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!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Last Days of Rev Foston Dziko Sakala—by Jennipher Sakala (his daughter)

Dad went to be with the Lord on 12th June 2012 at about 16.00 hrs after a short illness. He was in hospital for about 5 days. In many ways this has been no ordinary death. I will ever cherish the memories of dad’s last days on this earth.

Ever since I was a child, one of the worst fears I ever imagined was the loss of a parent. How would I take it? Would I ever face it? Would I ever want to imagine this day to come? When June 12th came when my dad departed, it was a different experience from what I ever imagined or expected. I will never forget the expression on his face as dad gripped my hand for the very last time in farewell, as he said, “Thank you, thank you,” in the last hour before he left this world. I whispered back, “Go in peace, dad. As per your request, we will not be bitter. We will ever be thankful to God for you and for everything that you have done and have been to us.”

It was at that moment that it dawned on me that it had come to pass, this was it.... And when that dark moment came, as he was pronounced dead, our first reaction with my siblings was to hold hands around his body and give praise and glory to God for his life—a life that had touched many lives. The worst fear of grief that I had grown up with was never to be, all because dad prepared us in every way and very well for his departure to the very last minute. Praise be to God!

The final family reunion—October 2011
Many months before his departure, dad began to prepare us—his children, mum, and the other members of the family—for his departure. He began his farewell mission as far back as October 2011 when we all gathered at their farm in Kanakantapa at a family reunion which was the only one of its kind attended by over 100 family members—his children, grandchildren, sisters, nephews and nieces, cousins, and of course his wife, mum. During that time dad shared with us our family history and family tree, urging us to remember this and pass it on to our children.

Dad clearly told us that this was his last family reunion and urged us to continue in love and unity. That Sunday he lead us in a Bible study from Acts 16:16-37. His message and concern was salvation for the members of the family that did not know God. He prayed for those members of the family that were not saved and asked each one of us to see him in private if we needed spiritual help. That was so touching. I will never forget his prayer for us—that we may each know our God and have a closer walk with Him.

Our final daughters surprise visit
Months later, early March 2012 when we his seven daughters paid them what we called “a surprise visit for the weekend,” dad told us, “you do not know what you have done... to you it is a surprise visit to us; to me there will never be another time like this.” Later that evening after all the chats, storytelling and dancing, we each took turns to tell our parents how grateful we were for them and what they meant to us. In response, dad said he too was grateful to hear all we had to say about him while he was still alive. He went on to tell us that his time was near, he had fought a good fight and run his race and that he was ready to leave this earth.

Dad went on to tell us about what he wanted us to do when he dies, i.e. where to bury him, how to look after mum, what to do with his farm workers, and about his property, etc. We listened attentively as he spoke like he knew for sure that he did not have much time to live on this earth. He spoke so confidently and so comfortably about his passing on to heaven like he was speaking about visiting a far away land... he did not say “if I go” but rather “when I go.” If I remember correctly he never used the word “die” to refer to his passing on. He always used “when I leave” or “when I go” and later often used the expression, “When I take on my new body.”

The visit of the seven sisters
Dad’s final two weeks on earth
The last two weeks before dad’s departure were truly amazing. The man was very sure he was going and made it clear to those close to him. I was privileged to spend most of his last days with him. I listened as he spoke either on the phone or in face-to-face conversations with different people mentioning that his time had come. This was even before he complained of any ailment.

Returning from our cousin’s wedding on Sunday, May 27, 2012, dad asked me to drive him up into the new Levy Mwanawasa Stadium to see it, saying, “ I want to see the inside. This is my last visit here, and I will never come back this way.” I did as he wished. During that weekend he was very jovial as usual, telling us stories and cracking jokes, and teasing me about my careful driving.  In the midst of all that, he mentioned several times about his time having come and about his departure.

Dad spent the following week visiting and bidding farewell to close relatives and friends. Then he fell ill, complaining of a fever, on Tuesday June 5th. As my sister and I accompanied him to the hospital, dad told us the 3 hymns he wanted us to sing on his funeral while I was driving. These were: 1. Yehova Mbusa wangadi (The Lord’s my Shepherd). 2. Nlokoma dziko langa (Behold my beautiful country). 3. Zokoma ndithu nthawizi (Sweet hour of prayer). He started teaching us the way he wanted us to sing them on his funeral day and asked us to start rehearsing. This was exactly a week before his departure.  He spoke as in an ordinary conversation and in his usual tone of voice. That was also the day I asked him to stay with us at my home so we could keep a close watch on him.

