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!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The “Magic” White Shirt

The most popular Zambian-produced adverts, meant to persuade us to buy Zambian products today, are often senseless and bordering on the absurd. Whether this is true the world over or only here in Zambia, I do not know. But certainly the adverts that I have been seeing on television of late have left much to be desired. They seem to suggest that we Zambians are all idiots!

An advert of Herve Renard with his "magic" white shirt--thanks to Boom!
The mindless absurdity
To begin with there is the lack of relationship between what is being advertised and the claimed benefit of using it. For instance, look at the advert where Jeff Sitali is claiming that Herve Renard (our national football team coach) was successful in coaching the Zambian team into Africa’s number one team because of his “magic” white shirt, which is only made possible because he uses Boom washing powder.

This is obviously not true, but it is also ridiculous. What relationship has a sparkling white shirt to winning a football contest? Isn’t that the same logic that makes up African superstitions and witchcraft? I once sprained my back when trying to reach down to my computer bag during our annual missionaries prayer retreat. When an old aunt of mine heard about it, she asked me, “Did anyone touch it before you did? They could be after your job, son!”

There is sheer mindlessness in so many of the adverts. I think here of a paint advert on ZNBC TV where all we are shown is a guy with a hoarse voice dancing with a bucket of paint. I am not being told what the superior quality of this paint is. So, am I being expected to prefer this paint over others because someone danced with it? Or am I being told that I will dance like that if I use this paint?

The blatant lies in the adverts
What also worries me is the blatant lying. Look at the television advert where Christopher Katongo (our national football team captain) is claiming he uses MAQ products for his laundry detergents, his bathing soap, and his body lotions. He is being paid to tell a lie. He knows that it is not true, but he goes in front of the whole nation and blatantly lies to us. Why are we allowing this?

Granted, there is a grey area in all areas of life, and advertising is no exception. How long should Christopher Katongo use MAQ products before he can say to the nation that he uses them—one week, one month, or one year? There is no such line. However, for a company to come and pay me so that I can claim I use what I do not use—that is a lie. If I have any moral fibre, I should not accept that.

Tiger Woods with the Nike "swoosh" on his cap and golf shirt
Learning from others
Look at Tiger Woods and Nike. Nike's trademark is the famous “swoosh”. Woods simply wears that symbol on his clothes—and they pay him millions of dollars for doing that. He does not need to tell us lies that the swoosh is the “magic” or secret of his success. The secret of his success is talent, hard work, and practice on the field. Even an idiot knows that!

The United Kingdom has what is called the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which is a watchdog that prevents what has become a senseless “free for all” here in Zambia. One of its rules is that adverts must not exaggerate facts. Recently the ASA in the United Kingdom banned an advert because it had exaggerated the effect of using L’Oreal brand anti-aging cosmetics on the famous actor Julia Roberts. That is how such watchdogs should function.

Doesn’t the Zambian Marketers Association or Chamber of Commerce have some rules about advertising? Surely, although there are some grey areas, which will be exploited by those wanting to make quick bucks, an active watchdog should ensure that these adverts that insult our intelligence come to an end!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why are we not sending out African missionaries?

One experience that often refreshes my heart when I visit the USA is when I meet Christians telling me that they are sensing a call to go as missionaries to Africa or Asia and are actively praying and preparing to that end. I often ask myself the question, “Why don’t I hear this back home? Why are our own people not thinking about taking the gospel to far away lands that desperately need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Doesn’t God want to use Africans in missions too?”

The individuals who speak like this are often young couples raising very young families. They speak about going to places where they will be far away from their families and friends, where they will forego many of the comforts of Western life, and where they will be exposed to disease and danger. Yet they speak with great excitement and anticipation. It is something they want to do for Christ and for the gospel. They sense that this is what will bring fulfilment to their lives.

We can easily say, with a very judgemental spirit, that these are individuals who have failed to make it in life in their own country, and so they want to get out onto the mission field in order to survive. Let us suppose that was true about some of them. Well, then, why don’t those in our circles “who have failed to make it in life” come forward asking us to send them as missionaries into our rural areas or into impoverished and dangerous countries in Asia? Even that is not happening here!

