Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ndola Baptist Church—Zambia’s First English-Speaking Baptist Church

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels [messengers] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).

I returned yesterday from preaching at Ndola Baptist Church’s annual Easter conference. It was good to be there. I calculated that I preach there about once every six years. I first took a conference at Ndola Baptist Church in the year 2000 when I preached there on the theme of Christ’s Second Coming. You will recall that at the close of the last millennia there was hysteria everywhere that Christ would return before the year 2001. This series was meant to bring biblical sanity into this situation.

Ndola Baptist Church building along Broadway Road in Ndola, Zambia
Then I took another conference there in 2005, as Zambia was preparing for the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections. The theme of those messages was “Christianity and Government”. I laboured to show in those sermons that government begins with self-government, and then flows into domestic government (of which church government is simply another form). It is only after this that civil government comes in. I also emphasised the importance of local government over state or national government—a matter that is wrongly reversed in Zambia and the world over.

This year was my third visit and I preached on Christ as our Passover Lamb. One reason why I count it a great privilege to be invited to fill this church’s pulpit is because Ndola Baptist Church was the very first English-speaking Baptist church in Zambia. The little history I have of Ndola Baptist Church is that it commenced as the Ndola Free Church in 1931. Then in 1953 it was founded as the Ndola Baptist Church, with 19 founding members. In my little book, One Hundred Years of Baptist Witness in Zambia, I wrote,

Joe and Anne Kapolyo, during their current visit to Zambia
“Another development that took place during this time [referring to the 1950s] was the starting of English speaking Baptist churches in the country. These were started largely by, and to minister to, the English speaking expatriates who had come to work in Zambia, especially in the country’s mining industry. The first to be started was Ndola Baptist Church. This grew out of the Ndola Free Church that was using a building and manse owned by the Baptist Union of South Africa along Broadway Avenue.

“Up to that time it was felt that there were too few English-speaking evangelicals to warrant a denominational approach to church-planting on the Copperbelt. However, after an evangelistic campaign conducted by the Baptist evangelist, Ivor Powell, there was a general feeling that a distinctly Baptist witness should start in Ndola town. Hence the building was reclaimed and on 17th May 1953 nineteen members founded the Ndola Baptist Church. Its first pastor was Maurice Darroll, who came in from Southern Rhodesia towards the end of 1952. He was followed by Basil Medgett and later by Howard Worth in 1971.”

Mathias Tembo, one of the church elders, making some announcements
There were actually quite a number of pastors between Darroll and Worth. Maurice Darroll (1952-1954) was followed by Basil Medgett (1954-1960). Basil Medgett was followed by Walter Maasch (1960-1964). Walter Maasch was followed by Terry Smith (1968-1970). That was when Howard Worth took up the pastorate in 1971, until he had a nervous breakdown in 1977. In those early years, a number of Baptist churches were greatly helped to get on their feet by Ndola Baptist Church. One of them was the Lusaka Baptist Church. I wrote again in the little book mentioned above,

“Lusaka Baptist Church commenced in the same way. Four expatriates gathered in the home of Mr and Mrs Charles Kidwell to start this English-speaking Baptist church in the capital city of Lusaka. There were the hosts, Mrs A J Cross (nee Frieda Stern, the widow of the late Rev A J Cross, mentioned earlier), and Mr Andy Gilmour. They wrote, ‘In May [1956] we had the pleasure of a visit from the Rev R H Philpott, and very quietly, reverently and humbly, in the presence of God, four of us formed ourselves into a Fellowship to meet every fortnight.’ For a while the church, like many others on the Copperbelt, was looked after by Ndola Baptist Church until they called their first pastor, the Rev Derrick A Harris on 1st January 1959. The church was finally constituted on 2nd July 1960 and a year later, on 23rd October 1961, the new church building was opened for worship purposes. Basil Medgett took over the pastorate in 1964 but left in 1967.”

The Praise Team singing a song to the congregation during the Easter meetings
The last missionary pastor of the Ndola Baptist Church was Harold Homgren (1979-1984). It is really unfair to call him a “missionary pastor” because he was born and bred in Zambia. His parents came to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) as missionaries in the first half of the twentieth century. It was his white skin that made the community feel he was foreign. In that sense, then, the first “indigenous” Zambian pastor was Joe Kapolyo, who served there for five years (1985-1990). He was followed by Wilbroad Chanda who also served there for nine years (1995-2008), broken by a spell of about four years.

My own associations with this church go back to the 1970s, in my teenage years. I was in boarding at Chiwala Secondary School in Ndola. On Saturdays, Ndola Baptist Church used to send their church bus to pick up students who wanted to attend their youth activities. So, every so often, to get away from a Saturday that was threatening to bore me to death, I would jump onto this bus and enjoy the afternoon in youth activities and Bible study. I do not recall anything significant from those early associations, but I am sure the seed of the gospel may have been planted in my heart from those Bible studies.

Sepiso Lungwebungu, one of the church elders, teaching a Bible class
This year, Ndola Baptist Church called Grave Singogo to serve in the office of church pastor. Grave was until then serving at the Evangel Baptist Church in Lusaka. He commenced ministry there last month. While I was preaching there, excitement could be felt in the air. The church was overjoyed with the ministry of their new pastor. I pray that this will be yet another long and fruitful ministry that will bring many souls into the kingdom and help to maintain a conservative evangelical witness in the heart of Ndola.

As I reflected on this visit, I was reminded afresh concerning the importance of church planting missions. When the few English-speaking expatriates of evangelical convictions started the Ndola Free Church in 1931, they may not have realised that they were starting a dynamo that would continue to generate light eighty years later. All of them must have now been gathered with their fathers, and yet the work they began has continued to bear witness to Christ’s saving power.

Grave Singogo, the new pastor, making farewell remarks at the Easter conference
I am sure that over the eighty-plus years of the existence of this evangelical witness, and more specifically, the almost-sixty years of the existence of Ndola Baptist Church itself, the church has gone through its own four seasons. There have been summers of spiritual harvest, autumns of many people backsliding, winters of spiritual inactivity, and springs of fresh hope and life. All churches go through such seasons. It is important to keep the spiritual vitality of the church going through all these seasons so that generations yet unborn may benefit from the lampstand that was erected in that place.

Grave, and your fellow elders and deacons, the ball is now in your court!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the tireless efforts to continue documenting the spread of of Gospel in our part of the earth. One hundred years ago it must of seemed inconceivable that the people of what would become Zambia would identify themselves as a Christian nation and that Zambia would be more inviting to the Gospel. One person said God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform