The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

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“Grace Alone” – a Sicilian report

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People gathered from all over Sicily, Italy, and beyond for the opening of the new church premises of Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica “Sola Grazia” in Caltanissetta, in the heart of Sicily. The building itself is beautiful, though it remains – in some of its details – a work in progress. Every major part of the whole is intended to communicate something of the truth of the church and its biblical convictions.

You enter the building as you reach the seventh step – hints of a Sabbath rest. The visitor walks through four ‘Gospel’ pillars into an octagonal meeting room, reminding us that the Lord Jesus met with his people on the day of resurrection, and eight days afterward. You come in from the west, leaving the darkness behind you. On the eastern side of the church, the pulpit is the focal point, and there the light of God’s Word is shining. Behind the pulpit are two windows, suggesting the Old and the New Testaments. Opposite the pulpit are three windows in front of one window. The light shining through the one also beams through the three, giving at least an inkling of the God whom we worship. On each side of the main hall are a further twelve windows, a nod to the patriarchs and the apostles reminding us of the church of all the ages, and the great cloud of witnesses about the church militant. All the light coming in shines from above. Simple decor and wise use of space indicate that the light of nature has also taught the people one or two things.

The grand opening began on the evening of Friday 2nd December 2016. The particular focus of this night was the immediate community, a good number of whom were represented in the crowd who filled the building, along with several local dignitaries. The first act of the evening was to go back outside for the unveiling of the stone plaque bearing the church’s name and the five key Reformation solas. Underneath, a bronze plate records thanks to the God of all grace, and to his people – known to himself – whose generosity has contributed to the erection of the building. Pastor Reno Ulfo spoke simply as the green cloth dropped from the plaque, and we all filed back inside.

The strains of “Amazing Grace” in Italian filled the building before Pastor Leonardo de Chirico (Chiesa Evangelica Breccia di Roma) opened proceedings. He spoke briefly and pungently of the purpose of the church, addressing the local authorities plainly, and broadening his gospel applications to all those gathered. It was both instruction in and an example of the priorities of the people of God. The local mayor responded, followed by one of his predecessors. Both spoke as politicians, but I thought that in both a note of personal respect and some interest could be detected. Certainly, this opens up a door of opportunity for the church. The fact that the building has been constructed without draining local civil funds – unusual for this part of the world – is a testimony in itself. Already this is established as a congregation that gives more than it takes.

Professor Bolognesi of Padova then briefly outlined the theological implications of the architecture. Pastor Reno went on to identify several people and groups who had made particular contributions to the building project. After this, a video history of the church was shown. Minor technical problems, typical of life in new premises, somewhat curtailed that exercise. I don’t believe anyone was too bothered, though, as it ushered in refreshments. Light and sweet Sicilian snacks paved the way for the heavy stuff – rice balls and varieties of pizza providing enough carbohydrates for the most demanding athletes, and with enough leftovers to keep many small armies on their feet for a week or two. One is tempted to suggest that a good twelve baskets of hefty fragments could have been gathered.

Notable on this first evening and over the whole weekend – and highlighted in Pastor Reno’s thanksgiving – was the investment of the whole church, both local and beyond. The tireless and generous contributions of God’s people were evident even before attention was drawn to them. The fruits of the work were often more evident than the workers themselves, but it was clear how much had been given by so many, in terms of time, energy, and expertise. The living stones have not been neglected for the sake of the concrete blocks. Particularly moving was Pastor Ulfo’s brief tribute to his family. Few will appreciate that, for all the pastor’s sacrifices, those made by his wife and children can often be greater. In some measure, they sacrifice him as well as for him and for the Lord. Giovanna Ulfo and the children deserve credit for the work that Reno Ulfo does, and it was good to see that publicly recorded. We pray that the fruit of Reno’s gospel labours might shine as brightly in his family as it does anywhere else.

As the night wound down, we drifted back to our various rooms and guesthouses. The Saturday began fairly slowly. The overseas preachers gathered again: Pastor Alan Dunn (Grace Covenant Baptist Church, Flemington, New Jersey, who was travelling with his wife, Patricia), Pastor Gordon Cook (Grace Baptist Church, Canton, Michigan), and myself. We met with a number of the key men at Caltanissetta, including all those involved in various church planting endeavours. We also chatted with our translator, Damion Wallace, to prepare for the next couple of days’ work. After the usual generous hospitality, we went back to our lodgings and prepared for the evening.

As we gathered, we discovered that some of our preparations had been less helpful than others. Damion was losing his voice. Alan Dunn had adopted a non-traditional way of arresting an unpremeditated act of violent genuflection he had undertaken in Reno’s home, viz. bringing his forehead into vigorous contact with a very hard object. Butterfly stitches and plasters had somewhat repaired the damage. Add in Gordon Cook’s travails in travel, and our fighting capacity was sliding badly. We forged ahead.

The focus of the ministry that night turned to the broader church, represented among us by various believers from around the island and further afield. With that in mind, we began to address the solas of the Reformation. I began with sola Scriptura, followed by Gordon Cook on solus Christus and Leonardo de Chirico on sola fide, before Alan Dunn closed the evening dealing with sola gratia. All the ministry seemed warmly appreciated, and fellowship over further piles of food was very profitable. There was clearly much intelligent and heartfelt engagement with the truth, and several men and women spoke thoughtfully and earnestly about what they were hearing.

The Lord’s day started early, and added to our catalogue of outward woes. Reno’s voice started to get croaky, and I had a blithe journey with a man who was late even before he casually announced that he did not know the way to the church building.

Despite all this, we started at a reasonable time. I completed the series on the solas with a study of soli Deo gloria. A brother called Jose was stepping in to assist with the translation, and did a cracking job. This day we were speaking more to the local church, and so I tried to make this a particular emphasis. From there we moved straight into the formal dedication of the building to the worship of the true and living God, and Pastor Reno preached the Word of God, giving us a wonderful survey of the concept of God’s temple throughout the Scriptures. He ensured we got and kept our eyes fixed on God’s presence among his people, rather than mere buildings. God also strengthened Damion’s voice and restored him to his duties, further assisted by Jose and Giovanni Marino, one of the faithful and gifted deacons in Caltanissetta. Several brothers – local pastors – stood and pleaded earnestly with God for a blessing on the church and its work in the new premises. Gordon Cook represented the visitors in this season of intercession.

Lunch followed before we turned, for the balance of the day, to the doctrines of grace. I opened on the depravity of fallen man, and was able to finish before the effects of our latest abundant feeding were too well-advanced. Pastor Dunn followed with redemptive-historical studies on the election of God and the redemption that Christ accomplished. The weight of these sessions was, for me, relieved by a delightful older lady doubtless using headphones for the first time. This meant that she regularly bellowed at her husband at a volume which ensured that she could hear her own voice. She also cackled loudly at anything humorous about fifteen seconds after it was spoken, as the translation caught up.

