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, December 31, 2008

Reformed Christians—Where are you?

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

As we enter into 2009, I have been doing a lot of thinking. When the Reformed Baptist movement began in Zambia in the late 1980s, the scare crow used against it was that the churches would shrink because that was the effect of the movement in other parts of the world. “Your churches will die!” our members were constantly warned. Those of us who were pioneering this movement put on our thinking caps and found that this was going to happen if we did not put the evangelistic machinery in our churches at white-hot heat. This we did, and the effect is that a number of our churches are experiencing sitting space problems. Kabwata Baptist Church has recently had to bring down a few walls to accommodate its ever-growing Sunday attendance. Apart from that, our conferences and camps are now full to overflowing. For instance, our recent KBC youth camp had well over four hundred youths, mostly teenagers, in attendance (see picture below). And the advertised theme was not “How to be successful in life” but “The Final Judgment”! We as Reformed Baptists are also the only Baptists in Zambia running regular television and radio programs. Talk about the internet, and again we are the only Baptists in Zambia with church websites that are active. And we are multiplying. Lusaka alone now has no less than ten Reformed Baptist churches. Whatever you may want to call this, it is not “shrinkage”—and certainly not “death”!

However, instead of basking in the warmth of these achievements, I think we need to address the challenges that still lie ahead of us as a Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia. One of them is that of permeating society as salt and light. I have no doubt that Reformed theology, with its emphasis on expository and applicatory preaching, has produced Christians of very high moral fibre in our society. The grace of God in the truths of Scripture have taught us how to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this same present wicked world (Titus 2). Thus our homes are definitely not a representative sample of the homes in our society. The Scriptures have educated us about marriage and family life, and we are seeking to implement its norms. Also, in our work places, once the initial persecution has been weathered, our members are experiencing unprecedented promotions into higher offices. This can only be because employers are appreciating their dependability, integrity and hard work. That is how it should be!

My concern, however, is the almost total absence of Reformed Baptists when it comes to those areas where volunteerism in society is needed. Think of areas such as local government—and even state government. How many of us are thinking of getting so involved in our communities that we can stand for elections at local government level and the people in our community will know us by our deeds? Our children go to various schools in our neighbourhoods, but how many of us serve on the various boards of our children’s schools on a volunteer basis so as to improve those institutions? Our nation is fighting for its life because of HIV and AIDS. I have no doubt that within the four walls of our churches, our message is loud and clear—“Abstinence outside marriage and faithfulness in marriage”. But again I ask, how many of our members are actually involved in HIV/AIDS mitigation programs in our immediate communities?

Then all you need is to go into the townships and rural areas and you will find abject poverty staring you in the face, with widows and orphans not knowing where their next meals will come from. What are we practically doing about all this? A lot of donor funding is being poured into the country, but a lot of that money is going into the pockets of the rich who are now building mansions through attending sponsored training workshops, training of trainers workshops, training of trainers of trainers workshops, etc. Only biblically taught Christians can break this vicious cycle and ensure that the much-needed help reaches the people it is intended to reach. They will also ensure that the vulnerable are being helped in such a way that they can start to help themselves, and not reduce them to life-long beggars waiting for the next hand-outs. But, I search in vain to find Reformed Christians giving of their time for this kind of work. Many who are doing this are in it because it is the source of their bread and butter. The NGO world pays well!
Are we not guilty of lighting a lamp and hiding it under a basket? Why is corruption so endemic in all spheres of our society and how do we hope to defeat it? I do not doubt that it should be primarily through evangelism. Without changed hearts, we cannot expect changed communities. However, to stop there is to suggest that only when everyone is converted by the power of the gospel will we find our communities changed. That will never happen. Biblical prophecy does not even remotely suggest 100% conversion in any society. However, what ought to happen is that those who are converted should not shy away from entering into the shop-floor of their community life. They should be there where the ideas and actions of the world matter the most—in the arts, in the media, in the corridors of power, in civil society, etc. As they express their well-informed and God-centred convictions, the world soon begins to listen to them and a new day dawns for the entire community and nation. Even an atheist who recently visited Africa acknowledged this (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece).

Where would we be if Christian men like William Wilberforce did not ply their trade in the corridors of power? The cursed slave trade would still be alive and well on planet earth! Where would we be if Christian women like Florence Nightingale (see picture below) did not give themselves to the plight of the sick and suffering in their society and beyond—much to the dismay of their affluent families? The whole practice of medicine, especially nursing care, changed for the better because Florence lived. Where would we be if Christian men like Robert Raikes and George Williams had not taken it upon themselves to improve the livelihood of children and youths in their communities who were remaining uneducated and thus giving themselves to the vices of crime, drunkenness and prostitution? It was because of these men that movements like the Sunday School movement and organizations like the YMCA were born and have done much good for our entire world.

These men and women were not just interested in being responsible Christians within the four walls of their homes and in their working places. They saw the needs of society around them and decided they were not going to close their eyes to these needs but instead were going to give themselves to do something about them. It was not easy for them. Society was not willing to help them. However, they gave of their time, money and energies to turn their world around. Today, we read their biographies and since their praises; but once upon a time they were vilified because they dared to stand up for the truth and for the downtrodden until the tide turned in their favour.

Look at the dilapidated state of our schools! Look at the broken-down condition of our health facilities! Look at the moral degradation in our townships! Look at the levels of corruption in high and low offices! Look at the number of orphans and widows that HIV and AIDS are producing every day! Look at the endemic poverty all around us! Look at the greed of our politicians and the waste of donor money by the NGOs! Look at the breakdown of family life in our cities. Look at the indifference to basic issues of hygiene and a clean environment by our people. Look at the post-modern mindset that is being piped into our country through the electronic and print media! We cannot afford to perch ourselves and our children up on a well-insulated tree and let the world go to the dogs. This is God’s world and he has placed us here for a purpose. He has taught us his Word and given us good churches for a purpose. I have no doubt that Zambia’s hope lies in the Christian faith, and the Christian faith in its most biblical form is in the hands of Christians of a Reformed faith. Let us get out there in 2009 and make a difference to our world. Let us get the light from under the basket and hang it up for all to see. The world out there needs us. So, we dare not shy away from the demands of being salt and light in this sin-sick world.

