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!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January conferences in South Africa worth praying for

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

Having given something of a bird’s-eye-view of South Africa in my last-but-one blog entry, I think I am in a better position now to say something about two conferences in that country that are worthy of your prayer support. There are others that are also worth mentioning (e.g. the Shepherds’ conferences and the Skogheim conferences). However, I bring these two to your attention because of my first-hand experience in preaching there and also because they have just taken place in the month of January. In other words, their grass is still wet with dew!

I have just spent about two weeks in South Africa preaching at the Grace Ministers’ conferences. Although there is an organizing team behind these conferences, the one man who stands out within that team is Martin Holdt (with wife, Elsabe, in photo), pastor of Constantia Park Baptist Church. This year was the 18th year for these conferences to be held, and he has been involved in organizing them from the very beginning. In the more recent years, Martin has been assisted with the Cape Town conference by Roland Eskinazi, pastor of Goodwood Baptist Church (see conference photo below). These conferences, whose fees are far below the cost of hosting them, are made possible every year by very generous donations from the HASS group of companies, owned by a Christian family in Pretoria. I know the couple personally and have often used their outstanding example to challenge Christians in Zambia about investing in God’s kingdom.

The Grace Ministers’ Conferences comprise three conferences held back-to-back, two at Valley Lodge in the beautiful Magaliesburg area near Johannesburg and one at the Protea Hotel in the Stellenbosch area near Cape Town. These hotels are surrounded by scenery that is just indescribably captivating, serene and delightful. I was one of two preachers and a speaker at this year’s conferences. The other preacher was Stuart Olyott, who needs no introduction (his excellent books speak for him). The speaker was Pieter Pelser, a South African architect who has spent the last sixty years studying and championing the cause of creationism especially in his own denomination, the Dutch Reformed Church.

Stuart Olyott preached three times in each conference on “Preaching the gospel today—Lessons from Sermons in Acts”. He used the sermons of Peter on the day of Pentecost, Stephen just before his martyrdom, and Paul in Pisidian Antioch as examples. Stuart, as always, was up to scratch in terms of order, simplicity and edification in his sermons. Pieter Pelser gave two addresses in each conference on the falsehood of the theory of evolution as compared to the truthfulness of creationism. It was evident as he spoke that he was no academic theorist but had come out of the trenches with blood on his hands. Listening to these two men (especially during the Q&A sessions) made me realize that I was sandwiched between two towering giants, each one a master in his own world.

I was asked to preach on the subject of the challenge of African culture to the church today. I handled the challenges under three sub-headings—the challenge to the church’s work of evangelism and missions; the challenge to the church’s life of fellowship, worship and discipline; and the challenge to the church’s task of being salt and light in the world. I readily admit that it was a very sensitive subject, knowing South Africa’s recent Apartheid history. However, I was pleasantly surprised how both “white” and “black” brethren welcomed the messages. I would be a fool to think that they all agreed with everything I said, but at each conference I was asked to put the material that I presented into book form for wider circulation—for which I felt deeply grateful.

After the conferences, Martin Holdt wrote in his Out of Africa newsletter, “The three conferences that were concluded this week with the final one in Cape Town have been enormously encouraging. Our two main speakers Conrad Mbewe and Stuart Olyott excelled themselves. The Lord was with them and the response of all who attended was indeed most heartening. It was the eighteenth conference of this kind and when one notes the extent to which flagging zeal in the ministry has been replaced by determination to persevere, we are determined to keep the conferences going for as long as we possible can. Because of the financial constraints we have to sponsor partially or fully a number of men who were eager to come. We are grateful for the sponsorships that enabled us to do this.”

While the Grace Ministers’ Conferences were taking place in four-star hotels in lush surroundings, there were other conferences taking place under the name “African Pastors’ Conferences”. A marathan of about six conferences are held back-to-back in South Africa in January (with others being held later in the year in Botswana and Zimbabwe). Since my participation in them last year in January, I have been asked to be part of the organizing team. These conferences in many ways are “the other hand” of the Grace Ministers’ Conferences. The organizers of both conferences are concerned about helping pastors in South Africa to be renewed in their spiritual vigour within a context of exemplary Bible expositions. Whereas in most cases the Grace Ministers’ Conferences are attended by the “haves”, the African Pastors’ Conferences are attended by the “have-nots”, comparatively speaking. Thus, whereas the former are held in four-star hotels with lush surroundings, the latter are held within not-so-attractive venues with very basic boarding facilities. However, the lack of outward attractiveness must not deceive you into thinking that nothing of importance is happening there. In the light of South Africa’s recent history, the African Pastors’ Conferences are very strategic. They are reaching the pastors of “the sleeping giant”, i.e. the “black” churches that need to rise to the challenge of reaching the rest of Africa.