Given Reno’s other duties and to preserve his voice, I had the unexpected opportunity to address the irresistible grace of the Spirit’s work in the heart. By this stage, the folks were flagging, and several had been obliged to leave, so I kept it to about thirty minutes. Pastor Cook finished the public ministry by highlighting the perseverance and preservation of the saints, admirably demonstrated on one level by the fact that most of them were still listening to us after three days of intense teaching and preaching. Gordon’s focus on the double grip of divine power and love from John 10 was a fitting end. As Pastor Ulfo said, “dulcis in fundo” – “the sweet stuff is at the bottom.”

There seems little doubt that God’s strength was made perfect in our weakness on this occasion. Weariness, illness and injury in us was outmatched by grace and goodness in him and in the patience and earnestness of those hearing.

Monday morning saw Reno and I have a brief opportunity to explain the gospel to a couple of people at my lodging house. Attempts at trilingual (English, Italian, French) evangelising leave me half-wishing that the gift of tongues remained extant. Would it not be wonderful if these brief contacts bore gospel fruit?

We drifted toward Catania for Pastor Cook’s last preaching engagement and my flight home. Along the way, we stopped at a city set on a hill, Calascibetta. Unfortunately, far from being an enlightened and enlightening place, it was wrapped in fog and sunk in spiritual darkness. A visit to the Roman Catholic church building confirmed the vacuity of the question driving one hundred conferences in the next year: Is the Reformation over? That so much genuine spiritual ugliness could be communicated in a place of undeniable architectural beauty answered that question, for these falsehoods if not for many more. Flagrant Mariolatry vied for the laurel of ungodliness with statues of the church ‘patron’, Peter, decked out in all the regalia and symbolic power of the pope. From the position of the building to the message of the decor to the arrogance of the priest (it became clear as we spoke that he was an old-school Catholic and personally godless), it all shouts a message of carnal dominion that Islam itself can only rival.

Walking back down the damp streets, we paused at the prison from which a man called Francesco Giovanni Porcaro was taken by the Spanish Inquisition to his death by burning. His crimes? Denying Christ in the sacrament, indulgences, and the pope, as well as propagating the doctrines of Luther and other errors, and continuing in the above with all obstinacy. It is good to know that the light once shone in this now-gloomy city. We should pray that it would prove true once more – post tenebras, lux! Reno’s promise that there would be open-air gospel preaching on this spot in the coming year was some consolation that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ would again beam forth. But who knows what price this and coming generations must pay for such faithfulness?

Sobered, we entered Catania and found some food at Fud, a delightful restaurant where options included horse and donkey. I opted for a more than bearable and not too risky buffalo, joined by Reno. Patricia Dunn, afflicted throughout the weekend by the presence of all the men, and having worked like a Trojan alongside the friends at Sola Grazia, opted for a ladylike salad. Alan had something fittingly but reliably cheesy, and Gordon got himself outside of a sandwich that may have involved a fairly safe chicken.

Our conversation over lunch centred on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the churches we love and serve. As ever, hard questions rarely produce easy answers. Still, they are better than empty questions carelessly shrugged off.

It was with joy and sorrow that we arrived at the airport. It had been sweet fellowship in Christ and his service, and there was more work for us all to do already looming. With mutually renewed promises of communication and prayer, information to exchange and promises to keep, I strolled through security. They drove off into the sunset, and I flew off into the darkness.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 12 December 2016 at 14:38

I go to a land Down Under

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For friends in Australia (Sydney), you might be interested in the Truth of the Gospel Conference, coming up on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th July at St Johns Park Baptist Church. I will be lecturing on Andrew Fuller on Friday evening, followed by three sermons on the gospel and its proclamation on Saturday, before preaching at the two sponsoring churches on the Lord’s day.

From there, I head on toward Brisbane, where it is my privilege to preach at the family conference of the Berean Bible Church of Queensland from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th July. My theme is “A Face Like A Flint: The Holy Determination of our Lord Jesus and His People” (details here). There are a few other meetings sown in about these main events.

If you are able to pray for travelling mercies there, around and back again, and for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we meet in conference and on the Lord’s days, I and others will be very grateful. If you are coming along to the conferences, please be sure to say hello. It would, I am sure, be a pleasure to meet you.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 26 June 2014 at 14:23

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Up and running

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Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is in the building!

After three days of trying, I finally got a response from the good folks at WordPress telling me that because my blogging had been mainly reviews including Amazon links (which cannot be the main feature of the blog) they decided that the entire blog was out of bounds. I set all these up to run because I was away preaching in Northern Ireland for my good friends at Knockbracken, but apparently they fell foul of the WordPress badstuffbots, which – it seems – are averse to looking back more than about ten posts to see that this is not solely a review website.

Still, we live and learn, and hopefully I will remember to keep a few other things running alongside the reviews, which will remain a loveable feature of this blog.

So, thanks to those who let me know that there was a problem, thanks to both my readers for their patience while waiting for this blog to return, and I hope you will continue to enjoy the feast of good things I find while wandering.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 5 March 2014 at 22:32

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Preaching at Horsell

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For those who may be local and interested, I am due to preach tomorrow (Fri) evening at 8pm at Horsell Evangelical Church, where I have been asked to preach on the topic, “The battle for the heart.” All are welcome.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 3 January 2013 at 19:24

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TwitFace

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 May 2012 at 17:48

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A couple of quick things

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My children, despite a fairly ripe imagination, are not given to sentimental superstitions. For example, both boys refer to the modern incarnation of Nicholas of Smyrna as “the Christmas clown,” much to their father’s joy.

However, the pragmatic streak takes a different aspect now that Caleb has started losing his baby teeth and there is money on the line. The Tooth Fairy needs to be placated, whether or not real, given its habit of distributing the wonga. So Caleb, having lost his first tooth, was a bit disappointed to have lost it in another way – we don’t know whether it went in or out, but he’s fairly sure he swallowed it. And so, with 50p up for grabs, my son stuck this note under his pillow last night:

Yes, determined not to miss out, my son offered the tooth fairy the only option he could think of checking out the veracity of his claim: a quick visit to the “sooij treetment senter.” That’s my boy!

Posting has been slow here of late, I know. I have been extremely busy, and having to take into account a few health issues, hopefully to be resolved soon. Under the circumstances, I have sometimes had to accomplish the bare minimum, and things of the first importance have taken priority; blogging has not been making the cut. I hope to get a few more things up soon, though.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 17 May 2012 at 09:33

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Feltham Bible Focus: “The battle for the heart”

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For those interested, willing and able, you might consider joining the friends at Feltham Evangelical Church for their next Feltham Bible Focus this Saturday (12th May) when I hope to be preaching, God willing, on the battle for the heart.

Details are here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 11 May 2012 at 09:02

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Let there be light

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Thanks to all who prayed for the work in the village of Charlwood last Saturday.

