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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?


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.