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!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wanted: Faithful Expository Preachers in Africa

“Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).

It has been correctly observed that preaching in Africa is almost always topical, and with time the topical preaching has gone from the weird to the most absurd. God’s people are surviving on what the preachers want them to hear even if it has little or no relation with the Bible passage that is read at the start of the sermon. Platitudes of common sense have replaced the exposition of God’s Word. In other cases, preaching amounts to nothing more than a tirade of scolding at the top of a preacher’s voice. In the light of all this, there is little surprise that the churches are largely terribly malnourished. As long as this continues to be the staple diet of the churches, there is no hope for the African church to be the salt and light that this continent needs.

Thankfully, there are good exceptions. I have just spent the last few days at a Langham Preaching Seminar here in Lusaka, with Emmanuel Oladipo. He is originally from Nigeria, and in view of a recent post, I readily admit that God has a sense of humour! The theme was “Preaching that is Faithful”.

Emmanuel Oladipo -- Our Seminar Facilitator
Emmanuel was a very qualified speaker. “Starting as a travelling secretary with the Fellowship of Christian Students in Northern Nigeria, he has been in full time Christian work since graduating from Ahamadu Bello University in 1967 until his recent retirement. He was African Regional Secretary of Scripture Union for ten years before moving to the UK on his appointment to head up the world-wide movement. It is a ministry which has taken him to over 100 countries. Emmanuel attributes his knowledge of the Scriptures not to what he learned at the Bible College but rather to his daily Quiet Time using Scripture Union notes over a period of 50 years” (From the back cover of his book, What the Bible Teaches on Tithes and Offerings).

We were about 25 preachers who attended the seminar, from different denominations in Lusaka. We were all with some previous training and experience in preaching, but the appreciation for the seminar was expressed by everyone in attendance. The model from Ramesh Richard’s book, Scripture Sculpture, was used. In the study of the text, Ramesh goes from “the meat of the text,” to “the skeleton of the text”, and finally to “the heartbeat of the text”. He does the same with the sermon construction, but goes backwards from “the heartbeat of the sermon,” to “the skeleton of the sermon,” and finally to “the meat of the sermon.” As a teaching tool, this model is very good.

One participant during individual study of the text of Scripture
The first full day was spent on how to study a text of Scripture prior to preparing a sermon from it. Since the Bible is God’s Word, the place of prayer was emphasized from the very beginning. Then the spade work of exegesis was brought in. We worked on Deuteronomy 12:1-12 and Acts 12:1-17. The discipline was to avoid thinking about the sermon during this stage. It was all about understanding the Word of God as it came to its first hearers—in their time, culture and language. The day ended with Emmanuel preaching from Acts 12 and subjecting his preaching to our evaluation.

The second full day was spent on how to work from the text to the actual sermon. This time it was Malachi 3:6-12 and 2 Samuel 13:1-19. We spent quite some time debating the issue of tithing in New Testament times. It was good to hear the age-old arguments flying across the room from the Bible and not from denominational preferences. The second day ended again with Emmanuel preaching from 2 Samuel 13, and again with humility subjecting his preaching to our evaluation.

One group synchronizing the fruit of their personal study
The whole seminar ended on the third day with a message by Emmanuel Oladipo on the pastor’s family life. Sadly, the children of pastors are not always godly and often the blame is rightly placed on the door of the pastors due to their failure to instruct the children and to be an example to them. As one pastor commented after this message, “This was the most difficult part of the seminar on preaching!”

Most of the work during this seminar was done as we spent time alone working on texts of Scripture and then we were divided into small groups for the purpose of synchronizing our work. It was during these personal and group periods that most of the wrestling with Scripture was done, until sermonic material began to flow. It is this hard work that many preachers do not want to go through. Yet, just as there is no good physical health without exercise and sweat, there is no good preaching without hard exegetical spadework. We African preachers have to learn that there is no graduating from this if we are to remain faithful to our work. We must remain preachers of God’s Word!

