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!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dapson Mwendafilumba—Church Secretary Par Excellence

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

Dapson Mwendafilumba (see photo) passed into glory at about 14.30 hours on Saturday, 21st March, 2009. Although I was not completely surprised at the news of his passing away because of his protracted illness, it still came as a shock to me. The night before, I was restless and pleaded with God to spare my friend’s life, and each time I got a text message during the day on Saturday, I feared that it might be a bearer of bad news. Well, my fears were finally realized when one of our church elders (Charles Bota) came to me in the car park at church that same afternoon with the words, “Have you heard? Dapson has just passed away…” What a blow!

Dapson was the chairman of the deacons at Lusaka Baptist Church at the time of his going to glory. However, to my mind, he always remained the church secretary par excellence. This is due to the fact that this was his role at Kabwata Baptist Church some twenty-two years ago when I first came here as a new pastor and still green between the ears. When Kabwata Baptist Church was constituted on 25th January 1986, Dapson was already on the leadership team.

What most church members who were there then will remember were Dapson’s announcements during Sunday church services in the Kabwata Community Hall. He spiced them with just enough humour to keep us all interested in the whole range of announcements to the very end. Hardly ever missing in those announcements was “Number 4, Mucheka Street”. It was the home of Dapson and Martha Mwendafilumba (see photo) in the early days of Kabwata Baptist Church and it was often the venue for deacon’s meetings, couples’ fellowship meetings, prayer meetings, etc. Even now, almost twenty years later, when my wife and I are driving past the house, which is just one block from our home, we look at each other and say with a sense of nostalgia, “Number 4, Mucheka Street!”

Behind the scenes, however, Dapson was a very hard working church secretary. His strength lay in always anticipating challenges and so would have everything ready when you needed them—agendas, minutes, bills, letters, notices, etc. In the early days of any church, such assets are rare and must be highly appreciated. And so, as a young church pastor in a new church, I really appreciated this man. Talking about anticipating challenges, Dapson even noticed when my wife was expecting our first child (Mwindula) that one of our biggest hurdles was going to be the acquisition of a baby cot, and so he provided the finances from his own family coffers to enable us buy one! How can we ever forget that? Hence, I was not too surprised when in 1990 his employers, the Hostels Board of Zambia, promoted him to go to Ndola to run the Henry Makulu Guest House. They obviously saw and appreciated this gift in Dapson. That is how we lost his services at Kabwata Baptist Church.

Dapson also endured the worst from me as a young pastor. I came to Kabwata Baptist Church with the zeal of a young reformer. Whatever I saw that did not conform to the New Testament model of a local church, I wanted to see changed “yesterday”. As church secretary, Dapson must have found this quite confusing because what was alright yesterday had to suddenly change just because the pastor says so. From time to time, he came into my study and took me on about my riding rough-shod over the sensitivities of church members. Thankfully, he left for Ndola before these reforms almost cost me my pastorate. In an interview in the USA World magazine, he recollected those difficult days at Kabwata Baptist Church and again insisted that my reforms were too fast. Looking back now, with the hindsight of some twenty years, I think he was right.

His last visit to Kabwata Baptist Church was during our 20th anniversary commemorative activities as a church (see photo). I recall vividly how he spoke passionately about those early years when the few people who were committed to “the work at Kabwata” gave their all to see this work grow. He spoke about their zeal for evangelism and their love for one another in those days. He pleaded with those who were now in the membership of Kabwata Baptist Church to emulate its pioneers, especially in loving one another in the body of Christ. It was good to see “the church secretary par excellence” once again in the pulpit!

Apart from his service in the church, Dapson’s commitment was to the hospitality industry. His services were highly sought after by many individuals and companies who were either establishing or already running lodges and hotels in the country. However, Dapson was committed to the Zambian government’s hostels and lodges. He worked for the Hostels Board of Zambia and rose through its ranks over a period of more than twenty years until at the time of his death he held its highest position as Executive Secretary. In 1999, when Zambia hosted one of the biggest conferences ever hosted in this country, the ICASA Conference, the Zambian government called upon Dapson to chair the conference’s accommodation committee. They are not the only ones. The Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia also ensured that he was on the organizing committee of our annual Reformed Family Conference and School of Theology, which last year alone drew participants from no less than twelve countries. I know that his input in this committee will really be missed.

To Dapson, his vocation was more than just a job. He wanted to see standards improved in the hospitality industry in Zambia. Hence, he worked hard to ensure that the Zambian government enacted legislation that would compel hotel and lodge owners to meet certain minimum standards or lose their practicing licences. On the international hospitality scene, Dapson’s gifts and passion were also noticed. Hence, he soon became the Hotel and Catering International Management Association (HCIMA) Zambia chapter chairperson. He brought the weight of this association behind his drive to improve the hospitality industry in the country. He was quoted in the Times of Zambia recently saying, “Our association wants to see professional standards in the hospitality industry. Wrong things are happening in these institutions where, for instance, unqualified chefs are employed who are doing wrong things. We have people being served with leftover food.”

