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!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Welcome 2011—A Word from our Pastors

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

As the year 2010 draws towards an end, I have asked my fellow editors of our local magazine, Reformation Zambia, to share with my regular blog readers something of their observations about 2010 and also something of their burden and challenge to us for 2011. They are all pastors of churches here in Zambia and, therefore, are sharing what is very much part of their oversight over God’s people. Not all of them have been able to beat their deadlines and so this blog entry will grow until, hopefully, it has seven contributions. So, until you see all seven of us, keep peeping on this page!
ISAAC MAKASHINYI—Pastor, Emmasdale Baptist Church, Lusaka

On the last Saturday of each month, members of our congregation go out for evangelistic outreach in the community around the neighbourhood of our church. Through these evangelistic efforts, it is becoming increasingly clear to us that the number of Moslems in our area has been growing as we have continued to encounter professing native Zambian Moslems. I think Islam is undoubtedly gaining remarkable momentum in Lusaka and parts of Zambia. Due to poverty levels in our country, Islam has made significant and conspicuous inroads into our religious landscape through the construction of mosques, schools, orphanages, and other development projects. By these means, there has been a subtle Islamization of native Zambians, posing one of the greatest challenges to Christians in Zambia.

As we move into the New Year, we cannot afford to ignore the growth of Islam in Zambia. We need to acquaint ourselves with the Islamic faith’s presence in Zambia and the various methods it uses to proselytise native Zambians. We must emphasise the exclusivity of the Christian faith in our witness of Jesus Christ. I pray that the Lord will open wide the doors of opportunities to witness to the Moslem community, to build a robust apologetic towards Islam, and for the salvation of some of our native brothers and sisters who have been caught up in the web of deceit that Islam weaves.

KENNEDY SUNKUTU—Pastor, Kafue Reformed Baptist Church, Kafue

As a pastor, what I find most challenging is getting church members to regularly participate in the work of evangelism. The year 2010 was no exception. Our evangelistic efforts in the past few years have been centered around “the Book Table”, on the first Saturday of every month. This is when we display Christian Books and Bibles for sale at a strategic point in the town centre and engage in street evangelism. We also distribute a monthly bulletin, which has a gospel message and some information about church activities that month. The year started off with most members turning up to participate in this activity, but as the year went on, sometimes only two people would turn up to engage in this important work. I am sure other pastors will testify to a similar experience!

Therefore, as 2011 commences, I appeal to those of us who are pastors to teach our members the importance of consistently participating in the work of evangelism. At KRBC, there is a seminar on evangelism planned for January. Other seminars and Bible studies on evangelism are also planned for later in the year. Let us not give up training members in this important work because, as the saying goes, when we stop evangelizing we start fossilizing!

KABWE KABWE—Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Ndola

One great challenge in the life and ministry of the church during 2010 is the clear absence of the transformative power of the gospel in our communities and a strange silence from the church on several issues affecting society.  This obviously suggests that there is something amiss. The church may still be embracing a compartmentalized Christianity, which separates personal salvation from the rest of life’s activities. I say so because many Christians have entered the corridors of powers at political, economic, social, and civil levels. Ordinarily, we expect to see great social transformation, but alas, we continue to hear reports of increased malpractice and corruption. One wonders, where is the salt and the light?

John Stott once said, “You cannot blame the meat for going rotten. That’s what meat does. You should blame the salt for not being there to preserve it!” I believe the church is largely responsible for the moral, political, economic, and social decay of our society. Why should the gospel, which is the power of God [Rom 1:16-17], have such a weak influence on our world? Maybe it’s time to take stock of our gospel. There could be a hole in our gospel, in our lives, and in our churches!

VICTOR KANYENSE—Mount Makulu Baptist Church, Chilanga, Lusaka

2010 is speedily coming to a close and 2011 is right at its heels. It is easy to become so used to beginnings and endings such that we lose sight of spiritual realities. It is easy to allow other concerns of life to cloud our vision and we become so insulated to those things that ought to weigh heavily on our hearts as of primary concern: evangelism and missions. Let us always hear the voice of our Saviour calling us to the unique mission He commissioned the church to carry out (read Matthew 5:13-16).

Let us also not become insensitive to the plight of people around us. By plight, I mean both the spiritual and physical conditions that people are in. Let us not close our hearts to them as though they didn’t exist. Let us beware, as Reformed Baptists in Zambia, of the danger of reinventing ourselves from a spiritual force for evangelism, missions, and biblical reformation into a middle-class social clubbing society of friends, insulating ourselves from the disconcerting realities that stare us daily in our eyes. Let us not withdraw into our middleclass comfort-zones. Beloved ones, let us get out of the saltshakers!

CONRAD MBEWE—Pastor, Kabwata Baptist Church, Lusaka

As 2010 draws to a close, I am reading Mark Dever’s book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. I am realising afresh what effect healthy churches have on the entire fabric of a nation. To begin with, they produce a generation of Christians who are God-centred in their personal, family, community, and professional lives. Isn’t this our nation’s greatest need? If each town had one or two robust churches that have a regular diet of solid and powerful expository preaching, and ensure their evangelistic and missions zeal is at white-hot heat, imagine what difference this would make to our nation.

Therefore, let us pray and pay the price to plant churches across Zambia that are robust and truly God-glorifying. Let us also ensure that churches thus planted maintain their evangelistic and missions fervour. Let us see to it that the pulpit ministry in such churches challenges Christians to “subdue the earth” as part of their daily worship. It is such churches that will be fertile nursery beds for godly families, professionals, politicians, and businessmen and women. Since only God can give birth to such a spiritually robust movement, let us be much in prayer for this across 2011. Amen!