Reformed Christians, where are you?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Tribute to a Faithful Co-worker—Lumpuma

“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Romans 16:1-2).

Towards the end of last year, Ndonji Kayombo was inducted into the pastorate of Trinity Baptist Church in Kitwe, Zambia. I attended the event with great rejoicing, little knowing that with that achievement out of his way, his eyes were set on yet another goal—namely, to get my office assistant, Miss Lumpuma Chitambala, as his wife. Last Saturday, December 13, 2008, even that was achieved at a colourful wedding at Kabwata Baptist Church—and I was the officiating minister!

The departure of Lumpuma from the church office is the ending of an epoch in the life of Kabwata Baptist Church. Although her departure was imminent for a number of months, we worked in a state of denial until the very last day. Of course, when she began the hand-over process to Mary Chisupa (see one of the pictures below), the writing on the wall could not be ignored. It was the ending of a journey that began in January 1993 when, while staying with a cousin and her family, who were all members of Kabwata Baptist Church, Lumpuma was witnessed to and was brought to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In October of that year, I went to her office at what is now the Holiday Inn and interviewed her over lunch time to ascertain the genuineness of her profession. (Many years later, she reminded me that I went to visit her in very prestigious office surroundings on my bicycle. Well…those were the days!) I was satisfied with her profession of faith and so, in January 1994, I had the privilege of baptizing her as a new convert into the fellowship of Kabwata Baptist Church. (The picture below shows Lumpuma, in front row with dark glasses, as a young convert during a church outdoor meeting in 1994).

When I clocked twenty years in pastoral ministry at KBC in 2007, Lumpuma wrote in the anniversary book that the church gave me. There she revealed that, in fact, my ministry in her life started much, much earlier through the television. She wrote, “The first time I saw you was on Zambia National Broadcasting Services doing the epilogues. My brothers and I were very young then and for some reason we developed a liking for you and nicknamed you “Mr Epilogue”. Night after night, we would wait for the closing of the station so that we could see you. Lo and behold, when I first visited KBC, there was “Mr Epilogue” live! I could not believe my eyes and could not wait to tell my brothers. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of a wonderful change in my life…”

During the same commemorative event, I wrote a tribute to God’s glory for the twenty years he had enabled me to spend at Kabwata Baptist Church. In that tribute, I thanked God for the people he had used to bless me as I laboured as pastor of the church. Lumpuma was one of them. I wrote, “Lumpuma came into the church office at a time when the elders noticed that I was struggling to keep the administrative side of the church above the water and this was causing my pulpit ministry to suffer. She took up her work with a sense of ownership that has made it possible for me to be at peace anywhere in the world, knowing that the administrative side of KBC is well taken care of.” Anyone who has been associated with the KBC office will know that this commendation of Lumpuma is an understatement. One of the elders commented the day before Lumpuma’s wedding, “There are very few perfect people on earth; and Lumpuma is one of them!” Theologically, that statement is suspect, but, having worked with her for almost ten years, I understand what he was trying to say. (The photo above shows Lumpuma sharing the same hymnbook with one of her closest friends, Belinda Mkandawire).

Every pastor who has an office assistant that truly fits him like hand-in-glove will know that this is a great mercy from God. Lumpuma was like that. As the church grew, we were never behind on the administrative side of things. She kept the membership roll up-to-date, my office and oversight visitation diary at optimum pace, the church business meetings well supplied with notices and minutes, etc. The pastor’s office is the nerve centre of the whole church, and with the multiplying ministries and church-plants of Kabwata Baptist Church, it could not have been easy to keep a finger on everything—but Lumpuma managed. What often amazed me was the way she remembered ALL the necessary phone numbers. Whenever I asked her to ring any of the elders, deacons, ministry leaders, church staff, or any pastor in the country, she just picked up the phone and rang them. Incredible! Also, there were many times when I thought she had the gift of reading human minds because she often did the work I wanted her to do long before I even asked her to do it! Lumpuma's knowledge of the Queen's language (English) also ensured that before my writings saw the light of day, all the Zambian English was corrected. This meant a lot of extra work for her because I am not lazy with my pen!

Having come from the travel industry before she joined the staff at KBC, she took perfect care of all my travel arrangements. All I needed was to pick up the ticket from her just before I travelled. Also, she took personal interest in ensuring that the travel and accommodation needs of the many visiting preachers who came to minister at KBC or elsewhere in the country were taken care of so that these servants of God could concentrate on their work in perfect peace. Add to that the fact that on many occasions, she spent her lunch times visiting sick church members at the local hospital and then briefing me afterwards as to how they were faring. Even after a long day’s work, I would discover the following morning that she did not go home after knocking off. She instead went to visit some church members who were unwell or had recently suffered bereavement. So, even when other pressing duties made it difficult for me to visit, I was given first hand information about the physical wellbeing of my flock. Lumpuma did all this despite the fact that she suffered from a perennial backache due to a road accident she was involved in before she started working at KBC!

Office devotions were high on Lumpuma’s priority and so she ensured that everyone—including the pastor—was rounded up when it was time for these spiritual exercises. Her prayer requests during these devotions covered the length and breadth of church life, clearly showing where her heart was. In the year 2000, I introduced and began to sponsor an annual award in the church office (“The Most Inspiring Member of Staff” Award) to encourage members of staff to be exemplary in their work. It is won by common suffrage, i.e. members of staff vote for the person they think has inspired them the most in their work in that year. I was not surprised when Lumpuma scooped the award in the very first year (see photo above). So, I was not the only one being inspired by her commitment to her work—many others were! Lumpuma loved her job. Only a higher love finally weaned her from it. In fact, forty-eight hours before her wedding day, she was still working a full eight hours in the office, despite the fact that this was eleven days past her last official working day. Many times I overheard individuals who came into the church office a few days before her wedding commenting, “What are you doing here? I thought you are getting married this weekend!” She would just giggle and get on with her work.

