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

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Preaching In Zambia’s First Baptist Pulpit

This morning, I had the unexpected privilege and joy of preaching in Zambia’s first Baptist pulpit. I say that it was unexpected because as at this time yesterday I did not even know I was going to preach anywhere. How did this happen?

I am part of the steering committee of the Zambian Baptist Historical Society, which aims to help preserve the history of Baptists in Zambia. Yesterday, we were conducting our first day of historical lectures. This was an initiative to get the ordinary Baptist folks to hear biographical sketches of their forebears. This first day of lectures was held in Kitwe at the Central Baptist Church.

Preaching with an interpreter in Paul Kasonga's pulpit
Since most members of the steering committee had never seen the site where the first Baptist missionaries settled, we decided to go there before heading back to Lusaka today. The Kafulafuta Mission is a few kilometres south of Luanshya, which is on the way to Lusaka. So, as we were leaving the Central Baptist Church in Kitwe, we informed the leaders of the Northern Baptist Association (the present custodians of the site) that we would be in Kafulafuta the next morning and wanted to worship with the congregation there.

Well, in the evening we got a call from one of the leaders of the Association saying that I was the one to preach the following morning. At first I was reluctant and complained to the person who got the call for accepting this request on my behalf. I was on leave and really wanted to rest. A few moments later, it hit me that I was being asked to preach in the first Baptist church building in Zambia’s history and I was to do so in the month when the building would clock exactly ninety-five years. I was to preach in the pulpit from which Paul Kasonga preached the everlasting gospel that laid the foundation for Baptist work in Zambia. What a privilege! From that moment I was like a little child looking forward to his first day in school. By 03.00 hours in the morning, I was wide-awake!

"Yours truly" with Paul Mumba and Northern Baptist Association leaders
We arrived at Kafulafuta Mission at 08.00 hours today and after the preliminary greetings, we went to the gravesite of Olive Doke, Paul Kasonga, and Anasi Lupunga. This is my third visit to the place where the first leaders of the Baptist work in Zambia are buried and it is always an emotional experience for me. We found the church pastor and another church leader at the gravesite slashing the grass to enable us see the graves. Such humility is rare among us city dwellers.

Almost all the readers of this blog will not know Olive Doke, Paul Kasonga or Anasi Lupunga, and so let me tell you a little about them so that you can appreciate why today was so special for me.

Beside the grave of Olive Doke 
Olive Doke was not the first Baptist missionary in Zambia. Henry Masters and William Arthur Philips, who came to Zambia in 1905, preceded her. Her dad (J J Doke) and brother (C M Doke) came to “spy out the land” in 1913. On their way back to South Africa, her father died in what is present-day Zimbabwe. Clement returned to Kafulafuta in 1914 and Olive joined him in 1916 when she was only 25 years old. Other missionaries joined them in due season from South Africa, the Scandinavian countries, America, and Australia. Olive has ended up being the longest serving Baptist missionary to this very day. She retired from the mission in 1959 but remained on the mission field until she died in 1972, fifty-six years since her coming. I have written a brief biography of Olive Doke. Her story is one of astonishing commitment to and great accomplishment through the gospel.

Beside the grave of Anasi Lupunga
Paul Kasonga was the first indigenous leader of the Baptist church in Zambia. He is known as “Paul the Leper” because most of his adult life he suffered from and later died of leprosy. Yet, despite being weak in body, by 1931 his name was added to that of the missionaries as a leader of the work in Kafulafuta. He and Olive were like two peas in a pod. In due season, Olive often deferred to Paul on matters that had to do with leadership at the station, especially after Fiwale Hill mission station was opened and most of the missionaries moved there. Paul became the pastor of the church at Kafulafuta and laboured there until his death in August 1954. In his latter years, he preached from a wheel chair as he lost both feet to leprosy.

Standing on the grave of Paul Kasonga
When Paul Kasonga died, Anasi Lupunga took over as pastor of the church at Kafulafuta. They had laboured together for a number of years and had been ordained into the pastoral ministry together in June 1953. So, Anasi was the natural choice to pick up the mantle left behind by the passing on of Paul. He died in 1970—two years before Olive Doke. Of the three individuals, only Anasi was ever married. Consequently, his gravestone was erected by his children and grandchildren. Olive’s was erected by the South African Baptist Missionary Society, and so it is also in good shape. Paul Kasonga’s grave is a disaster!

So, this morning, I found myself in the pulpit that was once occupied by Paul Kasonga and Anasi Lupunga. As you can see from the photo, the building itself is well past its “sell by” date. Its walls are cracked, its windows are all broken, and its roof leaks while it is supported by blocks that have been put on top of it. However, as one who has read about the great feats that were accomplished in this place in the days of Olive, Paul and Anasi, I went up that pulpit today with a great sense of awe.

The first Baptist church building in Zambia in need of refurbishment
I left Kafulafuta this afternoon thinking hard about what we should do as Zambian Baptists to preserve the graves and the buildings that speak of the heroic feats of our spiritual forebears. One possibility is the centenary of the opening of the first Baptist church building, which will be in 2016—five years from now. If we spent the next three years raising funds for the centenary, through the auspices of the Zambian Baptist Historical Society, and then used the last two years to refurbish both the buildings and the graves, we could have a less embarrassing event that year. This is just an idea. What do you think?

5 comments:

  1. Conrad , when I read this article ( before reading your challenge and conclusion) I thought - why do Zambian Baptists not do something about this important part of their history ? Challenge Zambian Baptists to give generously to restore the grave of Pastor Kasonga , and to refurbish this old church .
    Lest we forget their labours and the Name of Him who died that Zambians might be truly free !
    Joachim Rieck , Namibia

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  2. Hey there Conrad, Would you mind if I use one or two of your pictures in reference articles to Olive and Paul? There's little visual material on them and I'm trying to publicize their story in the Baptist archives.

    In Christ,

    Mark

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  3. Please go ahead, Mark. If you write to me (tulip@iconnect.zm), I could send you a few more photos of them while they were alive!

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  4. Hey there,

    I went and read your post on Paul. And you had a photo! Praise the Lord. I will send you a mail; thanks for your asisstance.

    Next time you're in South Africa (are you coming for the Resolution Conference again?) I look forward to meeting you.

    In Christ,

    Mark

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  5. It’s really good to hear from you. The first part of your birthday message sounded like it was the last we would hear from you on account of “old age.” The reality of the growing human limitations you highlighted were a bit discouraging, I must confess. But we must constantly be reminded that we are living in a passing world and so we must work the works of him who sent us while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.
    I thank God for your effort and role in the preservation of the history of the Baptist church in Zambia and for the light that you are causing to dawn on us who seem to know a lot more about the Baptist labourers in Europe and the United States than our very own. Thank you for enlightening us and rekindling some flame of sacred love on the mean alters of our hearts.
    I happen to be among the few who knew about Olive Doke prior to this blog post, not that I dug into the South African Baptist Archives nor the National Archives of Zambia, but that I was privileged to attend the first Annual Lecture Day you mentioned in the blog the previous weekend organised by the Zambian Baptist Historical Society. It was good to hear precious truths about our Baptist forefathers in Zambia. The lecture by the other presenter Rev. Thomas Lumba was also illuminating as he detailed the Early Baptist Work (1905), Baptist Mission of Central Africa (1957), Arrival of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missionaries on the Copperbelt (1959), Settlement in Kitwe (1960), Entry into Lusaka (1960) and the Baptist Mission of Zambia (1964). His lecture was quite detailed with names and places and struggles of the pioneers in establishing Baptist churches.
    The Annual Lecture Day left me with a burden and challenges to reach out for the lost, especially that none of the obstacles which the saints mentioned overcame, were worth comparing with the apparent impediments I face in my personal efforts to evangelise. One of the Baptist saints mentioned in the lecture was harassed by some drunkards in the Copperbelt town of Mufulira as he was trying to evangelise. They went to the extent of pouring a local brew of beer on him mockingly baptising him. It was good to hear that one or two of them later got saved. We have already heard how Pastor Paul Kasonga laboured against the odds of leprosy and how Olive Doke left the comforts of South Africa at 25 years old to help lay a foundation from whose super structures we are benefiting.
    It was sure smiling providence for you to have been requested to preach in Zambia’s first Baptist pulpit for it seems to me a fitting completion to your worldwide circuit of preaching in pulpits of renowned Baptist giants of old.
    May the Lord, who renews the strength of the weary and increases the power of the weak, give strength equal to the days of the second half of the century. Happy Belated 50th Birthday!

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