One brother travelled down from London with the booklets and invitations, one family travelled up from Brighton, and about a dozen gathered from Maidenbower Baptist Church to distribute the material through Charlwood, directly inviting as many as we could. We divided up the village into eight zones and worked through them, making good time and finishing by about 1.30pm.

I think the consensus was that it was a good and positive day. Certainly a good number of the members here were very encouraged when I spoke with them yesterday. We probably had as many ‘very positives’ as we had ‘aggressively negatives’, with a good number of ‘polite interests’ and a fair few ‘not bothereds’. I imagine that there might be a drop-off in interest when the time comes, but if only two or three people came from each of the areas we worked through, we would still have a congregation well into double figures for the first meeting next Sunday night.

Again, thank you for your prayers. I think that they were answered even in the window of better weather than we enjoyed for the duration of the distribution: the worst of the rain eased almost as we began, and it did not really rain again until we stopped to pray at the end of the time. We now ask that having kept the earthly showers off, the Lord would send heavenly showers down! Please do continue to seek God’s blessing on the work in the coming weeks, for the salvation of souls and the establishing of a church: we are excited and perhaps a little fearful, seeking to be faithful and seeking greater faith. We value your continued intercession.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 30 April 2012 at 10:56

A request for prayer

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Today (Saturday 28th April) I will be spending most of the day in a fairly small village outside Crawley, together with about fifteen friends and fellow-labourers. Our intention is to blanket the village with invitations to a community Bible study that we will be holding in the village over eight weeks of May and June. Our desire is to see sinners saved, a church established, and a foothold gained for further gospel effort in the region. Your prayers for God’s blessing on the work (including the holding off of the worst of the weather with which we are currently being buffeted), as you have opportunity, are much appreciated.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 28 April 2012 at 08:03

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Hugh Latimer: God’s bulldog

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For those who may be in the vicinity of Coventry (in the UK – not sure if there are others) on Monday 23rd April, you are warmly invited to the next Bulkington Lecture on church history at Bulkington Congregational Church. I have been asked to give a biographical address on Hugh Latimer, which enjoys the title Latimer: God’s bulldog.

The lecture begins at 7.30pm, God willing, and I understand that there may be a chance for questions at the end, which is bad news for the speaker.

More details are available at Mike Iliff’s blog, Exercised to Discern.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 April 2012 at 22:07

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Back from Zambia

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 April 2012 at 15:36

Greetings from Zambia

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A quick note to send greetings from Ndola in Zambia, where I am about to preach on the topic of adoption – with three more evangelistic messages – at the National Annual Reformed Baptist Youth Conference. I have seven sermons on the topic of assurance, and then the three other sermons on Friday through Monday morning, and should be grateful for your prayers.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 5 April 2012 at 12:34

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Out and about in Scotland

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It’s been a busy few days here chez J. I spent several days in Edinburgh, having been invited to preach at the conference of many names (“The Call”, the “Shepherd as Leader” conference). I arrived fairly early on Friday morning, and promptly sped out to Glenrothes with Brian Croft and company, where a seminar was running over lunch at Glenrothes Baptist Church (I won’t bother with all the connections). A pleasant surprise was the presence of Ali McLachlan, now heading up Grace Baptist Partnership, Scotland. We had a pleasant chinwag, and then I headed over with a small group to St Andrews, where – around a range of small meetings – I had the privilege of showing a few of the gents around the town, including the cathedral ruins, the castle ruins, and the sites of the martyrdoms of George Wishart and Patrick Hamilton. It seems particularly grievous that – as far as could be determined – Reformed evangelical witness in St Andrews is slight to non-existent. A stop at the Old Course on the way out to allow the golf-appreciating Brian to hug the fairway was followed by a drive home via Anstruther to allow us to visit a famed fish’n’chip shop before we headed back to Edinburgh.

I was staying with a couple from Charlotte Chapel, Tim & Shelagh Prime, and they were outstandingly gracious to a guest who was invariably finding out what he was doing in any given hour about ten minutes before the hour dawned. I was up early on the Saturday with a sense of spiritual pregnancy, eager to be delivered of my sermon. We got to Charlotte Chapel in good time, and soon the ninety or so attendees were trickling in. The conference was well-organised (I saw a time sheet with minute long increments where it was deemed fit!) and smoothly-run. I was on my feet at the appointed moment, and – though I cannot say it was an easy birth, and I had some sense that it was not an altogether lovely baby – I had some sense of the Lord’s help in preaching, though I was shedding chunks of prepared sermon at an alarming rate by the end.

Brian Croft followed with a dense but balanced overview of pastoral priorities, followed by breakout sessions which – despite my best efforts in kicking off the day – were not concerted attempts to leave the premises. After lunch, Matthew Spandler-Davison bounced off Matthew 28.18-20 to give some overarching thoughts on evangelism. This was followed by Ray van Neste giving a paper, at the request of the organisers, on the priority of soul-care in pastoral ministry. Though it was an address more than a sermon, Ray delivered it with soul, and I found his Scriptural and historical evidences compelling in every sense, and thoroughly appreciated it. For me, it was undoubtedly one of the high points of the day. I will let you know when it all goes online.

I trickled back to the Primes, where we were joined by Tim’s dad, Derek Prime of Derek Prime fame, who was kind enough to give me a copy of his new biography of Charles Simeon, of which more anon. We watched the Wales vs. England rugby match and ate a meal together before an evening of reading (for me).

On the Lord’s day I headed out to Penicuik Baptist Church where I had the privilege of preaching morning and evening to some old friends and some new faces, spending the day with hosts from previous visits and enjoying a good catch-up. Returning to the Primes’s home, I was probably nearly assaulted by Andy Prime, their son and an assistant pastor at Charlotte Chapel, as I am not sure that he expected me and I might very well have been considered an intruder. Blows averted, Andy, his fiancée, and I enjoyed a toast feast while chewing the fat, as it were, and I discovered that he will be preaching at this year’s Banner of Truth Youth Conference. As the night wore on, I eventually headed to bed.

On Monday morning I leapt sprightly from twixt the sheets and headed for the Banner of Truth offices, where I spent a day annoying people, messing about with proofs, giving my opinion on matters which are none of my business, getting in the way, and generally making myself a nuisance. I am sure that they love me there. When Jonathan Watson finally managed to get rid of me, I headed back to Edinburgh airport where I got the plane home.

So, plenty going on, and plenty more to come in the next few days. Watch this space . . .

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 28 February 2012 at 23:26

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Looking back and ahead

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Yesterday we had our semi-regular pastor’s fraternal here in Crawley, and it was a delight to welcome my friend, Brian Croft (who blogs at Practical Shepherding), to preach on the subject of pastoral perseverance.