Whereas a number of us Zambian pastors have been involved in preaching at the African Pastors’ Conferences (e.g. Ronald Kalifungwa, Choolwe Mwetwa—who is still preaching there even as I write this blog, Isaac Makashinyi, and myself), the one person who is most strategic to these conferences is, without a doubt, Raymond Zulu. Please, please, please, pray for Raymond whenever you are prompted to pray for these conferences. Raymond is presently pastor of High Wycombe Evangelical Baptist Church, in England. He grew up in South Africa and did his theological studies there. He even worked briefly with Newcastle Baptist Church before he answered a call to pastor the church in the UK. Although Raymond is in England, he has not forgotten about his homeland and, consequently, has committed the first month of the year to return to South Africa and be a part of these conferences. Because he hails from there, he knows the language and customs of the black people of South Africa and their pastors. Hence, in these conferences he ministers at a level that none of us are able to—not even those of us who come from as near as Zambia. When I preached there last year, I admired the way Raymond talked with the men attending the conferences in informal small groups and in one-on-one discussions in their own language. When he would come to share with me in our sleeping quarters about the issues that he was engaging the men in, I knew that, under God, Raymond was the man of the moment. Please, please pray for him!

An obvious bonus one gets from attending both the Grace Ministers’ Conferences and the African Pastors’ Conferences are the book-tables with high quality and biblically sound Christian books. The book tables at the Grace Ministers’ Conferences contained the choicest of books from Augustine Bookroom (run by Martin Holdt’s wife, Elsabe), while the book tables at the African Pastors’ Conferences contained books largely supplied by Evangelical Press at greatly discounted prices (see photo below from 2008 conferences). Creation Ministries also supplied books combating evolution at the Grace Ministers’ Conferences. So, apart from the rich ministry of God’s Word, which pastors who attend these conferences get, they also go away with a rich supply of good books to see them through the year ahead. We should never underestimate the impact of literature upon the lives of pastors and, through them, upon the lives of God’s people in the pews.

The Bible passage at the start of this blog entry says, “Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you…” Those of you who have felt the power of the Reformed Faith through an excellent expository preaching ministry and through the ministry of books will do well to pray for these two conferences that the Word of God that was carried from there this month may go into the pulpits of the men that attended these conferences. Pray that the fruit may go beyond the immediate churches represented by these men, but that it will grow and flourish in South Africa until it awakens “the sleeping giant” and spills over into the other nations of this vast, vast continent. And may God truly answer your prayers and mine. Amen!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Africa's misplaced excitment about Barack Obama

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

I try to limit myself to only one blog per week, but the excitement in the air about Barack Obama’s coming to power as the 44th president of the United States has forced me to, as it were, “take pen and paper” and say something. I know that to say anything that is less than totally optimistic and excited about Obama’s presidency in the USA today is to be viewed as a wet blanket and a betrayer of Africa. The continent has been gripped by Obama-mania because “an African” is now president of the most powerful nation in the world. Celebrations are everywhere and in literally every nation.

When I ask why this excitement and optimism, what dismays me is that it is nothing more than the fact that Barack Obama is a black man—or, as they say in America, an African-American. He is one of us. I must readily admit that this is a strength in African culture. We have a very strong sense of belonging that goes beyond the nuclear family. Our brothers and sisters are not just our blood brothers and sisters. Our fathers and mothers are not just those who gave us birth. We look after and pride in our own beyond the immediate family. In that sense, we are proud that “one of us” has made such an achievement. Up to that point I can understand the sense of pride in Africa today. However, this strong sense of belonging often clouds our thinking. For instance, when it comes to issues of discipline and justice, this same sense of belonging tends to crowd out the real issues and we fail to be objective. “He belongs to us” becomes more important than “he is has done wrong”.

