A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In the Footsteps of Adolf Hitler

“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Proverbs 28:2).

When I first thought of writing this blog post as a second instalment on my recent European trip, I intended it to be a follow up of “In the footsteps of John Calvin.” It was supposed to be entitled, “In the footsteps of Martin Luther.” What a wonderful sequel it was going to be, since these two men were the chief luminaries of the Protestant Reformation! I had intended to close the blog with one of the unbelievable sights I was treated to in Germany—seeing Mercedes Benz taxis. I mean, almost all the taxis I saw were recent models of Mercedes Benz cars. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I even sent an email back home while I was in Munich, telling my friends that I had finally discovered what I was going to do after retiring as a church pastor in Zambia. I was going to be a taxi driver in Germany!

I am still recovering from this sight--Mercedes Benz taxis!
I had my blog post figured out, but the last part of my visit to Germany spoilt everything. My host (Joachim Schmutz, a General Secretary of the Munich YMCA) took me to one of Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps. I am still reeling from the effect of what I saw there. How can a human being do this to fellow human beings?

Preaching at the Munich YMCA, with Joachim Schmutz interpreting into German
The concentration camp I visited was the Dachau Concentration Camp, situated 16 kilometres northwest of Munich. Dachau was the first concentration camp to be opened in Germany by Adolf Hitler and, therefore, served as a model for future camps. It was opened on 22 March 1933, “in the interest of state security,” six years before the Second World War. It was initially meant for the incarceration of political dissidents and ended up being the longest running concentration camp of Hitler’s Third Reich. In its early years, it was the most well known of all the concentration camps and spread fear and terror across Germany.

Dachau Concentration Camp--A major tourist attraction today
As you enter into the camp, you are greeted by the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Through Work One Will Be Free”). These words spelt out what the people who were kept in these concentration camps were going to be doing—work—but at the same time they spelt out, with tongue in cheek, what was not going to happen—no one was going to really be free. Around the camp you see an electrified barbed wire fence and seven guard towers. When the camp was in operation, prisoners wore different badges to identify who they were—red was for communists and other political prisoners, green for criminals, pink for homosexuals, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, black for social misfits, and yellow for Jews.

"Arbeit Marcht Frei" written on the entrance gate spelt your doom!
It is not known exactly how many people were imprisoned in Dachau. A Wikipedia website suggests that there were over 200,000 from more than 30 countries, of whom one-third were Jews. Over 30,000 of these prisoners died in the camp mostly through disease, malnutrition, and suicide. There was overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of proper medical care, the withholding of food, overwork, beatings, and shootings for the flimsiest of reasons. Many prisoners died in transit because they were moved from one place to another crammed for days or even weeks in railway boxcars meant to carry freight. With no proper sanitation in those boxcars, and with little or no food or water, many just failed to survive. Some arrived in the concentration camp too weak and died a few days later. A crematorium was built to dispose of the dead bodies. By the time the Allied Forces came to the rescue, the death rate had reached 200 inmates per day!

The SS beat many of the prisoners to death as this cartoon shows
Many of those who were incarcerated were Roman Catholic priests (with a few Protestants). They were imprisoned for all kinds of “offences” related to opposing the Nazi Regime. Sometimes the offence consisted of the priest apparently praying a prayer that was against Hitler. Hence there was a “priests block” where they were kept away from other prisoners. Of the 2,700 priests who were imprisoned there, slightly over 1,000 died in the camp, most of them through starvation or malnutrition.

These are the toilets that prisoners used--with no privacy!
On 29 April 1945, Dachau Concentration Camp was surrendered to the US Army. The camp commander and his deputy had already fled and so the remaining guards did not put up any resistance. The US Army found 32,000 prisoners crammed into space meant for a maximum of 5,000 prisoners. In other words, barracks (dormitories) that were supposed to house 250 prisoners each were instead crammed with 1,600. The American soldiers were so horrified by the conditions and the piles of dead bodies they found there that some of them, out of outrage, killed some of the guards who had already surrendered to them. The inmates, upon being freed, also killed some of the guards.

