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 12, 2013

The Western Emperor Has No Clothes On

Even if you tried to bury your head in the sand, you can still hear the tremor in the ground of the Western carnival that is coming. The music and dancing are getting louder and louder. It is one of human-rights-with-no-holds-barred. It is coming with all the revelry that you would expect. It cannot be ignored.

However, one problem with this procession is that it long left its original route. There are no principles to guide it, except the whims of those who are hiding behind its masks and leading it in whichever direction they please. Even those of us who are in Africa are totally alarmed by its lack of principles.

The other problem is that the issues being fought for under the guise of human rights are so patently wrong that an African like me stands aghast as I look at the current campaigns, debates, and legal reforms in the West. I am asking myself, “But can’t everyone see that the emperor walking in front has no clothes on?”

A century or two ago, Christian missionaries came from the West and taught us the Bible. As a result of this, we did away with polygamy, cannibalism, tribal feuds, etc. We were taught to put on more clothing to hide our nakedness. We learned to desist from tattooing our bodies, which were now temples of the living God. We even stopped sacrificing our babies to ancestral spirits.

The perplexing turn-around
All this made sense. It was logical, once you realised that we were all created by God and in his image. But, alas, the very principles that we were taught from Scripture are now being abandoned wholesale by the countries where our missionaries came from! Sadly, the basic questions are not being answered in this turn-around. As a result, we are bewildered. A few examples should suffice:

Abortion: Who in the West does not know that life begins at conception? It must be obvious to all, therefore, that abortion is murder. Surely, we all know that we are killing fellow human beings in their mothers’ wombs in the millions every year. How come, then, that this reckless killing of babies is not being stopped?

Indecency: It is shocking to see what some adults wear when they leave their homes in the West. They leave very little to the imagination! As if that is not enough, billboard adverts all over the cities are full of naked women, or men and women poised in sexually suggestive positions. As for television and movies, indecency seems to be the stock of the trade. Add to this, public erotic kissing at stations and airports, etc. When visiting the West, I often feel like shouting, “Hey, guys, am I the only one around here who knows that all this is indecent?”

“Living together”: It is commonplace now in the West to have a man and a woman living together who are not married. Their parents know it and they just shrug their shoulders. How? I mean, how? How can a man start living with your daughter without getting your permission, as if she just fell from the sky? Surely it must be wrong. But again, are we the only ones who are seeing the obvious?

Homosexuality: Another bane of the West. Men are insisting on being given the “inalienable right” to have sex with fellow men. For me, this defies basic logic. I mean, how? The anatomy itself suggests that it is not possible. But, again, it does not seem obvious to everyone. This question is made even more pertinent when entire Christian denominations in the West that once sent us missionaries are passing laws to ordain homosexual clergy. I mean, how? Isn’t it patently wrong? We thought the Bible is clear on this matter, or are we reading different Bibles?

The world seems to have gone full circle. It was the West, through its Christian missionaries who taught us decency and propriety but now Western society is walking around half naked. It was the missionaries who taught us that marriage comprised one man and one woman for life, but now their own kith and kin are totally defacing this concept. It was the missionaries from the West who stopped us from sacrificing our babies but now millions of babies are being slaughtered in the West in their mother’s wombs. As for tattooing, don’t even talk about it.

Well, while I am asking these basic questions, the carnival is getting closer. It is coming. Not too long ago, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, visited Zambia. And on the day of his departure, he stated publicly that as a nation we should give equal rights to homosexuals. The whole nation, which took little notice of his presence until that moment (as we have bigger issues to worry about than political exchange visits), was suddenly buzzing with alarm!

I mean, how does an adult come all the way from Korea or America, or wherever it was he was coming from, and tell people who are battling real starvation and endemic corruption to allow males or females to be having sex with each other? Everyone was asking if there were no more pertinent issues for him to talk about. He was obviously straining a gnat, while swallowing an entire camel here.

The intolerant mindlessness
Let me repeat. The basic problem with this carnival is its mindlessness. There is no principle by which to hold truly intelligent discussion. It is being referred to as Post-modernism. It is the claim that ultimately there is no truth. Everything is relative, and so you must keep your opinion to yourself. Hence, someone said, “Let us get rid of religion—whether it is Islam or Christianity. It is just inhibiting us. What is important is that we love one another and care for our planet.”

But that is the point! Who determines “what is important”? Is it some collective feeling of intuition or hunch? Come on! Let’s face it: ultimately, we must have a final objective authority somewhere. We must have a non-moveable starting point. Christianity says that point is, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We may disagree on some finer details but let us be clear: an intelligent moral being created us, and one day we must give an account to him.