This is what I am seeing in the excitement about Obama. Hardly anyone is talking about Barack Obama’s character, convictions and past record. Very few Christians are asking any questions about whether he is godly or not. It is almost as though issues of regeneration and doctrinal convictions do not matter. What matters is that he is an African. For instance, the little I have heard concerning Barack Obama’s views with respect to the rights of the unborn child make my hair stand on end! But who is willing to pause and listen to this? What matters is that “one of us” is now on the throne of the most powerful nation on the planet. Let us kill the goat and celebrate!

I am reminded of the excitement that filled the air in Zambia when Frederick T J Chiluba and his Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) came into power in 1991. The excitement even in the church was as if Jesus had come! Church leaders were coming to church with badges of the MMD symbol on their shirts and jackets, and they were greeting church members with the phrase, “The hour has come!” Those of us who were cautious and cautioning fellow Christians were seen as die-hard UNIP-ists. No one was willing to listen to basic Christian caution. Well, within the first ten years the optimism was conspicuous by its absence. Corruption had become endemic in the nation. Recent court cases have revealed that the nation was being plundered while we had a ours closed in prayer.

Back to Obama. There is an unspoken wish in many African hearts that many of our woes in Africa will now be over because our calls for help will be handled more expeditiously from the USA since “one of us” has ascended the throne. Here is my question: Why should Africa look to America for answers to its problems? The Christian faith, if taken seriously, teaches us that all human beings are made in the image of God. We all have the capacities of creativity, moral judgment, etc. Under God, we should take charge of our situation on the African continent and deal with it. For instance, why should Obama across the Atlantic deal with Mugabe in Zimbabwe? African leaders on African soil should be outraged by what is happening and say, “Enough is enough” and deal with him!

I am not a prophet, and neither am I a son of a prophet, but let me say just one thing to those who are “over the moon” with what has happened in the USA. It is that disappointment is awaiting you. Let us meet in just five years’ time and I am sure disappointment will have sobered all of us up. It should be clear to every Bible-believing Christian that the hope for Africa, for the USA, and indeed for the whole world is in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of the Holy Spirit, mediated through the preaching of the gospel, that transforms hearts and, consequently, transforms societies and entire nations. That is what we should be “over the moon” about.

Do not get me wrong. I am not suggesting that politics are not important. They have their place in ensuring law and order, especially in the protection of the vulnerable. What, however, I am saying is that until human hearts are changed, the world can only get worse. Politicians will promise us a better world tomorrow, but they are powerless against the tsunami of human fallen-ness. Therein lies the world’s chief problem—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We only cheat ourselves when we trust in politicians to turn our world around. They cannot do it because the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart!

This is why the verse that heads this blog is so important. Let me give you the rest of the passage. It says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:5-9).

The message from this passage of Scripture must be abundantly clear! African Christians, let us not celebrate as the world is celebrating because our hope for a better world is not in Barack Obama—nor in our own local politicians—but it is in the gospel of God and in the God of that gospel. Amen!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

South Africa – A Land of Contrasts

I flew into South Africa for the umpteenth time on Saturday, January 3, 2009, to preach at three pastors’ conferences. I want to use this blog entry to write about my impressions of South Africa—a country of about 48 million people—as an outsider looking in. The best summary of my impression is that South Africa is a land of contrasts, and in that country is a sleeping giant that needs to be awakened.
It is a land that has produced the greatest living political legend of our day—Nelson Mandela.
South Africa is a country in which you cannot help but speak in terms of black and white—even if you are not racist. This is a land in which the world’s natural beauty lies next to some of the ugliest scenes of human depravity. It is a country that has the strongest economy on the African continent and yet has some of the poorest people as well, especially among its black people. It is a place where you find the most lavish, marble-tiled buildings and just a few minutes away you will find vast tracts of land clustered with tin-sheds called “shacks” where many of its people live. It is a land that has produced the greatest living political legend of our day—Nelson Mandela (picture)—right after the worst form of political experiment in Africa called Apartheid. It has some of the loveliest and godliest people I know on this planet living side-by-side with the worst gun-brandishing criminals.
The in-flight magazine was clearly a public relations tool.
These contrasts were made apparent to me when I compared what I read in the in-flight magazine in South African Airways (SAA) on my way to South Africa, with what stared me in the face when I read the newspapers when I got there. On one hand, the in-flight magazine was clearly a public relations tool. All the news was about the tourist destinations in South Africa that are “out of this world”—their wonderful and bustling beachfronts, their ecstatic entertainment centres, their wildlife and game reserves, their beautiful botanical gardens, their breath-taking mountain ranges, their luxurious five star hotels with their world-class convention centres, their award winning restaurants with their variety of wines and mouth-watering cuisines, their world-class cricket and rugby teams, their music maestros like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, their growing African middle-class, etc.