Ronald KalifungwaPastor, Lusaka Baptist Church  

2010 engendered a fourfold concern for me: The first relates to the pressures our church members are living under in our increasingly sophisticated society. The more they are caught up in the web of career advancement and the trappings of modern society, the more their churchmanship is being eroded. Next comes the apparent lack of interest in reading, in theology, and in the vocational ministry in a growing number of our young people. Furthermore, some of our more prominent churches were unable to adequately support their ministers. And finally, the inadequacy of our witness and influence in our society and culture, as a church at large, is a matter of great concern. 

Going forward, I don’t think that the answer lies in imbibing the strange spirit of much of the modern church; rather, we need to re-emphasise and contextualize, not just the old time theology, but also the old time devotion that went with it. If we would avoid becoming a society of the theologically and spiritually stunted in days to come, we must urgently reverse the above mentioned trends and pray and work for a second reformation that is firmly rooted in Christ and in that form of sound words that reformed theology so eloquently expresses and which, under God, can transform not just our churches but also our society at large and the largely godless culture that shapes it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lord, I’m Grateful…

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

I have just returned from our church’s annual junior and intermediate youth camp, which was held from Thursday 9th to Monday 13th December. The publicised theme of the camp was “The Wrath of God” and the main preachers were Pastors Saidi Chishimba and Kennedy Sunkutu. Whereas I feared the theme would keep away many young people, I am reliably informed that registration exceeded 700, which was an increase on last year’s camp by more than 150 young people. As I have reflected on what I saw and heard, I have said to God over and over again, “Lord, I’m grateful.”

Pastor Kennedy Sunkutu preaching in the evening session
I am grateful for the opportunity that God has given us as a church to minister to pre-teens and teenagers in this way. The camp is evangelistic and we continue to see a number of young people coming to Christ as a result of these camps. Our daughter, Mwape, came from last year's camp a totally different girl and I baptised her five months later. When people come to Christ while they are still young, they are saved from the devastating effects of sin that destroy many people later in life.

Mrs Sarah Kalifungwa handling a seminar with females on godly dressing
I am grateful for the many churches that send their young people to our camp. Most of the 700+ young people who attended our camp were not Kabwata Baptist Church young people. They were from sister churches in and around Lusaka. In fact, some of them travelled from right across the country! The relationships being forged at this camp will last a lifetime. When these young people become church leaders in the next two or three decades, the unity of the churches across the country will be stronger because they would have known one another for a very long time.

Sports activities during the camp
I am grateful for a church that is like a beehive, with everyone busy serving the Lord through its ministries. These camps would have killed me if I were their chief organiser. Apart from asking members to contribute financially towards the camp budget (and designing the camp brochure), I did nothing else. Under Elder George Sitali, the young people themselves came up with the theme and the preachers. They found the venue and worked out the budget. They publicised the camp across the country and raised funds for it by holding a music concert. They literally did everything even during the camp itself, with one of them even giving the key-note address at the beginning of the camp! They themselves maintained the discipline across the days of the camp. Yes, behind the scenes were older church members who contributed financially to the hosting of the camp, prepared the meals, led small group seminars, counselled young people needing someone to talk to, etc.

Young people eagerly waiting to get their share of the meal at lunch time
I am grateful for church officers who see the Great Commission as the chief business of the church and are willing to pay the price for it. It was not always like this at Kabwata Baptist Church. George Sitali, who oversees the church’s ministry to youths, literally camped among the young people. It also should be no surprise to learn that hosting the 700+ young people emptied our church coffers completely—I mean completely! Yet, talking to two of our deacons during the camp, their words were, “This is ministry. This is where church money should be going. This is truly worth it!”

The only way to get everyone in on the group photo was from the sky!
I am grateful for the preachers who take time out of their busy schedules to come and minister to these young people. What an investment! Pastor Saidi Chishimba is now so much a part of the camp that we can hardly imagine a camp without him. He preaches to our youths literally every year—and they love him. “Pastor Saidi, see you next year!” they shouted to him as the camp came to an end.

Pastor Saidi Chishimba preaching to the young people
Finally, I am grateful for the grace of God. I have already heard testimonies of lives that have been transformed during the just-ended camp. When the camp came to an end, I asked one teenager who came from another church what he liked most about the camp. He said, “I loved the theme—the wrath of God. I now know how to escape it. It is by repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus.” Surely such clarity does not come from the flesh. The Spirit of the Lord was ministering to many young lives during the just-ended camp. For all this, all I can say is, “Lord, I’m grateful.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Baptist Mission of Zambia celebrates its 50th Anniversary

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you” (Hebrews 12:7)

On Monday, 29th November 2010, the Baptist Mission of Zambia (BMZ) celebrated their golden jubilee. It was a very brief event, which only took 2 hours and was held at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia here in Lusaka. I attended the event as part of the Zambian Baptist Historical Society and participated in the program by speaking on behalf of this Society. The theme of the celebrations was “50 year on Mission with God in Zambia.”

Misheck Zulu leading in worship
We had a number of presentations. Franklin Kilpatrick and his wife, Paula, who have served as BMZ missionaries for about 40 years took us down memory lane and, using a PowerPoint presentation, shared some highlights of the BMZ work in Zambia. Their son, Andy, also shared the experience of missionary kids growing up on the mission field and the impact this had on their lives, especially as they moved on to taking up their own callings in life. At one point, he was overcome with emotions as he recollected some of his childhood experiences. Sharon Harrell also shared with us from her experience as a Journeyman in the early 1980s, so that we could look into that part of BMZ work.

Franklin and Paula Kilpatrick recalling the past
Part of the program also included the presentation of service pins to three missionaries who had clocked 15 years and 30 years on the mission field. Messages of goodwill were given by the Zambian Baptist Historical Society (as earlier mentioned) and the Baptist Fellowship of Zambia through its Executive Secretary, Luke Buleya. An offering was also taken for the Baptist Theological Seminary. The whole event ended with a sermon on “Reaching Toward the Future” by David Hooten.

