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, February 22, 2009

The True Church Conference in Muscle Shoals USA

"Unless you repent you will all likewise perish!" (Luke 13:3)

Felistas and I have now been in the USA for one week and have begun to count down towards the day of our return to Zambia. The main purpose of our visit was to attend the True Church Conference at the Grace Life Church of the Shoals, where I was preaching and also presenting a brief report on the work of missions associated with our church back home. It has been an exhilarating experience. Let me share with you some snippets from our experience of the conference.

Prior to the conference, I spent my mornings on Monday 16th to Wednesday 18th teaching the few HeartCry missionaries who were able to obtain visas to come to the conference. Though few, these were truly precious moments with very precious people who are paying a dear price taking the true gospel to their own people. These men came from Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—places where churches are few and far between, and where a profession of Christianity is often the same as signing your own death warrant. What I found most refreshing was that their concern went far beyond just wanting to multiply churches. They wanted to see truly biblical churches planted wherever they were laboring. Hence, the question and answer sessions were the most heart-warming because during these times I could hear their chief concerns coming through the questions that they were asking.

The True Church Conference started on Thursday 19th and ended on Sunday 22nd. It was on the general theme of “The Wonderful Grace of Repentance”. In one jump, we went from being with less than 20 men to being with over 1,500 men and women in joyful assembly—and I really mean “joyful assembly”. The worship experience alone is worth the price of the air-ticket across the Atlantic! It was largely the same old hymns containing the ancient truths of the gospel but as Thomas Clay led the great congregation in worship, you just knew that you were in the presence of the living God and worship was drawn out of your heart.

Of course, the highlight of the conference was the preaching of God’s Word. Jeff Noblit, Paul Washer and Voddie Baucham were among the preachers who graced the pulpit of the conference. Since they have preached before in Zambia, these men need no introduction to my Zambian readers. I had the privilege of opening the conference and laid the foundation for the other preachers by dealing with “The Radical Depravity of Man”. The other two preachers who are unknown to Zambian Christians were Jonathan Sims and David Miller. Jonathan is an expositor par excellence! I had a chat with him afterwards about a possible visit to Zambia in August 2010. Let us pray that this works out.

Well, believe me, the experience of listening to this servant of God is worth the price of two air-tickets!

I need to say something about David Miller’s preaching. It is indescribable! I have never heard anything like it. This man suffered from a disease that left him totally incapacitated and so he preaches from a wheelchair, without a Bible and notes. And yet, he cites whole chapters of the Bible word-for-word, and expounds a section of it with very clear points and sub-points, with doctrinal accuracy, and with pungency and humour. Did I say that the worship experience at the True Church Conference was worth the price of an air-ticket across the Atlantic? Well, believe me, the experience of listening to this servant of God is worth the price of two air-tickets!

This visit to the USA has once again shown me the importance of the internet. Last Sunday, I preached at Grace Life Church of the Shoals on Psalm 2 in the morning service and on the Lord’s genealogy as recorded by Matthew in the evening service. During the conference, a number of people came to tell me how blessed they were as they listened to the sermon on the internet. Incredible! A number of people also came to me during the conference to express their gratitude for the Kabwata Baptist Church sermons on the internet. “Don’t you have any more sermons?” “Where else on the internet can your sermons be found?” “Why do you take so long to upload new sermons on your website?” These were the kind of questions I had to answer. Needless to say, I had no satisfactory answers to give them. If only they knew we were a Third World church…

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Missionaries are ordinary people

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

As our second in-house missions conference drew to an end, my heart was once again filled with the vital place of missions in God’s agenda. It is so easy for this annual conference to simply become an item on the annual calendar of the church. That would be tragic! The first business of the church must be worship—an admiration of the true and living God. This must inevitably flow into the work of missions, i.e. getting the gospel planted in new territories through the planting of biblical churches, so that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14) . That is very plain from the words of Jesus quoted above. So, our missions conference must be one of the major highlights on our annual calendar. It is a barometer of our true spiritual state as a church. It is symptomatic of how authentic our worship really is.