I end this tribute by paraphrasing the words of the apostle Paul in Romans to the church in Kitwe where Lumpuma is going. “I commend to you Lumpuma our sister, who is a servant of the church at Kabwata, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.” From being a pastor’s office assistant, God has been pleased to make Lumpuma a pastor’s domestic assistant. She has been amply trained and qualified for that. I am glad that my loss is another Reformed Baptist pastor’s gain. However, Ndonji must know that God has highly favoured him because he is getting two for the price of one!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deacons—A Blessing or a Curse?

“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Timothy 3:8-10).

On Sunday, December 7, 2008, we ordained two more deacons at Kabwata Baptist Church, bringing the total number of deacons to six. The two men who were set apart for this office were Kasango Kayombo and Logan Nyasulu (see pictures below). Having known both men from the time they were teenagers, seeing them finish their tertiary education, start working, get married, start to raise their own families, and now witnessing them being ushered into church office brought a lot of joy to my heart. They are both godly men, avid readers, very competent preachers, and masters in their fields of work.

I must admit that the Kabwata Baptist Church diaconate has come a long way. When I first came as pastor in 1987, I found a situation where the only elder then was not only working in the same committee meetings with the deacons but also working under their chairmanship. He preferred it that way. Perhaps it worked well before I came in as pastor, but as soon as I separated the diaconate from the eldership and ordained the first fully-fledged eldership at Kabwata Baptist Church (comprising Duncan Mugala, David Toka, Wishard Yenga and myself) all hell broke loose. Although some of the deacons accepted this, others felt the loss of control in the church and did not take it lying down. This, coupled with the reforms I was in hurry to implement in the church, made life very difficult at Kabwata Baptist Church. The church went through a very trying time during this period of change.

Perhaps the time I experienced the greatest blessing from the Kabwata Baptist Church diaconate was when the eldership disintegrated in October 2003. I will never forget coming out of the members meeting in which all the elders resigned and feeling relieved and at the same time totally drained because it had been a very difficult nine months that finally led to the resignation of my fellow elders. These were all brethren I esteemed very highly in the Lord. Well, the entire diaconate (see picture) walked into the church office after the meeting and said to me, “Pastor, we realize that the stepping down of your fellow elders will mean a lot of extra work for you. We want you to know that we are available to do any work that you want us to do.” With their help, the church grew more in the next one year than it ever did in any single year since it started seventeen years earlier!

These experiences have taught me that once deacons know their role in the church, they can be a wonderful blessing not only to the pastor but to the whole church. As long as they see themselves as a pressure valve for the eldership, so that the elders can concentrate on the primary work of oversight, the church will be propelled to higher heights. However, if they see themselves as God’s way of providing “checks and balances” for the elders, you can be sure that a lot of nervous energy will be lost in internal squabbles. In such instances, deacons can be a real curse to the church!

Perhaps what is even more important than deacons knowing their role in the church is for them to be biblically qualified. Hence the importance of the text that heads this reflection: “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Timothy 3:8-10). Once you have godly deacons, their walk with God keeps them zealous and humble in the service of Christ!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My great friend, Pastor Choolwe Mwetwa

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Anniversaries are important. Although the world uses them only for drinking parties, for the children of light anniversaries are a time for stock-taking—reflecting upon the goodness of God and resolving to do better in the years ahead. This month (November 2008) marks twenty years of the outstanding pastoral ministry of one of my closest friends in the ministry, Choolwe Mwetwa, of Central Baptist Church in Chingola, Zambia. I had hoped to participate in some commemorative events to mark such an important milestone, but upon realising that the month was drawing to an end with nothing happening, I opted to use this blog to muse over my friend’s remarkable ministry.

[For those of you who are unfamiliar with Zambia, I have included a map below. Chingola is between Mufulira and Solwezi, while Luanshya is just next to Ndola]

I first met Choolwe when we were both non-Christians and schooling in Ndola. Ronald Kalifungwa, another close ministerial friend who was also in Ndola at that time, recalls that Choolwe was famous for his soccer prowess. In the soccer field he used to be called “Choo-weey”.
The next time we met was at a Zambia Fellowship of Evangelical Students (ZAFES) camp in 1980 or 1981 when I was at the University of Zambia and he was at Luanshya Vocational Training Institute studying electrical technology. “What are you doing here?” I said to him, and he quickly replied, “And what are you doing here?” So, we found a quiet corner somewhere and shared how the Lord Jesus Christ had saved us from sin. We were both overwhelmed by God’s amazing grace!

When I graduated from the University of Zambia and went to work in the Mufulira copper mines in 1984, I found Choolwe managing a men’s clothing outlet in that town. Since I had just been allocated a two-bedroomed apartment in an up-market residential area, I invited him to come and occupy the second bedroom. Again, since both of us were working, we also invited a schoolboy (Alan Ndambasha, now married and living in the USA) to come and live with us, so that he could take care of the house chores. Those were wonderful days indeed! Choolwe had just bade farewell to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God and was attending a new Brethren in Christ Church in town. I recall that he was a late sleeper and late riser, while I was an early sleeper and early riser. There were times when, in the middle of the night, we would cross each other in the corridor as he would be going to sleep after reading and I would be waking up to start my reading!

Another highlight in those days was the way we spent our money on Christian books. We would set aside money from our salaries for the basics of what we needed that month and then we would find out who between us would have time the following day to go to Luanshya by bus where there was a Christian bookstore that had a good supply of Banner of Truth titles. I recall once being the one to travel and I came back to Mufulira late at night, heavy-laden with the coveted merchandise. We went into the wee hours of the night reading the blurbs on the covers. We then proceeded to share the books using the “one for you, one for me” method. In the end, we had one book remaining and it proved quite a task to decide who would get it. Finally, my less selfish friend let me have it as a reward for the long trek I undertook ferrying the merchandise across the Copperbelt!

