A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Progress in the Reformed Baptist cause on the Copperbelt

“When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw this evidence of God's blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-23, NLT)

Felistas and I were on a few days holiday and decided to spend the days visiting friends and relations on the Copperbelt. We spent two days in Kabwe (not yet on the Copperbelt!), two days in Ndola, a day in Mufulira, two days in Kitwe, and two days in Chingola, before returning to Lusaka. In each town, among the many things we wanted to achieve, we also wanted to know how the Reformed Baptist churches were doing. So, although we visited many friends and relatives who belonged to other churches and were briefed about the Lord’s dealings with them, in this blog I want to list for your prayers what we found among the Reformed Baptists.

KABWE
Bethel Baptist Church (Pastor Lawrence Lama):
After being without a pastor for umpteen years, the church called Pastor Lama a few months ago. So, we found an atmosphere of excitement and expectation. The elders were glad that they did not have to share the pulpit among themselves any more. But more than that, Kabwe is slowly turning into a university town. The Mulungushi University has just halved its fees and so should have an influx of new students. Kwame Nkrumah Teacher Training College has also been turned into a university. This has brought a new lease of life into the church, as new lecturers and students come into town. Pray that the church will rise to the challenge and develop ministries that will truly reach out to these men and women that are coming into town. Already we heard announcements being made about changes to take place come January 2010, which are calculated to ensure that their sails catch much of the blowing wind.

NDOLA
Grace Reformed Baptist Church (Pastor Maybin Kabwe):
The church has known growth in attendance to a point where their small auxiliary building is now being filled to capacity. This is indeed exciting. They need to raise a lot of funds to finish off the main auditorium so that they can sit the growing congregation more comfortably for worship. Their hosting of the Copperbelt Ministerial College has brought dividends. A few Charismatic pastors who are training there have seen the error of their beliefs and now want to teach the Reformed Faith to their congregations. This is also resulting in one or two new church plants in areas they never thought about. As the congregation and the general work grow, there is need for more elders in the church. Pray that faithful and available, Spirit-filled men may be found to take up this challenge of a growing work.

MUFULIRA
Fairview Reformed Baptist Church (Pastor Emmanuel Sakala):
Our missionary pastor, Kapambwe Nsenduluka, finally handed over this church to Emmanuel Sakala, who has just moved with his family to Mufulira this month. There is an air of excitement and anticipation in the church because they finally have their own pastor after a number of years. With this excitement is the realisation of the price of looking after a pastor in the difficult economic times the town is going through. Thankfully, Mufulo Ngandwe, the sole elder in the church, did his best to prepare the church for this task and we are confident they will rise to the challenge. Pastor Sakala is already dreaming dreams and wants Fairview RBC to be the springboard for missions outreach into the Luapula Province and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pray that the church will rally behind him in the realisation of these dreams.

KITWE
Trinity Baptist Church (Pastor Ndonji Kayombo):
The excitement in the congregation of the long-time-bachelor-pastor taking on a wife has now died down and everyone has returned to work. For many years, this church has been meeting at a school. This has had its own challenges, especially as they have had to “compete” with shouting and screaming Charismatics in the other classrooms. Despite these challenges, they have completely filled the classroom they presently meet in, and often have to put chairs outside for the overflow. The church acquired a plot of land and has applied to have it changed from a residential plot into a church plot. This is taking aeons! Pray that the approval will be given soon so that they can move into “building phase”. Kitwe is the hub of the Copperbelt, and so a solid work in this town will be a real boost to the Reformed Baptist cause in the province. It will be easier for inter-church activities to be hosted in this central town.

CHINGOLA
Central Baptist Church (Pastor Choolwe Mwetwa):
Here, the excitement in the church was not about a new pastor or a new pastor’s wife, because Pastor Mwetwa has been there for over twenty years and has been married for almost the same period. Rather, it was about the new church-plant in Solwezi. Having worked with Fairview Reformed Baptist Church to plant Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Ndola and Trinity Baptist Church in Kitwe, this church turned its efforts to Chililabombwe and planted the Berean Reformed Baptist Church. Until recently, Emmanuel Sakala was their missionary pastor for that work. Now, a few months ago, they launched the first Reformed Baptist church in the whole North-Western Province. We have waited for this for years, haven’t we? Every weekend, they send out a team of evangelists on Saturday for outreach work, and another team on Sunday to round up students and other invitees for the worship service. The commitment of the brethren to this new work is amazing as they often meet the costs of transport, accommodation and meals from their own pockets. Pray that this zeal will continue unabated, and that before long, there will be a viable Reformed Baptist church in that provincial capital.

So, Felistas and I return to Lusaka very encouraged by the progress of the work on the Copperbelt. It was spiritually refreshing to sense the excitement and anticipation in each congregation. What shall we say in response to this?

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We need to reform Christian weddings

I have been asked on a number of occasions, especially by young couples in the church who are about to get married, as to why I am rarely seen at wedding receptions. My standard answer is that I used to do so early in my pastoral ministry and found that the Saturday evening party mirth did not help me to get into the right frame of mind for the solemn work on the Lord’s Day. I found the changing of gears rather difficult, and hence, for the sake of my primary responsibility in life—the ministration of the Word on the Lord’s Day—I have opted to miss what others look forward to enjoying on Saturdays.

This has been the rule for many years now, though, as with every rule, there have been exceptions. Every so often, due to various circumstances, I have attended wedding receptions. Hence, out of the twelve weddings we have had at Kabwata Baptist Church since December last year, I have attended about two—or at the most, three—receptions. I must admit that I have been very concerned about the trend at these events, which I have observed over time. Maybe, if I was attending them frequently I may not have been as conscious of the worrying trends as I am now. Attending about once or twice a year has enabled me to clearly see the downward moral and spiritual shift.

Some wedding battles won in the past
The best way to summarise what is disturbing me is by putting today’s trends in some historical context. In the late 1970s and well into the late 1980s, when the first young English-speaking Zambian Evangelical Christians started getting married, the attitude was one of seeking to be different from the world. It was not easy. I know what I am talking about because I got married towards the end of the tide of persecution as we stood our ground for the sake of our Christian testimony. The prayer requests before young couples got married in those days had to do with weathering the cultural storm, as relatives (who themselves were often church-goers) tried to make us conform to cultural norms that were against biblical values.

One battle that we fought then—and won—had to do with the taking away of the bride immediately after the wedding reception by her relatives. She would be brought back late at night after serious negotiations (including extra payments) and an old lady would keep vigil in the house where you would spend the first night as a couple. I will not go into details as to why this was being demanded. Suffice it to say that, as young Evangelical Christians, we waged a relentless war against this. Whereas some Christians opted to just stage a get-away as the wedding reception was nearing its end, many of us put our foot down and insisted that after the vows we were a married couple and reserved the right to be together and to have our own privacy. A lot of blood was shed in this battle!