As I looked at our missionaries during the conference I was struck once again by the fact that “God uses ordinary people”. This was evident from the reports that the missionaries gave (below is Pastor Percy Chisenga, our missionary to Malawi, giving a report using a Powerpoint presentation). One could tell that these were men “subject to like passion as we are” (James 5:17). Some were clearly more gifted and more fruitful than others. Others evidently worked harder than others. Some fell along the way. Yet they all had one thing in common—they were ordinary people. Realising this is important if we are going to see more of our people going out to do the work of missions. Missionaries are ordinary people. They are not super human beings. It is a sense of call—and therefore a sense of obedience to God—that makes them go forth into the world to do or die for the sake of the gospel. This realisation is also important if we are going to take our responsibility of praying for missionaries seriously. Only God can make these ordinary men (and women) produce eternal fruit. As the apostle Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). So, let us earnestly pray for them.

God had touched her heart, and that is the way it must be.
The greatest achievement of our missions conferences thus far has been the financial giving. The financial pledges that were made last year and this year towards the work of missions fill my heart with praise to God. There is no doubt that we can do better, but when God’s people decide to give abundantly out of their poverty it is a powerful testimony of the grace of God at work in their hearts (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). One amusing case occurred last year and I must recount it. The deacons thought one young lady had made a mistake on her one-off pledge (she had put her name on the pledge form so that she could be reminded in case she forgot) because they thought the figure she wrote was way too high for her lowly income. Maybe she mistakenly wrote one zero too many! She assured them that it was not a mistake. God had touched her heart, and that is the way it must be. It is important for those who have gone down the mine of missions to be assured that those of us who hold the rope are equally committed to the cause of missions, especially through our financial giving.

My prayer, however, remains that the missions conference will result in many among us giving our lives to take the gospel “to the regions beyond”. This is yet to happen. None of the twelve missionaries we presently have in the mission field have come from our own ranks (see photo of missionaries being prayed for). Be that as it may, I am optimistic that it is a matter of time. Call it faith, if you want. The growing love and zeal for the gospel in the last few years, especially among our young adults, cannot end merely with the work of neighbourhood evangelism. The dam must soon overflow its banks. It would be wrong for us to put undue pressure on them just because we want to see home-grown missionaries. This is such a sacred work that we must simply wait upon the Lord. Yet, I have no doubt that even now he is tugging at human hearts by his Spirit. All I ask of the Lord is that I may be there when the floodgates open!

“Pastor, the greatest mistake we made today was to listen to Pastor Hunt.”
The conference sermons by Phil Hunt, former pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Kitwe, were warm and fresh from a missionary’s heart (see photo). Based on the theme “Send the Light, the Blessed Gospel Light,” they were a passionate call bathed in tears. Phil appealed to us as a church to rise to the challenge of sending the light not only to the towns and cities of Zambia, but also to the rural areas and the Muslim lands in the north. Each day Phil poured out his heart as the arrows of God’s Word were sent flying into our hearts. One young man said to me on the very last day, “Pastor, the greatest mistake we made today was to listen to Pastor Hunt. We all almost left what we are doing now to go into the mission field!”

For me, there was no better epilogue to the conference than what I experienced a few days later while visiting a lady in our church who had just undergone an operation. I found another lady in the church visiting her. The two of them were over-the-moon about the just-ended conference. “Pastor, we thank God that he put it in the hearts of the elders to start this missions conference. It has really enriched our lives. We can now identify with the missionaries because of the reports that we hear from them and the Powerpoint presentations that they make. It is no longer a work ‘over there’. It is our work and we really want to be a part of it. Please let the elders know how grateful we are for this initiative.” You can be sure that as I left that home, my car could feel the excitement in my heart. May this be the general feeling in the church, and may the Lord cause the seed that was sown in the hearts of ordinary people during the just-ended conference to grow and flourish. Oh, that Kabwata Baptist Church may be ablaze with a burning desire to see God worshipped in spirit and truth as his glory is made known in all the four corners of the earth through ordinary people. Amen!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My first visit to the land of the Ethiopian Eunuch

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah” (Acts 8:26-28).