Later that day, my cousin Philemon, who was with us at home, called me to tell me what dad told him that worried him: 1) That he said his time to go had come, 2) that he wanted to be buried at the farm and that he wanted his grave to be not less than two meters deep, 3) that he was urging us not to be bitter, not to mourn “his loss”, because we would not be losers, and 4) that he had already chosen a cow to be slaughtered on his funeral for us to celebrate his life.

Phil and I were almost in tears. Later that evening, he insisted he wanted to drive back to their home in Kanakantapa to be with mum. So, he drove back there later in the evening to come back the next day for another doctor’s appointment. That night we prayed earnestly for his healing.  We later learnt that when he went back to Kanakantapa he took someone to the gravesite to show them where exactly he wanted to be buried.

Mrs Sakala with her surviving children
Dad’s final journey on earth
The next day, Wednesday June 6, dad called for me to go and pick him up from the farm as he was in a lot of pain and did not feel comfortable enough to drive. He insisted I don’t come alone but come with my sister. So I drove there in the afternoon with my sister. We took him straight to the hospital where he received treatment and we returned to my home with him. Soon after we got back from the hospital, he started making phone calls to different people who were close to him and with whom he had an agenda pending—meetings, weddings, etc. I watched as different people came and left. Some walked out of his room weeping. When I looked at dad, he didn’t look like he was dying!

Later in the evening, he called for all my siblings (his children) and grandchildren in Lusaka to come. The five of us Lusaka siblings gathered at my home with our children in no time. He bade fare well to each one of us as he called us into his room, one by one. Later, he called in all the grandchildren, talked to them about his departure, prayed for them, and blessed them. He also phoned my two sisters on the Copperbelt to travel to Lusaka the next day, which they did.

The message to all of us was that we had no reason to mourn his departure as he had fought a good fight, run his race, and the time had come for him to take off his old body and put on a new one. His constant words were “Please, do not be bitter with God. You are not losers. Be grateful to him for my life and celebrate when I go.” Still, he did not look like someone who was anywhere close to dying. Later that night I called a doctor friend to come and see dad. He came in around 21.00 hrs and decided that we take dad to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH). He was admitted.

The next day, while in UTH, he continued inviting people to see him, and for each person he had a message. Some of the people he called for included Father Charlie Thomas (his good friend), who is in charge of the Anglican Cathedral, whom he asked to host his funeral service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Rev Moses Mwale (his son-in-law), who is the Moderator of the Reformed Church in Zambia, whom he appointed to preach at his funeral, his lawyer with whom he checked his last will and testament, and uncles Judge Esau and Jacob Chulu. Each time people prayed with him for his healing, he urged them not to be disappointed if God did not answer their prayers the way they wished but to accept whatever outcome because his time to go had come. Later that night he spoke to my two brothers in the USA via Skype video.

Dad’s final worship service on earth
Sunday 10th June all his children and spouses went to have a prayer service with him at his hospital bed. We had such a memorable Sunday service with dad.  With a smile and loud and clear voice, though in great pain, dad sang beautifully the hymns in Nyanja ‘Nlokoma Dziko Langa’ and ‘Zokoma Ndithu Nthawizi (Sweet Hour of Prayer). He sang particularly loudly and emphatically the last verse:

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight.
This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise
To seize the everlasting prize,
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

It was a bittersweet moment when he pleaded with all of us, saying, “Whatever happens, he is a great God and we should not be bitter with him. That moment I felt such a grip of renewed faith, hope, and strength. Everyone smiled as we looked at each other and at dad as if he had just injected something in us. The next day, Monday June 11, was a quiet day for dad as he was in pain but he spent most of the time with mum at his hospital bed.

