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 10, 2015

Farewell, Dr John Anderson

It is now one week since the remains of my dearest friend, Dr John Anderson, were interred in the graveyard at Newhouse Baptist Church in England. I am now objective enough to reflect on what that man meant to me while the Lord lent him breath. Sorry the post is long!

The beginning of our friendship

Having a meal with John in the UK in 2007
John sprang into my life in 1991. I was about to make my first overseas visit the following year and, as part of the preparations, I wrote an article about the start of the Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia in the Grace magazine of the UK. John read it with great interest.

The reason John was interested in the story I wrote about the Reformed Baptists in Zambia was because he had been coming out to Zambia to stand in for doctors who were going on furlough at a rural hospital in Katete called St Francis Hospital, some 600 km east of Lusaka.

Thus far, he only knew of the Reformed Baptist church in Chipata but had not known that there was another one in Lusaka. He kept the magazine clipping, in his characteristic way, and on his next visit to Zambia he made sure he invited me to meet with him.

In those days my form of transport was a bicycle. So, I cycled to Ridgeway Hotel where John was staying and we had a meal together. He kept a notebook where he took copious notes as we talked. That was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until God took him to glory!

John’s labours on my behalf

John offered to organise the itinerary for my coming UK trip so that I could visit as many churches as possible to preach and share the story of what God was beginning to do among the fledgling Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia. I gladly consented.

Upon returning to the UK, John shared with his church, Newhouse Baptist Church, about our need for hymnbooks. They bought and sent us enough brand new Grace hymnbooks. On my first visit to the UK, I visited this church and became friends with his pastor, John Woollam.

I have never forgotten John’s first visit to Kabwata Baptist Church. The hymnbooks had arrived and were in use during our worship service. John’s eyes were wet with tears as we sang, “Revive Thy work, O Lord,” from the hymnbooks he had organised for us.

Two years later, in 1994, I had another overseas trip coming up and again John offered to organise my UK itinerary. By this time, we had acquired a plot of land to put up our church structures. John asked the churches I was visiting to contribute towards our building project.

Newhouse Baptist Church committed itself to support our building project with a sizeable annual amount, which gave us quite a push once it was converted to the Zambian kwacha. John also opened a UK account, “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church.”

All UK support towards Kabwata Baptist Church’s building project went into this account and then John would remit the funds as and when the money was needed. He would send the bank statements to us regularly so that he kept all the dealings above board.

Until the work was done

John was a medical doctor but his heart for Africa, and Zambia in particular, went far beyond the physical well being of our people. He wanted the saving faith of God’s elect to be known among our people. Thus he gave people like me all the support that he could garner.

John Anderson’s notebook became the place where more and more Zambian Reformed Baptist churches were being scribbled for prayer and practical support. Before long, John would speak about the various Zambian pastors and churches as if he lived in Zambia.

Every so often, John came to St Francis Hospital for his tour of duty. He made sure that on each visit he included Kabwata Baptist Church. He took his usual copious notes and photos, which he used when he went back to the UK to raise support for our building project.

John swapped his Ridgeway Hotel accommodation for my little home in Libala on his future visits to Lusaka. This really melted my heart. He loved my family and became part of us. My children grew up knowing “Dr Anderson from the UK” who often visited us.

The support from John Anderson’s church, Newhouse Baptist Church, lasted for as long as our building project continued. We built our church manse and church auditorium while their support flowed from the UK. We will remain ever grateful for their kind gesture.

My eyes are teary as I write this. I became a pastor in 1987 at the age of 25. Ten years later when I clocked 35 years, Kabwata Baptist Church moved into its new building. It was but four un-plastered walls and a roof but I knew we had crossed a major milestone.

A friend not to be forgotten

As John’s strength began to wane due to old age he would often say to me, “Conrad, this may be my last visit to Zambia. I am praying that I will find someone with a heart for Zambia to take over what I am doing.” His prayer was answered in the person of Andrew Alsop.

With Andrew and Jo Alsop in the UK recently
Hence, a few years ago, while I was with John in the UK, we went together to close the “Friends and Members of Kabwata Baptist Church” account in his town and transferred the funds to a new account opened in the town where Andrew Alsop lived. John was elated.

In two years, God willing, I will have been at Kabwata Baptist Church for 30 years. Many people will be rejoicing at what God has done and continues to do at KBC. If God spares me to be part of those celebrations, I will remember my friend John who has gone to his reward.

How can I forget such a friend? John saw in me what I did not even see in myself! He often assured me of his ardent prayers for my family and my church. When he called from England or when I visited him he would often ask about each member of my family by name.

As John’s health waned, Felistas and I made sure we visited him in his home. He called it his “departure lounge”. When he knew I was coming, he put together all the magazine clippings he had kept of my ministry and gave them to me. They are now in my memorabilia box.

Handing over a book from Kabwata Baptist Church to John
Earlier this year, knowing that John may not have long to live, I made a concerted effort to visit my old friend and found him in hospital. I delivered a book full of messages of love from Kabwata Baptist Church members. I left knowing we will not meet again on earth.

John’s home going and interment

Sure enough, on May 17th, John went to be with the Lord. He has left behind his widow, Dorothy, who stood by his side throughout the years when he used to come out to Zambia. She encouraged him in his support for the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement.

After John died, Dorothy sent me this note: “Dear Conrad, you will be sad to learn the news that John has died, but not surprised I’m afraid…The end during the night of 17th May was very peaceful (I know that sometimes people say the end was ‘peaceful’ when it was not, but it truly was for John).” I am not surprised. The man served his God with distinction.

John’s pastor, John Woollam, also wrote, “We would be grateful for your thoughts and prayers for that day [of the funeral], the preparations for which John had thought about and planned very carefully. Please pray that I will be enabled to carry out everything in a way pleasing to the Lord and in accordance with John's wishes.”

John’s “successor”, Andrew Alsop, wrote me after the burial, “On Wednesday I attended Dr John Anderson's funeral. It was a powerful testimony to God’s saving & restoring grace and the chapel was almost full of people to witness it. When preparing his funeral service, Dr John told Pastor John to ‘tell them about heaven & how to get there’. Pastor John certainly did that with great liberty and honesty…. John was buried in the chapel graveyard on a beautiful sunny afternoon, with birds singing their hearts out. It was almost impossible to be sad, even though many of us were solemnised.”

Farewell, my friend John. Thank you for everything you did for me. Your sun has set. You have gone to your reward. Enjoy the reward of your labours in the presence of your God!

2 comments:

  1. Dear Brother Conrad - It is always a beautiful testimony of our Lord's glory, power, and grace to see Him knitting HIs body together with members of Christ in different lands. Makes me miss our brief times of fellowship in Petauke and in your living room next to Kabwata. Carry on dear brother. With Christian love, David Lipsy

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  2. Soli Deo Gloria! A very touching story and testimony to our great King and Father. I pray God continues His great work in your ministry.

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