Over two sessions (outlined here), Brian called on us to persevere by looking back and looking ahead. Then, because once a year we try and do something in which the whole church and other churches can share, we had an open meeting at which Brian developed his theme from Hebrews 12.1-3:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

It was solid, sane, sweet stuff, full of right challenges and needed encouragements, and is available to listen to here. Brian, with friends Nathan Eikenberry, Matthew Davison, and Shawn Hughes, then headed for Edinburgh, where I hope to join them on Friday with a view to preaching alongside Brian, Matthew, and Ray van Neste at the Call Conference on Saturday.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 22 February 2012 at 19:23

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Breaking news

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I imagine that two or perhaps three of the regular four readers of this blog will be aware of Reformation21. In particular, you might be following their blog, where doubtless you have been frustrated by the shallowness of Derek Thomas, the vagueness of Carl Trueman, the shortsightedness of Thabiti Anyabwile, and the existence of Paul Levy, not to mention the failures of other authors.

Well, from now on you will have another reason to shudder and complain. I have been invited to join the blogging team at Ref21 and have issued a tentative, “Yes,” to said invitation.

I am not sure at present quite what that means for The Wanderer. I have no intention of simply packing up and moving on, in that sense, and I will need to find my feet and establish a voice for the Ref21 platform, but it is likely to mean at least some shift in the balance of my blogging. Quite what will continue to go online here, and what will make its appearance over there will only become apparent over time. There may be a little cross-pollination from time to time, but I have undertaken not simply and constantly to regurgitate things from here over there (although some of the longer pieces in particular are likely to make their appearance in both places eventually).

I am grateful for your prayers as I make whatever transition is required. I am conscious that with greater opportunity comes greater responsibility, and I hope that I will be able to make a genuine contribution both in terms of the balance of the writing at Reformation21 and in terms of the investment in their readership. For this I will need much wisdom and grace, and it will only come from on high.

I hope that, if you are not already following Ref21, you might consider doing so. If half of the readers here were to link up there also, doubtless the hike in their reading figures would make them all sit up a good millimetre or two.

You can find my first effort here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 14 February 2012 at 09:06

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Normal service resumed

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All three of my regular readers will no doubt be mildly cheered in a non-committal way by the news that I am up and running on the computer once again (for now). Not sure entirely what the problem was, but the solution leaves things pretty funky. I hope to get on with things over the next few days and get back up to speed. Thanks to any who prayed.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 December 2011 at 14:10

Posted in Updates

End of year issues

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Just to say that, after being away for a few days, I have returned to some technical issues. I know I have some promises to keep, information to send, comments to respond to, and all the rest, but please bear with me.

And before anyone suggests that I become a new Calvinist and convert to Apple, please have pity upon me and leave me in peace for the time being.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 28 December 2011 at 16:58

Posted in Updates

The sweet-dropper

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I had a great day yesterday. I headed off to Richmond, dropping off some things and picking up others with the aim of eventually meeting up with Paul Levy, pastor of the International Presbyterian Church in Ealing. It was great to spend an hour or so with Paul catching up with him on life and work. Paul knows almost everyone, it seems, and is, by his own admission, the world’s least discreet man. Actually, what that means is that he is refreshingly and cheerfully honest and straightforward, dismissing me blithely as “one of those mad Independents who actually believes what he says” when the discussion touched on ecclesiology, and giving a forthright opinion on anyone and anything mentioned. Paul blogs with the same bracing lack of forethought and disregard for consequence – with the added bonus of watching a man twirl a nonchalant moustache and pirouette away with cavalier insouciance whenever accosted by the forces of grammar, spelling and punctuation – at Reformation21. He is worth following. I should also point out that – while I cannot say that Paul doesn’t want to look like this – the picture is not of Paul, but of Richard Sibbes, which brings me to my point.

The main reason for heading to Richmond is because Paul had invited me to hear Mike Reeves (Head of Theology at UCCF). I had only read some of Mike’s books (see review), which I thoroughly enjoyed while being slightly peturbed at a couple of points. I was therefore keen to hear Mike in person to get a better sense of his particular approach and emphases. What a joy that was! Mike was speaking at a West London Ministry Afternoon on “The Love of Christ.” Expecting something helpful if slightly generic, I pitched up only to discover that Mike intended to introduce us to a book by Richard Sibbes. Sibbes was highly-regarded among his contemporaries for his gracious and wise counsel, receiving the nickname “the sweet-dropper” for his ability to leave behind a little gospel honey wherever he went and to whomever he spoke.

We learned that the Banner of Truth is shortly to publish a volume of Sibbes entitled The Love of Christ (a Puritan Paperback), a title a little more accessible and less open to misinterpretation than the original, Bowels Opened, which is found in volume two of the excellent Works of Richard Sibbes. Taking this as his starting point, Mike gave us a helpful introduction to Sibbes on the Song of Solomon, pointing us back toward a more Christocentric reading, and inviting much helpful discussion along the way. Apart from the moment when a large spider ran up Mike’s shirt and clustered round him, which was marginally distracting for the hearers and a tad disconcerting for the spider-clad gent, it held our attention and gripped our hearts. I would thoroughly recommend getting The Love of Christ when it is available, and then diving into Sibbes en masse, as it were.

The day ended well, and I headed home, wondering if Levy would succeed in his avowed attempt to turn Reeves away from the errors of Anglicanism, and hoping that both of them would see the light and complete their reformations by becoming Baptists.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 29 September 2011 at 09:16

Reporting in

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I am starting to catch my breath after returning from the US where I spent a few days travelling around with a few appointments in my calendar.

Arriving at Newark airport on a Friday afternoon, I was kindly loaned a car for a few days by a couple of the esteemed in-laws in Montville and instantly headed south and east to Flemington, where Pastor Frank Barker was formally taking his leave of the Grace Covenant Baptist Church and heading south for the sun, leaving his fellow-elder Alan Dunn and the rest of the church to fend for themselves. The church there, together with a number of friends from a variety of places, had gathered to testify of God’s blessing to them through Pastor Barker’s ministry. It was a wonderful evening with many warm testimonies of Pastor Barker’s wisdom and earnestness in ministering to the saints, and a pleasure to be present and to see some of the good things that God gives to his faithful servants before they hear his own, “Well done!”

I stayed over with Alan Dunn and his family, heading back to Montville early the next morning for the memorial service of Mrs Helen Driesse, who had died only a few days before. I know various members of the Driesse family reasonably well, and it was one of those sorrowful pleasures to hear Mrs Driesse so warmly spoken of and fondly remembered. In particular, Pastor David Chanski of the Trinity Baptist Church, Montville, spoke briefly and pointedly from Psalm 139, including the verses on which Mrs Driesse thought every time she took her medicine: “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” When I thanked him afterward, he told me that the substance of the address had been provided by Helen’s husband, Gerry. It was good and deep stuff. I was particularly struck by something else that was attributed directly to Mr Driesse. He told his friends after his wife died in his arms words to the effect that, “I have now completed the main thing that God has given me to do,” namely, the bringing of his wife safely to and through the river to the Celestial City.