Dad’s final hours on earth
I was privileged to spend the last hours of dad’s life on this earth with him. We held hands until I literally felt the cold hand of death touching him. In the last hour before his departure I told dad that we had accepted that it was time for him to leave this earth and take on his new body. I thanked him for everything he had done for us to raise us to where we are today, in the fear of the Lord. I told him we will ever be grateful to God for having given him to us as our father. And when I said, “Go in peace, dad; all is well with us, we will be fine,” he raised his head, looked at me and said clearly, “Thank you, thank you, thank youNimwetseni madzi” (give me water to drink). After I helped him drink some water I sang for him the first verse of “Sweet hour of prayer.” As I sang I watched him smile as his eyes began to close. And when I said again, “Go in peace, dad,” he stretched his arm and gave me such a firm handgrip that I will never forget. I just had to capture it with my phone camera.

I called my sister, Mrs Florence Mtonga, who was praying near the window, and the two of us held each of his hands firmly as we began to feel the cold creeping up his body. Minutes later he went into a comma and about half an hour later he was pronounced “gone.”  Four of my sisters and I held hands in prayer as dad breathed his last in the Intensive Care Unit.

In conclusion
We will ever be grateful to God that dad did not just prepare us psychologically for his passing, but he also put everything in order. In his passing, our faith in God has been renewed. Indeed we are not bitter but grateful to God for having given us such a father with rare qualities.

Jennipher Sakala-Uwishaka
the author
Born on 19th December 1934, dad was 77 at the time of his passing. He married mum on 8th January 1954 at a wedding ceremony that took days, which many who attended and are still living still speak about. At the time of his passing my parents had been married for 58 and a half years, during which they were blessed with 12 children: Ngaiwe (died at 3 months in 1957), Isaac, Florence, Stephen (died at 3 years in 1963), Myra, Jennipher, Andrew (passed on in January 2004, aged 38), Judith, Fanely, Esther, Esnart, and Talandira. All of his children are confessing Christians.

Dad left a very rich chronologically written autobiography of his life, which we hope to have published on the first anniversary of his passing on.

(EPILOGUE: I hope to publish in the next few days a summary of Rev Foston Sakala’s life and ministry, written by my good friend, Dr Japhet Ndhlovu. So, watch this space!)

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Sermon That Changed My Life—Comfort Mulenga

My name is Comfort Mulenga. I am the second last born in a family that is now down to three. I have lost two sisters and a brother. I am a lawyer by profession. I became a Christian in the year 2000 in Ndola, which is my hometown, after a friend and work mate of mine who was a believer started ministering to me. I soon started attending lunch hour fellowship with him and I enrolled for a correspondence Bible course, which I completed in due course. Through the constant ministering of my friend, the lunch hour fellowship, and the Bible course, I soon understood what it meant to be a Christian.  I came to the realisation that I was a sinner and that I needed to repent and give my life to the Lord. My friend prayed with me even as I surrendered my life to God.

I have heard many sermons during my Christian walk. However, one of the many that stands out for me is a sermon that was preached at Kabwata Baptist Church in 2011 by a visiting preacher, Pastor Jeremy Walker, from Maidenbower Baptist Church, in the UK.

The sermon was based on the story of Lot in Genesis 19. The Pastor used this chapter in the book of Genesis to teach us how we should be steadfast as Christians in order for us to evangelise and spread the word of God to others, particularly to those who are not Christians. Our lives and the decisions we make should reflect the saving work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in our lives, so that when we minister to others we do not do so from a compromised position. He gave Lot as an example of a compromised messenger. He preached on how in Genesis 13:12, when Abraham and Lot parted, Lot pitched his tents near Sodom, where the men were wicked and sinned greatly against the Lord. Lot decided to settle in a place where sin and wickedness prevailed, thereby placing himself in a compromised position as he was a man who knew the Lord but chose to live in a sinful place.

Pastor Jeremy Walker said that if as Christians we are not steadfast in our choices and we settle in the midst of sin we would find ourselves compromising with sin. He pointed out from in Genesis 19 how the two angels sent by the Lord spent the night in Lot’s house and the men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house demanding that Lot brings out the men (who were angels) so that they could have sex with them. Lot’s response to the demands of the men of Sodom is found in Genesis 19:7-8, which was as follows; “…No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do whatever you’d like with them. But do not do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

Lot found himself offering a Sodomite (sinful) solution to the problem he was facing with the men of Sodom, as opposed to offering a godly solution. What kind of a solution was that to offer his daughters to the men of Sodom? It was a sinful compromise.

