Back from Zambia
Many thanks to those who prayed. I had a great time in Zambia.
Flying out Wednesday evening, I arrived early Thursday morning and then flew north to Ndola where Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of the Grace Reformed Baptist Church collected me. By the end of the day – having spent some time at one of the compound churches, Mapalo Reformed Baptist Church, here Pastor Marshall labours with a heart for his needy people – I had arrived at the Kaniki Bible College, a couple of miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (and therefore supplied with a helpful bevy of armed police officers), for the National Annual Reformed Baptist Youth Conference 2012 on the topic of Assurance of Salvation.
It was a slightly tricky start as schools had only just finished, and consequently people were still arriving on Thursday evening when Matthews Fikati, a local pastor, kicked things off with a sermon on 1 John 5.13. Matthews was energetic and direct, very much in earnest. A slight concern as I heard him was that I was also beginning my series with a sermon on 1Jn 5.13. However, as Matthews preached it became clear that he was setting out to accomplish something different while still setting the tone, and in doing so laid a foundation for all that would follow.
My ministry began on Friday morning. Each day began with a prayer meeting at 6am followed by a ‘rise and shine’ exercise session to get the blood flowing at 6.30am. The main days had two morning sessions (followed by discussion groups) and one evening session, and I closed with a single sermon on Monday morning. I therefore preached six sermons on the topic of assurance, beginning with 1Jn 5.13, on the fact that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable and possible. I went on to look at false foundations for assurance, before defining four key marks of true assurance of salvation: accepting God’s divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin; devotion to the glory of God; increasing, persevering holiness; and, love for the saints. The Sunday services were attended by the sponsoring churches, keeping their Lord’s day in company with the conference attendees. I finished the series on Monday morning with a brief send-off address from 2Tim 1:12, identifying the substance of true assurance of salvation.
In the three evening meetings I was preaching three evangelistic services, taking a variety of topics: I considered the putting away of sin by Christ’s sacrifice from Heb 9.26, the questions that we must ask concerning the judgement to come from Is 10.3, and the conference between mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, which was conducted at Calvary from Ps 85.10.
During the afternoons there were three sessions: one on making and choosing friends, one of making Scriptures our daily companion, and one on young people and pornography (at least as much a problem in Zambia as here in the UK). These were taken by local pastors or conference leaders, and were more interactive sessions, with lots of solid, practical advice.
All told, it was an excellent conference. Toward the end it became apparent that the Lord was blessing the ministry, as some of the group leaders reported that there were a good number attending who had come under conviction of sin and were seeking – and some professing to find – the Lord Christ, and a similar blessing on several troubled and doubting saints, whose minds were made clear and whose hearts were made warm. In the kindness of God, the whole ministry sometimes fitted together in ways beyond human planning. For example, one report came concerning a young woman for whom the sermon revealing inconclusive grounds of assurance had made plain that she never was a child of God, and who therefore sought Christ as presented in all his saving fullness.
Perhaps it is worth pointing out here that these were the same kind of sermons (some of them the very same sermons, or at least the same in substance) I preach here in the UK, preached with no discernible difference in intent, tone, spirit and expectation by the preacher, and yet the sermons at which people shrug and shuffle here seemed to produce more rapid and discernible effects there. I hasten to add that the friends organising the conference are not inclined to judge too quickly, and would be the last to offer ‘numbers,’ as it were, but are competent and careful assessors of such things. For a preached accustomed to seeing little apparent effect from his ministry, such an experience is deeply humbling and a cause for great rejoicing and renewed prayer that the sovereign Lord who is willing to bless in one place would be pleased to bless in another.
Also instructive was the arrangement and constitution of the conference. Some of the attendees were very young, others well into their twenties. The conference is organised and managed by an older group of responsible young men and women who pretty much run everything during the conference itself. The conference draws from a wide number of churches, and some of those attending are just recently off the streets, have never heard the gospel before, or have other particular needs, while some come from mature Christian homes and churches. Whereas I can imagine some trying to exclude the former for the sake of the latter (or just to make life easier), here the organisers embraced all the workload associated with such a ministry (I think the preaching might have been the easy bit!), working tirelessly to marshal the attendees, to keep things moving at a reasonable pace, to entertain and feed the hordes, coping with everything from sickness to theft with a boldness and tenderness that was genuinely commendable. Oh, for a few of these to serve in our churches! I was grateful to be serving with such gracious and determined and hard-working hosts. One young couple, the Tholes, were even appointed as my guardians for the conference, and a greater care I could not have received as I navigated through all my duties.