(What is left of) a prisoner commits suicide
It is said that Adolf Hitler was a master of the art of propaganda. The truth of what was really going on in these concentration camps only came to be known after the Allied forces liberated the prisoners. Pictures of piles of dead corpses were circulated in the Press and the world was stunned by what they saw. Even the people of Dachau were shocked to discover what was going on in their very neighbourhood when they came into the camp after the Allied forces called them in to help clean it up. They were totally ignorant of the activities that were taking place in the camp. Hitler used the Press to convey information that either vilified the prisoners or gave the impression that they were being looked after very well. In the meantime, in various concentration camps, millions of prisoners were being slaughtered or were dying of malnutrition and disease.

One of two plaques at the entrance
“How can a human being do this to fellow human beings?” If we understand the Fall of man that took place in Genesis 3 and its consequences, then this should not surprise us at all. This often happens when absolute power is given to a fallen human being who does not know God (as God has revealed himself in Christ). The basic truth that we are all made in the image of our Creator is lost. Hence, “some animals [become] more equal than others.” Those of us who know Christ in a saving way have swapped our own agendas for God’s agenda. Our desire is to see God’s kingdom spread, where truth and love are upheld. This is why true Christianity has always been the vanguard of civilisation and respect for human rights. Hitler lacked that altogether and so ended up with his own self-aggrandising agenda—with totally disastrous consequences.

One memorial in the Dachau Concentration Camp that etched itself into my memory is the one that read “Never Again” and was written in Hebrew, German, Russian, and two other languages. Never Again! Sadly, although this is what those who survived the madness of Adolf Hitler felt, genocides have continued to this present day. Here in Africa we stand in horror each time we review the more recent slaughtering of almost a million Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda. We also have the killing fields of Cambodia where millions were killed in the 1970s. We should never allow this to happen again. As I left the Dachau concentration camp, those words kept ringing in my mind: “Never again!”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Two More Missionaries Sent Forth From Kabwata Baptist Church

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

Sunday, 19th June 2011, saw two more missionaries set apart by the Kabwata Baptist Church for the work of church planting—Manasseh Kaonga and Brian Mutale. These men moved on site a few months ago and are labouring away. So this was just their formal send-off.  Manasseh is planting Grace Baptist Church in Kapiri Mposhi (about 200 kms north of Lusaka), while Brian is planting Central Baptist Church in Monze (about 300 kms south of Lusaka).

Elders praying for Brian (left) and Manasseh (right)
I have attached below Manasseh and Brian’s testimonies. Whereas there is a church that is actively considering meeting Manasseh’s monthly stipends while he is engaged in this church-planting work, we are yet to find a partner to help us with Brian’s stipends. If you or your church is thinking about a practical way of getting involved in missions work here in central Africa, please get in touch with my fellow pastor, Chipita Sibale (at chipita.sibale@kabwatabaptistchurch.org).

* * * * * *

Manasseh Kaonga
My name is Manasseh Kaonga. I was born and bred in Luanshya. In my childhood, I used to attend my dad’s church “African National Church”. When I went to secondary school, I quit attending that church without any guilty feeling.

I got sold out to the world for most of my teenage years, constantly moving with bad company. However, life in bad company (smoking and drinking alcohol) could not give me any lasting peace. I felt stuck in life and started to worry very much about my life in the future. From the time that I quit attending my dad’s church in 1987, through secondary school, up until the end of 1994, I never went to any other church.

It was in 1995, in the second week of February, in the evening, that, from nowhere I saw this American white man accompanied by three Zambians, one of whom I recognised to be my neighbour. They came to our home and I invited them in. The missionary shared God’s word with me. He talked about all men being born sinners, estranged from God, and destined for hell. But he emphasized that God has demonstrated his love to us in Christ, and that I needed to renounce sin and follow Christ for my salvation. That day I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. I joined Fellowship Baptist Church (which is now called “Faith Baptist Church”). I got baptised by immersion on the 19th February 1995.

My calling into the preaching ministry was not a straightforward one, but a gradual persuasion, realised from my devotion to God’s work. I felt secure with much joy and peace in the work of evangelism, and in teaching and preaching God’s word.  I simply abandoned everything that I was hoping to pursue in terms of career at that time, just for this cause. At that time I was just an ordinary church member with no plans to go to Bible school. This did not go down too well with my mother (who was a single parent), including my extended family members, neighbours, and friends, who felt like I was just wasting my life. But such criticisms somehow made me bolder and stronger to continue on my new path. There was no turning back, something heavy had gripped my heart, which, when I look back now, was God calling me into full time ministry. In 1997, I went to the Baptist Bible college (whish is accredited to Louisiana Baptist University in America) and studied there for four years.

