospel while still claiming to be faithful to it. They tip their hats to the gospel but do not preach it. It is almost as though the gospel was simply the first rung of the ladder of Christian ministry and should be left to those who are still cutting their teeth in pastoral work.

I do not want to be judgmental, but I find it instructive that I cannot remember the last time I met someone who, in sharing their testimony of conversion, mentioned the name of some of the loudest ministers of religion in my own country as the instruments that God used to bring them to himself. The names that are often mentioned are those of the “small boys”. This bothers me. Does it mean the big fishermen are no longer catching fish? I ask myself, what can be more glorious than preaching the gospel and seeing souls saved?

The “big fishermen” are quick to comment on Zambia as a Christian nation, or on the Zambian “firegate” scandal, or on the need for the church to monitor elections, or for the church to love homosexuals, or be involved in opening universities and hospitals, etc. It gains them a lot of mileage in the media and secures the attention of politicians but I keep asking myself whether this is what their primary calling is supposed to be.

Do not get me wrong. All these issues I have listed are important but my point is that we preachers must keep first things first and remain red-hot preachers of the gospel. There would be no church worth talking about in the first place if there was no gospel being preached regularly and effectively. All the the issues I have listed would even be worse if there was no church to start with.

It is a sobering fact that every generation must be re-evangelised. We should never take today’s statistics in Africa or anywhere in the world for granted. If we do not maintain and build upon the evangelism of the previous generation we will lose ground and Christianity will dwindle despite the fact that the number of church buildings may remain the same—at least for a little while longer before they become empty and start getting sold.

Again, I do not want to be judgmental, but the African church needs to look at what is happening to Western Christianity. The publishing houses are still there, churning out many good books as before. Christian organisations are still there, doing their works of charity. Bible Colleges are still there, fighting for the dwindling numbers of individuals answering the call to the preaching ministry. But ground has been lost. Many churches comprise octogenarians tottering to their graves. There are hardly any new converts!

I am not sure how the Western church found itself in this situation. My concern is for Africa. If we are not evangelising but simply talking about evangelism and the gospel we will soon find ourselves in the same situation as our Western counterparts. Sadly, I am observing that there is far too much of talking about the gospel but precious little of fervent gospel preaching. We need to reverse this before it is too late. We need to get back to red-hot gospel preaching.

Think about this: What would happen to a nation if all adults were simply talking about the science of childbearing and child upbringing but not proceeding to actually marry and engage in the activity that produces children? Well, before long there would be no nation to talk about because all would be well past their childbearing age!

It is not rocket science to know that for a nation to prosper, married couples should bear children while in their prime and then nurture them into adulthood. Once midwives run out of work, you can start preparing the coffin for that entire nation. It will soon be no more.

I fear that this is what is happening with the Christian church. We are majoring in minors. Do not get me wrong. Social, economic, and political issues are important. Thankfully, the preaching of the gospel will have social and political ramifications. Benevolence comes from hearts that are converted and are overwhelmed by the love of God. This is because the greatest enemy that people have is sin. The news of how sin was defeated by Christ on the cross ought to be defended and sounded forth all around us as the world’s best news. Preachers ought to be challenging the people of our generation to respond to this news through repentance and faith. Sadly, that is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The ACU—A university that transforms character

The proof of the pudding is in the eating
My speech at the ACU 2017 Annual Chancellor’s Dinner

"Yours truly" giving the annual chancellor's speech
I am mindful that it is now two years since we opened doors for the training of students at the African Christian University. We have seen two sets of students go through our Scholars Program. Listening to parents of these students who have been trained by our faculty convinces me that we are on the right track. A few parents gave these unsolicited remarks about their children on the social media site Facebook earlier this year.

Parent 1: “Thank God for ACU! This boy has really changed and become helpful at home and great blessing indeed! l am a proud and blessed mother!”

Parent 2: “Awesome program at ACU! It has completely transformed my ?Simbi Uwishaka?. No need giving instructions for chores at home.”