Another battle that we fought then—and won—had to do with having beer at our wedding receptions. We all knew in those days that alcohol abuse was the in-thing in Zambia, especially at parties and wedding receptions. We wanted to be different and so a moratorium was placed upon alcoholic drinks at Evangelical Christian weddings. To many would-be guests, this amounted to inviting people for a feast and then not allowing them to eat! Traditionally, the brewing of traditional alcoholic beverages preceded any major event—and weddings were no exception. In the cities, people went to parties and wedding receptions with the sole purpose of indulging themselves out of their senses. Hence, they did not give this up easily. Again, a lot of blood was shed in this battle.

Today’s watchword seems to be “conformity”
Today’s Evangelical young people do not have to fight these battles any more. Non-Christian relatives know that if it is a Christian wedding they should not expect any of the above issues to even arise. However, having inherited this benefit, our young people today are not waging their own wars. I am very concerned that the exact opposite seems to be happening. Whereas a former generation of young Evangelical Christians sought to be different from the world, the trend I am observing today is one of trying to be as worldly as possible. Apart from a few refreshing exceptions, our young people seem to want to outdo one another in worldliness at their weddings.

Without attempting to be exhaustive, let me mention at least two areas that fill me with grief.

The first is in the dressing of the bridesmaids. When we were getting married, the bridesmaids at the weddings of Evangelical Christians also used to look as if they fell from heaven. They also did their best to look like traffic lights—they were red, orange and green all over! However, in those days there seemed to have been an attempt to be decent—again, with a few exceptions. Today, very little is being left to the imagination, and this is becoming the general rule. The low-bra look, with half the breasts exposed for all to see, has become common fare. The dresses of the bridesmaids are so tight that anyone can see where the under-wears end. When you add to this the fact that these girls dance very suggestively during the wedding receptions (a matter I will address below), you can easily see why this matter is a cause of serious concern.

The second is in the music and dancing. When we were getting married, the bridal party at the weddings of Evangelical Christians used to come into the reception with “a step”. What that meant was that there was dancing with decorum, i.e. with modesty, restraint, respectability and etiquette. For those of you who were not there and may find it difficult to imagine what this looked like, it is the equivalent of the “step” we normally witness today when the bridal party is coming into the church auditorium or when they are marching out after the wedding vows—although the latter is rapidly deteriorating each year. (I readily admit that there were a few cases where the seeds of what we are seeing today already began to show and to worry some of us). Now, in contrast to this, the non-Christians even in those days danced to loud rumba music as they entered their wedding receptions. All the suggestive dancing, where a best-man followed a bridesmaid around the dance-floor, with both of them gyrating next to each other as if they were having sex in bed, was only seen at non-Christian weddings. Alas, today this is becoming normal at the wedding receptions of young Evangelical Christians, while their invitees ululate and whistle in excitement. The gyrating can only excite lust even in the holiest of men. I was at one wedding reception not too long ago where the girl (barely eight years old) bringing the knife for the cutting of the cake gyrated from one end of the reception hall to the other with such sexually suggestive moves that my wife and I had to look elsewhere until she had handed over the knife. Men and women ululated and whistled for her and kept giving her money as they could not believe the prowess they were seeing in her bedroom antics at such a tender age. And this was at a Christian wedding reception!

Please do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we reduce our wedding celebrations into formal worship services, so that there is no difference between the event at church where the vows are made and the wedding reception. That is not what I am saying. I think that a wedding reception ought to be a place where the nuptial joys should be given expression in music, eating and drinking. In other words, there should be mirth.

However, just as the mourning of Christians should be different from that of non-Christians, so also the mirth of Christians should be different from theirs! Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica saying, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). In other words, whereas Christians are human and so should grieve when they lose a loved one, there should be a marked difference in the way they grieve because of the salvation they know in Christ. Certain eschatological truths should comfort their hearts. They have hope! Surely, we should say the same about our rejoicing. We should rejoice because we are human. A wedding is a happy occasion. However, there should be a marked difference in the way we rejoice because of our salvation. Certain truths should temper our joy.

Christians should be characterised by modesty and decency, wherever they are. By modesty, Christians must exercise moderation in all things. They must never be excessive or extreme in appearance, speech, and behaviour, especially in spheres where there is sexual expression (e.g. dressing and dancing). By decency, Christians must exercise moral judgment wherever they are, so that their appearance, speech and behaviour uphold high moral values for the society to follow. They must have a salting effect and so arrest moral decay in society. Paul applies this especially to the dressing of women when he says, “I desire then… that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works” (1 Tim 2:8-10). When applying this to weddings, it is not possible to legislate as to which “steps” to use and how low the neck line of the dresses should be. However, the principle in this text is that of modesty and decency, and we can all tell when we exceed these limits. Weddings should not be an exception, so that we should throw all caution to the wind. We must still be biblical.

Godly grief and future pessimism
Since I rarely attend wedding receptions, it is my experience on Sunday morning that often tells me how the previous evening was. Often, as we meet to pray together with the elders before the worship service on a Sunday after a wedding on the previous day, the comment is almost always, “Pastor, you should thank God you were not at the reception last night. Yaba, these young people! You wonder where they are learning all these things. The way they danced, the music they played, the way they were dressed, we were really embarrassed. On a number of occasions we felt like leaving. It was the non-Christians and the backsliders who were excited and ululating, while many of us grieved.” Thankfully, that is not always the case. There have been a few Sundays when the elders have said, “Pastor, last night our young people did us proud. There was decency and propriety. We came away feeling that our Christian testimony was evident to the non-Christian world. Those young people need to be commended.”

It is clear to me that today’s young people need to address themselves to the issue of how they bear witness to their relatives and friends during their weddings. As long as they want to be as worldly as possible, they will not make their non-Christian friends and relatives see how real their Christian faith is. They will lose a vital opportunity to show them the difference that Jesus has made in their lives. A previous generation fought its battles and bequeathed to them their liberties. But I fear that today’s young people are using the liberties won for them by their predecessors to indulge themselves in worldly pleasures. I tremble to think of the kind of Christianity this generation of young people is passing on to their successors. Judged by the little I have seen at recent wedding receptions, the prospect is frightening!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 6th Annual Central Africa Baptist Leadership Conference

I spent the first few days of December at the Central Africa Baptist College (CABC) in Kitwe attending and preaching at their Annual Leadership Conference. It was their 6th conference and everything I saw spoke of growth and consistency. The theme for the conference was “That generations to come may know...” The burden being the need to ensure that sound biblical Christianity is faithfully passed on to generations yet to come, both in the home and in the church. I returned to Lusaka very grateful to God that there was a conference up on the Copperbelt outside our circle of Reformed Baptists that stood for the same things we stood for—expository preaching with a doctrinal emphasis.

Some Historical Background
I first met Phil Hunt, the president of CABC, in January 2004. We had briefly interacted by email prior to our meeting when I got an email from him asking me to help with some situation he was wrestling with in the church he was planting—Faith Baptist Church in Riverside, Kitwe. I assumed that with the advice given, I would never hear from him again. I was mistaken. He invited me to preach at their youth camp that January in 2004. What I found, both at their camp and the church, truly warmed my heart. Here was an American church-planting missionary in Zambia with whom I had so much in common. I found a church that was bursting at the seams with evangelistic fervour and missionary zeal. Phil was using every conceivable opening to share the gospel, especially with young people.

