Dear Doctor Conrad Mbewe,
On this day you have obtained your PhD, a feat that makes me truly proud of you, I thought reminiscence of the magnificence of providence in our lives would be appropriate. Our journey through this life has not passed without providential fascination. I recall first meeting you at Ndola Primary School in the early 1970s. You struck me as a tall casual walking lad with a happy easy-going appearance. Being the talented sports boy I was, in a school that made much of sports, it did not require much for me to deduce from your frame that you were preordained to be on the losing side of whatever sports team you played for.
On the friendship front, it is interesting that it was our older sisters, Chipo and Mwape, who become close friends before we could see the wisdom of forging ours. Perhaps it is because they journeyed on to the same secondary school, while we went in different directions. God knew better, for after our wilderness years of being Satan’s part-time sales agents in different spheres, he brought us together to be intimate God-loving saints.
I vividly recall an occasion when I met you travelling by bus to the town we would both make our home that left a nagging impression on my mind. You were struggling to walk for the simple reason that the theological books you had just bought were in excess of the permitted weight for both body and bag. My heart reaction was: here is a serious Christian worth deepening a friendship with. Although I was an avid research reader, this time I was beholding a friend who was audacious to go for heavy-weight books. Until then, few if any of the friends I had were in this lonely league. I took note.
Behind the curtains
Dear readers, my impressions of the man I had the privilege of living with, one who would be my confidant, wedding bestman (after being his) and my twin brother in many respects, linger with unwithering freshness. Let me walk you through some.
Although I noted that Conrad had a physically demanding job as a mining engineer, I thought he had unacceptable paediatric sleeping patterns. He slept too early for an adult. With no small embarrassment, I often found myself talking to myself, thinking he was awake with me. To his credit, however, he rose while I still shamefully gazed into my eyelids, trailing all sorts of dreams – the good, the bad and the ugly!
For the first time I had a friend to whom theological reflection and debate along with Christian service were life and death issues. This is a man whose conversations are sweetly heavenly, always edifying. To describe him as a man with a Christocentric heart is by no means an overstatement.
Witty humour laces his speech, the kind that reminds one of Spurgeon. Around Conrad, the sun sets very very late. He always sees and helps you see the bright side of life. Occasional refined naughtiness makes him great company. To my beloved friend, sincerity is like a necklace from his sweetheart that he cherishes dearly. He is all-round dependable, a man of inflexible faithfulness. He is a man of his word.
In the years we spent together I noted that Conrad spent money in the most frugal and responsible manner. His budget leaned quite handsomely towards his personal spiritual development. He paid meagre attention to the frivolity of stocking his clothing cabinet. His brown safari suit was more than enough for elegant occasions. Still, he was always tidy and clean. Generosity oozed out of him with ease. A more selfless man you will be hard-pressed to find.
His struggles, doubts, fears, confusion and failings he readily brings up for discussion and counsel to close friends. He has a translucent skin, gladly placing his life on a public shelf. I came from another school of practice. In our little flat he openly wept occasionally, but not for reasons that ordinary people do. He wept when the outrage of sin in the church overpowered him.
His emotions are well regulated and symmetrical. His mind rules, and rules admirably. His is a fertile well cultured mind, the product of meticulous organisation, disciplined study, profound reflection and ardent prayer. Clear thinking and broad perspective are his hallmark. Add to this a concern for a practicality that seeks spiritual good in all dialogue. This is one friend who has little patience for fantastic sounding theological irrelevancies.
In the occasions I have differed with him, he has kept an eye on both principle and friendship, while mine have often roved around principle to a fault. My memory keeps no record of him resorting to anger outbursts when rattled or irritated. At worst he falls back on intellectually disarming and occasionally unsettling sarcasm. In our endless theological discourses he has spoken with candour and grace. Without doubt he is a friend par excellence.
While Conrad’s professors at Pretoria University have today conferred him with a PhD, his friends in essence did this when he entered ministry, in recognition of his years of sound living and resounding Christian service. More on his public life some other day.
By Choolwe Mwetwa