Moderator's Comments - Posted 1 July 2018
From Edinburgh to Lusaka: could there be a sharper cultural shift? I moved from one sister church in the mother country to another in central Africa.
I entered Zambia to be greeted with the warm embrace of a close friend. The Presbyterians in Zambia (referred to as CCAP, Zambia Synod) consider the Presbyterian Church of Australia as their most reliable and dearest sister church.
CCAP Zambia Synod emerged as the continuing branch of Presbyterianism in the 1960s. Despite plenty of coercion by President Kenneth Kaunda’s slogan: One church, one nation, this small group of Presbyterians said “NO, we cannot join the United Church of Zambia (UCZ)”. Further, “We do not see the commitment to the Word of God, the gospel, or to evangelism in this newly formed church. We continue as Presbyterians.” The year was 1965. There were 4 ordained ministers with CCAP at the beginning, now there are 80, and 3 more in training.
Does this sound familiar? And this was against advice from the mother church in Scotland, and more than that, against their own President’s wishes who expressed his displeasure.
There are differences between us, for sure. The PCA has a stronger grasp on the Westminster Confession of Faith as the way in which we understand the teaching of Scripture. We openly refer to it more. Also, we expect more depth of theological training for our ministers – certainly we take much longer to train them.
On the other hand, CCAP has such zeal for evangelism and their track record of church planting throughout the nation is exemplary. I warm to their gentle and sincere spirituality, and their humble dependence on the sovereignty of God. They fervently want to spread the message of salvation to all of Zambia – and they do so without set stipends, no cash reserves and almost no facilities.
When they chose to continue Presbyterian, they did so with very few church buildings. Even some of these, such as the one I saw at Mazabuka, were huts about to fall over in the breeze, or at some places they simply met under a mango tree, such as at Livingstone.
Let me paint a picture of “a day in the life” of this CCAP Zambia Synod – PCA partnership. From this, it may be possible to sense something of the value of our fellowship in the gospel. And remember, this story repeats all over the country.
I left my lodgings at 7.30am and returned at 9.30pm … and, for a good portion of those 14 hours, I was driving a hired 4X4 Subaru twin cab (both Synod vehicles had broken down).
There’s an art to driving in Africa, the most graphic form of which I experienced in the big city of Nairobi. But here in Lusaka, it’s a lesser version of the same. It’s about “taking the gap”. Roundabouts surge like swarming bees, and negotiating them means taking the plunge as soon as you get just a sniff of space – charge into it without flinching and see how it goes. Show no fear!
Poor planning on my part meant ploughing through peak hour Lusaka to pick up the General Secretary, then backtracking to the Moderator, and finally across town for the Deputy GS. Each pickup required stopping for the obligatory exchange of greeting with the manse family.
After this inefficient criss-crossing of Lusaka, we finally set off for Kabwe by 9.45am. This drive requires 2½ hrs of close-checking country driving with no break. Along the way: overtaking oil burning heavy haulage and chatting to Zambian police at various check points make it interesting. The road is called the Great North Road, but the only thing that makes it great is distance: you can end up at Tanzania if you persevere.
What makes the trip of value is that I can talk with the Synod executive about life, culture and church. We alternate questions like: What are the pressing issues your church is facing today? What has your government done with regard to same-sex marriage?
The congregation of Kabwe CCAP is about seven years old. A group from PCA were instrumental in assisting in its public launch in 2012. African church planting method seems to work: bombing the town with an intense week of evangelistic street preaching, singing groups and house to house visiting. The follow-up is important: in faith, the team waits to see who comes to follow Christ through the preaching and how many of those want to gather together as a local congregation. Village after village across the nation has seen new CCAP churches emerge. Some fail, most are surviving.
Our first visit to Kabwe, 2012, was on the plot – NOTHING but a paddock, tarpaulin and the burning sun. Our second visit, 2014, we met in their rudimentary mud-brick building with half a roof. This day, 2018, the congregation sang as they greeted us, and proudly showed us a “completed” church building PLUS foundations for the manse (pronounced: “manse-sy”).
The congregation is profoundly grateful for the love and prayers of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. It’s as if they’re amazed that we would consider and remember them – 40 “little” people in the back streets of a rural Zambian town. Bear in mind that this is not a congregation we’ve given money to. They’ve built the church themselves. Their heart-felt appreciation is that we care and that we return to visit again: eight PCA members in 2012, two in 2014 and the Moderator-General in 2018.
There are tears in their eyes … picture:
- women who smile and sing heartily;
- a very elderly gent in his eighties, dressed in his only (fading) suit who still thanks me for preaching the gospel in 2012;
- a Session Clerk who gave up half a day’s work to be with us because it was more important to him than income;
- a youth leader who also gave up half of his day as a taxi driver to be the chauffer for members of the congregation;
- the minister Rev Bright Ngulube, and his wife, who live in a rented house far, far below our manse standard.
Whenever you pray for our partner church in Zambia, whenever you apportion part of the budget to send a PCA visitor, whenever you support a PresAID appeal … it’s for such as these. Precious souls, dear saints. One faith, one Lord, one baptism.