Pastor Walker pointed out that when we live compromised lives as Christians, we become compromised messengers, such that when we seek to evangelise and speak to others about the Lord, they will not take us seriously because of our compromised lives. This is what happened when Lot spoke to his sons-in law as he warned them of what the angels of the Lord had told him, which was that, the Lord was going to destroy Sodom and they needed to get out of the city, but his sons-in-law thought he was joking (Genesis 19:14). His sons-in-law did not heed his message and so they did not leave the city, which was eventually destroyed by the Lord and they perished.

Pastor Walker emphasised that when we are compromised messengers we will not be able to save souls because people will not take us seriously. As a result, people whom we could have brought to saving faith will perish because of our compromised state. Therefore it is important for us as Christians to live upright lives so that others can be drawn into the Kingdom of God instead of dying in their sins.
This sermon changed my life in that it was a reminder that the way in which I live my life has an impact on others. Therefore, if I live a sinful and compromised life, which is unbecoming of a Christian, the people around me will be affected because when I choose to share the word of God with them, they will not take me seriously. They will look at my life and they will just say I am being a hypocrite—and rightly so! However, if I live an upright life and share the word of God with people, they will look at my life and be encouraged to listen to the gospel. This may lead them to desire to become Christians and ultimately others will be drawn into the kingdom of God. This sermon was a sobering reminder that the lives we lead as Christians can be the starting point of effective evangelism.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Curse Of Motivational Speaking

Last Sunday, a young man came to see me after our church service. He is the kind of guy who shows up at church once in a while and then disappears for a season. My guess is that he goes around churches sampling sermons and looking for answers. On this visit, he asked that I help him to overcome a failure in his life, and it was a failure to progress. He said that his greatest problem is that he does not believe in himself. Could I help him believe in himself so that he could become successful?

I asked him whether he was a Christian. His answer was, “Do I really need to be a Christian in order to be successful? Are you telling me that all those successful people out there are Christians? Aren’t there general principles that I can apply to my life—whether I am a Christian or not—that can catapult me to success?” I challenged him to answer that question himself. After all, I was sure he had done enough rounds among motivational speakers to have the answer.

“That is the problem,” he said, “I have been told that such principles exist and I have tried them. They seem to work for a while and then I am back to my old self again. I want you to help me find that formula that will help me go forward and never slide back to the place where I do not believe in myself.” To cut the long story short, I finally persuaded him of the need for reconciliation with God before anyone can break free from the frustrating rut that God locks unreconciled sinners in.

I gave him a booklet to read, entitled, What is a Biblical Christian? When we met the following day, he was honest enough to tell me that he was disappointed with what he read because it was not telling him what he wanted to hear. “What I want to know is how I can be successful. This booklet did not say anything about that.” I repeated what I told him earlier. What he needed was not belief in himself but belief in a Saviour sent from heaven. He needed forgiveness as a foundation for his life.

Yesterday, a church member told me that he met the young man in the local market. He had two booklets in his hands. The first was the one I had given him and the second one was by Joel Osteen. He told our member, “Pastor Mbewe gave me this book but I don’t like it because it makes me feel guilty. I prefer this one by Joel Osteen because it lifts me up. It motivates me.” I am very concerned about this and so I decided to put some thoughts together about the curse of motivational speaking.

Sadly, motivational speaking has become the staple diet of many evangelical pulpits. The message being heard is, “God has put the potential in you and all you need to do is believe in yourself to unlock that potential. Have a grand vision and live out that vision. You must be a man or woman of destiny and the sky will be the limit for you. Don’t let your past failures get in your way of success. Look beyond them, as Jesus looked beyond the cross and thus overcame it. You are the head and not the tail. ”

In the light of the plethora of motivational speaking, it begs the question, “Is this how Old Testament and New Testament preachers preached?” If I summarise the preaching of Noah, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, Paul, Peter, etc., in the Bible, is this the kind of message that I will find there? I do not think so. Granted, motivational speakers borrow words from these men, but borrowing someone’s words is not the same thing as saying what he is saying. “A text without a context is a pretext.”