Choolwe left me in Mufulira when he was transferred to Kitwe, where he found Ronald and they formed a formidable pair of young Reformed preachers. The Lord was definitely working in our hearts at the same time because, in a period of slightly more than one year (1987-1988), we all left secular employment and went straight into the ministry without going for formal theological training. Kabwata Baptist Church called me to be their pastor in September 1987, Central Baptist Church in Mufulira called Ronald to be their pastor in May 1988, and Central Baptist Church in Chingola called Choolwe to be their pastor in November 1988. These churches were all very new and had no church buildings. They could not even afford to pay our salaries (Lusaka Baptist Church, the church that Ronald is presently pastoring, helped these churches to do so for the first three years). We also all married nurses soon after becoming pastors. Since then, apart from Ronald’s short stint in South Africa (1998-2006), we have laboured very closely together in providing leadership to our local churches and spearheading the Reformed movement in Zambia (see picture above, with Erroll Hulse and Trevor Roberts in 1991). For Choolwe, this has meant twenty years of faithful ministry in that corner of God’s vineyard called Chingola. I trust his church has some idea how much their pulpit is coveted!

I often tell people that, among the Reformed Baptists in Zambia, Choolwe is the great mind while Ronald is the pastor par excellence (In case you are wondering what I think I am, I am the dreamer!). If God ever gave a John Owen to Zambia, he did so in the person of Choolwe. I can well understand why he left Pentecostal/Charismatic circles in the mid 1980s. I cannot see how a mind that painstakingly follows an argument so perceptibly to its logical end can be satisfied with the superficiality and contradictions that are so glaring in those circles. Choolwe and I call each other “twiny” because we have often found that we have a lot in common. For one, we both love writing and have sustained columns in national newspapers for years. There is, however, one area in which we are certainly different. I write booklets, but he writes tomes! Be that as it may, over the years I have appreciated Choolwe’s clarity of mind when I have had a knotty problem to deal with and have sought his counsel. After a few perceptive questions from him, all based squarely on the Scriptures, I have seen the way ahead so clearly that I have often wondered how I failed to see it in the first place.

This gift of God has also been an asset to the Reformed movement in Zambia generally. In the early days of the Reformed movement in Zambia, Choolwe (together with Ronald) came up with a simple duplicated magazine called Sola Scriptura. During its short lifespan, it enabled us to think through the basics of the Reformed Faith and their application to our churches and our culture. Choolwe also came up with yet another vehicle that has been greatly used of God to sharpen our understanding of the application of the Reformed Faith to various aspects of church life. This was the not-so-regular Parson’s Diet (see picture). This was a conference among Reformed Baptist pastors where knotty theological and practical issues were debated year after year.

This gift of God has also been a great asset to the nation of Zambia in the political realm in times of crisis. Who can forget how Choolwe’s one message at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in 2001 rallied the whole nation together against our former Republican President FJT Chiluba’s efforts to change the constitution so that he could run for a third term as Republican President? Similarly, when his successor, the late Republican President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, expressed reluctance to use a more popular method to adopt a new national constitution, civil society again turned to Choolwe for help. Choolwe took the nation by storm with just one message at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre. His arguments were devastating, and it was clear to all that the battle was won. Yet, Choolwe is not a politician but a preacher of the gospel. So, as soon as his duty is done in the hour of crisis, he has always retired to his quiet pastorate in Chingola. Going from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and the Mulungushi International Conference Centre to his normal church building (compare buildings above) must take quite some adjusting—but he does it all the time!

“Behind every successful man there is a woman.” I recall the day Choolwe broke the news to me that he had found his “missing rib” in a lady called Marilyn Katyoka (see picture), and on 4 August 1990 they were married. That was eighteen years ago. Since then I have seen this domestic reformer turn my friend’s house into a home and her warm personality has given it the glow that attracts us all there. Since then God has also given them three wonderful children—Wajula (boy), Tolai (girl) and Nkwali (boy). Marilyn’s green fingers have kept a vegetable garden going in their backyard that always leaves me green with envy each time I visit their home in Chingola.

Now, with twenty years of “the book” already written, one wonders what the other pages will look like in Choolwe’s life. Only God knows. However, from God’s Word, one verse that keeps coming to mind as I think of the ministry of this dear friend of mine and servant of God is Proverbs 4:18, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Here is a very consistent life that has been growing in its understanding of God’s truth and in its fruitfulness over the years. Therefore, we can only expect better things with each succeeding year. One of my greatest privileges in life, for which I will ever remain grateful to God, has been to be a friend to one of God’s choicest servants in my generation in my country. Thank you, Lord. Amen!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Brazilian Encontro Da Fe Reformada Conferences

“I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).

My first visit to Brazil was in 1998, when Richard Denham invited me to preach at the FIEL conference (mentioned in my last blog). It was during this conference that I was invited to preach at the first Reformed conference among the Presbyterians in the northern state of Amazonas in 2000. I still vividly recall Pastor Jaime Marcelino (picture below), pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Cidade Nova in Manaus, coming to me at the end of the FIEL conference and giving me a gift of Brazilian snacks prepared by his wife. With a very soft unassuming voice and looking very timid as he pieced a few English words together, he asked for my contact details and told me “not to worry” but to accept his wife’s gift. He said that he would want to invite me to come back to Brazil to preach for him at a new conference in his church. I carried the home-made gift all the way back to Zambia and shared it with my family. Sure enough in 2000 he invited me to preach at the very first Encontro da Fe Reformada (Encounter the Reformed Faith) conference. It was the first conference of its kind among the Presbyterians in Brazil, drawing its inspiration from the FIEL conference.