I feel that God is calling me to plant a new church in Kapiri Mposhi. I first knew Kapiri Mposhi only for its bad reputation from my cousin who lived there for some time. And when time came for me to visit Kapiri Mposhi, I saw a great need for a good Bible-believing church. This time, it is growing very fast with many new residential places opening up where there are no churches. It is quickly becoming a preferred place of residence. That to me means an opportunity for full time ministry. I believe where there are lost souls, there is call for ministry. I want to answer God’s outstanding call to go into that place. Please pray for me.

* * * * * * *

Brian Mutale
My full names are Brian Elias Mutale. I grew up on the Copperbelt Province and I’m currently a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Kitwe. I came to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ in November of 2000.

From the time I became a Christian I always desired to serve the Lord full time. This finally materialised when I went to do my studies at Centre for Christian Missions in Kitwe. Before going for my theological studies I worked with a ministry called Gates of Glory Ministries. It was under this ministry that I had an opportunity to go to Monze in 2004.

I came to the Reformed Faith in August 2007, through Pastor Emmanuel Sakala who was Pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Chililabombwe. I was sent there by Centre for Christian Missions to do my missions work. He explained to me what the Reformed Faith was and I came to embrace it from that time.

In 2009, I did my internship for three months at Kabwata Baptist Church. My internship started went from 7th September to 22nd November 2009. It was during this period that I was attached to the work in Monze.

I want to go to Monze because of the need that I saw there the first time I went. From 2004 it has been my heart’s desire to labour among the people there. It is by God’s providence that Kabwata Baptist Church started a work there. For me, this is an answered prayer. I look forward to going there to serve the Lord Jesus.

Monday, June 20, 2011

KBC celebrates its Silver Jubilee

“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21).

On 25th January 2011, Kabwata Baptist Church clocked 25 years as an independent local church. I wrote a blog on that occasion stating that we had almost missed the occasion due to the “over forty” syndrome. The church leadership, however, determined that some time in the course of the year, time should be taken to commemorate this important milestone in the church’s life. That occasion finally came this month. We dedicated two Sunday evening services (5th and 12th June) to our Silver Jubilee and ended the commemoration with an afternoon’s event last Saturday, 18th June 2011. It was truly a fitting crescendo.

One of our elders, John Kumwenda, opened the celebration by sharing with us from Exodus 15 about the joy that Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites experienced at God’s great deliverance from Pharaoh’s Egypt. He then exhorted us to also spend the time in God-honouring thanksgiving for his goodness to us especially in the last five years.

Patience Namangala: "These have been the best years of my life!"
Testimonies and Songs
On the previous two evening services when we commemorated this event, we had one member (Mmamulatelo Siame) and one deacon (Kasango Kayombo) sharing with us about their experiences in being members of KBC in the last five years. On this final day, we had Alexander Mwilambwe (a teacher with the church school) and Patience Namangala (the pastor’s office assistant) sharing with us their experiences in working at KBC. Alexander talked about how he had learnt to work hard and to see teaching as a ministry to children and not just a means of getting an income. Patience talked about her initial plans to just work at KBC for a few months and move on to greener pastures, but has been so blessed in the period she has worked at KBC that she now wants to remain as long as possible. “These have been the best years of my life,” she said.

Christ Life--a singing group comprising young men in the church
Apart from congregational singing, which centred on God’s faithfulness, various groups sang special songs to the congregation. These included “Christ Life”, the KBC Music Ministry, the Chisomo Baptist Church musical ensemble (which was just assembled together in the last one week, specifically to sing on this occasion), etc. Other groups were nameless, but their singing really ministered to our hearts.

Interviews of Leaders
One of our members, Noel Konga, interviewed the elders of the church. Only Pastor Chipita Sibale was missing from the panel, as he had to attend to some family duties. We all introduced our families and ourselves for the sake of our new members. Then there were questions related to how we managed in our busy work schedules, how we ensure spiritual oversight over our families, whether those of us who have married off our daughters observed African cultural norms, etc.