We are still a receiving church
I think that there are a few reasons why we hardly experience this phenomenon in Africa. To begin with, we are still very much a receiving church. We still see missions as something the white man does. After all, they are the ones who brought the gospel to us so many years ago. Due to this unconscious view, we do not feel guilty about this sin of omission. It is like children in a home who do not participate in raising funds for the education of their siblings even when they have started working. “It is the responsibility of mom and dad. After all, they are the ones who brought us into this world!”

David Brainerd preaching to the American Indians
Missions is absent in our worship services
I also think that it is because the subject of missions does not occupy any meaningful part in our regular worship. I have noticed that in many churches in the USA, there is a deliberate effort to focus prayer on specific countries of the world that are most needy spiritually. This is often also included in the church bulletin for that particular Sunday. Hence, children grow up in church thinking about the worldwide needs as far as gospel work is concerned. This bears fruit as they begin to wrestle with what to do with their lives in their late teens and early adulthood.

That is not the case here in Africa. The average church in Africa does not have any specific section of its worship dedicated to the subject of missions. Everything is inward looking. Even when you come to the church prayer meetings, the requests are about sick uncles and aunts, travelling mercies for those going out of town, money for school fees, etc. It is not God’s worldwide agenda at the centre of the prayer times but individual needs within the church. Missions is conspicuous by its absence!

We think we are too poor
I think that another reason is that we see the lack of money as a real hindrance towards the work of missions, especially when it involves crossing lands and seas. How can I find myself in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan, without having a pocket full of money like the Americans? We think, “If I am already struggling to survive financially in a place where I have friends and relatives, how much more if I go to a place where I do not know anyone and the people are hostile to the Christian religion?” Hence, the work of missions is not an option.

What we fail to realise is that most Americans who have to make their way to Africa or Asia (or anywhere else in the world) spend an entire year or more going from church to church to raise their support. Many of their supporters give small amounts regularly. They often have to survive with very little support coming in. They also have to spend some of that money to keep their supporters well informed as to what is going on in the field so that their financial and prayer support can continue. Sometimes disaffection creeps into their relationship with their supporters and the tap runs dry. However, despite all this, the missionaries still want to serve the cause of the gospel abroad.

We lack African role models
We also lack role models. Whereas we have church pastors serving in African churches, we do not have African missionaries who can come to our churches with reports of how God is extending his kingdom through their labours in foreign lands. We do not even have such biographies in our bookstores for our young people to read and be inspired. All our missionary biographies are about Western missionaries, and so we relate to them the way in which we relate to movie actors. We are mesmerised by what we read but we conclude that these are not men of like passion as ourselves.

That is not the case with our American friends. They read biographies of men like David Brainerd and Adoniram Judson and can relate to the towns where they grew up and the schools they went to. They can understand the sacrifice that they made to leave their own world to go and serve among the local Indians and the Burmese across the oceans. They sense that the same God is also calling them to leave their comfort zones and go into places of poverty, disease, and danger for the sake of the gospel.

Adoniram Judson
So what should we do?
Therefore, there are a number of challenges that come to us today, those of us who are pastoring churches in Africa. We need to teach our people regularly that the days when the church in Africa was an infant are over. The days of receiving must give way to days of giving. The Great Commission is as much our responsibility as it is the responsibility of Christians in the West. We also need to serious make space for information from the mission field and prayer for missions work in other countries—especially the most needy countries of the world. There will never be a burden unless statistics are known.

Those of us who are pastoring churches in Africa also need to network with other churches, both within and outside Africa, in order to raise funds for the work of missions. Yes, in comparison to our Western friends, we are poor; but if we can pool our resources together we can do something. Where our Western friends are sending out thousands of missionaries, we will send out hundreds of indigenous missionaries.

And finally, we need to seriously look for African role models. Surely, we should have a few dynamic men and women who have left the bright lights of the African cities to plant churches in rural areas. We must have a few African men and women who have quietly gone into Islamic and Communist countries to spread abroad the aroma of Christ. We need to know them and put their heroic examples before our people.