Conrad Mbewe bringing a message from the Zambian Baptist Historical Society
I expected more. I don’t know why, but I just expected more.

Maybe this was just one of the many celebrations of the 50 years of gospel triumph by the BMZ and so my expectations would have been fulfilled had I attended the other events. Surely, when I think of the major role played by the BMZ in establishing the Baptist witness in Zambia, and then look at the skeleton congregation that gathered for this jubilee celebration, it doesn’t square. I was expecting a crowd that no man could number—well almost—from every corner of Zambia to be there. I am still asking myself, “Where were the beneficiaries of the sweat and blood of the BMZ?”

The congregation that gathered for this special historic event
I would have loved to hear about the convictions that shaped the early missionaries as they brought the gospel to Northern Rhodesia. I would have loved to hear in more detail about the challenges of the pioneering days as well as the challenges being faced by the BMZ missionaries today. I would have loved to hear testimonies from some of the early converts who are still alive, telling us of the great works of Christ in those early years. I would have loved to hear a challenge to the Zambian church today to emulate these international pioneers by taking the work of missions seriously.

David Hooten preaching the Word of God
I would have loved to go away with a publication in my hands, perhaps with short biographical sketches and pictures of some of the main luminaries that make up the vast constellation of missionaries within the BMZ in the last fifty years. I would have loved a compilation, even if it was an appendix, of as many of these soldiers as possible—when they served in Zambia, for how long, in what specific role, where they are now, etc. To me, biographies, however brief, are vital to our faith. The one-paged historical survey that was part of the program bulletin was far too little.

American Baptists reach out to Zambia--what a picture!
Personally, I do not blame the BMZ missionaries themselves for the paucity of information. I think that one of the most difficult things to do is to organize an event when you are yourself the subject. We shun self-publicity and so we will not blow our own trumpets. Maybe that was why so little information was given out. Or, perhaps, the event was more “in house” and so all this is common news to those for whom the event I attended was tailored—so why repeat what everyone knows? Whatever the answer, I feel that justice is yet to be done to the rich history that makes up the work of the Baptist Mission of Zambia. Someone must compile this history before we lose it altogether!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Adoption, Orphanages, and the African Extended Family System

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you...’ So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son...” (Genesis 12:1-5).

I have just returned from the USA. One of the major changes that I have observed from my earliest days of visiting that nation (i.e. from the late 1990s) is just how many families there are excited about and actually adopting African children. Whereas this phenomenon is not new, it has certainly grown exponentially. What I found rather surprising, however, was the lack of knowledge and appreciation of the African extended family system. So, although I initially set up this blog in order to give my church a peep into the outside world, I thought of writing a blog to inform the West about what is common knowledge back home. Whereas to the Western mind, an orphan, having lost both father and mother, is destined to either be adopted or spend the rest of his or her childhood days in an orphanage, to an African mind, the child still has many fathers and mothers, and consequently many homes to live in. Let me explain. (I apologise in advance for the unusual length of this blog).

In Africa, south of the Sahara, we have a system that is foreign to the social life of people in the West. It is popularly known as the extended family system. It goes something like this. My biological father’s brothers are also my fathers and my biological mother’s sisters are also my mothers. If your mind has processed that, let me add a little more. The wives of my biological father’s brothers are my mothers and the husbands of my biological mother’s sisters are my fathers.

[Paragraph added later, due to a comment below, in order to illuminate by contrast what I've just said above] My father’s sisters are not my mothers, they are my aunts, and my mother’s brothers are not my fathers, but my uncles. Similarly, their children are not my brothers and sisters, they are my cousins. And when we come to the next generation, their children are not my children, but my nephews and nieces. They stand in a different relationship with me compared to the grandchildren of my father’s brothers and my mother’s sisters. Unless you understand it that way, you have not begun to understand the African extended family system.

Let us try a little mathematics. If my late dad had three brothers and my late mom had three sisters, and all of these are married and alive, then I have six fathers and six mothers still alive and well on the planet.

Often we speak in terms of ba tata mwaiche  (younger father) and ba tata mukalamba (older father) when referring to the younger and older brothers of our fathers and ba mayo mwaiche (younger mother) and ba mayo mukalamba (older mother) when referring to the younger and older sisters of our mothers. However, it is not uncommon, especially when one is talking to a foreigner from the West for us to simply say in English “my father” when in the strictest sense we are referring to an uncle. Hence, there is the often-told joke of an employee who gets leave from work to attend the funeral of his father and then asks for permission some six months later to attend yet another funeral of his father. The Western employer gets furious and says, “How dare you think you can cheat me. It was only six months ago when I gave you permission to go and bury your father. Do you think that I have already forgotten that? How many fathers have you got?” Well, of course, the employer is shocked out of his socks when the man actually begins to count them.

Let me go one step further. The extended family grows even bigger when one begins to count the number of siblings. Let us suppose that my dad and mom have three children, and each of my dad’s three brothers has three children and each of my mom’s sisters has three children (I am keeping to “three” to make the mathematics simpler). Then I have twenty brothers and sisters! If I were to take it even further and bring it to the level of the children of my siblings, then the mathematics spins out of control. It grows exponentially. If I had three children and each of my “brothers” and “sisters” had three children, then apart from my own biological children, I have another sixty children. Yes, sixty!

Okay that is enough about numbers and mathematics. Let us move on to the implications of all this. To us as Africans, this is more than just a change of words. It is not cut and paste. It is real. Although my biological children have a special place in my heart and home, these sixty children really have a sense of belonging to me. They feel they have a stake in my home. After all, I am their father and my wife is their mother. This is especially the case when their backs are against the wall—either due to poverty in the immediate family or due to the loss of a parent in death. I once introduced the daughter of my mother’s sister as a cousin to a friend of mine and almost paid for it dearly afterwards. She felt that I was disowning her or, at best, distancing myself from her—and she let me know it in the strongest terms. I tried to explain to her that the individual I was introducing her to was a close family friend and he knew very well that I only had two biological sisters. Her response was, “But he is an African. He should know you have more sisters than that.” And she was right.