The elders being interviewed by Noel Konga
The next interview was done by one of our elders, George Sitali. He interviewed our church’s ministry leaders. After the ministry leaders introduced themselves, they explained a little about how their ministries differ from other ministries in the church. The ladies ministry was asked about their greatest challenge and their greatest joy. Monde Mulunga, the ministry leader, talked about the challenge related to their outreach at night to prostitutes (which is dangerous) and the joy of seeing some of these women baptised and coming into membership in the church. Another challenge was finding another form of livelihood for these women who were now converted to Christ and so could not continue their nocturnal fundraising activities. Some of the other questions asked were: How do new members of the church find themselves in your ministries? When will the Music Ministry produce the next CD? Do ministries go to minister among the churches being planted in the mission field? What is your greatest challenge in leading your specific ministries? 

John Chundu, the chairman of the deacons, giving the award to Ivor Chilufya
Commemorative Awards
The chairman of the deacons, John Chundu, gave a token of thanks for exceptional hard work to Ivor Chilufya, the deacon in charge of finances. With KBC having over 400 members, about 40 employees, about 15 active outreach ministries, about 20 mission stations, etc., keeping the finances of the church flowing smoothly has been no small task. Hence, at our last members meeting in May, the members expressed appreciation for Ivor’s hard work. The church officers decided to seal this with a commemorative award, which was a Swiss cuckoo clock. Since this was not a common practice, one of the elders, Mwamba Chibuta, gave the biblical rationale for tokens of thanks being given when people are still alive—instead of only praising them when they are dead.

Mwamba Chibuta cutting the ribbon in front of the Kennedy Ndui Guest House
Another commemorative award was the naming of the church guesthouse. It was named “The Kennedy Ndui Guest House”. Kennedy Ndui was a single young man who joined KBC soon after he graduated in Civil Engineering at the University of Zambia. He was with us for just a few years, and during that time he spent almost all his free time from work on our church construction site when we were putting up the pastor’s house and the church auditorium. As it turned out, his was the first wedding to take place in this building, and his was also the first funeral to take place in the same building. Hence, Kennedy holds a very special place in the hearts of KBC’s members. Mwamba Chibuta, led in the unveiling of the plaque.

A Sermon and Two Final Testimonies
One of our elders, Eric Sinyangwe, read Numbers 19:15ff. I then gave a brief exhortation from Exodus 13:21-22, entitled, “The Privilege of being led by Fire and by Cloud”. My main points were that “the cloud and fire” stood for God’s direction, God’s provisions, and God’s presence with the people of Israel. This was also a great treasure for us as individual Christians and as a church as we “travel” towards heaven.

After the sermon, the meeting watched a PowerPoint presentation on various aspects of the church. Whereas on the previous two occasions, we had presentations on the church’s membership, meetings, and ministries, this time it was on the church’s work of missions, our church officers, staff, and interns, and our inter-church activities. The photos were those taken in the last five years, in line with our emphasis for this event.

Lichawa Thole: "Leave vernacular church planting to us."
One of our former missionaries, Lichawa Thole, gave his testimony about how the Lord has dealt with Chisomo Baptist Church (the church that God used him to plant) in the recent past. He stated that one of his greatest joys is that the current elders were all converted at Chisomo Baptist Church. He also stated that now that a number of vernacular churches have been planted, KBC should leave the planting of vernacular churches to the vernacular churches that have already been planted. He also expressed gratitude to God for the provision of land between Matero and Chunga for them to put up their church structures—which they had begun to do in earnest.

Adamson Shamfuti, one of the current three pastoral interns at KBC, gave the final testimony. Having spoken about his conversion and call to the ministry, he talked about how he trained for the ministry and came to the Reformed Faith while in training. Finally, he shared about how he came to KBC as an intern and how rewarding he has found working at KBC as an intern. He was most grateful to the church for paying him while he worked as an intern, which enabled him to look after his family.

The 25th Anniversary Commemoration cake
George Sitali closed the meeting in prayer soon after 18.00 hours. The Music Ministry sang, “Through the Fire”, as we left the auditorium. We thank God for his goodness to us as a church for the last 25 years. We also thank all of you who have stood by our side as we have laboured for the gospel in our neck of the woods. To God alone be the glory—great things he has done. Amen!

Friday, June 10, 2011

In the Footsteps of John Calvin

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6)

Two years ago, when I got an invitation to preach in Geneva, my chief regret was that I was fully booked for another two years. Thankfully, Pastor Larry Lloyd was willing to wait for the two years for me to preach at Crossroads Church. The intervening years took forever until finally last month my faith was turned to sight and I found myself in Geneva, Switzerland!