Two groups synchronizing the fruit of their personal textual studies
The easy way out is that of claiming to be preaching God’s Word when in actual fact we are sharing the figments of our own imagination. This ploy, which is so common today, is nothing new. God, through Jeremiah, thoroughly condemned it. He said, “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart… Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully… Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another… Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:25-32).

The message from Jeremiah is very clear. Every month, for the last one and a half years, I have been hosting a small group of about 10 to 15 pastors in our neighbourhood for this very purpose. Each month one of us brings a sermon that he recently preached or intends to preach. We then go through his sermon preparation process together and use that as a plumb line to see how faithful he was to the text of Scripture. Faithfulness—that is the key! These monthly meetings have been very enriching times for all the pastors in my neighbourhood who attend them regularly. These pastors come from various denominations: Pentecostal Assemblies of God, Reformed Church in Zambia, Pilgrim Wesleyan, United Church in Zambia, Presbyterian, Evangelical Church in Zambia, Baptist, Brethren in Christ, independent Charismatic/Pentecostal churches, etc. It has been wonderful to see the change that has taken place in some who were initially disillusioned about expository preaching or just never knew how to allow the Bible to speak for itself. Now they want their friends to also attend such meetings regularly. However, we limit the numbers to maintain some level of intimacy.

A group photo taken on the last day
“I have a dream” that one day pulpits in all these denominations in Zambia, and perhaps across Africa, will faithfully expound God’s Word in the power of the Spirit. However, we will not get there simply by dreaming. It is through ongoing seminars like the one we have just had with Emmanuel Oladipo—attended by those who are already in ministry and who may have abandoned expository preaching soon after stepping off the graduation podium—that we will give that extra impetus to weary preachers to keep going. Africa is in desperate need of faithful expository preachers!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Africa’s rural areas are in desperate need of the true gospel

“Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security…I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me” (Jeremiah 33:6,8).

These promises of God to Israel come to mind as I recall the two nights and a full day that I spent last week with two American missionaries in the Ileendo village. This village is situated along the Zambezi River in Western Province between Sesheke and Senanga. Although these two missionaries, Sean and Shannon Reece, and their families are presently stationed in Livingstone (Zambia’s tourist capital and home to the world-famous Victoria Falls), their main goal in coming to this country two years ago was to set up base in this village and reach out to the people in the entire surrounding area. This is still their vision as they move forward step by step. They are supported by churches in the USA through the HeartCry Missionary Society.

Mweemba with Sean and Shannon Reece during our stop-over in Sesheke
Enoch Munjoma, one of our former KBC members, who had moved a few years ago to Livingstone to assist the church there with their building project, is now the right hand man to Sean and Shannon. It was gratifying to see how he fitted in so well with them. He is a native Lozi speaker and so he interprets for them as they preach. But he does much more than that. He also helps them to bridge the cultural divide as he explains to them various situations that they struggle to process through their Western mental grid system. Having lived in the city for most of his life, he also understands something of the Western mindset and so he explains to the people in the villages the way in which the missionaries understand things. What an invaluable help he is to this missionary enterprise!

The ever-smiling Enoch Munjoma with Shannon Reece coming behind him
The trip to Ileendo Village was uneventful. We stopped over in Livingstone for one night and then briefly took a break in Sesheke town the following day before proceeding to the village. In Sesheke we met a teacher (Mweemba) whom Sean and Shannon had been witnessing to for years. He claims to be a Christian but when I asked him a few basic questions about the way of salvation it soon became evident that he did not base salvation on Christ alone though faith alone. We all realised afresh how we need the Holy Spirit to open spiritually blind eyes before anyone can yield his life to Christ as his only hope of salvation. It was good to see that the road from Sesheke to Senanga was getting a major facelift. What a difference this will make to the whole of Western Province. This is the major trunk road between Livingstone and Mongu. It is presently in very bad shape.