On Tuesday, January 20, 2008, I arrived in Addis Ababa (which means “new flower”), the capital city of Ethiopia. I went with Wilson Kamanga, our church’s missions coordinator. We went to see how we could, as Reformed Baptists in Zambia, help with the Addis Kidan (which means “New Testament”) Baptist family of churches, which presently has about 65 churches. Most of these churches are south-west of Addis Ababa (see map). These churches have about sixty men undergoing modular-type training in Addis Ababa with a view that they should go into church planting across the country, depending of course on the final recommendation from the trainers.

Tragedy struck in January 2008. Amber died in a car accident in the USA on her way to collect Anthony from the airport.
How did we find ourselves crossing Congo DR, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, to begin investigating this opportunity of ministry in Ethiopia? The story begins with an American couple—Anthony and Amber Mathenia—who went to Ethiopia in 2005 to help train church planters. Earlier they had worked on a short-term basis in Ethiopia for some seven years. After a while, feeling rather unhappy with the set up, they went back to the USA and returned in 2005 under the oversight of their own local church. They went back to the denomination they had been helping before and offered to help them train church-planters. That was how the training program mentioned above started. Tragedy struck in January 2008. Amber died in a car accident in the USA on her way to collect Anthony from the airport. (Anthony had remained behind briefly in Ethiopia to finish off some training sessions and was now coming to join his family). Anthony, who now had two children to raise as a single parent, needed help with the growing work in Ethiopia and was pointed to the Reformed Baptists in Zambia for that help. We gladly consented, hence this trip. As we arrived in Addis Ababa, we found Anthony with Kurt Strassner (pastor of Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Ohio, USA) training the church-planters.

For almost half of the twentieth century Ethiopia was ruled by the famous Emperor Haile Selassie
Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa (independent for about 2,000 years!) and is the second most populous nation in Africa—second only to Nigeria. It has about 80 million people, i.e. eight times more than Zambia. And, like Zambia, it is also landlocked. Its national language is Amharic, though English is fairly widely spoken in the cities and is used in tertiary education. For almost half of the twentieth century Ethiopia was ruled by the famous Emperor Haile Selassie (1930 to 1974). He was overthrown by a military coup, which led the country into a period of coups, uprisings and serious refugee problems until 1991 when Mengistu’s regime was defeated and the new leadership brought in multi-party democracy in 1995. Droughts also took their toll on the country, which survives largely on agriculture. Since then the nation has been fairly stable, except for an international war (1998-2000) and tension with their neighbour, Eritrea, over the exact position of the border between them. All this has left Ethiopia as one of the world’s highly indebted countries, with 50% of the population living below the poverty datum line.

On a less political note, in Ethiopia they count years and hours differently from the Western world. In terms of years, they are now in the year 2002. So, just by being there, I was seven years younger! They also count their time as they did in the Bible—i.e. “at the sixth hour”, etc. So, when my watch was 11.00 hours, the clock on the wall said it was 05.00 hours. That was quite confusing. Wilson was told at the guest house that breakfast would be at 02.00 hours the next day and it sent him into total panic. He had never eaten breakfast that early in the morning. The lady in the guest house meant 08.00 hours our time! Coffee lovers will be pleased to know that coffee originated from Ethiopia.
Ethiopians are mentioned in four books of the Bible
Religiously speaking, Ethiopia is largely the land of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam. These two comprise almost 80-90% of the population. Some of the men undergoing training in the program that Anthony started come from areas which are 90% Islam while others come from places which are 90% Orthodox Church.

