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!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Zambia as a Christian Nation

(What you have below is a slight updating of a paper I presented at a Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) church leaders forum, which took place at the Anglican Church in Kabwata on 17th September 2005. It was initially entitled “Why It Is Wrong To Constitutionalise Christianity In The Zambian Constitution.” I have decided to re-issue this statement because today marks the 20th anniversary of the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation by the late president, FTJ Chiluba. It is a good juncture to restate my convictions about this issue. Pardon its length!)

Late President, FTJ Chiluba
Let me begin by stating that as I argue for the reason why Christians should NOT insist on Zambia being constitutionally declared a Christian nation, I am painfully aware that there are some very good colleagues of mine who think otherwise. I have the greatest respect for them, though, as you shall see from this paper, I seriously beg to differ with them on this point. I do not doubt the good intentions of many of those who want Zambia to be a Christian nation by constitutionalising Christianity, but I think that they are still wrong.

The reasons given
The reasons that have been given for the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation and for putting this into the constitution are many. However, when you have assessed all of them, in the end they can be classified under four sections:

1. So that Zambia can be governed by righteous laws. The assumption made by those who put this argument forward is that righteous laws will only be ours if there is a declaration in the constitution. ANSWER: Sadly, that is not the case. Righteous laws will be part of this nation if the church does its God-given work. The church is to achieve this, not by forcing the majority’s religion upon the minority but by our being salt and light in the world. We are to work like yeast in the dough. That is the way in which we will ensure that the laws we see to be right are enacted in the nation. As we permeate society with the Word of God, the majority will want righteous laws to be enacted over the land. That is the way we are to do it.

2. So that we can have the blessing of God. This is a rather superstitious reason. There are many who think that the kind of pronouncement that was made by President Chiluba in 1991 and the subsequent inclusion of the statement in the constitution will bring economic prosperity to Zambia. ANSWER: That has never been God’s way of doing things. Mere declarations do not change a culture of laziness and corruption that stifles growth and kills a nation. Rather it is as those of us who are Christians learn to put the Bible into practice through stewardship, hard work, and faithfulness that prosperity will come. To attempt any other method is mere superstition and it will fail in the end—much to our shame.

3. It is just a matter of fact. 80% of Zambians are Christians. We pray when opening Parliament, our presidents have been Christians, etc. ANSWER: If this is the reason, then there are so many “Christian” nations in Africa and the world. So I wonder why we should be fighting over the matter. Then South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Britain, America, etc., are all “Christian” nations. So, why the fuss? Surely, there must be something more we are trying to do than just stating a fact.

4. If Muslims have declared their nations as Muslim nations and even instituted Sharia Law, we should also do the same. Many who put forward this reason are aware of the suffering that Christians in Muslim nations are going through for their faith and they want to prevent that from happening here by a constitutional declaration. ANSWER: Sadly, this kind of reasoning makes Muslims call the tune and we dance to it. No, as Christians we should be the ones showing the Muslim world how civilisation ought to be carried forward. Remember also that when Israel started wanting to be like other nations, that was the beginning of their downfall. It will be the same for the church. Rather, we must follow the Word of God as a church. Also, we need to understand that there is one major difference between Christianity and Islam that makes such copying erroneous. Islam is essentially territorial. It thinks in terms of taking over actual political power and square kilometres of land, even if the majority in that place are not Muslims. Then from the outside it enforces its religious norms on the people under its power and on its territory. Christianity is not like that. Christianity works like yeast in a batch of dough. It captures individuals one by one, through reason and regeneration by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Thus it works from the inside out. That is why Christianity does not need political power to be on its side and does not force itself on people. And yet it’s the most powerful force in the world!

The doctrinal error
It seems to me that the greatest problem with this declaration and its documentation in the Zambian constitution is that in fact the whole thing is a serious doctrinal error. According to the Bible, there is only one “Christian” nation. It is the church. The Bible says, “You [the church] are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). At one time, in the Old Testament, this was the special privilege of the nation of Israel (see Exodus 19:6). But ever since the Lord Jesus came into the world to inaugurate the New Testament church, this privilege has been passed on to the church. No one has the right to pass it onto another group, however well meaning he might be.