The newspapers, on the other hand, were full of the other side—the dark side—of South Africa. They contained news about murders, race-related and drug-related crimes, abductions, township violence, soul-degrading and explicitly sexual “adult” entertainment, house break-ins, sodomy, xenophobia (as can be seen from this disturbing photograph of a victim), kidnappings, shootings, muggings, women and children being raped, instant justice mobs, confidence tricksters, political violence, ATMs being blown up, corruption in high offices, victims of road rage, etc. It is this dark side of South Africa that has caused many of its well-educated citizens to immigrate to countries like the USA, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. You see, whereas in Zambia it is extremely rare to be shot by thieves even if they wanted to clear out your entire house, in South Africa they shoot you in order to rob you of your wristwatch or cell-phone!
We got to meet men like Martin Holdt, Brian Stone, Trevor Roberts, Wilhelm Odendaal, Roland Eskinazi, etc.
When in 1990 an article appeared in The Banner of Truth magazine announcing the formation of the Reformed Baptist Association (RBA) in South Africa, I hurriedly wrote to the brethren asking them to keep in touch with us for the purpose of mutual edification. Up until then, we were drawing our encouragement in our fledgling Reformed Baptist cause in Zambia from the UK and the USA. South Africa was certainly nearer. The brethren responded by inviting us (Pastors Ronald Kalifungwa, Choolwe Mwetwa and myself) to attend their RBA conferences and preach in their churches. We got to meet men like Martin Holdt, Brian Stone, Trevor Roberts, Wilhelm Odendaal, Roland Eskinazi, etc, whom the Lord was using to kindle the theme of Reformation among the Baptist churches in the country. That was the beginning of our associations with the Reformed Baptist cause in South Africa. Now we cross the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers quite often each year for ministry in this land of contrasts. As I write, Choolwe is in South Africa preaching across the month of January at no less than five to seven Africa Pastors’ Conferences (I tried that circuit last year and had to be brought home on a stretcher!). I am also presently preaching at three Grace Ministers’ Conferences.
Nigeria, with the second strongest economy on the continent, has sent out a large missionary force across the continent.
Why should we be so concerned about South Africa? It is because this nation has by far the greatest potential to enhance the cause of Christ across the whole of the African continent and that potential still lies dormant. To me, the fact that no South African conservative evangelical scholar participated in the compilation of the trans-continental Africa Bible Commentary is enough proof of this fact. This country has the strongest economy on the continent and some of the strongest churches, doctrinally-speaking. However, most of the wealth and almost all the strong churches are among the white South Africans, whereas the rest of Africa south of the Sahara is almost totally black. Nigeria, with the second strongest economy on the continent, has sent out a large missionary force across the continent, but sadly it is of the extreme and cultic Charismatic type.

Why this phenomenon in South Africa? It is a well-known fact that one of the worst effects of the Apartheid system was to deprive the blacks of South Africa, who are by far in the majority, the privileges being enjoyed by their white counterparts in terms of education, jobs, and other social amenities. The result is that black South African churches do not have the economic, educational and doctrinal strength that can make them a missionary force into the rest of Africa—at least, not yet. There is a growing middle class among the South African black people, but they are yet to appreciate the Reformed faith so that it can propel them to bring down the altars of man-centred worship and erect God-centred Christianity in their churches, let alone across the continent. The day this happens, the sleeping giant of “the land of contrasts” would have been awakened, and the cause of Christ across the continent will receive an impetus never known before since the days of the early missionary movement. This is what we should be praying for. This is what we should be working towards.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Review—Six months of blogging

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name” (Malachi 3:16).