As I interviewed one young person after another at the camp, I found that many of them had been converted through a play park that the church had developed in the neighbourhood. My curiosity got the better of me, and so I spent some time finding out from Saidi Chishimba, the church’s youth pastor, about this project. The church organized games for youths in the neighbourhood on their play park and used that opportunity to evangelise them. The fruit was the many young people that had come to Christ through this project. When I returned to Lusaka, I drove straight to the disused play parks in our neighbourhood and found them filled with garbage. To cut the long story short, we have since adopted one of them, put up football, netball and volleyball courts, and are reaching youths in our neighbourhood through it. We are presently putting up a basketball court as well.

A few years ago, Phil handed over the pastorate to Saidi Chishimba, and now concentrates on the development of the Central Africa Baptist College. He won my admiration as I witnessed the whole process of handover. Of course, the usual teething problems were there as the congregation moved its allegiance from Phil to Saidi. To help with this, Phil took a year’s furlough before returning to concentrate on the CABC business. Phil remains an ordinary member of Faith Baptist Church, while the church maintains a working partnership with the college. I know that many readers who are aware of happenings around the ecclesiastical world when a former pastor stays in the church he pastored after handing over to his successor will say that this is a recipe for trouble. However, so far this is working well at Faith Baptist Church, thanks to Phil and his maturity.

Back to the Conference
Now with that historical background in place, we can return to the CABC Leadership Conference. The first session and the last session each day was a plenary session, where all who were attending the conference came together for a time of worship and ministry from the word of God. The main conference preachers took turns to handle these sessions, after the first one—the keynote address—was given by Phil Hunt himself on the opening night. He preached from Psalm 78, where the theme of the conference was derived from.

Dr Sam Horn was the main preacher handling the pastors’ track. This year he took us through the book of Psalms. There were no less than 120 pastors and church leaders present for these lectures. Since he is the one who has been taking these sessions for the last so many years, there is no doubt that the exponential growth in attendance is because the pastors and church leaders have appreciated his outstanding ministry. I also attribute this to Phil’s servant heart and catholic spirit. Although he does not hide his own doctrinal convictions, Phil wants to serve the wider body of Christ and he knows where to draw the line between essentials and non-essentials. Hence his ministry has attracted many mature Zambian pastors and church leaders who long for sound teaching in a context of mutual respect and appreciation.

Those who are neither pastors nor church leaders also had their spiritual buffet. It comprised electives in four different groups around the theme of the conference. One of the electives was on Islam, and was ably presented by Michael Hajj. Towards the end of the conference, this was also presented to the pastors and church leaders. The growth of Islam in Africa is a cause of concern for any true Christian. It is a false religion and its adherents must be evangelised like those of any other religion in the world. Knowing Islam’s ethos and strategy was therefore very helpful.

Other electives included counselling youths, Bible study methods for Sunday School teachers, teaching children in an African context, reaching Jehovah Witnesses, understanding teens and young adults, discipling children in the home, etc, etc. I spoke at two of these electives and a number of other local pastors and missionaries took the other sessions. The conference ended with a graduation ceremony—the first ever for the college. I missed this event because I had to rush back to Lusaka the day before to officiate at a wedding. The feedback that I got was that it was a colourful and memorable event.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thank God for the Safety of our Children

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:41-46).

Last September, we had an incident at our church’s Christian school (Eagles Nest School) that made me most grateful that I live in this part of the world—despite all its problems.

A parent arrived at school to pick up her daughter only to hear that someone had already come and picked her up. Knowing that she had not asked anyone to do this errand for her, she panicked. She made a few frantic calls on her cell phone to relatives and friends who could have taken such an initiative and none of them had done that. She rang her husband and told him the bad news. After that, she sat down and started crying—I mean, literally wailing. We were having an elders’ meeting across the driveway and so we could hear the poor woman weeping her heart out. Finally, John, one of the elders, excused himself so that he could help. His wife, Honester, was the school Head-teacher and so it was the least a husband could do!

John told us later that when they got to the Kabwata Police Station, the cops noticed the woman with them who was wailing. When they enquired what was going on, they were told that her daughter had been taken from school by a stranger and so far they had failed to find her. The cops laughed and said, “Madam, don’t worry. Children do not get stolen here. Your daughter is safe somewhere and is probably even playing.” The communication system at this police station was down and so they were advised to go to the Libala Police Station so that the case could be relayed to all the stations.

They went to Libala Police Station and their experience was exactly the same. As they walked in, the police asked why the lady in their company was crying. When they told the cops what had happened, they laughed. “Madam, stop crying,” they said, “we never have cases of stolen children here and yours is not likely to be the first one. You will probably find that your daughter is at a neighbour’s home playing.”

Well, the cops were right. John said that as they drove the mother back to her home, she got a call on her cell phone. It was from a home down her street. Her daughter was there and they were getting anxious because each time they tried to bring the girl home they found the gate locked and the lights still off in the house. They decided to ring the mother just in case something had gone wrong with her because she was normally at home by this time! The neighbor explained that when they went to collect their daughter, this woman’s daughter was playing with her and insisted she wanted to come along. Not wanting to disappoint her, that was how they got both of them at the same time. The poor woman felt rather foolish after all the tears she had shed and for her failure to believe the policemen when they assured her that her daughter must be safe and sound!

John’s testimony cheered our hearts as elders and for a few moments we talked about how this experience contrasted with how things are in the West. Our country may have its fair share of problems that should cause us to blush, but we must thank God for his common grace to us with respect to the safety of our children. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of texts of Scripture such as the one above. In first century Palestine, Jesus could be missing from his parents a whole day and they would not be worried at all. He must be safe. It was not until bedtime that they began to worry. In many parts of the world today, a child is never out of sight even in church for fear of being stolen.

There are many mornings and afternoons when I see small children in school uniforms walking alone or in pairs as they make their way to or from school—and the school is quite a distance away. On other occasions I see children coming from the market with small packets of groceries in their hands, blissfully walking along as they make their way home. And here are cops saying they never get reports of missing children around here. That must sound like heaven for many of our friends in the West, where children are preyed upon and snatched by human predators. Let us never take this common grace for granted. Let us thank God for the safety of our children.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Conferences in Zambia, South Africa and the USA

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

My sincere apologies for this rather prolonged silence on my blog. My August, September and October can best be described as “run away” months. It has been one conference after another. And since I was preaching in most of them, I needed all the time I had for my preparations. Things have slowed down now (though I am writing on my way to Botswana to visit our missionary) and so let me give you some idea about how the conferences have been. Generally speaking, all of them were great encouragements to my soul and so I share news about them for the purpose of testimony to the glory of God.