The Zambian Annual Reformed Family Conference and School of Theology this year is on the theme, “Missions—Not Beyond Our Reach.” It will be addressing this very matter. So, if you are able to join us, please mark Monday 27 to Friday 31 August in your diary. We need to put our heads together and turn the tide around. We as an African church need to take our place in the grand purpose of God in world missions. We can do it. Missions is certainly not beyond our reach!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monametsi Bahudi—Our New Missionary To Botswana

Last Sunday, July 1, 2012, was yet another milestone at Kabwata Baptist Church, as we set apart yet another missionary into the great spiritual harvest field. This time it was a national from Botswana, and he was being sent back to his own people to plant churches under the banner “Central Baptist Church”, starting with Central Baptist Church, Gaborone. His name is Monametsi Bahudi. We would value our praying for him. Below is his testimony of salvation and calling to the full time preaching ministry.

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Pastor Sibale taking Monametsi Bahudi through his ordination vows
Testimony of salvation
I came to faith in Jesus Christ during the month of July in 1992. A gentleman who did not give me any breathing space but kept inviting me for Christian meetings had been pursuing me for some time. On this occasion I finally went with him because he had been so insistent. During the meeting, the sermon that was preached was about Naaman and his issue of leprosy. I became convicted of my own sin that could only be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. I believed on Jesus as my personal Saviour. The delivery of the sermon and the call to repentance were predominantly Arminian but I genuinely believed. I spent some time not affiliating to any church, as there was such a strong debate on which church was the correct one. I only joined a Baptist church in 1994 through baptism and I began to experience true growth.

In 1995 there were some Southern Baptist missionaries in the church who must have embraced Reformed theology. They isolated about five of us young men (including Bonang Lekoba) and began to teach us doctrines, which I now know to be the doctrines of grace. I enjoyed them and began to teach them to other youths. I was a leader for the youth group in the church and also began to preach when our pastor (Benjamin Kabika of Gaborone Baptist Church) asked me to. I soon became competent at preaching even though I cringe when I listen to what I taught in those days because of either the doctrinal errors or emptiness in the sermons.

In 2003, I worked in Francistown and was included on the preaching roster. Somehow, I was given more preaching slots than the other men. The church seemed to have a soft spot for my confident emptiness in the pulpit. Maybe even this emptiness was better than the “fullness” that others had! When I moved back to Gaborone, I was effectively an associate pastor in the church, which exposed me to the closer scrutiny. At that time the church wanted to register with the government and so we had to fill in some forms, which required us to put down our beliefs. This is what opened a Pandora’s box of diverse beliefs in the church. To cut the long story short, I realized that I my beliefs were incompatible with those of the church, especially in the areas of church government and the authority of the Bible. Fellowship became increasingly difficult as many members of the church felt that I was a heretic and was preaching the doctrines of the devil.

The church elders laying hands on the new missionary
I finally joined Central Baptist Church in July 2004 when it was just being formed. We were finally registered with the government in 2005.

Sense of call to the ministry
The bible teaches that when a man desires the office of elder he desires a good thing. For sometime now I felt that this was the call and desire for my life but I often suppressed it, especially in 2005/6 when we were hoping to get Mr Nsenduluka as our church-planting pastor. I looked forward to being under a Reformed elder who would guide me on how I can really be sure that God was calling me.  With the passing of time, this desire got stronger and clearer. When we could not finally get Mr Nsenduluka and began to look for someone else, this desire was growing in me. However, I avoided mentioning it to my fellow leaders (Katongo Nkamba and Phanuel Mweemba) for fear of presumption. When Ted Vinatieri—an elder from Grace Fellowship in Pennsyvania, USA—came to visit us, I had a long chat with him about it. It became even clearer that I am the servant that God wants to use to lead Central Baptist Church in Gaborone.

Since then I have been trying to deal with my blind spots. The church has affirmed my preaching and leadership gifts for some time now and I feel more confident that God has called me. I am planning my exit from my full time government service some time next year so that I can devote more time to the church.

The Bahudi family after the ordination service
My family
I am married to Tshoganetso and God has blessed us with four wonderful daughters. We are also fostering my late sister's son.  Our first daughter is 15 years old and is doing Form Two. She is a very reserved person and very quiet. Eunice Ikanyeng is 12 years old and doing Standard Seven. She is not quiet at all. She is vibrant. Abigail is going to be 6 next December. Finally, we have Rene who will be two years old in October. Ignicious is 18 years old. He is doing Form Four. He has had to repeat a few years cause he is apparently a slow learner but now he is doing better with his schoolwork. He is a very respectful boy.