Adamson & Shannon on top of the truck along the Sesheke-Senanga Road
When we got to our final destination in the village, we were told of the latest news that had devastated the entire area. It was of a man who had been having an affair with his uncle’s wife. The uncle was also having affairs with this man’s girlfriends (plural). Upon being confronted by relatives to stop meddling with his uncle’s marriage, this man felt unfairly treated because his uncle was messing up his prospects for marriage. So, he went and borrowed a gun from a neighbour in another village, purporting to want to use it to kill a leopard that he claimed was terrorising his village. Instead, he went to his uncle’s homestead, shot as many people as he could (his uncle had been forewarned and so had gone into hiding), set ablaze the huts, took his uncle’s wife and raped her in the bush, and then disappeared! During our entire stay in the village the man was still on the run, but the village was traumatised. Only the true gospel can heal this kind of moral disease. The need for this was very obvious.

Sean Reece preaching in a village with Enoch Munjoma translating for him
What struck me the most, however, was that while in Lusaka we are falling over each other to plant more and more Reformed Baptist churches, our trip in rural Zambia showed an almost complete absence of any evangelical witness, let alone any Reformed Baptist witness. Apart from one Pentecostal Assemblies of God church, the only “churches” we found in the whole area were Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and New Apostolic churches. Inevitably, therefore, in all our conversations with the people in the villages the universal answer to the question of salvation was law and works. This was a very sad state of affairs. How could we be so negligent of the souls of our brothers and sisters in rural areas like this? Whole regions believe in a salvation by works.

The pastor (and his family) of the Pentecostal church in the wider village area
I went with one of our pastoral interns, Adamson Shamfuti—a recent graduate of the Theological College of Central Africa. He is with us for six months, while he discerns what the Lord would have him do, having completed his theological studies. We spent the two nights together in a tent next to the Zambezi River. It was a good time for us to also bond. Adamson had never been south of Lusaka and so he relished the opportunity to see the Victoria Falls. Well, his dream finally came true!

Adamson Shamfuti at the world-famous Victoria Falls
When I sensed God’s call to the ministry in 1980, there were two “visions” I had. In one of them, I saw myself preaching in the Lusaka Baptist Church’s pulpit. I often rebuked myself for ever even thinking so highly of myself! You have to understand, I was only one year old as a Christian. In the second "vision", I saw myself preaching to villagers in Luapula Province (where my mother came from, and up until then it was the only village I had ever visited). It was by the side of the Luapula River and I saw myself raising a church there for the glory of God. It was this second “vision” that really warmed my heart and I said, “Here I am Lord, send me!” Well, as they say, the rest is now history.

The Roman Catholic Church building in the village--amazing!
I share this because in a small way the Lord fulfilled this “vision” during this trip. It was totally unplanned. The day we were leaving the village to return to Livingstone, we passed by one homestead in response to an appeal by two women who wanted the missionaries to pray for them so that they could be delivered from demons. As we sat there conversing with them in order to discover what made them think they had demons, I found myself as the chief spokesman instead of the missionaries and I preached the gospel not only to these two women but to a few more who came and joined them. It was not in Luapula Province but it was in a village next to the Zambezi River! As I discoursed in a conversational way about justification by faith, it was very clear that the penny dropped in the minds of a number of them. I will never forget their comments as we drew towards the end: “We read about these things in the Bible, but unless someone explains them to us we just never understand them.” I left convinced as never before that the rural areas are in desperate need of the true gospel.

The women I preached to on the day we left the village for Livingstone
I have said before that the price tag we place on a cause can best be seen by the price we are willing to pay for it. Missionaries sailed bloody seas in order to bring the gospel to Africa at a time when there were no modern conveniences at all on the continent. Many of them died soon after arriving due to the malaria parasite. That is how convinced they were of the value of our souls and the value of the gospel. Even today, missionaries such as the Reeces, are still willing to leave the comforts of the West to spend and be spent for the cause of the gospel in the villages of Western Province. What about us? Is the gospel not precious enough for us to relinquish the comforts of our towns and cities to take the gospel into rural Zambia and rural Africa? Will our kith and kin go into a Christ-less eternity while we Zambian Reformed Baptist Christians all look the other way, study until we get our PhDs, go up our career ladders, build our mansions, and drive our four-by-fours in the comforts of our cities? These are the questions that bothered me as I drove back to Lusaka. Our rural areas need the true gospel. But who will go for us?
Children expressing their joy as we left their village