The Zambian Annual Reformed Conference

As I said in my previous blog, we had the 20th anniversary of this conference last August. The theme was “The Whole of Life under the Whole of Scripture” because that is what the Reformed Faith stands for, and that is what this conference has aimed to foster in its twenty years of existence. I was asked to be the main preacher together with Alfred Nyirenda, an elder at Mount Makulu Baptist Church. Choolwe Mwetwa (pastor of Central Baptist Church in Chingola) and Ronald Kalifungwa (pastor of Lusaka Baptist Church, see photo of him preaching at conference) opened and closed the conference, respectively. It was an all-Zambian affair in terms of preachers—for the first time in twenty years! The conference had to take place in two venues—the University Christian Chapel (during the day) and the Lusaka Baptist Church (in the evenings). The attendance, especially in the evenings, was over 700. A few comments have been posted on the Kabwata Baptist Church website about the conference. You may want to check them out here and here and here.

The Sola 5 Annual Conference

Kabwata Baptist Church belongs to a growing family of God-centred churches in southern Africa called Sola 5, and the weekend of September 4th to 6th was the annual conference of this association of churches. The conference was held at Brackenhurst Baptist Church in South Africa. The theme was “Six Attributes of God-Centred Churches” and the preachers were Doug van Meter, Grave Singogo, Isaac Makashinyi, Peter Sammons, Jeff Gage and Nico van der Walt. All of them gave excellent sermons, worth listening to again and again. The pastors that I meet with at this conference are among my closest ministerial friends in southern Africa, and so this is a time for rich fellowship for me, quite apart from the rich exposition of God’s word that I always listen to. One highlight for me at this conference was that I was able to finally see the book I had recently written, Maintaining Sexual Purity, for the first time. It was published in South Africa and is being vigorously marketed there. For more on the conference please click here and read the report of my ministerial friend, Joachim Rieck, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church, Windhoek, Namibia, who was also there. His blog is worth visiting regularly if you want to hear Reformed commentary on the nation of Namibia. Below is a photo of the newly elected steering committee.




The Evangelical Forum

On 23rd September I left for the USA where, apart from preaching in a number of churches, I preached at two conferences. The first was the Evangelical Forum in Virginia, which took place over the weekend of 26th September. It was hosted at the Jefferson Park Baptist Church (Pastor Jeff Riddle) in Charlottesville. I had the pleasure of preaching together with Dr Derek Thomas, whose writing ministry had already enriched my life. I handled the topics “The Sovereignty of God and the Love of God” and “Does Calvinism kill Evangelism?” Dr Thomas handled the more difficult subjects: “Is God the Author of Sin?” and “Double Predestination: Biblical or Heretical.” Apart from the warm friendship of Jeff Riddle and his family, and the most edifying experience of sitting under the ministry of Dr Thomas, I had the joy of spending quality time with Byron Glaspy (see photo), a young African American who is aspiring for the Christian ministry and is presently an intern at Jefferson Park Baptist Church.

A Church-Based Missions Conference

The first weekend of October was spent at the Grace Fellowship Church where I was preaching at their annual missions conference. What a joy it was to link up with Dr Tedd Tripp, best known for his book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart. He preached at our annual Reformed conference in Zambia in 1992. The concept of the Zambia Reformed Baptist Building Trust Fund was his brainchild after that visit, and so the Zambian Reformed Baptist churches that have benefitted from this ongoing building fund owe a lot to this servant of God. His heart is still very much in Zambia, as he expressed a lot of interest in the Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary and the African Christian University. The icing on the cake for me was when I met Steve Graham (see photo, he is pastor of Pioneer Valley Baptist Church, in Chicopee, Massachusetts) at the conference. He had driven no less than four and a half hours to just come and be with me for one evening. Steve and I first met in Canada in 1992 and our friendship has been rock solid since then. After the Friday evening meeting, we talked right into the night about how God had watched over and blessed our families and our churches since we last met. I thank God for such Christian friendships!

Zambians in the Diaspora

I always tell people that the Zambian Reformed movement is one big happy family, even if we are scattered around the nation and around the world. Hence, wherever I go, I meet Zambian Christians who espouse the Reformed Faith and we spend precious time together. They ask me about individuals back home in Zambia, showing that, although they are far away, their hearts are still “at home”. On the recent American trip, I spent time with Mirfin Mpundu (and his daughter Tasheni), Stuart Yikona, Charles and Gina Chowa (and their boys, Nkumbu and Temwa), and Isaac and Ruth Sakala (see them on photo at the missions conference). All of these travelled great distances in order to be with me. All I can say is that we need to pray for these brethren because it is clear to me that they play a very significant role in the churches they attend, carrying the fragrance of Christ (and that of the Zambian Reformed movement!) with them. On this USA trip, I also had opportunity to spend two precious days with my sister, Mwaba Barcelos, who lives with yet another relative, Priscilla, in Durham.

As I conclude this blog, I find that the text of Scripture at the beginning of this entry puts into biblical perspective what conferences mean to me. They are not just a time to engage in “holy” gossip. They provide a golden opportunity to meet with God’s choice servants and to spur one another on to love and good works. The days in which we live are evil and Christ’s return draws near. We must make the most of our conferences in order to rekindle the flame of sacred love upon the mean altars of our hearts. Amen!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The 20th Zambian annual feast is finally here!

"Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness” (Isaiah 51:11).

When I began to post recollections of past Reformed conferences in Zambia, I had hoped that I would do it in batches of five years. I managed the first ten years in two batches, but I failed to find the time to break the last nine years into two batches. So, here is their recollection in one serving!

In the years 2000 to 2004 the Zambian Reformed Conference continued to use preachers from within the continent of Africa, except for the years when Bob Selph (2002, seen above with Sukesh Pabari) and the Ascol brothers (2003) came from the USA. The men God sent us, as you can see from the list below, were truly his choice servants and their ministries continue to ring in our minds and consciences.

2000 - (Lusaka, Nico van der Walt, Joachim Rieck) The Holy Spirit.
2001 - (Lusaka, Dennis Hustedt, Jeff Gage) Worship in Spirit and in Truth.
2002 - (Lusaka, Bob Selph, Sukesh Pabari) The Dynamics and Life of the New Testament Church, The Book of Acts.
2003 - (Lusaka, Tom Ascol, Bill Ascol) The Sovereignty of God in Salvation, Reconciliation, American Baptist Church History.
2004 - (Lusaka, Joel James, David Wegener) Jesus our great High Priest, the book of Hebrews.

In the years 2005 to 2008, God seemed to tap on the shoulders of our American brethren to come out to Zambia and help us. So apart from Ronald Kalifungwa, who at that time was still pastoring a church in South Africa, all our preachers crossed the Atlantic to come and help us. We owe an incalculable debt to these brethren. They set our hearts ablaze with the things most surely believed among us. The preachers and the topics for these four years are listed below.