The best way for a Western mind to understand this “sense of belonging” is by drawing a parallel between the state system and the extended family system. The state taxes the rich in order—among other things—to take care of the poor. The richer you are the more tax you pay. Thus an American who does not have a job EXPECTS the state to start putting money into his account to sustain him. They call it welfare. The aim is that, by the rich helping the poor, none of its citizens will be too poor to survive. Now, you have to remember that the state system is a very recent phenomenon in Africa. We are still struggling to come to terms with it. We lived in families—the nuclear, the extended, the clan, the tribe, etc. So, in the extended family, the wealthier nuclear families share their wealth with the poorer nuclear families, just the way in which in the state system the richer are taxed to support the poorer. Again, the aim is to ensure that those who are poor are not too poor to survive. They have richer “fathers” and “mothers” to turn to when their backs are against the wall.

This explains why our middle and higher income families are hardly ever nuclear families. In my church, there is hardly a home where you have parents with only their biological children. Partly due to the AIDS scourge many of us have lost siblings and so have taken in their children. After all, we are their fathers and their mothers. Apart from those who are in our homes, we are also supporting many others with school and college fees while they are living in lower income homes. In this way, the rich do not have too much and the poor do not have too little. A friend of mine once told me of a time when he worked as a CEO of a bank and a friend from the USA visited him. When the children started coming out of their bedrooms to greet the visitor, they just kept on coming. He had about twenty-four of them in his home on that occasion. (To manage all of them, he had put most of them in boarding school. However his visitor came when it was school holidays). When his visitor was told what I have just explained above, he called everyone back and took a picture of the “family” with twenty four children. He then went back to the USA and started supporting some of these “orphans” by paying for their school fees. By the time I was being told this story, most of them had finished school and college and were now supporting their younger siblings. He was grateful to his friend.

My mother died when I was nine years old. A year later, her immediate elder sister came and got my two sisters and me, and educated us until we went to university. We found eight siblings in that home and so, together, we were now eleven. At least we were in a home with “father” and “mother”. During school holidays, they would send us to visit our other “fathers” and “mothers”. We later learnt that some of them helped with our school fees. By the time we returned to dad’s home, during our university days, we were aware that we had many “fathers”, “mothers”, “brothers”, and “sisters”. We had been taken care of during the turbulent early teenage years in a way that a single parent would have never managed. So, I am a product of the African extended family system and I am now a benefactor of that system. There are accountants, engineers, hoteliers, lawyers, mechanics, etc, who have graduated from our home and from our domestic coffers. My greatest joy, however, has been to see some of these converted to Christ while in our home—and now living to God’s glory!

Our household has often been larger than this!
In my pastorate, I have baptised many individuals who have been brought up in this way in the homes of our church members. So, this story can be repeated over and over again in our church and across Africa. Like Abram, we have raised many Lots in our homes until they could live on their own. I recall a Western friend who came to challenge me about the problem of street kids in Lusaka. Looking at my largely middle class congregation, he urged me, saying, “If you could only urge each home to take in one street kid, you could sort out this problem once and for all!” My answer was swift and crisp, “We’ve already taken street kids off the streets. They make up half our households!”

The problem with coming to Africa and adopting one “orphan” from the extended family system is that your help is limited to one person only and not the rest of his family. The child changes his name and his family, and grows up in a context of the state system. His sense of connection with the wider family is lost and so even if he was to come and visit later in life, as was the case with Obama on his last famous visit to Kenya, his mind is already moulded by the state system and the extended family system is very foreign to him. When the many children of his poorer “siblings” (in the African extended family sense, which is exponentially higher than the Western concept) come to him to ask for help, he feels as if these Africans really love to beg. It reminds him of the many lazy drunkards back home in the USA who do nothing but wait for the cheque from the state each week or month. What he fails to realize is that in the extended family system we know one another. Hence, such exploitation hardly lasts. You give a guy a chance to better himself by helping him to get on his feet. Once it becomes clear he is just a lazy glutton wanting free food, you show him the door. Of course, human beings are fallen creatures everywhere and so they will exploit any of God’s gifts to mankind out of his most gracious common grace. The African extended family system is no exception.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not against adoption and orphanages, per se. My church ministers to two orphanages (they hate to be called orphanages) and is helping to start one, I sit on the board of one of them, and I regularly minister to a couple running yet another one. They have many advantages. For instance, a child that is adopted by a Christian family out of a non-Christian context is going to be loved and exposed to the gospel. Also, when a church-run orphanage takes a child from the streets and raises that child, there will be a similar exposure to the gospel. This exposure has led many who would otherwise have never been regularly and lovingly exposed to the gospel to see it in action. Due to this, many have been converted to Christ and, hence, live God-centred lives. Can anything be better that the salvation of a person’s soul? It is worth all the trouble in the world!

So, I think there is a place for both adoption and orphanages. However, knowing the extended family system suggests A DIFFERENT EMPHASIS in caring for African orphans. My Western friends should consider empowering homes where younger or older “fathers” and younger or older “mothers” are looking after children of their deceased siblings as a viable way to care for orphans. It may be totally foreign to the Western mind, but it is the most natural way for us as Africans to look after orphans. It is not either-or but both-and. (Hence, the title of this blog is not “Adoption, orphanages OR the African Extended Family system”). So, if you are able to adopt an African child, by all means do so. For that child, it is a dream come true—from the squalor to the States! But, while adoptions continue to grow exponentially in number and orphanages are opening up with support from the West, what are you doing to support what is more natural to us? One way of empowering such homes would be to help with scholarships that would enable these children to go to good (Christian) schools, colleges and universities (like the African Christian University), while being brought up in the context of the extended family system. That way, instead of only one child benefitting as he is adopted and taken away by a foreign family, his siblings—in the extended family sense—will also benefit from his education and new found Christian faith since he is still among them. So, without declaring a moratorium on adoptions and orphanages, supporting the extended family system in Africa should be emphasised more and will make the dollar go much, much further.