I got another invitation in 2002. In 2003, the Encontro da Fe Reformada conference grew into two conferences and was not only held in Manaus but also in Goiania at the First Presbyterian Church (Pastor, Joer Correia Batista, picture on the left). The following year, I had the opportunity to participate in both the Goiania and the Manaus conferences for the first time and was greatly encouraged to see the growth of these two conferences. Other international preachers who have preached at these conferences include Iain Murray (see his report) and Brian Edwards from the UK. Although I was back in Brazil twice in 2006, both visits of that year were with newer and smaller Reformed conferences (also among Presbyterians). One visit involved two conferences in Fortaleza and Sao Luis, and the other was a conference in Salvador. This year, the Encontro da Fe Reformada conference had its 9th gathering in Manaus and its 6th gathering in Goiania. I had the inestimable privilege of being invited back to preach at both conferences. The conference organizers also paid for my wife to come along with me, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

The hospitality provided by all our hosts was really “worth writing home about”. How can one forget the Brazilian meals served by the wives of Pastor Jaime and Elder Erivelto to all the speakers and guests from afar? I hear it is an annual tradition at the Manaus conference. For those of you who may one day visit Brazil, let me tell you about the special fish dish called "pirarucu a casaca" (Brazilian equivalent to cod, served in a tropical fashion with layers of bananas and manioc flour plus vegetables). And then there are the mouth-watering desserts made from unique Brazilian fruits like açai and cupuaçu. They are worth crossing the Amazon forest on foot and swiming across the Amazon river for! We had a similar meal with our hosts in Goiania, Abe and June Berberian. These very tasty and nutritious meals enriched the excellent spiritual fellowship we had with the brethren.

Conferences such as the Encontro da Fe Reformada play an all-important role in the progress of the Reformed Faith in any country. An obvious example is the Founders Conference among the Southern Baptists in the USA, which must be given some credit for the resurgence of a robust Calvinism among Southern Baptists in that country. Churches and seminaries in that great denomination have been reclaimed to “the faith of our fathers” in an extraordinary way. Brazil is no exception. Like the Southern Baptists in the USA, the Presbyterian Church of Brazil has seen its best and worst times. With a membership of about half a million, broken down into sixty-eight synods (compare with Zambia which only has one synod), it must be obvious to anybody that this is indeed a big denomination. Over time, it had become a mixed grill, with the Reformed Faith being at its lowest ebb. However, it is very clear that these conferences are becoming a rallying point for those who want to see their denomination return to its historic position. In 2001, some local scholars who held on to the historic Reformed position (like Augustus Nicodemus and Mauro Meister) were expelled from the theological faculty of the Andrew Jumper Post Graduate Center that exists side by sidewith Mackenzie Presbyterian University, and is maintained by Instituto Presbyterian Mackenzie. However, all that has since turned around and they were not only restored in an astonishing General Assembly, in 2002, when the conservative wing of the Church elected the new moderator and denominational officers, but—as you will notice from their present positions mentioned below—they are now all in key spots in Mackenzie educational institutions with its post-graduate school (the Andrew Jumper Post Graduate Centre).

Again, like the Southern Baptists in the USA, those who are now at the helm of the number one ministerial training institution of the denomination are solidly behind these Encontro da Fe Reformada conferences. Thus on this trip, apart from preaching with other visiting preachers like Ronaldo Lidorio and Ageu Magalhaes, I also preached with Dr Augustus Nicodemus (chancellor of Mackenzie Presbyterian University and professor of New Testament), Dr Mauro Meister (professor of Old Testament, translating for me above), Dr Heber Carlos de Campos (professor of Systematic Theology) and Mr Solano Portela (the chief financial officer of the University and chairman of the Theological Training Board of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil that oversees the church’s eight seminaries and three official Bible Institutes of the denomination). Previously, I have also preached with Dr Valdeci da Silva Santos (professor of Pastoral Theology). All these men are solid in their Reformed convictions and warmly evangelical.

The humility of these men and their commitment to these conferences is amazing! For instance, Solano Portela (translating for me above) had to return to Sao Paulo for a day during the conference in Manaus in order to attend to some urgent business at the Mackenzie University. This necessitated a three-and-a-half hours flight each way (the distance is further than Lusaka to Cape Town). He interpreted for me in the evening, took an overnight flight to Sao Paulo, chaired a meeting the following day from morning up to midnight, and then flew back the next morning to come and continue interpreting for me at the conference! In the meantime, his wife, Betty (seen in action here), was translating all the sermons for Felistas and me, by typing them out on her laptop as they were being preached! Also, a day before the Goiania conference started, news reached the organizers that my fellow speaker, Daniel Doriani (from St Louis, USA), could not make it. As soon as word got to the brethren in Sao Paulo, Augustus Nicodemus and Heber de Campos quickly made changes to their already-busy schedules and travelled over nine hundred kilometres to Goiania to rescue the situation. They both did an excellent job. Augustus’ three sermons on the first three chapters of James are the best expositions I have ever heard on that book; and that, despite the fact that I was hearing them through an interpreter!

Another aspect I have found challenging about the Brazilian conferences is the role played by the members of the local churches that host them. In Manaus, Pastor Jaime Marcelino asked those in the organizing team to come forward at the end of the conference so that their labours would be publicly acknowledged—and I counted no less than fifty members coming forward—fifty! Add to this the fact that many who were not necessarily in the actual organizing teams for the two conferences helped to sponsor the conferences financially. At the back of the folder given out to the conference participants in Goiania were no less than twelve companies, obviously owned by church members, which helped to sponsor that conference. Some paid for the air-tickets of the preachers, others took up the cost of all the tea breaks, others paid for those pastors who needed help, etc. This is truly a wise use of worldly “mammon” (see Luke 16:9-13). I am glad that this is beginning to happen in Zambia, but we still have a long way to go in this area.

Before I “put my pen down”, I need to mention one more aspect of the conferences that I found most challenging. It was the area of books. Making available the best books at the best possible prices must be the goal of all conferences that seek to see the Reformed Faith make progress in the land. In this way, even when the conferences are over, the truths being expounded there are carried home not only in the hearts of the pastors but also in the books they have purchased. Brazil was no exception. The pastors and church leaders coming from various parts of the country for these conferences also came to stock up on their libraries. When the bookshops at both conferences were opened, a swarm of delegates besieged the books. Looking at the enthusiasm with which the books were being snatched up, one would have thought they were being given out free, but they were actually being bought—albeit at reduced conference prices. At the conference in Goiania, R$35,000 (about K60 million) worth of books were sold. The smiles on the faces of the successful ones, as they went away with the booty, betrayed the satisfaction in their hearts. I long to see such a day in Zambia!