Many people go to the text that says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12 and 144:15) and use this to teach that if a president or constitution can state that the nation belongs to the Lord then blessings will flow upon that nation. But is that what this text is teaching? Look at the context of this verse and you will see that it specifically refers to the nation of Israel. Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). Who are those people whom God chose for his inheritance? It is the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament. To apply that to Zambia is crazy, to say the least. In fact, in this text it is not us choosing God but God choosing a people to be his. The text says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.” Do you see the error of using this verse to justify declaring Zambia as a Christian nation? It is torturing a verse until it confesses a lie!

The corrupting effect
Another reason why we should be very concerned as Christians about this declaration is that when in history a thing like this has happened the result has been the corrupting of the church. This was the case when Emperor Constantine declared his entire empire Christian. The persecuted church, which had turned its world upside down with the gospel, soon lost its spiritual power as corruption entered into it. It has been the same right across the ages. When the church and the state have joined hands in the dark, daggers have begun to fly to the hurt of the innocent. Remember that the Spanish inquisition was done in the name of Christianity when the church had locked hands with the state. Without over-personalising the issue, I say, look at the marriages and family lives of those who were in the fore-front of the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation. Look also at what has come to light concerning where state funds went ever since pastors started going around with diplomatic passports. I repeat: These steps only injure the church and its testimony. It has been the same across history and it has already repeated itself in Zambia. Things will only get worse if we do not learn from history. We must never go that way!

What do we want to achieve?
The question that must be asked by every sane individual is, “What do we really want to achieve as Christians by this declaration?” Many people have begun to claim all kinds of advantages which will be ours as a church in Zambia if this declaration is upheld, which to my mind do not need the declaration at all! For instance, do we really need a declaration in a constitution in order for those of us who are Christians to actively participate in politics, or those of us who are church leaders to pray at functions where we are called to participate, or to pray and counsel with the state president at his wish, or to invite preachers from abroad to preach among us, or to establish more and more churches around the country, or to have Christian programmes on radio or television, etc.? I do not think so. We have been doing all these things since Independence in 1964, well before 1991; so we do not need it in order to continue.

On the other hand, if this declaration is meant to give the church an advantage over people of other faiths in the governance of the nation, to secure diplomatic passports for church clergy, to gain appointments for some clergy into positions in government, to have exclusive rights to proselytise over the airwaves, to use state funds to put up church buildings and purchase church pews, etc., then it is wrong. There is no biblical argument for the church to secure such favours from the state. Apart from that we should realise that state funds are taxed from every citizen, whatever his religious inclinations, and so must be shared equally. To give undue advantage to one religion over and against another is to be unfair—even if that religion is Christianity.

How we should achieve our goals
There is no doubt that the Christian church has work on this earth to win the lost to Christ and to build them up in their most holy faith. My point is that we do not need the state to be on our side in order for us to do this. All we need is space. That is all. To claim that by some decree of parliament, or constituent assembly, or state president we can achieve more spiritual fruit in this nation is to totally miss the nature of Christianity. It is at most a mere fruit of superstition or at least a failure to realise what the Bible means when it says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). We are to win the world through prayer and the preaching of the gospel, and not through any undue advantage given to us by presidential decree. This is what Paul wanted Timothy to know as a young pastor of a church. He said, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle-I am telling the truth, I am not lying-and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles” (1 Timothy 2:1-7). Notice the combination of prayer, preaching, and the quiet lives of Christians as a witness for Christ. Let people become Christians because they see the way in which those of us who are Christians conduct our lives in the home and the work place. When our lives adorn the gospel, and our preachers faithfully preach the gospel, then our neighbours will come to Christ. And as more and more of our neighbours become Christians then we shall see them enact righteous laws and obey them whole-heartedly. This is the Zambia we want, and this is the biblical way to achieve it. So, let us not seek to achieve this in any other way.

What the State really is
Perhaps the best place to end this presentation is by bringing us back to first principles. What is the state and what is the church? Once we come to a biblical understanding of these two institutions and what their purposes are, we will have no problem seeing the absurdity of declaring Zambia a Christian nation (or a secular state) and enshrining it in the constitution.