And, by the way, it is through the extended family system that we look after our aging parents too. We never send them to old people’s homes. In that sense, I am sure we are closer to Bible times. Paul urged Timothy, saying, “Honour widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God... But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever... If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows” (1 Timothy 5:3-4,8,16).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Join the African Christian University’s 425 Campaign

“Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house” (Nehemiah 3:28-29).

I have just returned from the USA on a mission to make known our major project of starting a Christian university here in Lusaka, Zambia, and to raise prayer and financial support for it through what we are calling, “The 425 Campaign”. It was eleven days spent mostly on the road with the Executive Director of ACU, Dr Ken Turnbull, and his wife Lisa, speaking in different locations every day. Our itinerary covered towns in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. And it ended with a podcast interview for Tim Challies’ famous blog, Informing The Reforming. The Lord sustained us as we travelled. This was in answer to the prayers of God’s people and, we are sure, in fulfilment of the plan that God has for this university.
Dr Ken and Lisa Turnbull speaking at one of the meetings
For me, the one place we visited that confirmed our vision was the College of the Ozarks. They have a work study program that enables students to participate in the maintenance and income generating part of the college. This gives students work experience while they are studying and, of course, helps them pay for their studies. It also cuts on the cost of running the college because a lot of the work is being done by the students. We saw students watering the gardens, producing fruit cakes and sending them to clients, preparing flower bouquets, making stained glass products, working on the extension of their gym, etc. They even run a hotel, built right outside their campus! If young people who are studying for white collar jobs can learn to do what is culturally perceived as the lowest form of work (e.g. cleaning toilets), you will be producing servant leaders for society.
Students at the College of the Ozarks working in the student labour program
The establishment of a Christian university by the Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia seems to be a logical step when one looks at what the Lord has done among us. David Livingstone brought the Christian gospel into our neck of the woods over 150 years ago. Since then, various mission agencies have come and established the Christian faith across the whole nation so that by the start of the 21st century about 80% of Zambians call themselves Christians. Sadly, judging by the high levels of corruption, HIV and AIDS, crime, etc, the number of real Christians must still be very low.
Speaking to mission-minded students at another university about ACU
Three needs have become apparent if the Christian faith is to be strong in Zambia. The first is that of establishing strong churches across the country where biblical preaching is a regular diet. There is no substitute for good solid spiritual meals. The second is that of ensuring that there are evangelistic endeavours that spread the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, challenging even those who profess Christianity to see if they are truly in the faith. People need to get genuinely saved, or else we are pushing them into hell on religious wheelchairs. The third is that of helping those who are truly converted to see how their Christian faith ought to be translated into practice in all spheres of life—in their personal, domestic, community and national life. Christians must always be salt and light.
Preaching and presenting the vision of ACU at State Street
It will be readily admitted that, purely as an indigenous family of churches, the Reformed Baptists in Zambia are slowly and strategically covering the country. So far, we have planted churches in all the provincial capitals of Zambia, and almost all the major cities from Livingstone to the Copperbelt and from Lusaka to Chipata. A few more are scattered elsewhere. Every effort is being made through these churches (established in the last twenty years) to give good spiritual meals to God’s people, evangelise their immediate communities, and teach believers how to live out their faith.
Dr Ken Turnbull speaking to a couple interested in ACU
Realising the paucity of good educational facilities around us and also knowing how many of our government and privately run schools teach from an non-biblical humanistic framework, our churches have begun to establish Christian schools. So far, a number of our churches have primary schools on their premises. We are already beginning to seriously plan towards running secondary schools as well, so that those children who have passed through our hands and have been helped to see the world through biblical lenses can continue being taught this way right through to the end of their secondary education. 
Eagles Nest School (run by Kabwata Baptist Church) 2010 Grade Seven Class
Once this is in place, the next stage must be apparent; namely, the need for a college or university that also builds its entire curriculum around the Bible. This is not just for the sake of providing tertiary education in a country where the shortage of such institutions is abysmal, but it is primarily about ensuring that the next generation of young adults goes into God’s world as worshippers, seven days a week. What a difference that will make to our nation!
The ACU PowerPoint presentation with Chipita Sibale smiling at us!
It is this need that the establishing of the African Christian University will aim to answer. It will be a top quality university run as a joint venture by Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia. So far, boards have been established both in the USA and in Zambia, and in both countries the African Christian University has been registered. Early next year, we expect Dr Ken and Lisa Turnbull to come to Zambia and spearhead the development work on the ground until the university opens its doors to students in 2012. There will be a lot of work, for which everyone who believes in what we are doing should be much in prayer. Apart from praying, do consider joining the 425 campaign by enlisting as a regular contributor and also by commending it to others. I want to particularly appeal to Zambians at home and abroad to own this project by your prayers and financial giving. Together we can do it!
The ACU display with Kakonde Simbeye & Temwani Phiri smiling at us!
We often marvel at how Nehemiah managed to repair the wall around the city of Jerusalem in only 52 days, when previously all attempts had completely failed. The answer lay in his ability to harness the full potential of the people of God to participate in this mammoth project. Hence, we read, “Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house.” By each one contributing in this small way, the entire wall was rebuilt in record time. In the same way, if 400 of us can contribute $25 dollars (K125,000) a month, this university will be up and running in no time. That is what the 425 campaign is all about. If we Zambians can reach even just 100 contributors, that will convince our Non-Zambian friends across the oceans that we are serious. So, let us join hands and do it!