Let me end by saying that I returned to Zambia with a heart enriched by the ministry of the brethren in Brazil, and can only pray that they were also enriched by my ministry. To borrow the words of Paul to the Romans, “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12). I trust that this was fulfilled in the last two weeks as I ministered in Brazil. Although we may not all have the opportunity to visit Brazil, one thing we should do is pray for the brethren there as they continue to labour with all their might to further the Reformed Faith across Brazil. They have a mammoth task on their hands.

I now set my eyes on my next international preaching engagement. I am scheduled to preach in South Africa, at the Grace Ministers’ Conferences in January 2009. Please, remember me in your prayers as I prepare the messages and as I deliver them to the pastors in South Africa who long to see a better day in their land also. To God alone be the glory. Amen!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Brazil – the land of Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka

“He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26, ESV).

I am a Zambian—born and bred in Zambia. The more I visit other nations of the world the more conscious I am of my Zambian-ness and the more I thank God for making me a Zambian. That is not to say that there is nothing embarrassing about being a Zambian—there is! But there is also a lot to thank God for. Every nation has a similar mixture because we are all fallen nations comprising fallen creatures. Thus, when Felistas and I got off the plane on my seventh visit to Brazil, I was aware that I was entering a country which, like my own, has its pros and cons. What are some of those?

To begin with, Brazil is a vast, vast country. It is the fifth largest country in the world, with 8.5 million square kilometers of land. It is also the fifth most populated country in the world, with approximately 190 million people. The population of Sao Paulo alone is the same as the population of the whole of Zambia! Economically, Brazil has the largest national economy in Latin America. It has over 700 airports with paved runways (compared to 10 for Zambia). I need to add to this the fact that Brazilians are very friendly people. They will go out of their way to make you as comfortable and welcome as possible. Because of this, Felistas and I have always thoroughly enjoyed visiting Brazil.

Brazil is also the land of motorbikes and multi-purpose VW kombis that have been turned into anything and everything conceivable under the sun. It is a land of long buses that bend in the middle. Well known for coffee, it is also a land of guarana—its own refreshing drink made from a local fruit—which competes favourably with Coca-Cola. Then there is the churrascaria cuisine in restaurants. If you have not yet been treated to this, then you have not yet visited Brazil. This is a meal where, for no extra cost, waiters with smiling faces and very sharp knives keep bringing to your table all kinds of meats hanging on a rod, straight from the grill, until you too full to eat any more!

What else would make a Brazilian proud of his country? It is their achievement in the world of sports—especially soccer. This is the land of Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka! Its national soccer team has won the FIFA World Cup a whooping five times. Pele (in white t-shirt on left) is still the world’s top football scorer (1,281 goals), despite having retired over 35 years ago, while Ronaldo is the current FIFA World Cup top scorer (15 goals). The current FIFA World Footballer of the Year is Kaka, who ensures he uses every opportunity to share his faith in Christ—often pulling up his t-shirt when he scores, to show the cameras another t-shirt underneath with the words “I belong to Jesus”. I can say more about him, but let me limit myself to this for now: Kaka openly states that he, together with his childhood sweetheart, Caroline (see picture of them on their wedding day), maintained their virginity until they got married in 2005. How is that for the world’s number one soccer player? Any nation ought to be proud of producing such a son!

I must admit that I also admire the way in which Brazilians look after their homes. Because of their high population, most middle income people live on very small plots (like Merzaf Flats in Chilenje, Lusaka). However, each year we have gone there we have noted with interest that they keep developing their little homes with ceramic tiles, more modern ceilings and lighting, glass doors, air conditioning, etc. The way they use ceramic tiles to decorate their perimeter walls makes me wonder why we Zambians have not thought about doing something like that. They look beautiful!

Spiritually, however, Brazil has many challenges. The official language is Portuguese, hence their ignorance of the vast spiritual heritage in the English language. The predominant religion by far is Roman Catholicism (about 75%), with all forms of Pentecostalism making inroads into the country in the recent past. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was born here some 30 years ago! Thankfully, there are movements in the country that are working towards redressing these negatives. My first visit to Brazil was at the invitation of American missionary, Richard Denham, in 1998. Richard and his wife, Pearl (see photo below), have been missionaries in Brazil for over fifty years. One of their greatest achievements has been the establishing of the Editora FIEL Publishing house, which has translated many Reformed books from the English language and made them available to the Portuguese-speaking world. He also hosts an annual conference called the FIEL Conference in the city of Águas de Lindóia; which is where I preached in 1998 together with Michael Horton (from USA). It was during this conference that I first met Andrew King (from England), who subsequently moved to Brazil as a missionary and has greatly helped the brothers there in developing expository preaching skills. The FIEL Conference (now in its 24th year) last month had about 1,300 people listening to Joel Beeke, Phil Newton, Sam Waldron, Stuart Olyott, etc, and sold over 12,000 books at special conference prices. That is “overwhelming” by any standard anywhere in the world!

The ministry of FIEL has given birth to other publishing houses and conferences that are keen to see the Reformed Faith grow in Brazil. One of them is the Puritan Project and another is the Encontro da fe Reformada conferences in Manaus and Goiania (more on these conferences in the next posting). These are mainly among the Presbyterians. Yet, when you realize that Brazil has about 190 million people, then you know that this is still a drop in the ocean. Those who are laboring for the Reformed cause in this vast country will continue to value our prayers.

One of my two 2006 visits to Brazil coincided with the world famous Brazilian festival of the Carnival, with its spectacular street parades and vibrant music. It is totally indescribable. I have never seen anything like it. Morally speaking, it is like all hell breaks loose and so I would not encourage any Christian to make it a tourist destination. Many Brazilians say that the festival is morally bankrupt!