The state (or national government) is there primarily to protect the vulnerable by regulating relationships and punishing offenders beyond the immediate context of the family (domestic government). If it were not for the fact that families have to co-exist in a sinful world there would be no need for national government. Each home would merely look after its affairs. But what happens when a husband falls in love with a sweet sixteen and kicks his wife out of the home? The state comes in by regulating the only legitimate context in which a husband could do that. It also protects the woman who is kicked out by ensuring that her interests are taken care of. Also, in cases where an external enemy (either a thief breaking into a home or a foreign army invading a village) threatens its citizens the state has a police service and an army to protect the vulnerable. That is the job of the state. Nothing more. It, therefore, functions on the premise of natural law and fairness. It is a gift of God for the whole of humanity to ensure co-existence and peace. We must not give the state any greater role than that. Many of us have reached a point where we want the government to even come and sweep the dirt in front of our door! That is wrong. Apart from ensuring this mutual co-existence through the protection of the more vulnerable among us, we ourselves as individual citizens and as homes must do the rest.

The church on the other hand is redemptive. Its work is that of bringing people into the right relationship with God. It needs to be very defined as to its belief systems because it is not about protection primarily but about taking people somewhere—to God. Who that God is, what he wants from us, and what he plans to do for us and to us, is what religion is all about. Concerning those matters, the church will want to be very definite. In that sense, through its teachings, the church will have an influence on the state—but only indirectly. Its influence will be upon the individuals whom it has convinced as to its point of view. As these individuals carry out their responsibilities within the pale of the state (or government) their decisions shall be coloured by their individual belief systems. Where this clashes with that of others, the state will come in only to protect the vulnerable from physical harm. That is all. The state must never go beyond this.

This is why it is crazy to want to define the state in religious terms. It is simply an institution to ensure the protection of the vulnerable on the basis of natural law. That natural law of fairness is plain even to a child who has not been to school or church because it is deeply ingrained in us. The child may not know how to work out the finer details of fairness but when those who are knowledgeable have done their work, the child will see that the action taken has been fair. Therefore, there is no need to give the state a preamble of some religion or other. It should be left to do its primary job, and the constitution should be primarily about that and nothing more.

Conclusion
I know that one of the main worries of my brothers who want to ensure that no-one tampers with the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is that those who are opposing that stance want it to be instead declared as a secular state. I am equally opposed to that. Let us simply leave Zambia as it is. Some may say that by defining or describing the nation as secular we are avoiding giving it a religion. Secularism is a religion. Its god is the human being and what he wants. This is what is killing Western civilisation. We obviously do not want it here. Let us simply enjoy being “one Zambia, one nation”! What matters is that the vulnerable among us are being protected by regulations and enforcements that make sense to true natural justice. Amen!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Should A Pastor Ever Answer A Call To Another Church?

[Written on Saturday, 24th December, 2011] Last night my family organised a small surprise 50th birthday dinner for me (when we were younger we called such events “parties”—but that sounds rather worldly now). As is the custom at such events, the birthday “boy” has to say a few words. Among the many people I thanked for my wonderful half a century on this planet was Kabwata Baptist Church. In the process, I stated that it was partly because of such a wonderful relationship that I have had with everyone in the church—including the elders and deacons—that I continue to turn down calls to move to other spheres of service.

This morning, as I soberly reflected on the events of the previous evening, I realised that I needed to say more on this. Should a pastor ever answer a call to move to another church? Within our Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia, there are only two of us older pastors who have not moved churches yet. If any of the others wrote such a blog post I am sure some readers in our church circles would think it is self-justification. Since the other older pastor does not have a blog, it just hit me this morning that I am best placed to clear the air on this subject—at least for the Zambian Reformed Baptist constituency.