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We are grateful to our sister churches and partners who have joined hands with us ever since we started planting churches in Botswana in 2004. Botswana is hard ground, spiritually. We now have three churches—in Gaborone, Francistown, and Orapa—but they are all still in diaper stage. This is our third attempt to send a missionary there, the first having been Kapambwe Nsenduluka (a Zambian) and the second being Bonang Lekoba (a national of Botswana). We are under no delusion that the devil will yield ground easily this time. We ask you to pray for Pastor Bahudi that God will use him far beyond our wildest dreams. We know that in answer to your prayers, God can do it!

A Tribute To A Great Zambian Christian Church Leader – The Rev Foston Dziko Sakala (1934 – 2012)

By Rev Dr Japhet Ndhlovu – Nairobi, Kenya

Zambia recently lost a great son of the soil. A Zambian giant of family, religious, political, and moral conscience stepped off the stage into the arms of the God who saved his soul and made him in many ways a statesman and many good things to many people.  The Rev Foston Dziko Sakala went to be with the Lord on Tuesday 12th June, 2012 at the University Teaching Hospital after an illness. He was put to rest at Kanakantapa in Lusaka East near his retirement home.

When all is said and done, it is not about how long we lived, but rather how well we lived life in the years that God the Creator alloted us. Reverend Sakala touched more lives than most will ever realise in his excellent service to God and humanity. The writer of this tribute, who was his ardent student, is one such grateful life.

Reverend Sakala was 78 years old at the time of his death. He enjoyed 58 years of marriage to his dear wife, Emelia Sakala, who has survived him. God blessed them with twelve children—three of whom have already passed away—and several grand children. They trained their children in the ways of the Lord and general humanity. Reverend Sakala insisted that all his children receive respectable formal education from very good institutions of learning.

Ecclesiastical life
Rev Sakala was an ordained minister of the Word and Sacraments in the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ). He served God faithfully through the RCZ and in very high and important ranks until he honourably retired from active ministry upon attaining the age of 65. Yet among his many protégés he was popularly and fondly known simply as “abusa FD” (pastor FD). He preached and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. A great number of people were introduced to faith in Jesus Christ through his life and ministry.

Being an ardent believer in the value of formal education, he served the RCZ as its Education Secretary to promote education through the RCZ learning institutions. He trained hundreds of young people who eventually became ministers of the Word and Sacraments in the Reformed churches of Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. Some of these are now serving God in other countries such as Kenya, Canada, Sierra Leone, Australia, and the USA.

Service to country and region
Rev Sakala was a man of many accomplishments who served his country and region faithfully, diligently, and with great commitment and honour. He had the rare honour and privilege to serve as Chairperson, President, Trustee, or Executive Committee Member in a multitude of organisations. These included:

- Long serving Principal of Justo Mwale Theological College in Lusaka;
- Chairman and Trustee of the Bible Society of Zambia;
- Vice Chairperson and long serving member of the Citizenship Board of Zambia under the Ministry of Home Affairs;
- One of the first appointees of the Commissioners of The Human Rights Commission;
- Chairman and later Trustee of Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation Board;
- President of the Christian Council of Zambia;  
- Board member at World Vision Zambia;
- Chairman and Board member at Multi-Media Zambia;
- Executive Committee Member of the Southern Africa Alliance of Reformed Churches;
- Executive Committee Member of the Reformed Ecumenical Council;
- Board member of the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ);
- Founding President of the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP);

Reverend Sakala was such a brave advocate for justice that when the local outspoken voice of conscience, Bishop John Mambo, was about to be deported for what could be termed as ‘politically motivated reasons’, he gathered the required courage to face the then very powerful and feared President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda (KK), to successfully plead for Bishop Mambo’s release. The powers-that-be then (United National Independence Party) had wanted to silence Bishop Mambo, who believed in the non-violent struggle for justice and peace, from talking openly and without fear about matters of good governance in Zambia.

Reverend Sakala believed in democracy and the rule of law and thus actively participated in the re-introduction of multi-party politics in Zambia. In 1990/91, a while before the multi-party democracy storm engulfed the country, he showed rare courage by telling the all-powerful KK, that the era of one party participatory democracy was no longer sustainable in Zambia.