Postscript: For details on how to join the 425 campaign, click here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Self-appointed wedding photographers—what a menace!

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?” (Isaiah 1:12)

Conrad & Felistas on 2nd January 1988
Felistas and I got married in an era when photography was expensive business. You had to pay a studio for your film to be processed and printed before you could see your photographs. Everyone thought twice about pulling out their cameras to take shots at any event. Hence, many people left their cameras at home when they went for weddings.

Those days are long gone and the age of digital photography is now upon us. It costs nothing to take photos today because you simply download them on your computer and do with them whatsoever you please. Also, the prices of cameras have drastically reduced. Everyone and anyone can now own a camera—especially the point-and-shoot versions. Add to this the fact that even cell phones now have camera functionality, then you can well understand why digital photography is everyone’s business today. It is photography galore!

Sadly, what ought to be a blessing has become a curse—especially at weddings. When photography was expensive business, there would be one or at the most two individuals hanging around the couple saying their wedding vows, capturing every precious moment. Today, the “altar” is swarmed with so many camera men and women that those in the pews can hardly see the couple getting married. I mean, it is ridiculous! Even little boys and girls get cell phones from their parents and clog the front as they try their hand at amateur photography. Surely, this is not right!
Typical scenes today with the pulpit area swarmed by unofficial photographers

To begin with, everyone who has come for the wedding is entitled to see what is happening in front as the couple exchange their wedding vows and their rings. So, why should some people become “more equal than others” and obstruct other invitees from viewing the proceedings because they have taken on themselves a role no one has given them? Let everyone stay in the pews and enjoy the same privilege. It is only fair.

Having too many photographers also makes life difficult for the official photographer. There are very few positions for that perfect shot. And often the moment for the perfect shot passes very quickly. When everyone is clamouring for such positions at just the right moment you find that no one really gets that perfect shot, which is very unfair for the couple getting married. They have paid the official photographer a lot of money but they are not getting the quality of photos they are paying for simply because of the obstruction of those who have no business being in front in the first place. As one newly married couple complained, “At least if they sent you the photos they take, you would not mind. But you never see their photos!”

The perfect moment that must not be missed
Also, in photography, background matters. Hence, you find that decorators are paid handsome amounts to make the front of the wedding hall look beautiful. Sadly, when you have droves of photographers around the “altar” they destroy this beautiful background. They are rarely in suits and beautiful dresses, like the bridal party, but they appear on the photos—thus spoiling the beauty. Again, that is not fair. You may say that even the official photographers are rarely in suits. That’s true but remember they do not appear on their own photos because they stand behind their cameras!

Whereas I think it is impossible to prohibit the smuggling of cameras into the venues where the wedding ceremony is taking place, I think that we the invitees should respect the weddings of others and not go to the front—to the “altar” or pulpit area—unless we are part of the wedding procession. As God challenged the Israelites in Isaiah 1:12 to think hard about what they were going to do in the Temple (lest their going there becomes a curse instead of a blessing) we too need to give careful thought to what is required of us when we go for other people's weddings. If we want to take photos, let us not trample everywhere and spoil the event for others. Let us take photos from the pews. Instead of pushing one another for the perfect shot and thus obstructing others who have come for the wedding and frustrate even the official photographer, let us go early for the wedding ceremony and position ourselves in those pews that will give us the best vantage point when it comes to taking photos.
A perfect opportunity to take a photo--outside after the wedding
If you are late and the front pews are already taken up by others, there are three other chances which you cannot miss, even if you are seated towards the back. The first is at the start of the wedding as the bride is being brought in by her father, the second is at the end of the wedding when she is being taken out by her new husband, and the third is when the entire bridal party is lined up outside greeting friends and relatives before disappearing in their “just married” vehicles. For any unofficial photographer, surely that should be enough. After all, what you need is just a photo or two to prove that you were an eye-witness of the wonderful event!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Death Penalty Debate rages on in Zambia

 “If you do wrong, be afraid, for [the one who is in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4).

Two weeks ago, I was invited by the European Union in Zambia to participate in their forum on the death penalty. In their invitation letter they made it clear that they were campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty from Zambia’s statute books. It was their second annual forum and it was under the theme “Death has no appeal!” The event was held at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre right here in Lusaka. I was invited because they were aware that I was a proponent of the death penalty. Towards the end of the forum, there was to be a short debate (30 minutes long, with each speaker speaking for 15 minutes) on the subject: “The death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment and has no place in a civilised society.”
Speaking in favour of this motion was my area Member of Parliament, Hon Given Lubinda. I was opposing it.
The first panel during the EU Forum
Before I give a summary of my argument in favour of the death penalty, let me state that when I saw the program, it was clear to me that the forum was biased in its composition. Clustered across the room were emotive posters supposedly of a dead person’s neck with signs of stitching after undergoing the death penalty. The event itself took about four and a half hours. The first speaker was His Excellency Derek Fee, an ambassador and delegation head of the European Union in Zambia. The second speaker was a Member of Parliament from Italy, Hon Marco Perduca, who was also a member of an organisation called Hands Off Cain. The third speaker was a lawyer, Mr Abraham Mwansa. The fourth speaker was also a Member of Parliament from Italy, Hon Elisabetta Zamparutti, who was also a member of Hands Off Cain. After the debate, the final speaker was the French Ambassador to Zambia, His Excellency Olivier Richard. These together took up about two and a half hours and they all spoke against the death penalty (although Mr Mwansa spoke against its mandatory nature rather than against the death penalty per se). Add to their voices that of Hon Given Lubinda, then you can see why my 15 minutes was just a drop in an ocean. The whole event was tailor-made to tilt in the direction of abolition.