Our annual feast does not normally emphasise special music, though every year the Kabwata Baptist Church music ministry tends to have a special concluding song on the last night. However, 2006 and 2007 were exceptions. In the former, Todd Murray (wearing a jacket above) sang some of John Newton's less well-known songs each evening while sharing with us something of the life of John Newton. In the latter, Pam Noblit (Jeff's wife) sang a number of solos for us during the evening meetings. In 2007, we also had the Sola 5 conference back-to-back with our annual feast. Hence a conference that normally lasted four full days now lasted six. Also, many who came for the Sola 5 conference came early and so added to our numbers during the whole period. 2007 was also a special year because for the first time we had a lady speaker, giving special sessions to the ladies. Martha Peace (seen below with our bookstore manager, Kakonde) proved to all who were present why her books have become instant bestsellers. What an unforgettable experience that was!

2005—(Lusaka, Paul Washer, Ronald Kalifungwa) Missions—The Unfinished Task, the book of Jonah
2006—(Lusaka, Lance Quinn, Todd Murray, James Henrich) The Doctrines of Grace
2007—(Lusaka, Jeff Noblit, Voddie Baucham, Martha Peace) Biblical Evangelism and Discipleship
2008—(Lusaka, Voddie Baucham, Jim Grier) Apologetics—Giving a Reason for the Hope in Us

As we reach the 20th year of the Zambian Reformed Conference, one looks back and sees a number of changes in the Reformed (Baptist) movement in Zambia and the surrounding countries. When the conference started in 1990 it was novel to be Reformed and Baptist in these regions. That year, three of our churches adopted the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith and stood out like a sore thumb among fellow Baptists in Zambia. That was then. Today, there are more than thirty churches in Zambia alone that have been planted in the intervening period and that lay a solid claim to the Reformed (Baptist) Faith. These churches see this conference as their rallying point. (Below is a picture showing some of the church leaders and their wives from some of these Reformed Baptist churches attending the 2003 Reformed School of Theology).

Another change is that when this conference started it was attended almost exclusively by youths and young adults from the few new churches in the country that dared to call themselves Reformed Baptist. That was then. Today, twenty years later, those youths and young adults are married, raising families, working in top management positions, raising a second generation of preachers, planting other churches, etc.

One more change is worth noting. When the conference started it was attended almost exclusively by Christians from Lusaka and the Copperbelt and when the numbers were around one hundred it was a very good attendance. That was then. Today, the conference attracts Christians from almost all the provinces of Zambia and almost all the English-speaking countries in Africa south of the Equator (as can be seen from the dressing of the Namibian Herero women below). Visitors from outside Africa are also not unusual. Last year, no less than twelve countries were represented at the conference! And as for numbers, we are hovering between six hundred and nine hundred people regularly. (Our biggest problem at the moment is to find a venue that is able to handle the current numbers for both accommodation and meetings).

Therefore, as we reach the 20th anniversary of this conference, we must raise our Ebenezer—“Thus far has the Lord helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). We must thank God for a conference that has been our flagship and that has kept us together as one family for twenty years as we have grown in numbers. Praise the Lord!

In a few days we will be meeting together from all over Zambia for our 20th annual feast, and it will be an all-Zambian panel of preachers. Ronald Kalifungwa has for many years privately complained to me about my absence on the list of preachers and so this year I have finally acquiesced and will be the main preacher together with Alfred Nyirenda. It is a daunting task that I have run away from for many years. Choolwe Mwetwa will be opening the conference and Ronald Kalifungwa will be closing.

This being the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, there will be a biographical sketch of his life also presented in the course of the conference. The electives in the afternoons will be handled by pastors who have laboured among us over the twenty years of the existence of this conference and they will be sharing with us issues that God has continued to burden their hearts about as they see the Zambian Reformed movement from the vantage point of twenty years.

Confirmed already are visitors coming from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Australia. We look forward to seeing all of you who have managed to find the time and money to travel to be with us. Those of you who are not able to do so—be assured we understand—we only ask one thing of you; that you will hold us up in prayer. Pray that God will meet with us!

I know that the passage of Scripture I have quoted above talks about the final entrance of the saints in the glory that awaits us after the return of Christ. But do you not feel every Sunday when you gather with the saints at church something of the emotion in those verses? This sense is heightened even more when you meet saints who believe what you believe from every corner of the country and from other parts of Africa and the world. It is this emotion that the Zambian Reformed Conference evokes in our hearts as it comes round once a year. We anticipate this in the next few days. I say again, if you are unable to be with us, please pray that God will meet with us. Amen!

(I had asked in previous postings for recollections and photos of previous conferences. Please keep them coming! The more we can get the better. If you can’t post them on my blog, send them to tulip@iconnect.zm. Thanks!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Memorable Week at Keswick

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:1 and 31).

Felistas and I spent the week of Saturday 11th to Friday 17th July 2009 at the Keswick Convention in Britain. It was our first time there, though the name of the convention had popped up from time to time in our reading of Christian periodicals. A few British friends, who had heard that we would be there, gave us some idea what to expect. That was very helpful.

To begin with, Keswick is the name of a town in the Lake District in the north-western part of England. It is one of Britain’s favourite tourist destinations. The town’s official website talks about it as a stunningly located town, nestled on the shores of a lake, with a wide array of shops, restaurants and galleries—including the James Bond Museum. With five major lakes and picturesque valleys in easy reach, it is a wonderful place for many outdoor activities for walkers and climbers. The range of accommodation also suites all levels of budgets—from hotels, guest houses, and bed and breakfast lodges, to self-catering cottages, caravans and campsites. During summer, therefore, the population in Keswick more than doubles! A few old friends took us around the town, and the lakes and hills, and so we can understand why Keswick is such a tourist attraction. It is beautiful! It is during the summer period that the Keswick convention takes place, with Bible teaching as its heartbeat. Well respected speakers from different evangelical backgrounds handle the various teaching sessions during the day. From the little that we have gathered, the convention started in the 19th century and has been taking place every year for over 130 years. It is no doubt one of Britain’s biggest Christian conferences, having grown to about 12,000 people attending at two different venues within the city over a period of three weeks. For some people, Bible teaching is so rare in their part of Britain that they attend the whole three weeks of the conference (The picture below shows a small car in which one elderly man lives for three weeks during the conference. He can be seen inside waving at me as I took the shot!). Being an inter-denominational conference catering for Christians from different evangelical backgrounds brings with it some obvious challenges, especially with styles of worship. The conference organisers seem to have settled for the “contemporary” worship approach.
One feature worth noting about the Keswick Convention is that there is no pre-booking or registration fee. The conference is free for all who attend—only a collection is taken each day to help cover the costs of hosting the event. Another special offering is taken on one of the days for the purpose of paying for missionaries around the world to come to the convention for a time of refreshing. From what we gathered, for many years, the Thursday evening sermon has always been a call to missionary service and, as a result, many individuals serving the Lord around the world in the work of missions reached that decision at the Keswick Convention.