Having said that, one must quickly add that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our first day on this trip was spent in Sao Paulo at the home of our hosts, Solano and Betty Portela. While “the girls” went out for lunch, I went with Solano to have lunch with some friends who are Presyterian theologians, including Dr Augustus Nicodemus (seated on my left below), the present Chancellor of the Mackenzie Presbyterian University (over 45,000 students). The discussion over the churrascaria lunch was on doctrine. Although we were all convinced cessationists, we could not agree on the place of 1 Corinthians 13 in this matter. As the discussion heated up, cellphones-cum-PDAs popped out of pockets like pistols, with all the Greek and Hebrew lexicons, various translations of the Bible, commentaries, etc. These 21st century theologians would have made John Calvin green with envy! One thing is sure, the debate that ensued from this was more satisfying than the Brazilian churrascaria itself.

I always come away from Brazil grateful for the heritage we have in Zambia—the English Language—that has enabled us to dig deep into the rich veins of the Reformation and Puritan writings. Where would the present Reformed movement in Zambia be if it were not for the many books from the golden eras of previous centuries that have been republished without needing to be translated into another language? Also, although we have a fair share of Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism to contend with, the Reformed movement in Zambia is certainly not a drop in an ocean in terms of its impact on the nation and its neighbouring countries. It looks like it is slowly becoming the “Geneva” of Africa! We must be grateful to God for the gains made thus far and make the most of this day of opportunity that we have. In that sense, we are a very privileged people. But, as we bask in the sunshine of this reality, let us never forget that to him to whom much is given, much more shall be required. Remember, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” There must be a reason!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wherein Lies The Future Of Zambia?

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Yesterday, I cast my vote in the unscheduled 2008 presidential election. As a citizen of my country, I am now waiting patiently to hear what the collective decision of the people of Zambia is. In a few days time, we shall have a new president. He will either be the person I voted for or someone else – ouch! As I await the final verdict of the counting that has already begun, I must remind myself, as I have done so many times before, that the future of Zambia does not really lie in the ballot box but in the sovereignty of God and in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Due to space, I will be very brief in explaining what I mean. (I need to add that the posters scattered throughout this article are in alphabetical order and are not related in any way to the paragraph in which they are found!)

It is true that having “a devil on the throne” will take the nation backwards economically and socially. It will mean that levels of corruption that were beginning to go down will soar once again. It will mean that many investors will withdraw from the country and a downward economic spiral will commence. It will mean that the civil liberties that we were beginning to experience in the nation will slowly get eroded. Yes, it will mean that and much, much more. No one wants that to happen and hence the sense of grief and despair among those who know better if a cheat and fraudster ends up in Plot One.

It is equally true to say that having a godly man of integrity on the throne can only be a blessing to the nation. It would mean greater investor confidence, more fiscal discipline in the public sector and more development for our nation. It would mean a better ambience for the church to carry out its divine mandate of evangelism and missions. So, it only makes sense that if there is such a person among the candidates vying for Plot One, then the hopes of the godly are that in a few days time such a person will be sworn in as Zambia’s fourth president.

I can understand all that. However, we need to realise that ultimately the person who will be our president would have been chosen by God before time began. God is totally sovereign in this matter. He does not only choose the godly but even the ungodly in order to achieve his purpose at that time in history. Sometimes, he wants to bless a people and he gives them a righteous leader. At other times, he wants to judge a people and he gives them a ruler who will break their backs. Yet, this is never out of malice or caprice. At the centre of God’s purpose is the extension of his kingdom through the gospel. You will often find meaning to God’s acts in history by looking at the state of the church at that time. So, whether God gives us a good or bad president will depend on what he wants to do with us as his people today.

We also need to understand that for us to have better leaders in the nation the church must be faithful in proclaiming the gospel. The problem in the world is not bad economic policies but bad hearts and these can only be changed by the gospel, which is the power of God for the salvation of those who believe (Romans 1:16). The gospel has always been the vanguard of civilization and true human dignity. It changes lives in the grassroots of society and, since rulers come from there, in due season it gives us rulers with pure hearts. It is the failure to realize this that makes Christians excited about a new leader coming into power even when the state of the church still leaves much to be desired. That is totally misplaced confidence. Our excitement, rather, should be when a purer gospel finds its way into the homes of our land. That alone is the true hope of Zambia because it produces a righteous people.

Does that mean we were wrong to vote? No, I think we should. God uses our vote to bring whom he pleases to Plot One. But we cheat ourselves if we think that there is a political leader who will bring utopia to our country. Politicians will promise us heaven, but they know that the promises they make are merely to woo voters so that they can get into their much-coveted positions of power. Once they get what they want, history will only repeat itself! Our hope lies in the gospel alone. Christians, even after casting our votes and waiting with bated breath for our new president to be announced, let us get busy with real gospel endeavours, praying that through them God will extend his kingdom in Zambia and even beyond. That is where the future of Zambia lies.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some Advice on Casting Your Vote – and Praying!

“All authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God… The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:1-4, ESV).

I do not normally give my opinion about elections because in the end I realize that those whom I am addressing are a drop in the ocean compared to the numbers that will finally vote. However, as I have given further thought to this, and in view of my having a blog, I thought that what I would say could be given further wings if those who read my views told their friends and relatives to read my blog. So, I have decided to break with the past and say a few words on the up-coming unscheduled presidential elections set for 30th October 2008.

The question on everyone’s mind is who to vote for – between (in alphabetical order) Rupiah Banda, Hakainde Hichilema, Godfrey Miyanda and Michael Sata. Any political analysis of these men shows that they have their strong and weak points. However, allow me to give two biblical tips to help guide you in making a biblical decision. In the eyes of God, there are essentially three levels of government – self government, domestic government and civil government (being divided between local and national government). These levels are like a ladder. That is why the Bible says about elders, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5, ESV). From this text of Scripture, we can learn two principles to help us determine how God wants us to choose a presidential candidate.