Parent 3: “When I look at what my son is learning, I wish I had that privilege at UNZA.”

A parent sharing about the transformation in her son while studying at ACU
Evidently, within months of students being trained at ACU they become hardworking and very responsible individuals. We are not only passing to them head knowledge. We are working on character development—and the results are showing. Which other university in Zambia is having parents saying such words about their students when they return home?

In case you think the parents are biased, here is what one student wrote to me upon graduating from our Scholars Program this year: “My year has been phenomenal mostly because of my time at ACU. It is the best school year ever. Honestly, if I got a chance to go to Princeton or Stanford I'd choose to stay at ACU. I've gotten the chance to learn from a point of view that I hardly knew even existed. I really want to learn more because not only do I get fed intellectually, I also get to grow socially and even more importantly, spiritually.”

Dr Voddie Baucham explaining ACU's philosophy
How are we managing to produce such results? Of course, it is by the grace of God. However, we must also state that from the angle of human responsibility, we are teaching students to integrate their faith with their studies.

(1) All our courses are being taught from a God-centered biblical worldview. All truth is God’s truth. He made the universe and our role as humans is that of “mining” its potential so that we subdue it for the good of God’s world and for the glory of God’s name.

The musicians who kept the guests entertained all evening
(2) All our students are divided into small mentoring groups where they are allocated to members of the faculty who meet with them regularly. In these life-on-life meetings, they are helped to become the kind of individuals God wants them to be at a very personal level.

(3) Then we have our flagship, the student labour program. Our students not only study but also participate in the maintenance and development of the university. They begin to see work as a joy and not a burden, and immediately see the application of what they learn.

Guests listening to the presentations at the dinner
As we go into 2018, we want you to join hands with us in investing into these young lives through the sponsorship of scholarships. Let me end with an appeal that I got recently from one student that I would certainly want to see get such a scholarship:

“I had been given a scholarship for the ACU Scholar's Program and I thank God for that. However, that scholarship doesn't extend to the Degree Program. I've applied for one for next year but it is not guaranteed. I was hoping that maybe, somehow, you could help me find someone willing to sponsor me next year from KBC or anywhere else because mum and dad are not really financially equipped to do so. It would mean a lot. I am also promising to do my best academically throughout because I am tremendously eager to learn from the ACU.”

...and then, finally, what our guests came for!
I hope that after reading this you will realize that some youths in Africa have begun to taste the pudding of the ACU through actual eating and they want even more of it. Consider helping us remove the financial barrier by participating in sponsoring student scholarships. Together, we can transform Africa for the glory of God!

(PS: The ACU annual chancellor's dinner is an event at which the ACU says thanks to those who have supported us in various ways and to also raise funds from well-wishers. If you would like to financially help us provide scholarships to students write to prashant.thakkar@acu-zambia.com)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Déjà vu

(My speech given at the wedding of our son, Mwindula, on Saturday December 23, 2017)

This speech is being given on behalf of my wife, Felistas, and myself. I've entitled it Déjà vu. Wikipedia says, “Déjà vu is from French, and literally means ‘already seen’. It is the phenomenon of having the feeling that the situation currently being experienced has already been experienced in the past.” (To avoid being long-winded due to excitement, I have written down this speech word-for-word, including this same statement!).

Felistas and I would like to thank you all—friends and relatives—for coming to this event.

Exactly 30 years ago—shy of ten days—on January 2, 1988, Felistas and I faced each other in front of Pastor Joe Simfukwe of Lusaka Baptist Church and exchanged our wedding vows. We did not know what lay ahead. I had just resigned my job as a mining engineer in Mufulira and answered a call to pastor Kabwata Baptist Church—a church which at that time had no church building, no pastor’s house, and not enough money to pay my salary. As Mwindula's mother often says, “There were only two things we were sure of: Conrad had a calling to pastoral ministry and I loved him. The rest was left to God.”