Is a pastor married to his church?
Usually, those who believe that a pastor must never move churches think in terms of a pastor’s relationship with his church being like a marriage. It must be “until death do us part”! Hence, to them, when a church approaches the pastor of another church to consider coming to be their pastor, it is akin to a man going to propose marriage to a woman who is already married. Such a proposal is immoral, to say the least. And the “divorce” that takes place when the pastor leaves is perceived as unfaithfulness. How could the pastor do a thing like this? Of course, when they are the ones who want to fire the pastor, they do not think of it like that any more!

Again, like a man who has been divorced by his wife for another lover, many members go through a lot of unnecessary self-condemnation. They continue to ask themselves what it was about them that was so deficient that this man should prefer the pastorate of another church. Were we not paying him enough? Did we not care for him enough? Sometimes they even blame other church members who were less than cordial towards their pastor. “You see, your bad attitude towards the pastor is what has made him resign,” they say to the culprits. This can result in very bad feelings within the church. A pastor ought to state the reason why he is leaving. Hence, such heart-searching or witch-hunting is totally unnecessary.

Is a pastoral move a betrayal?
Accepting a call from another church is quite a dilemma. There is always a section of the church that feels betrayed and abandoned. Many people join a church because of the preaching that they find there. Having come “window-shopping” a few times, they find that the regular preacher of the pastor is scratching right where it is itching. Hence, they decide to apply for membership and make this church their home church. Therefore, one can understand their sense of “what shall we do now?” when it is announced that the pastor is leaving. It is like settling down for a meal in your favourite restaurant only to be told that your favourite chef has quit. You fear that the meals will never be the same again in this place.

Granted, not every pastoral move can be justified. Some pastors move from one church to another for purely mercenary reasons. Such people should have never been in pastoral ministry in the first place. (I will qualify the financial issue later in the blog post). Others move because they are running away from the first smell of trouble. They would rather leave the flock in the hands of wolves than risk shedding blood for the sake of the flock. Again, such “hired hands” are better off selling bananas in the market.

When is a pastoral move ever justified?

Unlike the other elders in the church, whose ministries begin and end within the local church in which they are overseers, a pastor’s primary calling is that of a preacher of God’s Word in God’s world and in the universal church. It is in the same bracket as an apostle, a prophet, and an evangelist (Ephesians 4:11). You cannot limit any of these callings to one single congregation. Such men do not begin to function when you call them into the eldership office. They begin to function as soon as they sense God’s call and they do so in obedience to God. Their “secular” job soon becomes secondary and at the first opportunity to move on they will do so. When the church calls them into the eldership, all it is doing is to provide them with official recognition and also an official platform from which to carry out their God-given calling. Whereas, their primary sphere of labours will be within that local congregation, it cannot be limited to that sphere.

An inward disturbance
Every so often, a pastor will begin to sense within his own spirit that his time of ministry in a specific locality is coming to an end (e.g. 2 Corinthians 2:12-14). Like his initial sense of call, this inner experience can be quite disturbing because the pastor will have sunk his roots in that local church and that locality. However, as with his initial sense of call, the pastor will begin to pray about this and even share it with his wife and his most trusted friends. Where his relationship with his fellow elders is very healthy, he may also elect to share this unsettling experience with them even at this early stage.

Usually, as this is taking place, a pastor will often receive a call from another church (or another area of ministry) and will want to investigate this further, praying that if it is God calling him to go and minister there God himself confirm it. Often, as he prays and investigates, something in his spirit (or, shall we say, Someone) confirms that this is it. He feels a great sense of peace about accepting the call. Where this ties in with the counsel of his unbiased and most trusted friends, a pastor usually concludes that it is God telling him that it is time to go and pitch his tent elsewhere. He must obey!

A greater sphere of service
Sometimes the sense of inner disturbance occurs because the pastor’s preaching and teaching ministry has far outgrown that of the church. His sense of fulfilment in that local church’s pastoral ministry, therefore, diminishes with time. Hence, when a door for more effective ministry opens up, he quickly takes it up and finds a greater sense of fulfilment. That is normal. Surely, he who gifted him must have had in mind where such gifts are best used. The apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy 2:5-6, likens preachers to farmers and runners. Part of their sense of fulfilment is that of being stretched to their limit. They would rather burn out than rust. They want to use all possible means to save as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9:22), according to the gifts that God has given them.

