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!