Wednesday, July 4, 2012

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.)

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