Legitimate financial reasons
A pastor may also move due to financial considerations. By this I do not mean that a pastor is a gold digger. Rather, God has never called a married man to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry. Rather, how a man manages his household is part of his qualification for ministry (1 Timothy 3:4). So, every so often, as a pastor’s family grows, the church’s capacity is unable to meet the basic needs of his family—food, clothing, education, etc. The pastor may bring this to the attention of the church and bear long with this situation. He may consider other options (e.g. what we call “tent-making” or his wife working outside the home). However, where things do not improve and his sense of guilt with respect to this primary responsibility begins to haunt him, a door of ministry opening into a pastorate with better perks may be God’s answer to his prayers.

Avoiding breaking a church
Closely related to this is a situation where the church becomes intransigent to the pastor’s ministry. This often happens with churches that have a long tradition and refuse to change under the new pastor’s ministry. Finally, the pastor realises that he must either become a resounding gong or move on to another sphere of service where he can call the tune according to what he thinks God wants him to accomplish among his people. To stay in such a situation often leads to the church breaking you or you breaking the church. This results in either you or the church becoming bitter. Thus when a call comes from a church that seems to be more willing to be led by the pastor, he concludes that since he only has one life, he should not spend it trying to move the immovable. He is better off spending his few years on earth in a moveable church.

What should a church losing its pastor do?
Imagine how it must have been when the Holy Spirit said to the church leaders in Antioch that he wanted their two pioneering pastors, Barnabas and Saul, to move on (Acts 13:1-3). Many would have been very confused by this turn of events. However, they saw that the church of Jesus Christ did not begin and end with them, and that elders with a call to the preaching ministry tend to be moved around as the Lord sees it fit from one pulpit to another. Hence, they prayed for them and let them go.

In the same way, it is important to see your pastor as, first of all, God’s servant to the wider church. Thus, instead of putting a guilt trap on him, a church should finally say, “May the Lord’s will be done.” The church’s eldership should answer questions biblically, especially from those who are confused because they are experiencing this severance for the first time. Then the church must make an effort to have a farewell meal with the pastor and his family to show appreciation for his ministry and to pray for his next phase of work. Such a wholesome send off shows the maturity of a local church. As painful as the loss might be, it is best to trust the Lord that he will give you someone else who will lead the church’s pulpit ministry into the next phase of its life.

What I have shared here is what normally happens. A number of my fellow pastors have moved pastorates and some are presently on the verge of moving. Generally speaking, I have found that their reasons for moving can be classified into one of the reasons given above or a combination of a few of them. It needs to be stated that the details of all cases will certainly have slight variations. In God’s providence, no two situations are ever the same. Even identical twins, when related to more closely, are actually different!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

EUREKA!

Tradition has it that the famous Greek scholar Archimedes used this exclamation (which in Greek means, “I have found it!”) when he accidentally discovered how you could calculate the volume of an irregular object. It is said that as he walking into a bath he noticed that the level of the water rose according to how much of his body he submerged. The coin clicked! If he could then take that same amount of water and put it into a measurable container then he can know the volume of his body—and indeed of any irregular object. Eureka!


Well, a few days ago I also shouted “Eureka!” upon discovering that I grow a new nail every three months. How did I make this discovery?

On 20th September I participated in the Zambian presidential and parliamentary elections. After voting, to make sure I do not come back to vote again, one of the election officials painted my finger with indelible ink. I noticed that every month, the position of this ink moved about a third downwards. Finally, two days ago, i.e. 20th December, I noticed that the mark had reached the tip of my finger.  Eureka!

Three years ago, when we had our previous presidential and parliamentary election, I made a similar observation and found that exactly three months after the election the indelible ink had reached the tip of my finger. Like Mary the mother of Jesus, I treasured up all these things and pondered them in my heart. However, this time I have confirmed this and, therefore, could not keep quiet.

Not wanting to share ignorance in the name of knowledge, I Googled “How long does a nail take to grow”. The answers I got were between four and six months for fingernails and much longer for toenails. By implication, I am very healthy. This is on the assumption that the older you grow the slower the renewing process, until the degenerating process overtakes it. At the age of fifty, therefore, that is a very pleasant and reassuring discovery!