The main speaker for the first week—the week in which I participated—was Dale Ralph Davis. If you do not own any of his Old Testament commentaries you do not know what you are missing. He preached excellent sermons on a number of passages in 1 Kings. I participated in the afternoon sessions on “Life in the Spirit”, which was a series on Ephesians 5 and 6. I also participated in the evening meetings on “Radical Discipleship”, which was a series in the Gospel of Matthew. Other speakers in these sessions included Peter Maiden (seen preaching above)—the outgoing board chairman of Keswick Ministries, the organisers of the convention. He is the one who also preached the sermon on Thursday evening, which was a call to missionary service.

The music was provided by Keith and Kristyn Getty (with us on the photo), who have written a number of contemporary worship songs. Keith co-authored one of my favourite hymns today, entitled “In Christ Alone”. If you have not sung it yet, you need to find its lyrics and read them. It is a classic! Put to music, it is beyond description. It is destined to become one of Christendom’s favourite hymns for many years to come. So, it was good for us to meet the couple and spend some time with them during meal times and hear about their background and their future plans. Evangelical Christianity never ceases to amaze me because of its authentic spirituality. You cannot miss it when you come across it. It was unmistakably present at the convention. From the time Felistas and I arrived, it was clear we were among brethren. The humility of the organisers from the moment we alighted from the bus, as they sought to take care of all the details of our lives, was worth writing home about. Their eagerness to serve us each time we entered the convention offices, despite the thousands of people they needed to cater for and the tens of thousands of details they needed to look into, left us amazed. Among the speakers and their wives, too (see picture above), was a real spirit of evangelical unity. We were all hosted in the Keswick Country House Hotel. Each day began with united prayer just before breakfast, and it ended in fellowship around some refreshments. By the end of the week, we had truly bonded. Where else, except among true Christians, do you find this?
I came away from the Keswick Convention wondering whether Zambian evangelicals who are concerned to recover expository preaching in our churches should not be thinking about a conference like this in our tourist capital, Livingstone. The town is swarming with tourists from all the country and, indeed, all over the world because of the mighty Victoria Falls—one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The full range of accommodation is there from expensive five star hotels to backpackers campsites. Imagine the impact such a conference would have on the spiritual tenor of our churches right across Zambia. And, by the way, those of you who read about my last USA visit will remember how everything that could go wrong went wrong. I am sure you must be sitting at the edge of your seats wondering how things went this time. Everything went very, very well. We had the most excellent hospitality from friends and family, and from the organizers of the Keswick Convention. Our luggage arrived intact at all our destinations. In fact, we had a bonus. As we were waiting to board the return flight at Heathrow airport in London, an airline official walked through the crowd of passengers and came over to me, asking if I was Mr Mbewe. When I acknowledged that I was, she said that our seats were being changed and, with a twinkle in her eyes, she whispered, “…and the new seats will be much better.” Well, believe it or not, we were upgraded to business class! So, for the next eleven hours, we travelled in the best of comfort, on seats that turned into beds at the touch of a button. Wow, if that was a result of your prayers because of reading my last blog, then please keep on praying…there are a few more trips coming up!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kafue Reformed Baptist Church comes of age

“Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust” (Acts 14:23).

Last Sunday, the 5th of July 2009, one of our elders, Mwamba Chibuta, and I spent the morning in Kafue at an ordination service where Seke Lupunga was being set apart as an elder of Kafue Reformed Baptist Church. What made this event so special was that Seke was the first elder of the church to be ordained since its inception in the year 2000. Also, now that the church had its own eldership in place, Kabwata Baptist Church also weaned it so that the church would no longer be a daughter church. Pastor Kennedy Sunkutu (photo above) will still continue working with Seke in the eldership, and it is hoped that the church would soon call him to be its pastor. We would appreciate your prayers as the church begins to work in this direction.

It was on 1st October 2000 that Kafue Reformed Baptist Church had its first church service after members of Kabwata Baptist Church did a blanket visitation in town to introduce the church and the missionary pastor. Pastor Kennedy Sunkutu had just moved from Luanshya where he had resigned his job as a lecturer at a college in order to give himself to the establishment of this church in Kafue. The first service was held in his home with almost the entire congregation being made up of his own family. A few weeks later, the church moved into a building called Vision House and started renting a room there for their worship services.

For the first few months of Kennedy's labours in Kafue, an American missionary, Frank Maxson, worked with him to see this church off the ground. Frank and his family, however, soon moved to Malawi. Due to the paucity of labourers in these early days of the planting of this church, a number of members at Kabwata Baptist Church literally changed churches and started driving all the way to Kafue town to attend Kafue Reformed Baptist Church. They essentially helped with the leading of worship services so that the pastor could concentrate on preaching. On Saturdays, these individuals also helped with following up people who came to church the previous Sunday. In fact, one home group at Kabwata Baptist Church even turned all its evangelistic arsenals in the direction of Kafue and for over a year spent their Saturdays helping out with the work there.

In 2004, the church acquired a piece of land and started to put up a meeting hall there in 2005. Although the hall is not complete, it is habitable enough and the church has been meeting there since 2006. In the last few years, Pastor Sunkutu poured his life into three men, with a view to help them mature into leaders for the church. One of them was Seke Lupunga (seen saying his ordination vows, being prayed for, and also with family on the photos across this posting). It was not long before the church recognized this man’s eldership qualities and chose him to serve in that capacity. Thus, it was a real joy to be part of the team that set him apart as the first resident elder of the church.

Kafue Reformed Baptist Church (whose congregation and buildings can be seen above) has over the years developed a number of ministries to reach out to the inhabitants of Kafue. They have the usual ministries found in most churches that target children, youths, women and men. They also have a monthly book table that they put up along one of the corridors in town and use that to make vital contacts with those who express interest in the literature on display. Using Pastor Sunkutu’s background in education, they also run a college on the church premises where they train teachers for kindergarten schools in town. They use this as an evangelistic opportunity to the young adults who attend the college.

Kabwata Baptist Church is particularly grateful to HeartCry Missionary Society who faithfully helped us with finances to meet part of the financial demands that kept Kennedy on the mission field. Now, Kafue Reformed Baptist Church should soon be taking over this financial task. A light has been lit in Kafue for the gospel of Christ and this light, the Lord willing, will continue to burn brightly until the Lord returns so that the people of Kafue can know the truth of God and the way to heaven. We thank God for this partnership that has given birth to this church. To God alone be the glory!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Our Wandering but Well-Supplied Annual Conference (1995-1999)

“The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst” (Nehemiah 9:19-20).