The first principle is that of experience. A home and a church have a lot in common. After all, both of them are households! So, when someone has not had any experience in running a nuclear family, then it is dangerous to give him a bigger “home” (like a church). Experience is a good teacher, however nasty that experience might be. That is why children should learn to listen to their parents, even if the parents messed it up when they were young. Experience has taught them valuable lessons that they want to pass on to their children. This should also apply to presidential candidates. Experience at a lower level should be a stepping stone to taking on a higher task. It is crazy to ask someone to be president of the whole nation, if he has not even had a taste of local government – or has never even run a home.

The second principle is that of achievement. A person must first prove himself in self-government before he can be entrusted with domestic government. Similarly, he must prove himself in domestic government before he should be given the reins of civil government. So, find out how such a person has performed in terms of governing himself, i.e. in the realm of self-control. Has he been denying himself pleasure for the sake of a nobler goal or is he a slave of his lust? Then find out how he has handled his family life. Has he raised a family that is civilized, respectful and hardworking, or is his family life in shambles? Be sure that a person who has failed at a lower level of the home will not deliver at a higher level of the nation. He may promise you heaven, but in the end he will only give you hell!

You will agree with me that, in the light of the above biblical principles, choosing a president next week will be quite a herculean task. One reason for this is that very few Christians in Zambia involve themselves in social and community programs that lead on to political leadership. We have left this in the hands of unbelievers, who have turned everything into nothing more than a selfish pursuit of power. So, we find ourselves on Election Day with hardly any credible candidate in sight. Instead of us simply bemoaning the lack of biblically qualified men to lead the nation, we must begin working hard at correcting this false dichotomy between the spiritual and the social in the minds of our Christian young people. We must encourage them, right from school, to take up leadership positions in society where they can exercise their God-given gifts and graces. We need to pray that, not many years hence, God will give us a Zambian president groomed in our God-centred Reformed Baptist circles.

Talking about prayer, we need to realize that this divine instrument is more potent than the ballot. So, as we think about who to vote for, let us pray that God will give us a president who will not be a curse but a blessing to the nation. Remember, “All authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God… The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good.” (Romans 13:1-4, ESV). God forbid that he should give us "a devil on the throne". So, to your knees!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pray for the Safety of our Pastors

“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, ESV)

When I tell people that I hate travelling, they always laugh. I guess this is because my life has been lived largely on the road or in the air. But, seriously, I hate travelling. I have a phobia for travel. Hence, a week or two before a trip comes up, I already begin to experience stress-related symptoms. In fact, that is how I often realize that I have a trip around the corner; it is when I notice these symptoms and start wondering why. Then it hits me that I have a trip coming up soon. Our bodies are truly amazing. God wired them up in such a way that even when we are not consciously processing information, our bodies are still doing so – and even reacting to it. Amazing!

Now, why am I sharing my phobias with you? It is because in the recent past there have been a number of road accidents involving close ministerial colleagues. In fact, in the first case I was the driver! The accident took place in the last week of August as I was taking Pastor Voddie Baucham, our conference preacher, to our Zambian annual Reformed conference. Obstructed by a bus packed in the wrong place, I started driving across the road when a fast-moving car appeared from behind the bus and hit my car on the side. How my car only sustained a few scratches when the car that hit me was so extensively damaged (see picture) can only be attributed to the grace of God. It was a timely reminder that life is uncertain. You may be physically well now, but in the next moment you can be history!

Then, about two weeks ago, Pastor Saidi Chishimba of Faith Baptist Church in Kitwe was also involved in an accident. He was taking his wife (with their two daughters) down to Livingstone to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. Suddenly, at a narrow bridge near Mazabuka, a truck-and-trailer, overtaking another truck, came into their lane at high speed. They just barely managed to get to the end of the bridge and veered off the road when the truck-and-trailer caught their car and ripped off the driver’s side (as can be seen on the picture, after some basic panel-beating). Saidi and Maureen, his wife, said that they were sure they were gone! They attribute their survival to the grace of God. After a rather lengthy delay, as they brought back their car to some working form, they continued the journey to see the mighty Victoria Falls. As they thought of the mighty power of God in creation, at the sight of the Falls, I am sure they also reflected on God’s mighty power in preserving their lives.

As if this was not enough, a few days ago I received the news that Pastor Wilbroad Chanda of Ndola Baptist Church was involved in a car accident in the USA and is presently undergoing surgery in order to repair various parts of his body. He had sustained a broken leg, a broken hip, some broken ribs, a broken nose, etc (see picture). Wilbroad is in the USA to do some coursework for a doctoral degree. He writes, “The accident occurred on Sunday after church between Vicksburg and Jackson. I was just alone in the car. I blacked out and careered off the road (Interstate/motorway) into the median, hit a few small trees and the vehicle stopped. I had my seat belt on. The paramedics arrived within 2 or 3 mins. I was in so much excruciating pain. I was told not to make any movements. I have never experienced any pain like that in my life.” Apart from asking that we pray for his healing, he also asks that we pray for the Lord’s provision in terms of “thousands of dollars for the medical bills.” (If you are able to help financially, please let me know and I will put you in touch with Wilbroad directly).

Pardon me for sharing all these gory details with you and for, probably, spoiling your day. I have done so because I want to ask you to pray especially for the safety of our pastors. I am not suggesting that their lives are more precious than those of other church members. However, I think that in the light of the three accidents involving pastors that have occurred in such a short space of time, with each event getting worse than the previous one, it only makes sense that I ask for prayer for pastors’ safety. Also, we have to bear in mind that our pastors are often on the road due to their call of duty. Every so often the phone rings and even before the person calling says anything about why they are calling, the very first words are, “Pastor, come quickly...!” – and we are back on the road! But one more reason for praying for the safety of pastors is the effect that the sudden loss of one pastor has on an entire congregation. The words of Scripture are often fulfilled: “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, ESV). Once the person who regularly occupies the pulpit is no more, an entire epoch in a church comes to an end. So, for the wellbeing of our churches, let us pray for our pastors that the Lord will keep them safe on our roads. Amen!