It is amazing how many things take place in our body while we are unconscious of them. Our bodies literally renew themselves while we go about our business. I am sure if I were to study a little more of this, I may discover that the “me” that was born 50 years ago is not the “me” that exists today. All the cells that made up baby Conrad have since passed on and a totally different Conrad exists today. That is, of course, if all I am comprised of is matter. Thankfully, I am a spiritual being. This body is simply a tent in which I live. But what a wonderful tent!

Evolutionists will probably tell us that aeons ago our fore-parents realised that if they did not renew themselves they would die and hence they kick-started this renewal exercise within the body in order to live longer. The whole thing is outrageous and comical!

The truth is that God made us in such a marvellous way that while we are busy with our usual errands, the body would be renewing itself, with old cells giving way to new cells. No wonder the Psalmist exclaimed, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14). I guess that is simply a more godly way of saying, “Eureka!”

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?

Monday, December 12, 2011

My 50th Birthday—I Thank God For This Milestone!

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).

I have just clocked 18,263 days on God’s planet, i.e. I’m 50 years old today. I know that in most Western countries where geriatrics is a challenge, I am still a very young man. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of our populations are below the age of 20, I have already begun to be referred to as “mudala” (old man). Once upon a time, I would have vehemently objected to being referred to as such, but not any more. The tale-tell signs are evident in every sphere of my life.

Perhaps the most frustrating is my fading memory. This is not good for me, as I am still pastoring a growing church. Every so often, I look at the membership list and cannot for the life of me make out who the person is behind the name. Then there are those embarrassing moments when I meet someone whose name I am supposed to know and I need to introduce him or her to the person I am with…but the name is gone! Or, I am in the heart of a discussion and then am briefly disturbed. As I return to the discussion, I cannot remember what on earth I was talking about. The subject is completely gone!

Then there is the physical wear and tear—the sagging waistline and cheeks, the greying hair, the thinning circle of hair at the back, and the growing wrinkles on my face. Who can argue with such an array of witnesses? When I was getting my recent passport, the cameraman kept showing me the photo on his digital camera before taking it for printing. Twice I rejected the photo and asked him to retake the shot. There was no improvement. Finally, I just had to admit that this was what I now look like. Thankfully, my wife married me before age took its toll on my countenance.

I have also noticed a very disturbing slowing down of my reflexes. In football (i.e. soccer), which I rarely play these days, I noticed this phenomenon. I would see the ball coming and time myself perfectly. However, just as I thought I was kicking it, I would notice that it has gone right past me and I would go tumbling to the ground. Something has certainly changed in my body. I can now see why men of my age prefer to play golf—the ball is motionless until you hit it!

Previously, I needed to go to the gym to lift weights. But now, standing up is weight lifting. I can also understand the person who said, “Before I turned 50, I used to jog 6 miles a day, but now I know a short cut.” I often have to talk myself out of taking such shortcuts. Having made the mistake of marrying a nurse, I am having to pay for this in more ways than one. Every so often, Felistas brings me a banana, a watermelon, and an orange—all cut up into a fruit salad—and tells me that this is my breakfast. What??

This is the oldest photo of me (1964?). I am right in the middle of the family photo!
Okay, enough of this negative stuff. I am happy to have clocked 50. Whereas many people would demand a recount upon being told they have clocked 50, I do not. I think that this is because of a number of choices I made in my late teens and early twenties—the choice of a Saviour, the choice of a career or vocation, and the choice of a wife.

As I pause at this juncture in my life, I am deeply grateful to God for having allowed me to live the life that I have lived. Apart from the values instilled in me by my parents and guardians, the most seismic transformation took place when, at the age of 17, I gave my life to Christ. Guided by his Word and strengthened by his Spirit, I have been able to make the conjugal and vocational choices that have brought me where I am today.

