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!

Friday, February 8, 2013

An Emotional Return To My Childhood Home

40 Chudleigh Estate, my childhood home

Last Saturday, while I was still in the USA, my family moved from the church manse, which we had occupied for almost nineteen years (short by four months). I returned to Zambia on Tuesday and went straight to the church office in the afternoon to catch up with some work. The church manse is right opposite the office. As I looked in the direction of the house, I felt a sad sensation. This was the home that my family had occupied for almost a fifth of a century. I found it difficult to believe that we had finally parted ways. If those bricks and timbers could speak, I wonder what they would have told me last Tuesday afternoon?

What was even more emotional was that my family moved into my childhood home in Chudleigh Estate. I had inherited it from my parents some twenty years ago but since I was living in the church manse, we had put it on rent. Due to a number of providential happenings, the time had now come for us to occupy it. Our family moved into this home in 1970 and, apart from being away during my secondary school days, I finally only moved out in 1984. When I left that house, I was a young man of twenty-two, and freshly graduated from the university. All my worldly goods fitted into two suitcases. Now on my return some twenty-nine years later, I had a wife, six children, and so much household goods that some of it could not fit into the house. It is amazing how much we accumulate in such a short time in life.

Upon my arrival from the USA, I found that the family had already decided which rooms to occupy. What used to be the girls bedroom was now occupied by the boys and what used to be the boys bedroom was now occupied by the girls. I went straight to look at a spot in what used to be the boys bedroom. That spot holds the dearest place in my heart. It was the place next to my bed where I knelt down on the morning of Friday 30 March, 1979, and repented of my sinful life. It was there that I trusted in Christ as my Saviour. That spot has been to me what the spot of the burning bush must have been to Moses. It changed the course of my life forever! How can a human being ever forget the place where heaven came down and glory filled his soul? Looking at that place again after a long time was a very emotional experience for me.

Another place that caused me to sigh was the sitting room, but for a different reason. It was the last place I ever saw my mother. I was sitting there when I saw dad rush out of the house and then return with an uncle who lived a few houses away. A few minutes later, I saw them carrying my mom who was unconscious to the car. I never saw my mother again. A few days later people began to arrive at our home wailing. I knew she was dead. I was only nine years old then, but the picture of my mom being carried past me in the lounge and out of the house has remained etched upon my memory.

The one room that was not up for grabs was the master bedroom. So, as parents, we are the ones who have now occupied it. I slept in the room that my parents used to sleep in. It may be difficult for my Western friends to understand the emotional impact of the first night in this bedroom. In our culture, your parents’ bedroom is like the Holy of Holies in the Temple. I probably only entered it once a year, if at all! There was an aura about the room. Now here I was occupying it. The message was clear. I am now in the place that was once occupied by my father. I was a Samuel that had now replaced old Eli.

The following morning I took a brisk walk around Chudleigh Estate as part of my morning exercise. I observed so many changes. For one, most of the area opposite our home was once virgin forest. That is where I used to go with friends to hunt for birds, armed with catapults. It was also the forest where we used to go and pick wild fruits. Somewhere in that forest is where my first dog was buried when it was hit by a car. Carey was its name. I know the spot very well and intend to visit it soon. Most likely someone has built a house over the spot.

Apart from the forest being turned into housing estates, I also noticed that whereas previously you could see the houses from the roadside, now all of them were hidden behind security perimeter walls. The sense of community that I once enjoyed seemed to have been lost. Many of the rooftops that I could see from the roadside betrayed the fact that the houses had been extended.

Two houses away from us was the home of the now famous Zambian lawyer, Dr Roger Chongwe. His son, Njalikwa, was one of my closest childhood friends. As I passed that home I wondered where Njalikwa now was. Possibly in Australia, I thought.

I turned into the next street and there was the home that was once occupied by the Kalifungwas. It was in those days, way back in the early 1980s that I first met Ronald Kalifungwa. Whereas Njalikwa soon faded out of my life, upon the departure of his family from Chudleigh, my friendship with Ronald continues to this very day. I count him among my closest two friends, thirty years later.

