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!)

12 comments:

  1. What a life, what a legacy!! A moving story of a true servant of God. To the Sakala sons and daughters, you were blessed with a godly father. A rare saint indeed. Like the apostle Paul, death for him was a departure, a sleep in Christ. It is clear that Rev. Sakala longed for heaven: "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (Philippians 1:23). What cherished thoughts he must have had of a better life in the presence of His Saviour!! To be at last clothed with a new, incorruptible and glorified body.

    Such faith, such hope, such calmness in death is rare in our days. You often read about this in the biographies of departed saints of yesteryears. But right in our midst lived a godly saint, whose spiritual worth to this country is immeasurable. We thank God for his life. I look forward to reading his autobiography. To God be the glory for His life.

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  2. I am at a loss for words but i can say one thing, you had an amazing man for a father. And that picture of the two of you holding hands is priceless. As someone who has lost both parents, i know the strength it takes to say goodbye to a parent. God bless you for sharing this story with the world.

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  3. Psalm 37 vs 37.Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. Someone said:

    "A faithful man is a fruitful man.

    If a man prays as he ought that is the prayer of faith

    If a man lives as he ought that is a life of faith. "

    If a man fights the Christian warfare as he ought that is the fight of faith

    If a man dies as he ought that is to die in faith." Glory be to God on high.

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  4. Yes. Dr Rev Sakala was a true Dad. Thanks be to God for the Sakala family by this true Heritage. Our 40 years relationship starts as a Father at UNZA arranging marriage for Dr Lemba D. Nyirenda to Dr Drinah Banda-Nyirenda in 1979 21st April at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross --- continueing to being an intercessor standing in the Gap during O Mai's Sickness, Daddy's Spinal code surgery and now his final call out at A Jennipher's home for me to pray for him-- for in the past two days no one has prayed for me----we continued strengthening Dad in prayer and by reading his word and feeding a little here and there--- tillthe last afternoon as beds were being moved to the oxygen receptacle and the oxygen tubes put in place--- I was called out to the Kabulonga StanChart to Sign a Schoolnet payroll check--- then the spirit of the Lord led me away to Lusaka West where Hon Sikatana life's condition was in distress. Just as I was arriving in Lusaka West Jennipher and Florence separately sent by SMS that Dad was gone. Then after praying we put Hon Sikatana in Vehicle for UTH intensive Care Unit and this ended in the state funeral at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. HIM TOO ASKED ME TO PRAY FOR HIS FAMILY.iN THE LATTER YEARS THE RELATIONSHIP WAS BOTH SON AND SPIRITUAL INTERCESSOR. TO god be the GLORY. 27TH June 2012. LDN I greatly Miss him as a father and Spiritual Friend. At the Funeral Service 16th April 2012 at Cathedral of Holy Cross---I cried for Your Father who is my Father Too--Oh Mwandiciyiranji-- Koma pulani--- the pain was everywhere at every moment but strengthed by his word and prayer inspiration.Thank Jennipher for calling to to say something-- Thank you -you will never know
    what that inclusion means to me. Be Blessed you all in Christ Jesus.

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  5. Surely as the Nyanja Hymn goes "Infa ya anthu ache imkomera, awalandira mnyumba zokonzeka" meaning the death of the righteous is pleases God, he welcomes them in His home prepared for them. I even remember the death of my mother, who at the point could not read or talk properly got her Bible and tried to read aloud. And a few minutes later i held her hand and i felt the grip of death from her hand. Glory be to God for the lives of faithful servants who have gone before us.Glory Be To God

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  6. What a privileged experience with a departing loved one! He made time for you in his life and you made time for him to the very last hour and the Lord has rewarded you and your loved ones with indelible precious memories forever to be cherished. What a challenge and encouragement to walk worthy of one’s calling. What a real experience with God. What manifestation of the faithfulness of the Lord to those who fear Him and esteem His name. "The Lord confides in those who fear him" Psalm 25:14. It appears Rev Sakala had a good measure of the experience of this Psalm and thus prepared for departure in such a wonderful, systematic and rare manner.

    Thanks for this sharing. And may the presence of the Lord continue abiding with you and your family.

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  7. Wow!
    What a life! This brought a soothing feeling to me about the passage to eternity with Christ. I praise God for the gravity of this reverend man and the legacies he left us (even though we didn't know him until now). Glory be to God.

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  8. Wow!
    What a life! This brought a soothing feeling to me about the passage to eternity with Christ. I praise God for the gravity of
    this reverend man and the legacies he left us (even though we didn't know him until now). Glory be to God.

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  9. What a great testimony! Thanks Jennifer for sharing! The Lord richly bless the memory and times you had with your dad.

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  10. Many many thanks to all who stood by the family during dad's brief illness and during the funeral. Thanks to our dear brother Dr Lemba Nyirenda for assisting in nursing dad at home, for being his prayer partner and for strengthening us. Thanks to Dr Anastasie for all the medical care both at home and at the hospital. Thanks to the medical staff at UTH, to our nieces Esther and Charity who were always with us by dad's side, to the Reformed Church, St Columba's Presbyterian Church, Lusaka, Emmasdale and Kabwata Baptist brethren and the many friends, family and brethren across the country and abroad who came in huge numbers to be with us. Special thanks to Rev Dr Japhet Ndhlovu, Rev Urie Van Wyke, my friend Amakobe Sande, uncle George and aunt Portia, Naomie and Elsie, Sibongile and all those that traveled far distances outside the country. All dearest friends, colleagues and acquitances, you have been such a blessing. God bless you richly. Many thanks Pastor Conrad Mbewe for this space on your blog. God bless you richly. Lookout for another tribute on 12th July on the 1st month anniversary of dad's depature.

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  11. May God Continue to comfort all family members; it’s been such a privilege to meet and know Rev Sakala whom I and my sister confidently called AMBUYA (Grand father). He was a man of indescribable qualities; wise, peaceful, generous etc. He had no hesitation in welcoming us as family members and I will forever cherish the memories of time spent with not only him but all the Sakala’s; he has indeed left a legacy in all his offspring, his great examples is a great gift for all who were lucky enough to met him. I remember him for his sense of humour, his wise comments and his generous attitude (Always available to help).

    May God bless you Aunt Jen for sharing his last days; it is so inspiring to read and I too feel “my faith renewed”. We will sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” in his honour and remembrance.

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