Following a reception at which I had the pleasure of meeting various friends who had gathered for the occasion, I then headed back south and east once more, past Flemington and out into Pennsylvania, this time heading for Downingtown with Mitch & Nancy Lush. Pastor Mitch cares for Grace Church, Downingtown, and had invited me to speak in the adult Sunday School class on the new Calvinism, and then to preach morning and evening taking that context into account. It was again a delight to catch up with a few old friends during the day and once the work of the day was done, as well as to spend a delightful day on Monday at Longwood Gardens with the Lushes and mutual friend, the Reuthers, from Covenant Baptist Church, Lumberton.

Later that Monday, I headed back to Flemington, where I spent an evening chatting over Chinese food with Pastor Dunn and some of his family, which included a splendid few miles on Ethan’s motorbike enjoying the wind in the Walker hair. Tuesday morning Alan and I chewed the fat for a few hours before I headed back to Montville to spend a couple of days with one of my wife’s sisters, Priscilla, and her husband, Rich. I took the opportunity to pick up a few gifts for my own family back home, and also managed to get in a couple of P90X exercise sessions with Rich, while Priscilla threw in some additional torture from the sidelines. Aching all over, I eventually left New Jersey for Kentucky on Thursday evening.

Arriving in Louisville for the bulk of my labours while in the US, I was picked up by Darrel Whiteley, who – together with his delightful family – were my first hosts from the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville, the church which was hosting the family conference at which I was due to preach. Pastor Bill Hughes, another of the preachers at the conference, arrived on Friday evening, and I enjoyed a breakfast with him and with Pastor Jim Savastio of RBC Louisville (who blogs at Main Things) and Pastor Brian Croft of Auburndale Baptist Church (and Practical Shepherding fame) on Saturday morning. I had originally been scheduled to preach at RBC Louisville on that Sunday and at Auburndale the following Lord’s day, but – due to a mix-up, humanly speaking – there was a double-booking, and Brian was able to accommodate me at Auburndale the first Sunday instead. The Lord’s most wise superintendence was immediately evident, in that during that Sunday Brian was suddenly called away to Nashville to minister to the family of one of his closest friends from college, and my presence gave him additional freedom to do so.

Brian in his study

Sunday morning therefore found me en route to Auburndale Baptist Church, in the south of Louisville, where I had a delightful time worshipping with the friends who gathered, preaching on the salvation of the man who had been born blind. Spending the day with Brian and his family, we heard another brother preach in the evening and then gathered from some informal question-and-answer with some of the folks from the church. Brian drove me home through the night of 3rd July enjoying the slightly premature Fourth of July fireworks. On Monday I spent the day at the home of other friends from RBC Louisville, enjoying the evident buzz in anticipation of the conference beginning the next day.

Heading for the Alumni Chapel

Alumni Chapel begins to fill up

I was sleeping unusually badly, getting little more than four or five hours a night, perhaps feeling something of the buzz myself. Most of my days in Louisville were filled with some sort of preparation for the conference, and a few periods of relaxation, and it was good to finally get to the conference itself. Pastor Hughes kicked off on Tuesday evening in the Alumni Chapel on the beautiful campus of the Southern Baptist Seminary. Sitting there that first night with several hundred people singing their hearts out I did wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew.

My first sermon was on Wednesday morning in the Heritage Hall, on the theme ‘The Way Forward: Encouragements for a Future, Faithful Generation.’ I preached all three sessions from 2 Kings 13No-one could find the air conditioning, and that – combined with the theatre-style lighting, left me in something of a lather by the time the sermon was over. Bill Hughes followed, preserving his gentlemanly demeanour partly on account of the fact that someone had by then found the air conditioning on-switch. I then preached Wednesday night in the Alumni Chapel, swapping over again with Pastor Hughes for our final two addresses on Thursday morning. Then Pastor Stu Johnston took up the baton, preaching Thursday evening and Friday morning on contemporary challenges, and Pastor Jim Savastio earthed the conference on Friday just before lunch. Around the sermons (all available here) there were some excellent meals, some pleasant fellowship, and some vigorous recreation, and I also had opportunity to meet up again with Brian Croft and some other friends. All too soon, it was over, and I moved on again, this time to the home of Charlie Hall and his family. Charlie is another of the pastors at RBC Louisville, and I had a great few days with the Halls, not least in helping some friends who were moving to the area unpack their truck, and a Sunday lunch that morphed from a get-together for a couple of families to a gathering of about thirty or forty in the space of as many minutes. I preached at RBC Louisville all day on the Lord’s day, kicking off with a brief introduction to John Bunyan and his books in the Sunday School, before preaching in the morning on the joining in the death and resurrection of Christ of God’s mercy and truth, righteousness and peace and in the evening on the commissioning of the Gadarene demoniac to go home and speak of the great things the Lord had done for him, and how he had compassion on him.

Heritage Hall after they heard that I was preaching next

The Halls graciously closed the day by lobbing bits of fried egg into my by-then-drooping mouth when I was breathing in the right direction, and I packed my bags and dropped into bed. Jim pitched up early doors on Monday, and I spent a morning with him before arriving at Louisville airport where I headed back home via Newark. I arrived safe and well, although tired (not least on account of the gent sitting behind me who spent the small hours playing some kind of game on the touchscreen nestling in the back of my seat headrest, a game which involved punching the touchscreen every few seconds for about four hours straight), and made it home to my family soon afterward.

Since then, it has been mainly catching up and getting back into the swing of things, my heart warmed by the fellowship of the saints and the evident working of God in the advance of Christ’s kingdom in so many places.

Zambia: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

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Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

All too soon, our time with the brothers in Ndola had come to an end. We headed out early Friday morning to catch our flight south to Lusaka for a last stint of work. The flight out was as good as the one in, with an exemplary landing. James Williamson, who had invited us to come for the work, met us at the airport. As he and his family had a houseful of young people from the church that day, we were invited to head out to a game park for the day, both as a break for ourselves and as a way of freeing up the Williamsons for their day’s work.

We spent the balance of that Saturday in the stunning surroundings of Chaminuka Park, taking an open bus around the reserve, going on a horse ride, touring a lake in a small boat, taking a stroll through the bush, and enjoying a meal. We also got to meet the owners of the park on account of my being the spitting image of a younger friend of the lady (we rich, gorgeous, high society types often get mistaken for one another!). We saw all manner of antelope, hyenas, giraffes, ostriches, elephants, pied kingfishers, locusts – God’s marvellous work in the world was evident on every side. After a fairly full week we were both glad for the opportunity to kick back for a few hours and enjoy the blessings God has given us. I think both of us rather wished we could have shared the day with our wives.

