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!