Again, we are back to the emperor and his lack of clothes. In the ecstasy of Western carnival euphoria, adults nod at each other’s claim that science has proved that no one created this finely balanced and intricately complex universe. Everything was simply produced by a big bang aeons ago. They call that education. Surely, even a child can tell us that where there is a design there must be a designer. Even a child can see that the emperor doesn’t have his clothes on.

Sadly, this mindlessness is becoming intolerant of dissenting views. It sounds familiar. When an older generation here in Africa tried to hang on to the empty ways of our forefathers after the Christian missionaries taught us better, many of them simply refused to reason with the younger generation who were questioning the traditions. They would simply insist, “Ni ‘ntambi!” [“It is our culture!”]. In this way, they would halt all intelligent discussion. Any questioning was deemed high treason and serious repercussions would follow.

Sadly, I seem to be hearing the same song being sang in the Western carnival that is getting closer. Laws are being passed to the effect that anyone who says anything against homosexual practices, for instance, is liable to prosecution. It is being called “hate speech”, even if all you are doing is to show its abnormality and senselessness.  At the rate we are going, it will be hate speech for me to say, “Look! The Western emperor has no clothes on!” Oops, I have already said it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Starting With A Bang—Tales From The Mission Field

[This is the third instalment in the series of blog posts entitled, “Tales from the mission field”. The series comprises glimpses into some of the fruit being born through the efforts of the missionaries currently planting churches under the oversight of Kabwata Baptist Church. This latest blog post is from Bonaventure Baptist Church, which is being planted in the southern suburbs of Lusaka by Pastor Oswald Sichula and his wife, Mwenya.]

Pastor Oswald Sichula and his family
When people first come to faith in Christ, they usually take some time before they begin to feel part of the fellowship, actively share their faith, and participate in the life of the church. But this was not the case with Elias and his wife, Memory, who began their journey in faith with a bang!

It all began with an evangelistic tea party organised by our women’s ministry in the last quarter of 2011. Memory was invited and she attended. A few days after the meeting, two ladies from church visited her to find out how she had found the meeting. She told them it was very encouraging. They then invited her for a Sunday morning church service.

After the service, Pastor Sichula and his wife visited her. Her husband, Elias, was also around when the pastor and his wife visited. The following Sunday both Memory and Elias were in attendance, and this was to be the beginning of their consistent association with our church.

Encouraged by this regular church attendance, the pastor decided to conduct a special Bible study with them on the subjects of salvation and the assurance of salvation. After some weeks of consistent study, the couple began to ask questions on a number of issues pertaining to salvation.

These studies continued until March 2012 when a review of the studies was done. When confronted with the application of the studies, both of them confessed that they had now known the gospel differently from how they previously knew it and that they felt so bad that all along they had been comfortable in a false assurance of salvation.

Elias and Memory were part of the eight candidates baptised this year on 10th March 2013 and a summary of their testimonies, read out at the baptism service, speaks volumes about their faith.

Elias and Memory Mangaba with their son
Elias Mangaba wrote: “I grew up a religious person in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. I thought that mere regular attendance of church worship services was enough for one to be a Christian. Despite this regular church attendance my character and indeed my lifestyle was worldly since I had no power within myself to restrain me from sin.

“In 2012, my wife and I began to attend Bible study sessions on the subjects of salvation and the assurance of salvation. As the studies progressed I realized that my standing with God was not right and I needed to rectify this anomaly in my life. On 2nd March 2012, I knelt down in my bedroom and asked God to regenerate my heart, to give me a new life and a hope of eternal glory, through his son Jesus Christ.”

Memory Mangaba wrote: “Before my conversion I would attend church but had no time whatsover to read or pay attention to the word of God. I never enjoyed the things of God but lavished myself in all sorts of worldly activities. On 2nd October 2011, an accident occurred in which many lives were lost. This incident awakened in me the reality of my own death and out of the fear of the grave I asked God to forgive me of all my sins. But I had no peace.

“In 2012 I started attending Bible study sessions with my husband on the subject of salvation and the assurance of salvation. Through these studies I came to fully understand the way of salvation and I put my trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. With Jesus in my life I have no fear of death any more.”

From the time Elias and Memory experienced the love and mercy of God, they have exhibited lives that are indebted to Christ through their zeal and commitment to the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. Elias is already coordinating the meetings of the men’s ministry while Memory has already been tasked with the responsibility of being treasurer of the women’s fellowship.

Elias has already been marked out among those who will be discipled with a view to being groomed for leadership in this young church. Such grace in such a short period of time can only be ascribed to the work of God the Holy Spirit. As you praise God with us for this encouraging couple, pray that the Lord will keep them firm and help them grow exceedingly in grace.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Monday Blues

Mondays. They are the worst days for a preacher. Perhaps I ought to say they are the worst days for this preacher. It is probably my most well-guarded secret but after twenty five years of experiencing such fainting fits, it is about time I let the cat out of the bag.

