Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What I have gained and lost

Our hiding place for the last 13 months--40A Chudleigh Estate, Lusaka
Thirteen months ago, my family moved from the church pastor’s house that is on the church property to our family house some twenty minutes drive from the church. I think that we are now settled in the new home, having done all the initial necessary repairs to the property.

This is the best time for me to reflect on the move—a little more than one year later. Was this a good move? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a pastor living outside the neighbourhood where his church is? Those are the thoughts on my mind right now.

Obviously, depending on one’s circumstances, the advantages and disadvantages may vary. I do not think that my reflection will fit everyone like a hand in glove. However, for what it is worth, I thought I should pen down what I think I have gained and lost by moving away from Kabwata.

What have I gained? I think that the best word to describe what I have gained is the word PRIVACY. When we were on the church premises, our doorbell never stopped ringing until just before midnight. People kept coming for every conceivable thing—church keys, water, directions, money, counsel—you name it.

Where we now live, if you ever hear a knock on the door (or the gate), it is someone who really wants to see you. In fact, I cannot remember when that last happened. Those who come to visit often call well in advance and make an appointment. What a difference!

We do not have cars driving onto the property for other business or school kids running around. The perimeter concrete wall also ensures that our entire property is out of view from anyone. The only non-family members we see around are birds and stray cats.

What have I lost? I think that the best word to describe what I have lost is the word NEIGHBOURLINESS. When we were on the church premises for 18 years, I literally became part of the furniture in the Kabwata area. I am not sure what I was not involved in.

I sat on various neighbourhood boards—in boards for the local YMCA, the neighbourhood schools, the neighbourhood watch, the constituency fund, etc. Hence, I mingled almost daily with the leaders of the wider Kabwata community.

Taking early morning or late afternoon walks here in Chudleigh is a very private affair. From time to time, I get a respectful greeting from a total stranger. In the Kabwata area it was anything but private. Kids would often shout out, “Pastor Mbewe!!!” as they saw me walk by.

At the neighbourhood shops, I would pause to chat with the shop owners before getting my groceries. I would talk with my barber about things in the church neighbourhood as he reduced my net weight. Kids coming out of the shop would demand a lollipop from “Pastor”.

Felistas also had evangelistic opportunities in the area around the church simply because she is a nurse and a midwife by training—and the people got to know about it. So, there were quite a number of first-time contacts with the church that started as medical emergencies.

The people living in the community around the church knew my family and saw the way my wife and I raised our kids. In fact, our oldest daughter got married and now lives a stone’s throw away from the church premises. So, they can see “the proof of the pudding”.

People in the church neighbourhood would refer distressed individuals to me because we had come to know one another through my community involvement, and the church premises in the community spoke of a place to find help.

So many of my ministry opportunities as a local church pastor occurred through unplanned situations. Giving a lift to someone in the neighbourhood, chatting with my local barber, walking past the local play park and finding young people in each other’s warm embrace, etc.

I guess with time I could rebuild a sense of neighbourliness where I now reside—though in an up-market residential area it is ten times more difficult—but the absence of the church premises in the local community makes me less visible and denies them a nearby reference point.

So, today I am weighing my gains against my losses. I think that I have lost more than I have gained. A year away from my parish makes me feel like a stranger in the community of Kabwata. I think that it is preferable, if at all possible, for a pastor to live where he ministers.

Like Jesus, it is good to tabernacle among the people (John 1:14). Thus John was able to say, “We have seen his glory.” Obviously, this happened as they walked, ate, and talked with him in everyday life—and not just when he stood up to deliver his famous sermons.

One change, though, that I would make is to live off the church premises. That one, I do not miss!

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