Next year in September, God willing, I will be celebrating 25 years in the pastorate of Kabwata Baptist Church. Then a few months later, in January 2013, I will be celebrating 25 years in marriage to Felistas. So, the last half of my life has been spent with one wife and in one vocation—and both have been a tremendous blessing to me. I know that when I resigned my job as a mining engineer to take up the pastorate of a church of some 35 individuals in a rented welfare hall in Kabwata (of all places!), many people thought I had gone crazy, but I trust history has since proved that it was a call of God.

I would want to say much, much more on my wife and my pastorate, but that will pre-empty the blog posts that I intend to write when those two Silver Jubilees come around. So, all I will say for now is that I have been very blessed to have met and married Felistas some twenty-four years ago. God has blessed us with the most wonderful (biological and foster) children that any person would ask for on this side of eternity. Each time I look at the photos of my wife and children in our bedroom, I whisper a prayer of gratitude to God. I have been blessed beyond measure—and I mean it.

The latest photo of me was taken in Brazil last month. Felistas is standing next to me.
What about KBC? It is a wonderful church. Seeing KBC turn into the gospel outreach machinery that it has become through its various ministries and missionaries has given me a great sense of satisfaction as I clock half a century. It is the doing of God. Last night, as the KBC youth camp came to an end, I sat behind the hundreds of youths listening to the preaching of God’s Word. I prayed that God would be pleased to save them so that their lives on earth may not be destroyed by sin but rather that they may live productive lives for God’s glory. Apart from this, one of my greatest joys still remains seeing the number of individuals whose lives have been transformed through the gospel that God has been pleased to allow me to preach over the last twenty-four years at KBC.

Let me end my blog post by also thanking God for the kind of friends that he has been pleased to give me. Friends make or break a man. The phrase “peer pressure” is often spoken of in negative terms, but I want to say that the peer pressure I have experienced from my friends has been very positive. My friends have put their relationship with God as of prime importance. As they have made their way up their career or vocational ladders, money and possessions have not been primary factors in their decision-making. They have wanted to be at the centre of God’s will. They have sought to be godly men, godly husbands, and godly fathers first before expressing that godliness in their careers. I have been very close to them and can assuredly state that they have lived lives of transparent integrity. They have been good examples to my children as they have come to know them. If I was to recount who my closest friends are by name, anyone who knows them would immediately confess that they are made of the choicest gold.

So, I can say, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). As I look into the future, I have but one prayer:

“Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.

“When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee. Amen!”

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pray For Our Christian Youth Camp

For the last ten years or so Kabwata Baptist Church has been holding a conference for young adults in July and a camp for teenagers in December. Thus, as I write this blog post, our youth camp has just begun. It will be running until Monday 12th December with a final morning message before the kids go home.

The banner outside the KBC premises announcing the coming camp
The period of preparation had its own demands. I very well remember when this camp started. We had about 35 young people whom we took out for camp that December. The night we were setting up tents (its was a real camp!), it rained cats and dogs. We were all wet and hungry by the time the tents were up and so campfire was also a time to hang ourselves up to dry. We feared we had lost the enthusiasm of the kids. Wrong! To our amazement, it was this first night that proved the highlight for the campers when they later testified about the camp.

The four camp leaders introducing themselves to the campers
Okay, I began saying that the period of preparations had its own demands. That camp that began with 35 young people has grown. This year we are anticipating 1,000 of them to show up. The camp has become the destination of choice for many young people in our sister churches and neighbourhood once they have survived the rigours of studying for end-of-year school tests and exams.

George Sitali, one of our elders, reading out "The Riot Act"--the camp rules
In order to make the event economical for the young people who are coming, KBC members had to make financial pledges towards the running of the camp. Then we needed a whole lot of soldiers to do the registration, ensure discipline, cook and serve food, lead meetings, handle small group devotions and Bible studies, help with one-on-one counselling, lead various sporting activities, etc. About 80 church members volunteered for this task and underwent training at the hands of one of our regular youth camp preachers, Pastor Saidi Chishimba.

Mwindula Mbewe preaching the camp's keynote address
Yesterday, the camp began. We already had about 600 young people in. Usually, the numbers peak on Saturday. It was good to see the enthusiasm in the young people as they looked forward to a weekend together. The theme for this year’s camp is “2 Heaven With U” (if you don’t understand that, you probably do not qualify to be at this camp). Mwindula Mbewe preached the keynote address. It was good to hear his preaching. My heart always yearns to see young people on fire for Christ. I also cry to God that he would save many youths during the camp.