With that out of the way, here is a summary of my presentation:

Ladies and gentlemen, God must have a sense of humour. Although my area Member of Parliament has visited my church at least once, we have never met until today. I would not have chosen our first meeting to be in an arena where we have locked horns over the subject of the death penalty. My one comfort, however, is that this is happening in a place where none of us has any home-ground advantage! I want to assure the MP that whatever the outcome of this debate, I remain his loyal subject.
The second panel during the EU Forum
When I accepted to come and speak at this event, it was before I saw the program. When I finally had occasion to see the program, I said to myself, “Conrad, what have you done?” The organisers have certainly marshalled together a formidable team to oppose the death penalty. If I had seen all these “excellencies” and “honourables” much earlier, I probably would have chickened out. But now I must proceed.

It must come as a surprise to many of you that I, a man of the cloth, should be the one opposing the motion that “The death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment and has no place in a civilised society.” Therefore, let me say this. I love all human beings—including alleged, convicted and real murderers. My own church participates actively in reaching out to prisons with the gospel of Christ’s love, including Mukobeko Maximum Prison. In fact, a number of prisoners who were on death-row and were pardoned by President Mwanawasa just before he died are my personal friends. I first met them while visiting Mukobeko. Let me also state that I am in favour of the President’s Prerogative of Mercy as it stands in our statute books, and so am grateful that some of these friends of mine who truly reformed while in prison were its beneficiaries. Having said all this, I insist that the death penalty should remain in our penal code for the reasons I will now go on to explain.
With Peter Kunda, once on death-row but pardoned by President Mwanawasa

Those who oppose the death penalty do so for the following seven reasons:
  1. The remedial view of punishment: This view asserts that punishment is supposed to be curative. If you kill the offender you are not helping him to become a better person.
  2. The deterrent view of punishment: This view asserts that punishment is supposed to deter other would-be offenders. Statistics prove, we are told, that the death penalty does not have this effect.
  3. The right to life: This view asserts that every human being—even a murderer—has an inalienable right to life. No one—not even the state—has the right to take his life away.
  4. Hon Given Lubinda debating
    Two wrongs don’t make a right: This view asserts that taking away anyone’s life is always wrong. The fact that a murderer took someone's life does not justify the state doing the same thing.
  5. The fallibility of human judgment: This view asserts that there have been instances when a judgment has been overturned by evidence found later. In the case where the punishment was death, it is too late to reverse it. An innocent life is lost because of an error in court.
  6. The sanctity of life: This view asserts that only God can give life and only God has the right to take it away. Anyone who kills is invading a sphere where only God has prerogative.
  7. The need to turn the other cheek: This view asserts that the Bible commands us to leave revenge to God and instead turn the other cheek when we are wronged. The death penalty goes against this command in the Bible.
I argue against all these seven assertions because (1) They give a false view of the basis of punishment, and (2) They give an equally false view of the basis for the death penalty.

The basis of punishment
The basis of punishment is not how successful it will be in rehabilitating the offender but rather whether it is fair with respect to the crime committed. In other words, the basis of punishment is justice. In the domestic sphere, our punishment is really a form of corrective discipline. The parents’ chief interest is not justice but the positive changing of the character of the child. But that is not the job of the judiciary. The work of the judge is to ensure a correct interpretation of the laws enacted by the legislative arm of government, to acquit the innocent (i.e. those who continue to obey the laws), and to prescribe fair punishment on those who break those laws.

So, whether the punishment meted out will reform the convicted criminal or deter other would-be offenders is not the business of the judiciary. The one question they should ask themselves is: “Does this punishment fit the crime that has been committed?”
Conrad Mbewe debating
The basis of the death penalty
Once we are clear about the basis of punishment, then we are ready to address the question of the death penalty. The one question we must answer is: “Is it fair to take away the life of person who maliciously takes away the life of another person?”

Thankfully, fairness is not a preserve of those with university degrees in law. Even a child has an inborn sense of justice. Many times when a parent or teacher has made a decision that has disadvantaged a child beyond what he or she deserves, you will hear the child cry, “It’s not fair!” Who taught that child the concept of fairness? We are all born with it.

So, when you hear a statement like, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a foot for a foot, a hand for a hand, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise, and a life for a life,” your heart responds, “Yes, that is only fair!” Anything less would favour the assailant, and anything more would favour the person assailed.

Perhaps this is the best place to address the question of cruelty. Every punishment is cruel. If you fine a person, you are taking away his property which he has earned after toiling for many years. Is that not cruel? When you imprison a person, you are taking him away for many years from his friends and family and locking him in an overcrowded little room where he is most likely going to get TB, HIV, etc. I ask; is that not being cruel? To remove cruelty from punishment is to remove punishment altogether. Rather, the cruelty a person experiences must be equal to the crime committed. That is only fair.
Hon Lubinda and Pastor Mbewe answering questions
What about the question of fallibility? Let us use this argument in the context of road and air transport. More people get killed in one country through human error on the roads than through the death penalty across the whole globe. (Also, one error in air transport results in the loss of hundreds of lives). Yet, I have never heard any human rights activists arguing for the abolition of road (and air) transport because of the possibility of human error. All I am asking is that we should be consistent. In the case of the transport sector we are doing everything possible to reduce the possibility of human error. Shouldn’t we be doing the same in the judicial sector also?

So, then, as I close, let me ask each one of you a question: “On the basis of justice and fairness, what punishment should be meted out on a person who selfishly, wilfully, and maliciously murders an innocent person?” I do not need to hear your answer. Your consciences and gut feelings have given you the answer, and I know what it is. I rest my case. Thank you!

* * * * * *
French Ambassador closing theForum

Let me state in closing this blog that, judging from the applause I got from the audience when I finished, I know what the answer to my final question was. The death penalty!