Toward the end of the day, James arrived once more to take us home, where Alan and I were bunking together in another outbuilding, just round the corner from Katryn Belke. Katryn, who blogs at Ndazyoka, is out in Zambia working primarily with orphans in the compounds, the shanty towns that are found in all too many places around Zambia. Kat had been in Alan’s congregation some years before, and he had already spent a little time seeing her work. Both of us, while in Ndola, had actually had the opportunity to travel out into the compound where the church there has an active interest. Kat and Maureen, who – together with Megan Williamson – undertake this orphan ministry in Lusaka, had travelled up during our week of teaching in the college to meet up with Lister, the lady who runs the show in Ndola. They kindly took us out (one trip each while the other was teaching) to see some of the work that they are doing. We hear a great deal about ‘compassion fatigue,’ but it was instructive to remember that in all the gospel records we never fail to see Christ being “moved with compassion” by the genuine suffering of men and women around him. Sin and its effects ought always to move our hearts, and it was painfully evident as we moved from family to family around the compounds, handing out blankets that churches had provided, passing on Bibles from sponsors in the UK, giving out sweets that had been purchased to give these children a treat. The level of need was staggering, the basics of life so hard to come by, the threats and dangers on every side all too evident. I went away profoundly sobered, newly mindful of how much I have been given and how little thankful I am for it and how slow I am to use it for the good of others. Another problem is not so much compassion fatigue as compassion blindness: it is very easy to see and feel the evident and pressing needs ‘over there,’ but I was reminded of how many needs there are close to home. It is too easy to applaud these faithful women from a distance, to visit and grieve as I indulge in a little light compassion tourism, and then to come home and forget the different but no less real miseries and sorrows and poverties just around the corner in my own town.

With all this already in mind, it was good to see Kat again, and I was beginning to look forward to the Lord’s day. With the evening already booked for Kabwata Baptist Church, where Conrad Mbewe is a pastor, James has given me the opportunity to go out and preach in one of the compound churches in the morning. He had asked one of his students at the Lusaka Ministerial College (a younger brother to the Copperbelt training system) if he would be willing to have me preach, and I had been accepted. Feeling somewhat out of my depth, I requested a travelling companion, and so a delightful brother by the name of Andrew turned up to accompany me. We hopped into a taxi and started moving out through the city, through the parts that could have been any city in the world, then out past the quarries on the outskirts where women crouched breaking rocks into various sizes with handheld hammers, past the massive soft-drink factories, past the open-air markets full of loud haggling. We turned into the compound and threaded our way through crowds of people down to the church to meet Pastor Nsongu Phiri of the Living Gospel World Mission Church. Their building is simple, a long single room that they divide into classrooms during the week. The singing had already begun as we made our way in, and it continued for almost ninety minutes, as various groups in the congregation took it in turns to sing praises to God.

Evident poverty had not stopped these saints breaking out their Sunday best, and they gave their all in worship, sometimes quite literally. There were a series of offerings: the first Lord’s day includes a pastor’s offering, where all manner of practical helps are given for the minister and his family, including clothes to wear and food to eat. There is also a hope to build a larger building, as well as other regular giving and works of mercy. After these opening elements, I was invited to preach. With Pastor Phiri my interpreter (for most of these brothers and sisters did not speak English sufficiently well to follow me alone), I preached from John 5.24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” To preach such eternal riches to those so poor in the world was a great privilege, even though I had to adapt a little. So used were they to responding “Amen!” that I had to point out that my double “Amen!” in explaining Jesus’ words was not an invitation for affirmation, but a phrase to be found in the text. The Spirit blessed Pastor Phiri and me with an immediate rapport in the translation, and the congregation listened attentively and eagerly and responsively. Afterward I stood at the door while the whole congregation filed past, shaking my hand and taking the next place, until everyone had shaken everyone else’s hand. I was then ushered into the office (an unfinished brick building) where a feast was awaiting me: a meal the likes of which I was persuaded few in the congregation would enjoy. Receiving hospitality was joyfully done, but one rather holds back when one suspects that anything left over will be devoured by hungry children afterward. They even paid me: I received a chicken in a plastic bag (not just a kindness in itself, but a symbolic token of warm appreciation and heartfelt generosity) and an envelope full of notes quickly and quietly collected after the sermon. These were the smallest notes in the Zambian denomination. These warm-hearted saints, having already given and given, gave again so that I might take away with me about £8 ($10) as an expression of their thanks. I have often received far more, but I do not believe I have ever been given as much. All of a sudden, the widow and her two mites seemed very near at hand.

I returned to the Williamson’s home clutching my chicken. Sadly, I had no chicken-sized sunglasses with which to try and smuggle my bird through customs and on to the aeroplane, so I was forced to kiss my chicken goodbye (not literally, of course, that would be distasteful) and ask Megan to ensure it found a home where it would do good (probably in someone’s stomach).

A pleasant afternoon followed before we headed out in the evening (the brothers there meet earlier in the day than I am used to, gathering for evening worship at about 4pm and eating afterward – a nice arrangement) to Kabwata Baptist Church. Conrad Mbewe had left for Togo, and I was filling his rather substantial shoes. The evening congregations in Zambia, like many of those in the UK, are far smaller than the mornings, but there were still a couple of hundred people present in this growing church. I preached from the experience of Lot in Sodom, seeking to draw lessons for bringing the gospel to those around us, and it seemed to be well received. Afterward I met a couple of friends from the Ndola module again (who had travelled up from Lusaka) before heading back to the Williamsons’ friendly home for a bit of late night snack and banter, before finally heading for bed.

Alan and I slept soundly, got up early, and headed to the airport with James for our respective flights home. It was, for both of us, a delightful, stirring and instructive introduction to Africa generally, and to Zambia in particular. I have kindly been invited to return next year to preach at the national youth conference of the Zambian Reformed Baptists, and am already looking forward to doing so, if arrangements can be made.

I came home freshly conscious that any (post-)colonial arrogance that Westerners may entertain toward brothers and sisters in other parts of the world is grievously misplaced. We have much to learn from each other. I hope that in the future I may again “be encouraged together with [them] by the mutual faith both of [them] and me” (Rom. 1.12), returning home with lessons for myself and for the church which I serve in the UK, and with a renewed sense of the advancing kingdom of Christ across the globe.

Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 3 June 2011 at 11:50

Zambia: Copperbelt Ministerial College

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Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

As mentioned in part one, Alan Dunn was in Zambia to teach the doctrine of salvation, and I was there to introduce the Gospels and the Acts. We began on Monday morning, enjoying a slightly slower start to allow the men travelling a distance to arrive. They began to trickle in, and slowly we reached the point at which we had enough present to begin. After singing and praying, we got down to business.