The campers listening intently to the keynote address on the first night
Due to the huge numbers of young people in attendance, the camp has been divided into three groups during the day. A different preacher will handle each of these groups. Pastors Saidi Chishimba (from Faith Baptist Church, Kitwe), Choolwe Mwetwa (from Central Baptist Church, Chingola), and Isaac Makashinyi (from Emmasdale Baptist Church, Lusaka) are the preachers who are labouring in the Word among the young people this year. We also have other speakers who will be handling many seminars in the afternoons, dealing with various youth-related topics. The evening meetings are combined sessions.

Part of the congregation on the first night--pray for their salvation!
This camp is meant to be a spiritual “combined harvester”. We long to see lives saved at an early age. In the past, we have had our prayers answered but we do not take this for granted. We have known mercy drops but we are longing for showers of blessings. So, if you are a Christian and have read this blog post, I beseech you to take a moment to remember this camp in prayer. During the period leading up to the camp, we have already experienced some attacks from the Evil One. Pray that his efforts will be thwarted and that God will use this camp to bring many young people to himself in repentance and faith. Thank you!

Monday, December 5, 2011

We Need Grace To Be Truly Hospitable

It is now 2 weeks since I last uploaded a blog post. I think that I am finally regaining my equilibrium after the shocking details that led me to write my last post. I could not find the energy to talk about anything else while the dark cloud still hovered over my soul.

The other day, I was at a funeral. I saw a lady in the congregation whom I had not seen for a while. Seeing her took me back many years down memory lane. It must have been in 1983 (some 28 years ago), when I was a student at the University of Zambia. This lady and her husband lived within 30 minutes walk from the university. A Christian friend of mine had not done well the previous year and had been asked to repeat the subjects he failed, and so he could not be accommodated on campus. Not having any relatives close enough to the university to host him for this year, he came to me to ask for help.

The entrance to the University of Zambia
I was the chairman of the University Christian Fellowship (UCF) and so I quickly looked at the various options. As I thought and prayed, this couple came to my mind and so I decided to approach them to ask if they could host this brother for one year, while he repeated the courses. I walked over to their home with him by my side. As soon as we finished the greetings, I got to the subject and asked them in his presence if they could host my friend.

This was youthful zeal on my part. To begin with they were not even members of my church. This lady’s husband used to preach at the University Christian Fellowship fairly often and hence was quite well known to me. His favourite sermon, which he often felt inspired to preach, was on Hophni and Phinehas. His sermons were often more rebuking than edifying. At the height of his preaching, in a harsh voice, he would call you chickens or pigs, using the vernacular language—“muli nkoko!” and “muli nkumba!”—to emphasise your lack of guts or your spiritual compromise. Being young people, we loved that kind of radical preaching.

Thankfully, after a slight pause they agreed and kept this brother for the one year that he was doing his part time studies at university. He later cleared these courses and went on to complete his university studies. I am sure my friend will remain eternally grateful for the role that this Christian couple played in his life at such a time as this. As I saw this lady in the congregation at the funeral, I wondered how I would have reacted if a young adult brought his friend to my home and asked my wife and me to do what I had asked of them. Agony!

They say a little confession is good for the soul. I think I would have asked that the young man’s parents should be the ones to come and ask for this favour, hoping that they would not dare to do so since they could only ask people whom they knew. Then my mind would have gone through all the possible challenges that this was going to present to my family, hoping that one of them would be strong enough for me to turn down the request if his parents so much as dared to come and ask. In other words, I would have put every conceivable obstacle in front of them instead of readily accepting the challenge the way this couple did.

"A little confession is good for the soul"--this represents me!
Or maybe it would have been one of those days when I would have had a most powerful quiet time with the Lord. Perhaps passages of Scripture would fill my mind like, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) and “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Then, and perhaps only then, would I have responded the way this couple did. We need grace in order to be truly hospitable, don’t we?