Namundi being brought into the wedding ceremony by her parents
Well, this is now 30 years later, and apparently there is a Déjà vu. About ten years ago, Mwindula talked to us about wanting to become a pastor. We told him to first obtain a degree in something else, get a good job, and taste money. If after that he still wanted to become a pastor, he should come and tell us. Earlier this year, he came and said, “I have achieved what you wanted me to achieve. I have my degree in software engineering. I have a good job with Society for Family Health. I get a good salary. And I still want to be a pastor.” Who were we to refuse?

It was not long before he showed up again. This time he was with Namundi, saying this is the woman he wanted to marry. We asked the young lady—who is a lawyer—whether she knew the aspirations of her knight in shining armour. She told us what her former church elder, Mr Joseph Taguma, later repeated to us. She said that soon after her conversion, she had begun to pray that she would get married to a pastor. One or two courtships later she concluded that perhaps the Lord had other plans...until Mwindula showed up! She now thinks she is back on track.

Mwindula looking at his bride as she is brought in by her parents
The first time I met Namundi, I suspected we would meet again and would have a lot to do with each other. It was at a youth camp. She came to see me after one of my sermons, introduced herself, and we talked. A day later she came up to me smiling and said, “Pastor Mbewe, I'm sure you've forgotten my name.” She was right. I had been praying she would not ask. Well, she told me her name and then charged me not to forget it. Sadly, I forgot it again. So, the day the camp was ending, I pulled our daughter Mwila aside and, pointing to her at a distance, I asked for her name. “Namundi,” she said. This time I memorised it. The girl showed up at Kabwata Baptist Church (KBC) and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Aha, what's my name?” This time, I was ready! That's how I knew we would have a lot to do with each other. She soon joined KBC and we discovered she was living a few streets away from our home. She got close to my wife as they began to have weekly meetings at our home just between the two of them. My son saw her and, as they say, the rest is history!

As some of you know, Mwindula joins our pastoral internship programme in the next two weeks as part of his preparation for a lifetime of pastoral ministry. To do so and at the same time bring a young lady into your life as a wife demands the best even from the best of men. Pastoral ministry puts you in the cross hairs of Satan’s most powerful weapons. The way ahead will be challenging but at the same time very rewarding. Felistas and I can testify to both those realities. That's part of the Déjà vu.

The bride's maids walking in before the bride was brought in
Mwindula and Namundi, any parent will tell you that it is their ardent prayer before God that their children may marry the way you have done today. We are very proud of both of you. Too many young professionals are simply starting to cohabit and before long you are told that there is a baby on the way. They lack the social safety net of family and the high rate of divorce bears witness to their folly. We are grateful to God that you have sought parental consent and involvement in your relationship and your coming together in marriage. That is how it should be.

Yet this is only the start of a journey. What matters is how you finish, which is obviously dependent on how you travel. The Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 with the words, “In the beginning, God created.” Among the many things he created was the institution of marriage. Therein lies the key to a successful and happy marriage. It is to follow what the manufacturer of the institution says. The manufacturer’s manual is the Bible. Follow what it says. He created marriage and so he knows best how to keep it in good working order.

Dr Voddie Baucham preaching at the wedding of Mwindula and Namundi
Perhaps another interesting piece of the Déjà vu is the fact that the couple who did our premarital counselling were the Nyirendas—Pastor Alfred and Tina Nyirenda. Well, thirty years later they did the premarital counselling of Mwindula and Namundi—spanning two generations. We told the courting couple that the counsel the Nyirendas gave us has stood us in good stead these last thirty years. We are the proof of the pudding. Mwindula and Namundi told us that after about thirty hours of lessons, Rev Nyirenda said to them, “You can go and get married now. You are ready!”

Mwindula and Namundi, it is one thing to be taught how to have a successful God-glorifying marriage. It is something else to apply what you have learned. Many years ago we were called in to witness the separation of a couple in our church to ensure that violence did not occur as they divided their assets. We soon discovered that we were redundant. The couple knew exactly what belonged to whom, even to the last spoon. I asked them who their premarital counsellor was and they replied, “You!” I refused and said that I counsel couples to have joint accounts and purchase items from that common purse. That way everything is jointly owned. They just looked down. We told them that they had never really been married; they were merely living together.