I was first up, with three morning sessions, in which I gave a brief introduction to introduction, before looking at the intersection of the three cultures – Roman, Greek and Jewish – which created the God-ordained environment of the New Testament. Then we headed straight into Matthew’s Gospel. As we came toward the end of the allotted time, the excellent college administrator, Katongo, slipped me a note: “No food. Keep going.” I did, enabling me to get ahead of the game for the first morning. When the food arrived, I had finished Matthew’s Gospel, giving me a good start for the week. After an excellent meal (you could not fault the quality, only the timing), Alan got to grips with soteriology, hogging the blackboard with a diagram of such intricacy that I felt it would be churlish to wipe it off and make him re-create it every day. He managed three of his four planned sessions before the day drew to a close.

Heading back to our lodgings, we got ready to head out to the home of one of the church families. These were delightful evenings, and this was the pattern of our week. Each night one of the families invited us into their home, hosted us graciously, spoke to us kindly, and fed us splendidly. We would arrive back at the Phiri home afterward, negotiate the guard dogs, and get fairly soon to bed.

The next morning would begin with us up at around 0600 or 0630. I would head for the bathroom, and do laps round the bath, dashing repeatedly under the cold shower to allow for lathering and rinsing. Meanwhile, Brother Dunn would prepare a boiled egg or four. I would emerge gleaming, we would partake of some cereal and eggs, and I would clean up while he performed his ablutions. Then we would be about ready for the day. Picked up promptly by one of the young ladies from the church who lived nearby, we drove through Ndola to the church building, to be met by our eager students, who realised by day three that we intended to start on time unless genuinely providentially hindered. After a brief devotional time of singing and prayer, we would forge ahead, alternating mornings and afternoons on the two topics, and generally getting in about eight hours of fairly intense lecturing every day.

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I honestly could not think of forty men in the UK who would gather for such a week four times yearly, and give themselves so intensely and earnestly to study, their main complaint at the end of the week being that insufficient time had been given to the teaching and subsequent discussion. Each day closed, where possible, with a brief question and answer session, in which the questions demonstrated that these blokes were really wrestling with the material.

As the week drew on, Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of Grace RBC, Northrise, arrived back from leave, and it was good to meet him. Lazarus Phiri dropped in a couple of times to give us the once over as we taught. Toward the end of the week, the Phiris invited us back to their home, with a special guest for the evening: Conrad Mbewe was passing through (heading for the wedding which he discussed here), and he and Lazarus Phiri go way back. So we enjoyed an evening listening to these two men reminisce and banter, and chatting about all manner of things.

On Friday, we arrived for our final two sessions each, and both of us dropped a couple of lectures from the planned fifteen, having had to manage our material around the late and occasionally extended lunches. The men gave us some splendid gifts – sandals for our wives, and chitenge shirts for us (Alan’s was zebra print, mine adorned with calabashes) – and expressed warm appreciation. We ate our last meal together, and posed for a few photos.

Alan and I then headed back to the Phiris once more, taking a couple of hours to get our stuff together before spending our final evening in Ndola with Kabwe Kabwe and his family, an enjoyable and relaxing end to the week before heading down to Kabwata on the Saturday. Of that, and of life in the compounds, more will follow . . .

Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 27 May 2011 at 16:44

Zambia: arrival and first Lord’s day

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Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

It has, I know, been a little quiet on the blog in the last few weeks. The main reason for that is a recent trip to Zambia.

The silence descended a few weeks ago, when – after recovering from a bad illness, and the arrival of a daughter some days later than expected, and wrestling with an uncooperative computer – the upcoming visit began to loom large. It was time to get the head down and cause smoke to pour from the tortured keyboard and the ears venting the tortured brain of yours truly.

I had been asked, together with Alan Dunn, pastor of Grace Covenant Baptist Church of Flemington, New Jersey, and a long-time friend (by which I mean he is both, as opposed to Alan Dunn together with another chap that I happen to get on with), to go and teach at the Copperbelt Ministerial College, housed at Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Northrise, in Ndola, in Zambia. The request came via James Williamson (see his Lion of Zambia website), who had travelled with his family from the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, to serve the Zambian churches, particularly in the matter of church-planting and pastoral training. At first, I was due to teach soteriology, but Alan played a pity card and I agreed to let him have that topic as he had taught it before, and I selected an introduction to the Gospels and the Acts.

Thus it was that, with a couple of weeks before I was due to fly, I looked with some horror at the piles of books that had been growing in my study over the previous months, and realised it was time to try and get some of that stuff on to paper ready to be delivered in Zambia. And so began the groaning of mental gears and the scorching of keyboards that resulted, about a week before I was due to leave, in a set of lectures at last in a state to be delivered.

And so, with bags packed and heart light-ish, I boarded flight BA0255 for Lusaka on the Friday evening of the royal wedding (no traffic on the roads – marvellous!) and settled down to read. The night passed as my nights usually do on long-haul flights, rather slowly, substantially uncomfortably and largely sleeplessly. I arrived early Saturday morning with the kind of bruised knees that arise only when a substantial gentleman in the seat in front has dropped said contraption into a sleeping position and made it a full eight hours of pressure on the patella. Springing from my seat, I came to a flying stop for an hour or so in the immigration line before making my way out into the dull humidity of that Lusakan morning. I spent a couple of hours hanging around waiting for the arrival of Alan (who had been in country a couple of days before me). He duly arrived and we boarded a flight for Ndola, enjoying some splendid views on the way.

We arrived just before midday, picked up by Katongo, the college administrator, and David Wagener, a Presbyterian working with another local theological school. They dropped us off at the home of Lazarus Phiri and his family. Lazarus is missiologist-at-large for a missionary organization called Pioneers, and he and his family gave us splendid care during the course of our stay.

We were taken out for a bite to eat for lunch, spent a couple of hours settling in (and, in my case, getting an hour or so of sleep to make up for the lost night) before Arnold Kapembwe, one of the elders of the Grace Baptist Church of Northrise, took us out for an excellent dinner.

Returning home and negotiating Lazarus’ splendid guard dogs, we collapsed into our respective beds, having been briefed for the following day’s labours.

We woke bright and early, Alan heading a little way north and west to preach at the Trinity Baptist Church of Kitwe, and me to remain in Ndola for the day. Alan left first, and I was picked up soon after. I was the last one left in the property, and my departure was slightly complicated by the fact that, when I let the guard dogs out, one of them, probably using some kind of astral travelling trick as far as I could tell, teleported through the gates and tried to eat a passerby. I kid you not! I was later informed that it was not the first time that this had happened, as the dog had learned how to open the gate (note to self: always buy a guard dog with enormous teeth, proven savagery, and poor dexterity). When I had finally recovered the dog and smiled kindly at the slightly agitated passerby, I collapsed sweating into the vehicle of Mr Kapembwe, and we left for church. There I met the three deacons, and was able to hear Mr Kapembwe’s Bible class considering the character of Cain, as well as seeing the new buildings going up for the housing of future modules of the Copperbelt Ministerial College.