My chief quarrel with motivational speaking is that it reduces God to a means rather than an end. Men and women are not made to see that the nature of SIN lies in the letter “I” in the middle of the word. Instead, motivational speaking feeds that same ego and points to God as the one who can spoil it to the point of intoxication. That is a lie! It is God alone who must be at the centre of our lives. Christianity demands a dying to self, a taking up of one’s cross, and a following after a suffering Saviour.

Whenever I listen to motivational speaking, I seem to hear the message, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. It sounds to me like a doctor assuring a patient who has terminal cancer in its final stages that he should not worry because all will be okay if he only believes in himself. The guy is dying, man, for crying out loud! It is the height of insincerity if a preacher knows that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and instead makes those heading for the slaughterhouse feel nice.

Motivational speaking makes people feel good, whereas the gospel first makes people feel bad—until they find their all in Christ. True preaching must make people face the fact that they are living in rebellion against God and that they need to repent or they will perish. It is only as people recognise this and cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37, 16:30) that true preaching gives them the good news, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Motivational speaking is an attempt at trying to kill a charging lion with a pea-gun, using freshly cooked peas, spiced with the most aromatic seasonings. The aroma may be tantalizing to the taste buds, but it is totally useless in bringing down that ferocious beast. Men and women outside Christ are DEAD in trespasses and sins. Exciting their senses with nice-sounding platitudes will not give them life. They need the law to kill their fallen egos and the gospel of Jesus Christ to give them life.

I know that motivational speaking is filling up our church buildings until they look like football stadiums. In this world of misery and gloom, we can all do with some encouragement. But is that all that we were called to do as preachers? What good is it if men feel inspired and motivated, and then go back home to live a life of sin and selfishness? Sadly this is the norm in so many evangelical churches. The churches are filled to capacity with people determined to drink sin like water the whole week.

Motivational speaking is not biblical preaching. It is a blight on the landscape of true evangelicalism. It is filling the churches with dead people who are being told to live as if they are alive. We need to return to the good old gospel that truly gives life to the dead and sets men and women free. Like Paul of old, every truly evangelical pulpit must sound out the clear message of “repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Let us get rid of this curse of motivational speaking!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Sermon That Changed My Life—By Bobbline Cheembela

This week’s instalment on “The Sermon that changed my life” is from Bobbline Cheembela. He is married to Priscilla and God has blessed them with four wonderful kids—three biological and one adopted. He has been a member of Kabwata Baptist Church since 2005. He became a Christian in 1994 at Central Baptist Church in Chingola. He is a deacon at Kabwata Baptist Church and is an accountant by profession. Let us hear from him about the sermon that changed his life…

Bobbline Chembela with his wife, Priscilla
I have listened to many excellent sermons and I would like to share one that I listened to many years ago, probably 13 or 14 years ago but I still remember it. The sermon was on a tape (this probably shows how long ago it was). Pastor Albert Martin (from Montville Trinity Baptist Church, New Jersey, United States of America) preached it. From the title it was probably a sermon preached at a funeral service or soon after a funeral service. I can’t really remember the text he preached from but I do remember the main points he brought out.

The sermon was entitled: Things for which Dean Allen had no regrets. Dean Allen must have been a God-fearing pastor and family man. Pastor Al Martin identified four areas for which Dean Allan had no regrets.
  1. His relationship to God
  2. How he conducted himself as a pastor
  3. His relationship to his wife and children
  4. His relationship with his fellow men

What really struck me about this sermon is the clear message that our Christianity should permeate all areas of our lives. For instance, some of the lines I remember from the sermon are that Dean Allen conducted himself in such a way that he never gave his wife any reason to doubt him even though his work required him to spend hours with women in counselling.  In reference to his wife, he ensured that he exercised a loving headship over her to ensure that he presents her to his Maker better than he found her in terms of sanctification. At a time when many evangelical pastors yielded to what we might term as “under hand” methods of increasing church attendance, he stuck to the truth and remained true to the gospel.

This sermon has made me to aspire for a Christian life that strives to please Christ in all areas of my life—in my career, in my family, and in my service to the Lord in the local church and elsewhere. I know I have a very busy career life but because, by God’s grace, I am conscious of my priorities in life, I strive to lead a balanced life. It is not easy but with God’s grace it is possible. I want to lead such a life that when I take my last breath I won’t have any regrets.