Mwindula and Namundi with their parents on their wedding day
So, Mwindula and Namundi, you have been taught how to have a successful God-glorifying marriage. Make sure you start putting into practice everything that you have been taught. You are meant to apply those principles for the rest of your lives together. Every year on our anniversary, Felistas and I pull out the headings of the notes we took down from the premarital counselling we got from the Nyirendas thirty years ago. We spend a whole morning going through them and asking ourselves in which areas we are backsliding. We are brutally honest with each other. Then we pray for God's help to make us better spouses and better parents. It has been a good method of ensuring we apply what we were taught. I commend it to you!

I am leaving most of the thanksgiving to Mwindula's grandfather, which he will give when he closes the whole event. Let me end by thanking the wider family and the Kabwata Baptist Church members for the role you have played in the lives of our children, and in this case in the life of Mwindula. As for the church, you know that he was born in this very church and has grown up to be what he is today because of the teaching and influence of many of you. Thank you very much. Pray for him as he goes into marriage with Namundi and in due season into pastoral ministry.

Mwindula and Namundi with Mwindula's siblings and parents
Let me end this Déjà vu speech by quoting an appropriate portion of the Bible. The apostle Paul upon surveying God's inscrutable ways, says in Romans 11:33–36, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

I thank you!

(Postscript: Someone who attended our wedding 30 years ago reminded us later of another Déjà vu. Felistas and I provided a finger snack for our guests on the church grounds straight after our wedding ceremony instead of a full wedding reception. That is exactly what Mwindula and Namundi opted for. Déjà vu!)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seven lies I once believed about missions

The work of missions is one of the most important that any church can engage in. It is the responsibility of every Christian. We are either supposed to go into the mission field or we should be supporting those who have gone with our prayers and our finances. This is because our God is a God of missions. That is what the whole Bible is about. It is God’s agenda. Whereas I knew this from the time I became a Christian, somehow the penny never quite dropped that I should put this into practice both as a Christian and later as a church pastor.

How come? It is because we are all creatures of our own day. We live with many unconscious beliefs that dictate our priorities and how we relate to situations in life. I was once with presuppositions that made me conclude that at least for now the work of missions was none of my business. Looking back, I realise that those unconscious beliefs were all lies. There were many of them but, at the risk of embarrassing myself, let me share with you seven of them. Many fellow African Christians may find themselves making similar confessions.

Lie 1: We Africans were at the end of the process of missions

I always believed in missions. However, somewhere at the back of my mind I was of the unconscious belief that I was at the finishing end of the factory line of missions. Other people had brought the gospel to me and to my people. Our task here in Africa was simply that of evangelising our own people. That was all. Hence, in our prayer meetings we prayed for our evangelistic programmes. In our scheduling we only planned for evangelistic activities. In our budgeting we set aside funds for evangelistic trips and tracts. There was no sense of guilt that we rarely ever prayed for actual missionaries by name. Prayer meetings came and went without a single cry to God to raise up missionaries from among us. And we had nothing in our annual church planner and budget that was to do directly with missions work. It was all about neighbourhood evangelism, which was to result in our own church’s growth.

Lie 2: Missionaries were “white people”

To me, missionaries were from Europe or America. They were “white skinned” men and women. That fitted the pictures and paintings of missionaries that I was brought up seeing in books. William Carey, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Stanley Moffat, Olive Doke, and Mary Slesser were all “muzungus”. It also fitted what I saw as I visited mission stations around the country as a young believer. I made friends with a number of them. They were all “white people”. Whenever it was announced that a missionary would share in our church about the work they were doing, a “white skinned” man or woman would stand up and go to the front to speak. That stereotype remained in my subconscious mind. I ended up with the unconscious belief that a black man like me was not in that category.