Reverend Sakala became a member of the leading team of clerics under Anglican Bishop Stephen Mumba that brought KK and the leaders of the opposition political parties, led by the late Dr FJT Chiluba, to agree on an historic road map to the multi-party elections of 1991. Reverend Sakala’s role as President of FODEP speaks volumes of how he championed transparent, free, democratic, and fair elections in the country.

Reverend Sakala used his high profile to campaign for the emancipation of the oppressed, to defend human rights, and to fight HIV/AIDS, ignorance, disease, poverty, and racism.

Service to the world
Reverend Sakala was an ardent believer in the dignity of all human beings and as such he promoted the culture of human rights for all. His clear Christian leadership made global impact as he provided leadership for the global church family, especially in the years of apartheid. His stance was clear—the church should not tolerate such a grave injustice on humanity.  He articulated this constantly as a member of the Executive Committee of the Reformed Ecumenical Council—one of the antecedent bodies of the World Communion of Reformed Churches in the 1980s.

Reverend Sakala contributed in a small way to the dismantling of this evil system of racial segregation (apartheid) in South Africa. This he did by actively engaging the Dutch Reformed Church’s leadership in South Africa over the subject, and also by raising his voice in ecumenical bodies such as the Reformed Ecumenical Council on this matter. He served this body at the same time that Rev Dr Allan Boesak of South Africa was also in the leadership. Reverend Sakala went as far as arranging a meeting between President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and President P W Botha of South Africa which took place at Katima Muliro border town. The purpose was to allow Dr Kenneth Kaunda, as a strong moral voice of the then Frontline States, to prevail upon President Botha about the need to dismantle the evil system of apartheid by starting legislative processes, the return of refugees (including Thabo Mbeki, who by then lived in Lusaka), and the release of all political prisoners (including the great Nelson Mandela).

Reverend Sakala was a modern day prophet. In the opinion of this writer, the true prophets of today are those who see the evil in this world and speak out and/or write against it in the hope of turning people away from such evil and back to the created and heavenly intent of God. Unlike Old Testament prophets, prophets of our own times are people who fearlessly call on both the faithful and the powers-that-be to remain true to the positive ideals and values of love, compassion, and justice and that is exactly what Rev Sakala did throughout his life. He was a true champion and friend of the poor and oppressed both in Zambia and beyond. He led several delegations to Heads of States and to government leaders, be they Ministers or Permanent Secretaries, to champion one moral cause or another.

The message of condolences sent to the RCZ and the Sakala family by the General Secretary of the world Communion of Reformed Churches, the Rev Dr Setri Nyomi from Geneva- Switzerland, further testifies to the great man Reverend Sakala was. The message read, “We received the news of the home-going of our brother, Rev. Foston Dziko Sakala with much sadness.  We thank God for the impact of Rev. Sakala’s leadership”. 

His never wavering sight of God
Though Reverend Sakala became a giant in his role as spokesperson for, and defender of, justice and truth, and as he gained popularity and affection for exhorting the Zambian people to non-violent struggle for justice and peace, he never lost his simple faith in God and pious devotion and love for the Saviour of his soul. He was truly committed to Jesus Christ and the cause of the gospel. He often said to those of us who sat in his theology classes that he was doing what he was doing motivated by his faith in Jesus Christ. He was a true voice of religious and moral conscience.

As did the great Patriarch Jacob, father of the Israelite nation in Genesis 47 verse 29 onwards, when it was clear he was about to die, Reverend Sakala sufficiently prepared his family for his passing on and even arranged in some way his own funeral service. He then prayed, breathed his last, and he was gone from this world.

He was indeed a man of great faith in a great God. He went through great trials but exhibited great commitment. He has left a great legacy and great inspiration for Zambians. As believers in Jesus Christ, we believe that what awaits this great son of his country, labourer in the Church and servant of God, Reverend Foston Dziko Sakala, is a great reward which God our father will give not only to him but also to all who love the appearing of our Lord and his son, Jesus Christ.
May we all emulate him!

(The author is Head of School of Theology, Presbyterian University of East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.  He is the former General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia and also former Spokesperson of the Oasis Forum in Zambia.)