Dapson leaves behind a wife, Martha, and three daughters—Mubeji, Tukiya and Mulaye. Please pray for them as they adjust to life without a loving husband and father. There is no doubt that the members of Lusaka Baptist Church will come alongside them in this trying time. For us as a family, Dapson’s passing away brings to an end an annual ritual that we really appreciated. Every year around Christmas, Dapson came with his wife Martha to our home with a carton full of packets of fruit juice—“with compliments from the Mwendafilumbas”! On his last visit a few weeks before he was hospitalised, he came alone, and, as he put the big and heavy carton down, he said that Martha was out of the country but they were not willing to delay the bringing of the “small” parcel until her return—so here it was. That was Dapson’s sense of humour!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reflections on my recent visit to the USA

Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30)

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Lusaka International Airport. Please remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened until we have come to a complete stop and the seatbelt lights have been switched off…” That was the news on the plane’s intercom that announced our arrival back home as the plane touched down around 21.15 hours last Saturday evening. After being away for two weeks in the USA, Felistas and I found that announcement to be music to our ears! As the saying goes, “There is no place like home.” Though tired from the journey, the Lord was pleased to give me strength to preach at Kabwata Baptist Church the following day at both our morning and evening services. It was truly good to be back! With the Lord’s Day ministrations behind me, I am now able to reflect upon the visit to the USA and share some of my thoughts on this blog.

I stated in my last blog entry that the theme of the True Church Conference held at Grace Life Church of the Shoals, in Alabama, was “The Wonderful Grace of Repentance” (photo above shows the church's senior pastor, Jeff Noblit, with his wife, Pam, and their three daughters). I have given the theme of this conference much thought and realized with a renewed freshness how important it is. It is but one of two responses required of every human being in order to escape eternal destruction. The two are “repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Even the Lord Jesus Christ issues a warning whose echo runs right across the corridors of time, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Can anything be clearer than that? Surely, then, it is important for all of us to ensure that this wonderful grace of repentance is thoroughly wrought in our hearts. Our eternal felicity hangs on it!

In case you think that the quotation at the top of this blog entry is being applied to Felistas and I as we left "house...and children" to visit to the USA, you are wrong. Rather, next to the theme of the conference at Muscle Shoals, I was struck by the number of young adults attending the conference who wanted to go out as missionaries. They remind me of Christ's rich promise! Here were young men and women, most of them just recently married and raising young families, talking with deep emotion about their longing and prayer that soon—very soon—the Lord would open a door for them to go out as missionaries. Most of them were talking about places that were certainly less economically privileged than the USA. They knew they were going to pay an economic price if they took the plunge. Yet it was clear that, having heard the clarion call of the gospel, they cared very little if they lived on the barest minimum. All they wanted was the gospel to be heard through their lips in other parts of the world. The Grace Life Church of the Shoals and the HeartCry Missionary Society and must be privileged to have such young couples around them. (The photos above and below show two families that are not so young but who have sold everything they have and are just waiting for work permits to come to Zambia and plant a church in a village in Western Province). I think that it is “not many days hence” before we start seeing the same hunger and zeal among our own young adults. If God can do it to Americans, he can do it to Zambians too. I can hardly wait!

My previous visit to the USA was in July last year. There were two major differences I noted and they are both a reminder that this world and its glory are passing away. The first major difference was that on my previous visit George Bush Jnr was the main man in the news on television and in the newspapers and magazines. He was on centre stage. On this last visit, he was conspicuous by his almost total absence from the media. It was all about Barack Obama now. Imagine, in less than one year you can go from the centre stage of human history to the backstage. That is sobering! Closely connected with this was the fact that on my last visit the economic meltdown was just beginning to be felt in the USA but now it was in full flood. The nation with the strongest economy in the world was in a state of panic, with millions of its citizens finding themselves out on the streets—jobless. Surely, the world with its glory soon passes away. No wonder one saint wrote in times past, “Only one life, it will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Oh, to live only for the gospel! It is said that when John Wesley died he only left a coat and a silver spoon, yet because he lived and died for the gospel, his life was certainly worth living. The fruit of his gospel ministry still marches on!

One of the fringe benefits or bonuses of a long trip away from home is the sighting of Zambians in the diaspora. On this trip, Felistas and I rejoiced greatly to meet Rhoda (see photo below), a member of Kabwata Baptist Church who has been in the USA for about five years. Although she has kept in touch via e-mail, this was our first time to meet her since she left Zambia. What a joy! Then when I was speaking at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a stone’s throw away from the White House in Washington DC, it was good to see a few Zambians in the congregation. There was my uncle, Mr Patrick Chisanga, who was visiting his son, Changala, who now lives in the USA. Both of them attended the meeting. Then there was also Mr Ben Kangwa and his wife. Most of you will remember that he was only recently appointed as the First Secretary for Press and Public Relations at the Zambian Embassy in Washington DC. Having him in the meeting made me feel as if the Zambian government had finally recognized the banner I was carrying for the nation in my ministry in the USA. Ha!

On a more sobering note, our time just north of Washington DC was spent in a home where a boy, Howard, suffering from cerebral palsy, was also visiting his grandmother, Henrietta (actually he specifically came to meet this preacher from Africa). It was while I was in that home that I heard of the death of Ivan, the son of David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party in the UK. He also had cerebral palsy, a disease that causes extreme physical disability and seizures. I had never met Ivan, but I was very impressed with the intelligence and spirituality of Howard (see photo of him holding the Zambian flag in front of the church while his aunt--not in picture--sang the Zambian national anthem to welcome us to their church) . Howard is definitely a Christian. With the help of those who could decipher his speech, we engaged in the most intellectually satisfying and spiritually uplifting conversations. Being with Howard and hearing about Ivan, caused me to be truly grateful to God for my good health. It is divine sovereignty alone that caused me to be born whole. Oh, how we take our health for granted!