Here is my second instalment on the Zambian Reformed Conferences. In my previous blog on this subject, I wrote about the first five years. Those were glorious years. It was very clear to those of us who were organizing these conferences that an unusual movement of the Holy Spirit had started in the country, especially among the young people in our churches who had espoused the Reformed Faith. If we did not move apace with them, they were going to run over us. We had to keep the conference going, despite the two major challenges that I have listed below.
The years 1995 to 1999 were spent trying to find a suitable home for the conference. In 1995 we met in Lusaka at what was then called the College for Teachers of the Handicapped (now called the Zambia Institute of Special Education, ZAMISE). In 1996, we moved to Kabwe at what was then popularly known as Jim Ford’s Farm, under the auspices of Bethel Baptist Church (see photo of the leaders below). I guess Jim Ford's Farm has also changed its name since then. All the photos on this blog were taken during the 1996 conference. In 1997, we moved to Ndola and met at the Northern Technical College (NORTEC), under the auspices of Grace Reformed Baptist Church. In 1998 we were back in Lusaka, but this time we tried out the new facilities at Kabwata Baptist Church. When in 1999 we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Zambian Reformed Conference, we had made full circle and were back at ZAMISE in Lusaka.
From the organizational side, the other challenge during this period was that of getting good external preachers. Each year this was a nightmare. Those of us who live in Africa do not appreciate that we are not “the destination of choice” for many people in the West. The media (such as CNN and BBC) have painted the picture that Africa is about civil wars, malaria, HIV and AIDS, famine, droughts, corruption, coups, etc. Also, the airfares to Africa from any part of the world are not cheap simply because there is not as much traffic as there is elsewhere. So, getting good international preachers to come into the middle of Africa was never the easiest of tasks. In this entire period of five years, we only managed once to get two preachers (Pastor John Sale and Dr Hugh Thomson) in the same year (1997) from outside Africa. We were commended to them per kind favour of Dr Lazarus Phiri, who knew both of them personally while he was studying out there in the West.

The full list of preachers is tabulated below.

1995 - (Lusaka, Glendon Thompson, Keith Underhill, Choolwe Mwetwa) Our Great Saviour: The Person and Work of Christ, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

1996 - (Kabwe, Happy Ngoma, Erroll Lester, Conrad Mbewe, Percy Chisenga and Ronald Kalifungwa) The Christian Home.

1997 - (Ndola, Martin Holdt, John Sale, Hugh Thomson) Eschatology, the Christian and Suffering.

1998 - (Lusaka, Roland Eskinazi) In the World but not of the World.

1999 - (Lusaka, Nigel Lacey, Ronald Kalifungwa) Ten Years On: Personal, Family and Church Reformation.

Although Glendon Thompson is now a pastor in Canada, at that time he was in South Africa. Also, in 1999, Nigel Lacey had just recently taken up the pastorate at Lusaka Baptist Church while Ronald Kalifungwa was pastor of Lynnwood Baptist Church in South Africa. Dr John Anderson of the UK commented about our 1999 preachers, “You have for your preachers this year a white man pastoring a black church and a black man pastoring a white church!” And he was right! I need to quickly state that although it was a nightmare finding a place to meet and getting preachers each year, the Lord never let us down. By the time of the conference, we had a good enough venue and able men to feed our souls and so the conference continued to grow in strength with each succeeding year. As it was with the Israelites, in all our “wilderness wanderings” we had the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire to lead us, and his Holy Spirit instructed us each and every year. 1999 was our 10th anniversary. It had been a glorious first ten years!

FYI: The 20th anniversary of the Zambian Annual Reformed Family Conference and School of Theology is scheduled to take place from Monday 24th to Friday 28th August 2009 in Lusaka (precise venue yet to be announced). The preachers are Ronald Kalifungwa, Conrad Mbewe, Choolwe Mwetwa, and Alfred Nyirenda. These have been specifically chosen because they either preached at or were the organisers of the first conference twenty years ago. The theme of the conference will be "The whole of life under the whole of Scripture". Brethren are being expected from Australia, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, USA, Zimbabwe, etc. As usual, the conference is free for those coming from outside Zambia. We look forward to seeing you there!

PS: As you can see from the photos, there is a serious paucity in our archives. If you have any photos from some previous conferences, please scan them and send them to us (email: tulip@iconnect.zm).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is Yours a Certificate of Marriage or a Marriage Certificate?

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).

We are back in a season of weddings at Kabwata Baptist Church. After the four weddings we had in April (one of them is this couple on the photo, with a very pleased elder behind them), we have another three weddings lined up in the next three weeks. The only difference is that this time we have two following each other this Friday and Saturday, and then the third one three weeks later. We continue to be grateful to God for the Christian homes being put together by his sovereign design. May they be wells where the thirsty shall find living water and tables where the hungry shall find the bread of life.

I do not normally have trivia on my blog, but in the light of the many occurrences of ignorance over the difference between a certificate of marriage and a marriage certificate in Zambia, I thought it best to use this season of weddings to explain. If you are a married couple and what you have safely stored away in your drawers is the document your pastor signed on your wedding day, then I have bad news for you—you do not yet have a marriage certificate! To obtain the latter, you need to take your certificate of marriage to the Office of the Registrar General (Births, Marriages and Deaths). You will be relieved of a few kwachas and a few days later you can collect your marriage certificate (see what it looks like in picture below).

In case you are confused about all this, and think that this is just a play on words, consider this: When you were born, your parents were given a certificate of birth by whatever health institution you are born in. Then they took that certificate to the Office of the Registrar General (Births, Marriages and Deaths) in order to obtain your birth certificate. Similarly, when you die, the doctors will certify your death by issuing your relatives with a certificate of death. If the administrator of your estate wants to get your wealth from very sensitive institutions, such as banks, he has to go to the Office of the Registrar General (Births, Marriages and Deaths) to obtain your death certificate. Just apply this to the realm of weddings and you will soon see the consistency. The procedure is the same when you are hatched, when you are matched, and when you are dispatched!

Before you all panic and make a dash for the Registrar General’s office immediately after reading this, let me assure you that you do not really need “the real thing” when you are dealing with most transactions within Zambia. That is why some of us took aeons before getting a marriage certificate. We got by pretty well with our certificate of marriage, signed by the Right Reverend Joe M Simfukwe. Usually, “the real thing” is only important when you need to apply for an international visa, etc. In fact, Felistas and I were married for almost twenty years before we got our marriage certificate. It was not until we needed to travel together to the UK that, in order to obtain a visa for her, we had to produce “the real thing”. So, take your time. When you have the money and the time, you can go and join the queue…and experience the frustrating “come tomorrow,” “come next week” phenomenon of government inertia again. I wish you well!

Monday, June 1, 2009

My recent visit to the USA

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea...” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25).

My recent preaching trip to the USA was like sweet and sour sauce. Let me begin with the sour part. In all the international trips that I have undertaken before as an itinerant preacher, this one had by far the highest number of frowning providences. I mean, almost anything that could go wrong went wrong. When checking in for the first part of my trip (Lusaka to Johannesburg), I found that I was not on the flight despite having a ticket in my hands. Thankfully, the flight was not full and so after a lot of intercom communication, the lady at the check-in counter allowed me on board. In Johannesburg as I was checking in for my second flight (Johannesburg to Washington) I discovered that the flight had been cancelled. I was referred to the reservations desk to see what could be done for me. There I discovered that even the return ticket which I had in my hands was cancelled last February. So all I really had on me was a one way ticket, and that for a flight that had been cancelled. There was no way the US immigration would have allowed me into their country with only a one-way ticket. One hour or so later, the reservations officer corrected all this and put me on a New York bound flight to leave later that evening. Only, I was $1,000 poorer by the time he was through with me.