Ethiopians are mentioned in four books of the Bible—in 2 Samuel 18, 2 Chronicles 14, Jeremiah 13, 38, 39, and Acts 8 (quoted above). So, they appear in the sacred pages many more times than we Zambians do! It is possible that the Christian faith first came to this place in the first century through the Ethiopian Eunuch, who was a treasurer to Queen Candace of Ethiopia (see text above).

Anthony (seen here with the men in session) was very glad to see us and our hearts immediately bonded. He shared with us his plans to move out of the capital and start having some of these teaching seminars in the more rural areas where most of the men come from. Taking the seminars where the churches are would mean that the church leaders would also be able to attend. Anthony felt that, with an increased number of workers due to our willingness to help, these plans could soon be realised.

On our first morning in Ethiopia, we attended a morning of training sessions on the ordinances of the church (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) conducted by Kurt. In the afternoon I was given an opportunity to ask the men to share with me the challenges they find in applying what they are learning in these training sessions in their churches. Listening to them sharing with me some of these challenges, helped me to know “where they are”. It was a very helpful exercise. I then shared with them on the essential ingredients of church reformation based on a bird’s-eye-view of Paul’s epistle to Titus. We then had two closed-door meetings with the leaders of the denomination, in which we talked about “the way forward”. The last of these two meetings was held the following day in the late afternoon (see picture above).

On the second morning of our stay in Ethiopia (prior to our second meeting with the denominational leaders), Wilson and I took time off to visit the Ethiopia YMCA. I am involved in the lives of many young people across Zambia through this movement, and so I love finding out how other national YMCA movements are meeting the social challenges of their young people. It was a very educative visit. I particularly enjoyed playing soccer with the children in the YMCA school for orphans and a bit of table tennis with their table tennis team (see photo).

As I close this blog entry my mind is drawn to three areas for prayer for the work that, God willing, we may find ourselves doing in the country of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The first is for the Lord to truly open a door for us to minister in that country through the Addis Kidan Baptist Church. The second is that those who learn the truths of Scripture with respect to biblical ecclesiology will be given wisdom and courage to apply the truths in developing truly biblical churches for the good of the people of Ethiopia and for the glory of God. Thirdly, that our hearts will be so united with the brethren of Ethiopia that the fruit of this fellowship will enrich our lives in both countries. I can imagine having brothers from Ethiopia coming to attend our Zambian Reformation Conference. What a prospect!

"I talked to my wife on the phone before boarding the flight but upon getting to the USA the next day I found that she had gone to be with the Lord.”
When we were having our last supper on Thursday evening, 22nd January, prior to our return to Zambia on Friday morning, I asked Anthony when his wife died. His answer moved me to the depth of my being. He said, “Today… last year. It was exactly the same experience I had this time last year. Just as I am having my supper with you before I get on my flight home tonight, I talked to my wife on the phone before boarding the flight but upon getting to the USA the next day I found that she had gone to be with the Lord.” Wow, what a parting of ways the Lord sometimes prepares for us—and how sobering! Anthony and Kurt flew to the USA that evening, and the next morning we also got on our flight for Zambia. Thus ended my first visit to the land of the Ethiopian Eunuch!

PS: The brother who drove us around the whole time we were in Ethiopia from the day we touched down at Addis Ababa airport on Tuesday night was Yoseph. We were told that he was getting married on Thursday and we were very happy for him. What surprised us was that the whole day Wednesday he was with us, driving us around and talking pleasantly about his wedding the next day. We even had supper with him late Wednesday evening in a local restaurant. On Thursday, when we went to the YMCA, we used a taxi because Yoseph was wedding—understandably. But listen to this! On Friday morning at about 07.00 hours, he came to the guest house, handled all our financial obligations, and drove us to the airport, telling us about the wonderful wedding he had the previous day. On the way, he pointed at a hotel and said, "That is where I spent the night with my bride. She is still there. I will come and join her after I drop you off." I had to be in Ethiopia because things like that do not happen in Zambia!