I preached to a good-sized and attentive congregation in the morning, having a more evangelistic focus, as directed, and then enjoyed a delightful repast with Mr Kapembwe, heading back to our lodgings for a rest (though I generally can’t do rest while the sun is up) and then heading back to the church in the evening. There were far fewer out on that occasion when I preached on John 11, drawing some lessons from Christ at the tomb of Lazarus. I had a great time chatting with people afterward, and we set up the building ready for the arrival of the students on Monday morning.

Before heading back to the lodgings, Twande, one of the deacons, invited us back to his home, where his wife had prepared a feast. Alan and the friends from Kitwe arrived before too long and we were invited to the table in Zambian fashion, by our hostess dropping to one knee: traditionally, it is the height of rudeness to invite guests to the table while standing, we were given to understand. Back to the lodgings once more, where we spent a while chewing the fat before hitting our respective sacks in order to be in good shape (or at least, as bad shape as possible) for the rigours of the module from Monday to Friday, of which more to come . . .

Part one: arrival and first Lord’s day

Part two: Copperbelt Ministerial College

Part three: Lusaka, the compounds and Kabwata

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 May 2011 at 16:10

Hot in here

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When I got home from town earlier today, it was warm in the conservatory. Really warm (47 degrees Celsius is 116 degrees Fahrenheit, for our non-metrical friends).

It’s bringing out the tropical creepy-crawlies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 April 2011 at 20:14

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Of parkour and providence

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Yesterday started in humbling fashion. As some of you will know, I was struck down with a violent virus a few weeks ago now. Said virus left me weak as a kitten and unable to exercise, with the result that I am now marginally less weak and out of shape to boot. After a little light jogging and cycling, the time had come to go back to the early morning workouts with a few friends.

In my absence, our base of operations had shifted to another, more local park. We started with the usual runs and sprints and pyramid drills of sit-ups and press-ups, and that was painful enough, prompting more than a few giggles from my uberfit friends.

But then we moved on to the new element. Apparently, this park is the only one for miles around with a parkour training environment (for more on the insanity of free running, see something like this). Now, there are many things at which I am not good, but rarely do I find something at which I am so natively and staggeringly inept as parkour. I was built for rugby, you see, and all this whip-thin and whippet-supple stuff passed me by.

There were many low points. There were the chin lifts when a man who once claimed to be my friend asked why I was wearing the face of a constipated monkey. There were other lifts I was supposed to be doing, when I ended up dangling helplessly. Working back and forth hanging underneath a series of rungs, I asked how many would be a good number.

“Chris managed six,” said Carl, “And I have done three.” I had a go, and thought my two was pretty impressive.

“Chris can go across the whole set of rungs and back six times,” explained Carl. “You managed two single rungs.”

We did some practice leaps over some kind of fence apparatus. I now have parkour shin, the result of landing on said shin on top of the fence in mid-leap. I barely spared myself landing on a far more painful part of the anatomy. At one point, required to hurtle up a ramp and leap from the top, I backed off . . . and off . . . and off.

“Where’s he going?” asked Chris.

“It’s alright,” said Carl, “I think it’s his run-up.”

Needless to say, this rather spoiled my focus.

Anyway, determined to accomplish something of value, I was again dangling off something, by now bruised and bleeding, and feeling my wedding ring cutting into my finger. I took it off and placed it with my other valuables in the bag, and eventually the painful hour was over.

I headed home, glad to be back in the swing of things, but wishing I could swing and not merely hang. As I headed to the front door, crossing the fruitful sward, I pulled my keys from my bag and heard a little ping. It sounded as if I might have dropped something, but I kept moving. When I got in and sorted myself out, I realised that I was not wearing my ring. Searching through the valuables, I realised what that little ping had been. It was the sound of my keys catching on the ring and catapulting them into the grass as I walked to the door.

Searching ensued. I was due in London at 1030, so there wasn’t much time. Seeking to behave calmly, I gave myself the customary loofahing and donned the appointed garments. I headed back out with the help of Thing One and a rake and some urgent and brief prayers. We began to search. I combed the grass. I began wondering how much metal detectors cost. Thing One searched with his boy rake, chopping and flinging in such a way that if he came anywhere near the ring it would probably disappear into the middle distance at some velocity. The tension began to mount. My wife could see I was grieved, and was trying to be supportive. I would soon need to leave. Thing Two wandered out to watch the fun, carrying a breakfast-type snack of mini-weetajobbies of indeterminate brand. He gazed at me in some fascination as I continued to scrutinize the ground (as, probably, did many of the neighbours). He got closer. As usual when he is meant to be eating but has found something else to entertain, the lip of the bowl began to droop at more of a pouring angle. Pretty soon he would begin to shed weetajobbies. I lunged for the bowl but it was too late, and a couple of the little blighters succumbed to the irresistible pull of gravity. I opened my mouth to suggest that such clumsiness was unhelpful and stooped to pick up the lost breakfast.

There, lying precisely between the two fallen weetajobbies, was the lost ring. I scooped up them and Thing Two with some joy, kissed a cheerful goodbye to the wife, Things One and Two and the newborn Thing, and leapt into the vehicle to speed Londonwards in order to deliver a lecture on John Bunyan to one hundred Dutch students. On my finger – a sore and bruised but altogether happier and properly clad finger – was my wedding ring.

Such are the kindnesses of God, even in the dropping of breakfast cereal.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 14 April 2011 at 15:34

Brief health update

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As I mentioned previously, I got badly knocked out a few days ago by a ferocious beastie suspected to be Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Thanks to all those who prayed and sent notes of encouragement, all of which were much appreciated. God has been good, sparing me more than I know and far more than I deserve.

I was able to see the doctor again yesterday. Some symptoms of the underlying virus remain, but I am no longer required to take steroids, and simply need to finish the course of anti-viral medication. I stopped the pain medication last Friday, and have been able to manage since then. The doctor is pleased with the progress so far, but cannot give any guarantee about long-term damage at present. All the symptoms are consistent with an aggressive viral infection (or reactions to the medication), almost certainly this Ramsay Hunt thing, and I can expect the kind of achiness and weariness consonant with shingles or flu or something similar for another week or so. However, he did have a couple of other questions, and so I now need a blood test to make sure that nothing else is lurking. My concerned nurse sister warns me that all this can take weeks to get over.

In myself, I feel more alert mentally, although not exactly firing on all cylinders, and have been able to start back in on some low-key, straightforward tasks (including clearing inboxes and blog readers and the like, hence this brief burst of blogging activity). Physically, short periods of activity are necessarily interspersed with rest periods, but today has been good so far. I did get a reasonable amount of reading done once my eyes started functioning properly again, so there should be a few reviews and recommendations along in due course.

There have been several lessons which I hope I will truly learn: understand, remember, and continually apply. I may offer some more public reflections down the line. In the meantime, the birth of our third child is imminent . . . not actually happening, just loomingly imminent . . . so continued prayers continue to be appreciated.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 3 March 2011 at 15:01

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