Almost every Monday, I wake up feeling as if the world ought to end. It lacks lustre. It is blue and gloomy. I have no drive to do anything and have to literally kick myself out of bed. This is not the day when I should be told to go visit the sick and dying. I am one of them!

Monday is a day full of self-pity. "No one loves me. No one cares for me. There is nothing I am achieving in life. What is the point of living on for yet another day? Everything is just meaningless." These are the thoughts that lay siege upon my mind the whole day.

Then usually by mid-day I notice a headache beginning to get the better of me. This grows to the point where it becomes unbearable by late afternoon. So, if I have some serious matters to attend to, I take some pain killers as soon as the headache rears it ugly head.

I have learned that I have a very expressive face. So, a usual comment I hear from people on Mondays is, "Pastor, are you okay? You don't look your normal self. Is something wrong?" My characteristic depressing answer is, "I'm fine, it's just my Monday blues."

Then comes Tuesday morning...
When I wake up on Tuesday, life is back to normal. The lustre is back. I am ready to take on the world and fight for the crown rights of my Lord and King, Jesus Christ, in every sector of life and living. Give me any space, and I will proclaim the Saviour Lord of all.

On Tuesdays, I look back to my Mondays and literally rebuke myself. "So, what was that pity party all about?" I say to myself. Evidently, all my gloomy thoughts had nothing to do with the reality around me. I'm one of the most privileged individuals in God's world.

I mean, this sounds crazy, but it really happens almost every Monday "to the clock". On Monday, I'm ready to put in my resignation letter and quit the ministry altogether. Come Tuesday, my spiritual engine is raving. I feel as if being a preacher is the best job on earth.

This weekly cycle has been my lot for over two decades now. Thankfully, I am not alone. Last Monday, I sent a text message to a pastor friend of mine. I simply wrote, "Monday blues...it's terrible!" His reply was, "I agree. How are you handling it? I am at a loss."

Well, I tried water therapy. I was told that if I drank a lot of water on Sunday, I would not have the headaches that attend my Monday blues. If it worked for others, it certainly did not work for me. It has only made my bladder work in overdrive for twenty-four hours!

Understanding the body clock
I think the most helpful "solution" was simply knowing what caused this problem. They say a problem shared is a problem halved. This weekly cycle bothered me so much that I sought counsel. I am glad I talked about my fainting fits with a doctor in my church.

The doctor told me that we preachers produce a lot of adrenaline as we heartily preach the everlasting gospel to sinners on Sundays. On Monday, the body seeks to neutralise it, hence the fainting fits. It takes a full day for the balance to be restored in the body.

I told the doctor that my concern was that even when I'm not preaching on Sundays I still go through the same cycle of Monday blues. His reply also made a lot of sense. He said the body has a clock and it has become conditioned. Every seventh day it triggers itself.

One proof of the body clock is how we get sleepy every twenty-four hours. I once thought this was caused by the fact that it was dark outside, until I began globe trotting. When I arrive half-way around the globe, my body stubbornly tells me at noon it is time to sleep!

Those who have experienced this have given it the name "jet lag". In other words, whereas the jet has suddently taken you twelve hours ahead, the body clock is lagging behind by twelve hours. So, the body behaves as it does back home until it adjusts to the new reality.

How do I live with this? 
I stand amazed. The words of the psalmist come with freshness to my soul: "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:14). No doubt, these bodies of ours were designed by an infinite Mind.

We are so intricately connected. Mere chemical imbalance in my body creates such a strong false perception of external reality. I even conclude that I am not loved and cared for, when in fact I probably have the most loving family and church on the planet.

So, for the last few years, when the dark clouds of my Monday blues begin to gather over my head, I simply keep saying to myself, "Conrad, don't believe it. That is how you feel. But the reality out there is totally different. Don't do anything stupid. Wait until tomorrow."

Today is Monday [I wrote this last Monday]. Yes, it is yet another blue Monday. You now can guess what I'm going through. I've already taken my pain killers. I'm now 30,000 feet above sea level, flying across the Atlantic on my way to Brazil, and feeling as if the world has lost its meaning.

Yet, don't worry. I won't do anything stupid. I will not open the cabin door and jump out of the plane without a parachute. I know this feeling will be totally gone tomorrow. I will wake up saying, "Brazil, I've arrived. Give me space to proclaim my glorious Saviour to you all!"

"My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim;
And spread through all the earth abroad,
The honors of Thy name!" (Charles Wesley).