Lie 3: Missionaries were extraordinary people

The little I knew about the life of a missionary convinced me that these were men and women who were a notch above ordinary mortals like me. I thought they probably heard an audible voice telling them to leave the comforts of their world to go and spend the rest of their lives in the jungles of Africa among ferocious beasts and unpredictable tribal chiefs or in Islamic and Communist countries where upon being discovered they would face certain death. I was convinced that missionaries possessed super human strength and courage. I admired them the way I admired Marvel’s Captain America, Iron Man, and Spiderman. Since I knew that I was an ordinary mortal who almost collapses at the sight of a spider and I also knew my church members were of the same ilk, I was of the unconscious opinion that we did not have men and women among us who could be missionaries. So, I never bothered to challenge our people to seriously consider going into the work of missions. Never!

Lie 4: Those who supported missions had a lot of money

I was convinced that God did not expect my church or me to give finances towards missions because only Christians and churches with plenty of money did such a thing. And I thought such Christians and churches were only found in America and Europe. I did not realise that many individuals and churches that were giving to missions in the West were doing so out of their poverty. They were doing so primarily because they saw it not as an optional extra to their Christian lives but as an intrinsic part of it. Some of them were students who had to forgo perhaps a meal a day in order to give the money they could have spent on that meal to the work of missions. In other words, I did not realise that we too could and were obligated to support the work of missions financially while we were struggling to make ends meet.

Lie 5: We must support a missionary’s total budget

This was another barrier to my involvement in missions. I always thought that a single church must have all the money needed to support a missionary’s total budget before they can get involved in supporting missions work. Since our church could not do so, I assumed God was leaving us out of this obligation. It was not until I got close enough to individual Western missionaries that I realised that many of them get “bits and pieces” from different churches and from different Christians to meet their needs on the mission field. Sometimes some churches and individuals drop off and they have to get back home to raise further support. In this way, even small struggling churches and poor Christians could participate in missions. Missions work is a joint effort where we all must contribute our little to make it happen!

Lie 6: Only churches with missionaries should pray for them

I thought that only those churches that have actually sent out missionaries are expected to pray for missionaries by name. After all, they have seen them grow up among them, get married, and even begin raising a family. So, they know them very well. For the rest of us it was enough to simply pray generally for “the advancement of God’s kingdom through the work of missions”. Thus even when I visited churches in the USA and heard them praying specifically for missionaries by name and sharing about the circumstances they were going through, I concluded, “They must have been members here and are now serving abroad.” It never dawned on me that some of them were never members in those churches but that churches in the West tend to adopt and support missionaries sent out by sister churches.

Lie 7: It is not yet time for us to get involved in missions

This was the final lie, which was a result of the cumulative effect of the smaller lies mentioned above. We were not “white” people and did not have a lot of money. None of our members showed extraordinary faith and courage. Therefore, it was not yet time for us to get involved in missions. We must keep the best of our young adults in good well-paying jobs to add to our numbers and funds. Our church prayer meetings should rightly concentrate only on our evangelism. One day it will be our turn, but that is somewhere in the distant future. The application of the Great Commission to us in Africa is simply that we continue to evangelise. What a BIG lie!


These seven lies and many more shut my eyes to the obligation that I had as an African Christian and pastor towards the work of missions for a number of years. How else could I have missed the fact that we are called to fulfil the Great Commission even as African believers and that this goes beyond reaching out to our neighbourhood? I am glad that my eyes have since been opened and as a result Kabwata Baptist Church and its members are engaged in the work of missions—sending out missionaries to plant churches, raising funds to support them, and praying for them by name every week in our prayer meetings.

I kick at myself for taking so long to see the light. Yet, when I talk with fellow pastors in Africa about missions I notice the same false beliefs that I once had in many of them. These are unconscious beliefs that are betrayed by a lack of actual action. They agree with me in theory that the work of missions is important but they remain inactive about it. The cumulative effect of these lies causes them to think, “It is not yet time for us to get involved in missions.” I will not throw the first stone at them because sadly I was once in their shoes.