As I entered the trunk road that leads into Chudleigh Estate from the Great East Road that goes all the way to Malawi, I recalled one of our childhood pranks. We would stand on one end of this long stretch of road and wave down cars that were passing. We would ask for a lift to the opposite end of the road. Once we got dropped off there, we would again wave down any passing cars going in the opposite direction and get a lift back to where we came from. So, childhood pranks are nothing new. A little confession is good for the soul!

As I walked along, I met a number of people—especially maids and school kids—with cell phones. I recall thinking, “In those days when I was growing up here, only Captain Kirk and his team in Star Trek had cell phones.” I still remember the way most of the episodes would end. Captain Kirk would pull out his gadget and say, “Dr McCoy (or whoever was left in charge), beam us aboard the Enterprise!”

The walk brought me pretty close to the home of my first girlfriend and I took a peep in that direction. I will keep her name a secret for now. By that time, I was already a Christian and we talked about marriage. In the providence of God, this was never to be. He had someone else for me and he had someone else for her. Such is life.

Upon retuning home I settled down to some breakfast and devotional reading from the Bible. My Bible reading from the Pilgrim Bible Notes was from Proverbs 19.  Verse 14 says, “House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD.” Wow! It was as if the Lord wanted me to realise that he knew what I was going through upon returning to the house that I had inherited from my father. It was a fitting close to my emotional return to my childhood home. I realised as never before that I have had the best of both sides of that verse!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The African Phenomenon Of The Rented Crowd

Kabwata Baptist Church congregation. This can easily be
a rented crowd on a Sunday and thus prove very misleading!
Every so often I see pictures in American magazines or newsletters showing big attendances at some church that I recently visited. The number of people in attendance far exceeds anything that I have ever seen there. If I were not part of African culture, I would conclude that this is pure deception. I would think that the church leaders deliberately went out to rent a crowd in order to deceive the visitors into thinking that their church was a mega-church.

I recall this happening when a missionary from the UK took over the pastorate of a church that had sent out a missionary into the northern part of the Zambia. When I met him upon his return, he was full of glowing reports about how the work that their church missionary was doing had really blossomed. When I called one of the members afterwards to find out about this revival, he told me that nothing of the sort had happened. They were still a skeleton congregation!

How are we to explain this? Well, the answer is quite simple. In our African culture, a distinguished visitor coming to a village draws the attention of the whole village. Life comes to a stand still. Everyone comes to welcome the visitor. No one wants to simply hear about the event afterwards. They all want to be there. It is bad manners, therefore, to receive a visitor and not send word around. It is like receiving Father Christmas alone and not sharing him—and his gifts—with your neighbours and friends.

So, when you announce to a pastor in Africa’s rural or semi-rural areas that you will be coming to visit his church, he will tell his congregation who will in turn inform their friends and relatives. The result of this is that on the day of your visit, half the village will be at that church, with many hundreds failing to fit into the building. This is especially the case if you are a muzungu (a white man) or a bishop (or some such high title). The excitement and the singing are not at their usual pitch. They are heightened by the thrill that a special visitor is in their midst. So, you will go away with a totally wrong view of the numbers that normally attend that church and the spiritual ecstasy in that congregation. There is no conscious effort to deceive. This is a phenomenon that just happens.

This is why, when I am going to visit any of our church plants, especially those who are in the rural or semi-rural areas, I never announce that I am going there. I just show up! Of course, our missionaries really complain because news soon does its rounds and they are castigated by their neighbours afterwards for “eating the candies” alone.  I still prefer this as a lesser evil because I want to know the real state of the church. I do not want to get back to Kabwata Baptist Church with glowing reports about church growth that has not really happened.

So, next time you visit Africa with your camera and take pictures of a congregation in any of our African townships or villages, easily divide the attendance by a quarter in order to arrive at the regular attendance of that church. The other three-quarters were not gathered in order to deceive you but simply because you were the most important event in the area and the people did not want to miss out. You can be sure that as soon as you got into your car and left, the congregation melted faster than ice when put on a red-hot stove.