That was only the beginning of my troubles. Upon arrival in the USA, my suitcase was nowhere to be seen and my phone could not work. I had to buy another phone in order to keep in touch with family, flock and friends, and it was not until a week later that the suitcase finally arrived—with half my souvenirs broken. That’s not all. At the end of the third and last part of my trip (Newark to Indianapolis), we discovered that in Johannesburg the ticketing officer made a mistake on the town from which I was to begin my return trip. He had Indianapolis instead of Kansas City, where I was in fact going to be preaching for Jim Elliff the night before my departure for Zambia. All efforts to change this from the USA failed. We had to recall Lumpuma from retirement in Kitwe in order to help us correct it—and she finally managed to do so two days before my return trip. That was close!

But that was not all. As soon as I could (due to past experience), I ordered some smartphones on the internet for a few Zambian friends but on my last day in the USA they had not yet been delivered to the shipping address. Upon enquiring from the supplier about the delay, he apologised saying that they had forgotten to ship them. On that same last day I had two preaching engagements. For the first appointment, where I preached at a lunch hour fellowship in a bank in Kansas City (see photo below; my preaching was watched live in three other banks--in Boston, New York and California), I preached without my glasses because I forgot them in the restaurant where I had breakfast with the elders of Christ Fellowship. For the second appointment, I still preached without them because this time I broke them just before I ascended the pulpit.
You can well imagine that by the time I was getting on the plane for home the following morning I was paranoid. I was seeing the devil everywhere. I even experienced a panic attack, thinking I had left my passport and tickets on the check-in counter in Kansas City when I was already on the plane to Washington. It was a false alarm! Well, when finally I got on the plane for Johannesburg, I thought all my problems were over and it was “home sweet home”. I was wrong. As we began to taxi towards the take-off position, the plane stopped...in the middle of the runway...for almost two hours. Why? Well, although the weather was perfect where we were, air-traffic control had informed the pilot that there was a storm on our route. They were neither giving our plane an alternative route nor giving us permission to continue the journey until the storm was past. The result of this was that I almost missed my connection in Johannesburg. Thankfully, I finally arrived in Zambia at the scheduled time...but without my bags. What a journey! Almost anything that could go wrong went wrong!

I may have been inconvenienced a few times, but I did not suffer.
All this pales into complete insignificance when I compare it to the sufferings that men like Paul went through for the gospel. He says in 2 Cor 11:24-25, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea...” Reading that tells me that what I went through is nothing. I may have been inconvenienced a few times, but I did not suffer.

Well, that is what went wrong. But what is it that went right? That is the sweet part. To begin with, God gave me a great sense of peace each time something went wrong and provided for me through his people (especially in clothing me while I waited for my suitcase). I remember in Johannesburg hearing people cursing and swearing because they were unable to get onto their scheduled flights or something. I said to myself, “There go I, but for the grace of God.” I admit that there were a few anxious moments when, like Peter, I looked at the water under my feet instead of keeping my eyes on Jesus. Thankfully, that was not too often the case. The Lord gave me grace to believe that he sent me to the USA to do his work, and I could trust him to enable me to do the work and take me back home. There is nothing sweeter in life than to be in the vessel with Christ and hence to smile at the storm.

Then, despite all the confusion with respect to my travel arrangements, all my preaching engagements took place as scheduled. I preached twelve times in three different states in two weeks as planned—at the First Baptist Church of Carmel, at the FIRE (Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals) conference hosted by the same church, at Christ Community Church in Grand Rapids, and at Christ Fellowship in Kansas City. The Lord helped me. It seems from the little feedback that trickled back to me that the Lord was pleased to own his Word. To him alone be the glory! (Someone has put up a whole lot of photos of the FIRE conference on the net. I appear here, and here, and here and here. You may just want to watch them all!)

Then, I met three people I had wanted to meet for a very long time. The first was Amresh Semurath, whom I met at the FIRE conference together with his wife (see photo). We had corresponded for almost twenty years without ever seeing each other. I had been greatly encouraged by his fidelity to the truth in Trinidad and had on many occasions wished we had the money to fly him to Zambia to preach at our annual Reformed Conference, but it was never to be. Finally, at the FIRE conference, here he was!

The second person was Dr Joel Beeke (see photo below, with Dr James Grier and me). I do not know how I can express my delight in f-i-n-a-l-l-y meeting him. From the day I read his little booklet, Holiness, produced by the Banner of Truth Trust, I had read everything about his ministry with great interest. He gave me a guided tour of the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The icing on the cake was when he showed me the Puritan Resource Centre, where copies of almost all the works by and about the Puritans are stored. Amazing!

The third person was Hope (see photo below), my long lost sister whom I last saw eight years ago when she came to Zambia for the funeral of her mother, who was my mother’s immediate younger sister. (Now, I know that to a Western mind, she ought to be my cousin. In our culture, the children of my mother’s sisters and my father’s brothers are my brothers and sister—and it is not just a play on words. It is real). It was good to meet her husband, Mwemba, and their three sons—John, Junior, and Matthew—fine lads! I enjoyed every moment with them. The parting on the third day was the most difficult. Tears freely flowed. Hope, you are truly precious!
What else was sweet? It was when Pastor Steve Krogh took me to the Theological Book Network headquarters (see photo below) and Dr James Grier gave me a guided tour of the Christian publishing houses in Grand Rapids—the capital city of Christian publishing in the world. That is where Zondervan, Baker Book House, Eerdmans, etc, have their headquarters. I felt like a child being released in a candy shop but being told not to mess up his appetite because from the shop they were going straight for supper. It was a catch-22 situation. Here I was with all the good books that one can ever dream of in the world, and yet the airline could only allow me a few kilograms. In fact, I had to pay an extra $50 dollars for overweight when I left Grand Rapids for Kansas City just because of the few books that I bought for next-to-nothing because of the high discounts that they were being sold for. Some of the books were going for 90% discount. Can you imagine? Coming from Africa, where Christian books are “as rare as a dog’s horn” (I hope you know that African proverb), I felt like saying, “Lord, it’s not fair!” But I remembered that to him to whom much is given, from him much shall be required (Luke 12:48). On the judgement day I will be glad that I laboured in Africa.
Just one more sweet experience and I must let you get on with other business. I met individual after individual who regularly listen to the pulpit ministry of KBC on the internet. One example will be enough. In Kansas City, Christ Fellowship is a church that comprises a number of home groups. More like the house church movement in China. As I was preaching in one of those home groups, one man (sitted with his wife in black t-shirt, directly opposite me in the photo below) told me that he could not believe his ears when one Sunday the elder in charge of their home group announced that I would be preaching there. He said he had been a keen and regular listener to my preaching on the internet for some time, and now to imagine that I would be in his church was a cause of great rejoicing on his part. To borrow his own words, “I said to [the elder], the man who has taught me everything I know on Romans 6 will be here!” That, I think, was the cherry on the cake.