I tried to avoid using the Bible in case during the question and answer session that followed the debate, someone would use the argument that this was not a matter limited to Christians. However, I kept being asked, “God says, ‘Vengeance is mine,’ so why are you still insisting that the state should inflict the death penalty on convicted murderers?” So, I finally answered this question. The statement “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” is found at the end of Romans 12. At the beginning of Romans 13 (see text at the top of this blog), God tells us how he will carry out that vengeance. He says he will do it through the judicial arm of the state!

Monday, October 18, 2010

REZOLUTION CONFERENCE 2010—Johannesburg, South Africa

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Felistas and I returned last night from South Africa where I was preaching with John Piper at the 2010 Rezolution Conference. In my last blog, I reported on the Piper 2 Pastors Conference which was held in Pretoria on Thursday 14th. Friday to Sunday was taken up with the Rezolution Conference itself at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Here is a brief report.

Friday, 15th October 2010
On this first day, the conference was only in the evening. Whereas the organizers had earlier anticipated some 5,000 individuals in attendance, there was an estimated 2,500 in attendance. We were led in the singing by a special Rezolution Conference choir, dressed in African attire. They came together solely for the purpose of leading the singing during this conference and often combined the English lyrics with vernacular ones.
The Rezolution Choir and Band
John Piper preached on “God’s zeal for God, God’s love for God.” He showed from Scripture after Scripture that God’s chief end is his own glory. He went from creation, to the call of Abraham, the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, their pilgrimage through the wilderness, their invasion of the Promised Land, their being sent into captivity and their return to the Promised Land, and even the coming of the Son of God into the world. It was all for the glory of God and “for his name’s sake!” He ended his evening’s message, therefore, by imploring us to check our spirituality by whether we too are God-centred. God ought to be our precious treasure!
John Piper preaching his first sermon
Saturday, 16th October 2010
This was a full day. It started with Stuart Townend with his men leading us in singing. We sang a number of older songs (e.g. “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing) and some new ones—the latter were almost all written by him. No tears this time!
Stuart Townend and his team leading the singing
John Piper preached his second sermon. This one was on his favourite theme: “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” If you have never heard Piper preach on this theme, welcome to planet earth! I last heard John preaching on this theme in 1998 when we preached together at a Banner of Truth conference in the UK. He has sharpened his arguments even more since then. Piper argued his case primarily from Philippians 1:20. Then he buttressed his argument with various texts of Scripture that teach and command Christians to find their joy in God.
John Piper preaching his second sermon
After break, I came on and preached my first sermon. It was on Romans 12:1 and the subject was, “The benevolent basis of Christian Resolve.” The sermon was basically an overview of Romans 1-11. I began by painting the miserable state in which the gospel finds us—enslaved to sin and under the wrath of God. I then went on to show the justifying fruit of Christ’s death, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and the electing grace of God the Father. I ended by showing from these same chapters of Romans that all this is for God’s glory, and we are destined to share in that glory! This is the mercy that God has had on us, which should be the basis of our commitment to him.
Part of the congregation singing the praises of God
Part of the congregation listening to the preaching of the Word
After lunch, Stuart Townend and his band returned to lead us in more of his “all time greats”. After that I mounted the pulpit and preached my second sermon. It was still on Romans 12:1 but the subject this time was, “The Logical Nature of Christian Resolve.” You do not need to be a genius to guess that it was based on the second half of the text, which says, “…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” I argued that before you can obey God in the specific challenges that come your way day by day, as displayed in the rest of the book of Romans, you must resolve to surrender your whole life to God. It is only reasonable!
Conrad Mbewe preaching his first sermon
Conrad Mbewe preaching his second sermon (as seen on big screen)
The last session in the day, after supper, was a Question and Answer session. Our moderator, Tyrell Haag, had spent much of the afternoon compiling the questions that came in through tweeter, facebook, and a drop-in box at the back of the hall. The questions included ecclesiastical matters such as tithing, how we spend a typical day, the danger of those of us who are perceived to be very gifted discouraging those with “lesser” gifts, dating, etc. Knowing how tricky Q&A sessions can be, John and I had prayed for divine wisdom in answering these questions, and it seems that the Lord was pleased to answer our prayers. We were of one mind as we answered them as best as we could from Scripture.
Tyrell Haag fielding questions to Conrad Mbewe and John Piper
Sunday, 17th October 2010
This was the last day, and we only had a morning session. It began with the Rezolution Choir, who were once again dressed in beautiful African attire. They led us in singing a mixture of ancient and modern hymns and songs, with some Zulu fitted in at appropriate points.
The Rezolution Choir and Band on the final day
Finally, John Piper came forward to preach his final message. “You exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.” That was his final sermon, the essence of which was that when we love God and find our satisfaction in him, then we will truly love people because we will want to introduce them to this God who has so satisfied us that we want nothing outside of him. He used 2 Corinthians 8:1-7 to prove his point. He then took us through some pivotal passages in Hebrews to show how persecuted Christians, including our Saviour, were willing to sacrifice, suffer, and die because of a sense of hope that filled them with joy in the midst of affliction. As a result of their suffering, many were enriched unto eternal life. This was the final message of Rezolution 2010!

All these messages are available in full on the Rezolution 2010 Website. Just click here!
A book review--a regular feature at the start of each session
Before I end this brief report on the conference, one item that I must commend the conference organizers for was their book reviews at the start of each session. At least three books were commended to the attendees by those who were introducing the sessions before handing over to the person or group leading the worship. There is no doubt that this introduction helps those who are new to the world of Christian books to know which books to go for as soon as the session comes to an end. Augustine Bookroom provided a good array of books, most of which were by John Piper. My only title published outside Zambia, Maintaining Sexual Purity (In a Sexually Permissive Society), was also available. Not bad!