I was introduced to blogging during my last visit to the USA in July 2008 by a friend who pastors a church there. I must admit that I really resisted the idea because I did not realise its value and how easy it is to use. I already have three newspaper articles per week, apart from the regular preaching I have to do. The thought of adding yet another piece of writing was not appealing. Finally, I was prevailed upon and started “blogging”. However, I soon discovered its value because there were issues, especially related to my itinerant preaching ministry, that I had no appropriate forum on which to share with my church members and those who are interested in my ministry. Also, in the context of the church I limit myself to preaching the Word in a consecutive expository fashion. I rarely share my thoughts about what is happening in our country or what I think ought to happen. The blog has become a perfect vehicle for this.
In the West, it has become the main channel for the exchange of information and ideas because it is not censored by an editor.
Blogging simply means “web logging”. In other words, it is a log book on the internet. Individuals write their thoughts and share them with others through this avenue. In the West, it has become the main channel for the exchange of information and ideas because it is not censored by an editor. Anyone can say what they want and those who are interested are able to access the information and even respond to it the way in which you respond to newspaper articles through “Letters to the Editor”. Unlike e-mails that come to your in-box, blogs remain in cyberspace and so they do not clog the hard-drive space on your computer. They do not take up a lot of time downloading. That means I can even include a lot of photos, which make reading very interesting, without you worrying about the space and time the photos will take when being downloaded.

I have also been pleasantly surprised by the number of visits my blog has been attracting, as can be seen from the site-metre on the bottom right of the blog (see the visits in terms of statistics, in terms of a graph over the last one month, and in terms of the last one hundred visits from different parts of the globe). What is even more interesting has been the visits from virtually every part of the globe. I am grateful to God that I can write about something that is close to my heart and someone in India, or China or New Zealand, or Italy, or Sweden, or Nigeria, or the UK, or Brazil, and indeed even the USA or Canada, will log in and read it. What a privileged day we live in. I still make the members of my church the primary target of my writings on the blog; but what a bonus to know that others around Zambia and the world can access the information as well—and even respond to it.

A number of people, especially in Zambia, have e-mailed me to let me know that they have failed to post their comments on my blog or asking me how they can do it. Unfortunately, it is not simply an issue of writing what you want and it finds its way onto the blog. You have to open an account, just the way in which you open an e-mail address—only it is much, much easier. Below is how to do it.

1. Type your comments in the space provided at the bottom of the posting you want to comment on.

2. Then choose which “profile” you want to use. For the purpose of this tutorial, choose “Google Account”.

3. It will give you a “Word Verification” page. Just type what you are seeing on the screen in the space where the cursor is. This simple process ensures that the input is from a real human being and not another computer program.

4. On the next page, click on “Create an account now” (If you already have a Google account, then just type in your e-mail address and password, and you will be ready to go to your next page).

5. On the next page, you must type in your existing e-mail address twice (it does NOT need to be a Google address) and your password twice. (As usual, use a password that you will not easily forget, or keep your password in a safe place where you can easily retrieve it). Also type in what name you would like to appear each time you post a comment. I would suggest you use either your first name or both your first and second name. Again, you will be subjected to a Word Verification process, and just do what you did earlier. After that click on the box that says you accept the terms of service and click on continue.

6. That is all! Your comment will go to a place where it remains until I approve it. This is to just make sure that I do not have nasty comments from mad people being posted on my blog. So far I have only rejected one because it just did not make sense and the person who posted it simply wanted to advertise his own site.

So, now that you know how to post your comments on my blog..., you have no excuse for remaining silent.
So, now that you know how to post your comments on my blog (and any other blog in cyberspace), you have no excuse for remaining silent. I hope that many of you will open such accounts and begin to send in your comments. Come on, don’t be shy. Let us hear your views. Remember the prophecy of Malachi that heads this posting. While the world is getting more and more wicked, those of us who fear the Lord should be talking to one another about the things that really matter. We should not just be listening, but also talking. God will be paying attention to this discourse in cyberspace. The people of this world will also be eavesdropping and realising that there are a people of God in this world, yea even in Zambia, who take the things of God seriously and hence see things differently from them. If this blog begins to be used this way, that will be an important stage in its development in 2009. So, what are you waiting for? I wait to hear from you!