We parted with many expressions of mutual affection, and I headed back south for Lusaka by road, graciously chauffeured by none other than Conrad Mbewe, who – with his wife, Felistas – had also been in the area preaching at a conference for another church. I had a delightful four hours or so with Conrad and Felistas, exchanging news of mutual acquaintances, and – for me – an opportunity to pick their brains about a variety of issues of interest.
Monday evening saw me arrive safely at the home of James & Megan Williamson (LION of Zambia), serving in Zambia and sent out by the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. It was through James that I first came to Zambia, when I taught last year at the Copperbelt Ministerial College. That night was punctuated by the rather unfortunate children of the Williamson clan who – with one exception – all fell victim to an attack of vomiting between the hours of 10pm and 8am the following morning. Quarantined for my own safety in a nearby lodge, I spent some of my time reading and writing while the Williamson succumbed, cleaned, and recovered in some kind of sequence. Mercifully, James and I were spared, and spent some time running errands and meeting friends. It was very useful to see the kind of challenges and opportunities that James & Megan have.
While James oversees various efforts, including a newer ministerial college in Lusaka itself, Megan has particular responsibility for the Hope for the Afflicted orphan ministry, and I spent three hours on Wednesday morning touring Kabanana, the compound where most of the sponsored children are found. Some of the needs are grievous. Two scenes stick out: the room barely six feet square which is the entire living space (including cooking, eating, sleeping – everything) for a family of five, and the skeletal father of the mother of some of the children, who sat weakly on the floor in a fly-infested room eating fly-ridden food, occasionally hanging on to a chair as he was wracked by coughing. I walked out thinking that perhaps I had come across my first ever case of tuberculosis.
A few hours in such a place does wonders for one’s sense of priority and thankfulness for material blessings, without forgetting that the crying need is for the gospel to be taken. A few handfuls of healthy food look like a feast when you have seen a pack of kids scavenging on a rubbish dump. The orphan ministry is taking on more children.
Another observation: just because we do not have such abject poverty on our doorsteps does not mean that we do not have the poor with us. I remember that, after reporting on my previous visit, and issuing a challenge as to our response to need in our own area, someone retorted that the people near us are not really poor, are they? Such an attitude is the very one that cuts the nerve of merciful endeavour. There are homes of squalor, misery, loneliness, crime and abuse all around this and many towns in the UK, and the gospel, prompting and ministered with loving care to the whole man, is just as much the need here as there, and might bear just as much fruit.
Wednesday afternoon ended with my collection by Pastor Kasango Kayombo of Ibex Hill. Kasango had been one of the students at the Copperbelt Ministerial College when I was in Zambia before, and is now pastor of a church meeting at Old MacDonald’s Farm, the home of Don & Christine MacDonald who have made it their business to rescue some of the needy boys from the streets of Lusaka and give them homes and care for them, teach them and train them and preach the gospel to them. Several of the members and a few other friends had gathered and I preached at the midweek meeting, accompanied by some beautiful singing, on John 11, finding at least as many lessons for myself as for others as we took our faith to the school of Lazarus’ tomb.
Heading home, I had a surprise visit from Pastor Kabwe, who was himself in Lusaka for a day or two, just as I was packing, and then I headed to the airport at 6.15am the next morning, waved goodbye to James, who returned to his full house and full hands, and stepped into a plane which kindly deposited me about 10 hours and 5000 swift miles later in London, where I was shortly reunited with my family.
I had been reading a gift from my wife in my spare moments, Henry Morton Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone, and could not help but marvel with gratitude at the ease, speed, safety and comfort with which I accomplished my journey to the heart of Africa, compared with his. With barely a bite and few discernible health issues, I arrived home with a heart full of thankfulness to God, with the hopes of further trips to serve my Zambian brothers and sisters, and with prayers not just for continued fruit there, but for a grant of God’s Spirit and evidence of blessing in the work that we have to do here.
Thank you for your prayers. Do continue to seek God’s blessing on the work that has been, is being and will be done.