What is so special about Geneva? It is the simple fact that this is where the famous John Calvin (1509-1564) laboured as a preacher and reformer in the 16th century. This was the city in which the worldwide Protestant Reformation received its greatest impetus.

The beautiful view of the lake and mountain range from the conference site
Although I was staying in Geneva, all my preaching took place in France. So, I can safely say that I followed in the footsteps of John Calvin, whose life was mainly lived in these two places. The theme I was given to preach on was “Spiritual Warfare” from the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. The first five messages were at a church camp/conference just outside the town of Annecy. It was a beautiful quaint little town with the city centre itself being a major tourist attraction. We were at a hotel from which you could see the cleanest lake in Europe (Lake Annecy) and its surrounding mountain range. For these messages I took verses where the Greek word “dunamis” is used in Ephesians and expounded them. Then after the weekend, I had two days to rest before I preached at the Crossroads Church itself on two successive evenings. For these messages, I expounded the famous Ephesians passage on the armour of God.

Standing next to a life-size portrait of John Calvin
It was during the two days of rest that Pastor Larry Lloyd took me to the Old City where the buildings that once made up Geneva in the days of John Calvin are located. It was an overwhelming experience to enter the buildings where this man preached and lectured, until he turned the whole city into a model of Protestantism, both in church and state. As we walked around I imagined which building it must have been where William Farel met Calvin and sought to persuade him to remain in Geneva and labour with him for the reformation of the city. It is said that Calvin used every excuse in the book to continue his journey—need for rest, love of study, desire to continue writing, etc. Then Farel rose from his seat, and, placing his hand on Calvin’s head, and fixing his eyes on him, he said, “Then God will curse your repose, and your studies, if in so dire a necessity as ours, you withdraw, and refuse to give your help and support.” That was how Calvin trembled and committed himself to staying in Geneva. That event alone changed the course of human history.

Standing outside St Peter's Cathedral where Calvin preached his famous sermons
I wrote in the introduction to my biography of John Calvin (written in 2000), “He was a mere man, but his achievements in his twenty-eight years of ministry make us feel as if he lived while we merely exist. How one person could have accomplished so much for God is beyond comprehension. We tremble to think what that one life would have done for the cause of Christ if the Lord had made him live in today’s computer age! Yet, four hundred years later, the significance of John Calvin cannot be exaggerated.”

Standing next to Calvin's pulpit in St Peter's Cathedral
I recall that when I left university in 1984 to start work in a mining town called Mufulira, I decided to give my personal library the name “Geneva 1541”. Many young people, who made use of my library, often asked me what that meant. The answer was that it was in 1541 that John Calvin re-entered Geneva and laboured there up to the time of his death. The city council had expelled him from the city a few years earlier, together with William Farel, but had now invited him back. It was from that date onwards that Geneva underwent the sweeping reforms that turned it into the model city that it became. It was from this piece of history that I drew inspiration to enter Mufulira with a view to being a reformer. My dream was never to be realised. I only laboured there for three years and left to pastor the Kabwata Baptist Church.

John Calvin is famous for his teaching on predestination and election. For some people that is all he ever taught. But that is like holding a door handle in your hands and mistaking it for the entire house! John Calvin’s genius lay in the way he was able to systematise the whole of Christian truth (especially in his Institutes of the Christian Religion) and also in the way he expounded the Word of God. Whenever I have gone to his commentaries on any passage of Scripture, I have come away wondering whether this man is living today. The commentaries are not only faithful to the text of Scripture but also rich in doctrine and plain common sense.

Standing next to the statues of the four great reformers
Although the statues of John Calvin, John Knox, William Farel, and Theodore Beza are still there in Geneva, sadly, the truths that these men love, preached, defended, and sought to apply in the life of this city-state are no longer known and loved by its populace today. The motto on their statues in Reformation Park reads, “Post Tenebras Lux” (“After darkness, light”). However, it seems that now it is, “After light, darkness.” For instance, my hosts warned me about an area right in the middle of the city where prostitution is legal. The state recognises this as a legitimate form of work, and the prostitutes are registered and pay taxes. I am sure this would make the great Reformer, John Calvin, turn in his grave!