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!

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.