We gather in the church and I gave a sermon from 1 Timothy 1 of the importance of understanding how to live by grace, not under law - that the law is not given for the righteous but the unrighteous. I’m always freshly surprised by how the Lord enables: I’d been engaged in 4½ hours of challenging, pot-hole dodging driving, YET I felt energised and empowered to preach and had the right words to say for the occasion.
There’s the obligatory round of thank-you speeches – something I’m prepared for, along with presenting a book as a gift to the minister. Then a quick drive to the manse for a wonderful meal of nshima, rice, fish, cabbage and tomato/onion sauce. Using only God’s implements (fingers of the right hand), the fish is a challenge, especially the eye that keeps looking at me.
Refreshed, we tackled the long haul back to Lusaka, stopping at a Farmstall for coffee (I was wilting by then) – but, again, in between their naps, we enjoyed good conversation between the four of us. I’ve grown in my appreciation for the spirituality, faithfulness and kindness of the GS, Rev Sevatt Kabaghe. He paid tribute to the PCA and its support of the African church. Let’s uphold Sevatt in prayer – it can be lonely in a position like that, where people bring their own agendas to bear on him.
Entering Lusaka, I was thinking my day might be drawing to a close. But the night was yet young. In fact, we drove right past my lodgings at about 5pm and on to the University Hospital to visit and pray with a very sick minister (who I knew I’d met previously in Monze). Rev Mapala is a very faithful minister and a really nice fellow, married to an equally dedicated wife with six lovely children. As I approached, I felt sad, as the situation gave me the impression that he had not long to live on this earth.
Here, the Zambian church springs into action: each presbytery that he ever ministered in is rostered day by day to visit. It’s critically important that when someone is suffering, he doesn’t suffer alone – he must be surrounded. The same applies if someone is dying. So, picture a rudimentary hospital ward of ten beds, each patient surrounded by their obligatory “pain sharers” AND then family as well. Into this atmosphere I was invited to speak. What a privilege. The nearby beds fell silent. I spoke a few words from 1 Corinthians and prayed.
Then, he surprised me. As if he rallied in strength, from his bed of pain, Rev Mapala lifted his weak frame and said: “Wilson, remember the lights” … “Remember the lights”. I thought he was hallucinating. I thought he’d seen a vision of heaven and the glory of God’s presence.
After an awkward pause … it dawned on me: he was asking me if l remembered the miracle of the lights on that dark night when we were evangelising in a remote Copperbelt town. “Don’t you remember? I was interpreting for you!”. Indeed, Mapala was my interpreter during the preaching rally in 2011 – during the power blackout.
What thrilling memories to smile about. This was the night God gave us a miracle. I was mid-sentence, preaching from John 10:11 on Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Suddenly, and with a great explosion, the power transformer in front of me blew up and the pole caught fire. It blacked-out the whole block – stopping the loud opposing music coming from the club across the oval. Strangely, my light and my amplifier stayed live. Every light in the district went off, but mine.
These fellows love talking with me about again and again. When I tell the story at home, people don’t always believe me, but I have hundreds of witnesses. On his sick-bed, a dying pastor friend reminded me how people came to faith that night in the darkness of Chililibombwe. Though obviously in pain, we laughed and rejoiced in God together.
Back on the road again, through Lusaka, now in the dark, to Kabwata Prayer House where the congregation had been waiting all day to show us their building – built with PCA funds. The minister is Rev Prince Nkhoswe who we’ve known for years, Session Clerk is the faithful Costin M’Wale, and another senior elder is the Deputy Commissioner of Zambia Police. We moved from this Prayer House to another one without a building, where people worship in the open air, right beside the main rail line that I think can connect Cape Town to Nairobi. At each gathering, by torchlight, I was invited to do the greeting and pray.
I forget the definition of a Prayer House. It was explained to me once that a church plant begins its life as one of these entities, and then, when it reaches the 100 regular members mark, it can be called a congregation.
Finally, I took the GS back home to Chunga (20 minutes from my lodge along very tricky roads) … and then I could call it a day.
There was one more call I wanted to make that day, but I had to shelve those plans until the morning: a visit to our dear friend and elder of the church Isaac B Ngulube. Isaac served us well over many years but is now feeling isolated by the church (there’s been a fallout that I don’t quite understand) and he feels useless in retirement. I called on his family home for a catch up, gave him a token gift and prayed with him. Some of our current PCV ministers have fond memories of Isaac’s attentive care during our partnership work in Zambia in 2007.
We are constantly learning from and being blessed by these brothers and sisters across the ocean. They certainly don’t do everything as we do, and there are some inconsistencies (us too), but I’m sure we can:
- follow their example in that they have learned to be content with very little of the worlds goods, no set wage and barely two meals a day;
- learn that you don’t need money to plant a church;
- rejoice over a denomination that has accelerated the planting of churches and has grown from 16 congregations to 84 in 50 years;
- be inspired by a church that delights in conversions and has zeal to make Jesus known across their nation;
- marvel at how they care for one another … when the suffering of the one affects the whole.
Proverbs 25:25 says “Like a cup of cold water is good news from a distant land” … I give you a glass of cool refreshing water today in this pastoral letter.
Rev John P Wilson BSc, DipEd, BTh, DMin
Clerk of Assembly, PCV
(+61) 0418 537 209