Postscript: Usually, as the dark clouds begin to gather over my soul on a Monday, a ray of light breaks through. I often receive a message from someone who was at church on Sunday telling me how blessed they were by the sermon, or that someone shared with them how God converted them under the preaching. Today's was a Facebook inbox message early in the morning. It said, "Have a safe flight. Great sermon by the way!" It was refreshing. I can testify that I serve a gracious Master. He knows my frame!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Saved At The Junction Between Life And Death

[This is the second blog post under the series "Tales from the Mission Field". It is the testimony of one lady who has recently been saved from a life of wicked debauchery through the combined efforts of her uncle and a pastor's wife. May God's grace abound not only to her but to many others who are bound to sin and degradation right across Zambia!]

My name is Liz Phiri. I live in Ben Village in the outskirts of Nyimba, in the Eastern Province of Zambia. My parents settled here after coming from Chadiza, their original village area. I am thirty years old and I have four children. My firstborn is a fifteen-year old girl and the youngest is a three-year old boy.

Liz Phiri
I got married at a very young age. This is because my parents had died and there was no one to take care of us. My father was a polygamist. My mother was his first wife and a stepmother was his second. My stepmother neglected us. My father had been a mechanic and my mum had been a full time housewife. He did not leave us any sustainable assets. In the end, hardship was our lot in life.

My husband died soon after our lastborn son was born. Becoming a widow at the age of 27 was quite an experience. It prematurely threw me into what I was totally unprepared for. I reasoned that if mum and dad could die, then anyone else could. As a result, I became ruthless and reckless with my life.

I was frequently in the company of my age mates who were single and some of them were also young widows. We were childish in our behaviour and easily succumbed to peer-pressure. Prostitution, beer drinking, stealing, careless talk, and abusive language became a norm in my life. At some point I worked as a bar tender at a guesthouse. This kind of life continued for two years.

I cared very little about religion. To me it was a matter indifferent.  To make matters worse, I was completely put off matters of religion when a pastor of a certain church in my area proposed to me that I should become his girlfriend. He was a married man. I turned him down because I had great respect for religious leaders. I did not want to play with God.

Liz Phiri with three of her children
In October 2012, I got very sick. I was at what I call “the junction between life and death.” I was sure that I was going to die any moment. If you had told me that I would live to tell this story, I would have told you that you were crazy. It was at this point in my life that a woman whom I knew and did not ever want to associate with came into my life. She was Mrs Anna Mwanza, the wife of the pastor of the Reformed Baptist church in Nyimba. My uncle had introduced them to me in the year 2008. My uncle is the pastor of the Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Petauke.

Mrs Mwanza heard that I was sick and that I had no one to take me to the hospital because of my unruly behaviour. Not even my elder sister, or my stepbrothers and stepsisters, were prepared to help me. Mrs Mwanza decided to help me.

When she entered my room, Mrs Mwanza seemed very rough in her speech. She reminded me of what she had previously told me, that I needed to change my behaviour. Then she invited me to a living relationship with Jesus. I did not like it. As if that was not enough, she went on to say, “My dear, unless you repent of your sins and believe in the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, you will die twice. You will die in this body and die eternally. You will be eternally separated from the God who loves us so much.”

It was after saying these words that Mrs Mwanza smiled and sat by my bedside. With compassion, she asked me how I was feeling. She also asked me to sit up for a word of prayer. After prayer, she got a basket and served me with food. She assured me that she would help me go through the difficult times that lay ahead of me until I was healed. She warmed some bathing water for me and helped me take a bath. She even promised to take me to the hospital the following day.

KBC missionary Charles Mwanza, with his wife, Anna
When Mrs Mwanza came the following day, I was feeling much better, although I was still quite weak. She exhorted me about the vanity of life. By the time she was finished, I started sensing the vanity of the things I had cherished so much. After taking breakfast, she again helped me to take a bath in preparation for the hospital visit.

After the bath I told Mrs Mwanza that we did not need to go to the hospital because I felt healed already. I told her that the only healing I needed was that of the soul. I was convinced and convicted of my wickedness and sins. I needed Jesus Christ in my life and the forgiveness of my many sins.

Mrs Mwanza told me that salvation is by faith alone—faith in the Lord and Saviour Jesus. She said that this faith a gift from God but I was the one who needed to exercise it. She quoted Ephesians 2:1-10 and Hebrews 11:1 in explaining what this faith was. Weeks passed by. I thought about this matter until I finally yielded my life to the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour.

One day, I called for Mrs Mwanza to tell her of my intention to join her church. When my children heard me telling her about this, they were very excited. The following Sunday we were the first at the Reformed Baptist church in Nyimba.

My life as a Christian has made me discover the life that is hidden in Christ Jesus. I now have a spiritual family who mean so much to me. My prayer is that my children may have a taste of the experience I am enjoying. All my cares are now cast on Christ Jesus.