The flight to Lusaka, Zambia, was pretty good except for some minor points like every seat being taken (no chance of stretching out) and a delay of an hour in takeoff. I sat next to a 25 year-old German student Doreen who was going to Lusaka to work for a year for a Dutch UNESCO project on sports promotion. She chatted away with all the ideology of her age and country and I was refreshed. I enjoyed reading William Haslam’s “From Death to Life,” the Cornish preacher who famously came into assurance of salvation as he himself was preaching to his congregation: “The parson’s converted! The parson’s converted!” they cried. But the later years of his life were perplexing and the book finally raised more questions than it answered; the earlier chapters of Haslam in his 20s were the most challenging.
When I finished the lamb which the British Airlines’ stewardess brought I fell asleep, hour after hour, facilitated by earplugs, mask, pillow and blanket. Doreen had to wake me up for the breakfast an hour from Lusaka. Lining up for the toilet I talked to some of the children dancing in line, and a more sedate lady from the Isle of Wight; “O, I’m a Christian too,” she said and mentioned a well-known Christian family of Lusaka into which her daughter had married (whom they were visiting), the Fishers. Then I steadily drew nearer to a younger woman who had been smiling at me from the other line heading for the same toilet from the opposite direction. We finally met waiting at the door and she said, “Hello Mr. Thomas. I’m from Hemel Hempstead, Alexandra Road Congregational Church (which the late John Marshall had pastored for 44 years). I recognised your voice.” The booming voice . . . the very plane itself trembles. She was going to the Covenant College which the Free Church has started in Zambia under David Frazer to teach English for a few weeks. She herself is a teacher.
It is hot in Zambia, mid 80s, but very pleasant with some refreshing showers mostly in the night; it is the end of the rainy season. There were lines of people at immigration waiting to pay the 35 pounds entrance visa. Along came a young man in a yellow and white jacket carrying a sign, “Zambian Airways.” I beckoned to him and I told him I was to catch another flight to the Copper Belt. “Yes,” he said, “Mr Jones?” That was deflating, but I generously judged he’d given that name to me as expecting a Welshman. “No, ‘Thomas,’” I said. “Oh yes, come with me,” he said, and I was plucked out of our slow-moving line and taken immediately to the counter, where he spoke up for me and, collecting my 35 pounds from me, paid my tax. Then another man turned up whose brother is a deacon in the Kitwe church and he had been told to facilitate my passing through the airport (later at Livingstone the manageress of the airport came to see if I were OK. Her brother Felix is a deacon at a Kitwe church). He then made all the arrangements for the next flight out of Lusaka. I had missed my scheduled flight through the hour’s delay, but another plane was soon leaving and he sat with me until it was time to take me out to it. We were three passengers and there was no division between ourselves and the young South African sitting in the pilot’s seat. A handsome Zambian sat alongside me across the narrow aisle. He asked me what I was doing and was delighted to hear the purpose of my trip. He is a member of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a banker in the City of London, here to visit his family for three weeks. He promised to come to hear me speak and kept his word.
The currency has experienced a horrendous inflation. In 1980 the Kwacha and the pound were on a parity, 1 Kwacha to 1 pound. Today it is 9,000 Kwachas to the pound but in reality it is 10,000, so 1p is a hundred Kwacha. It is easy to gauge the relative price of things. The population of the country is about 10 million but there are officially only 400,000 wage-earners. Many of the rest are in this marvellous category ‘self employed’ and also the interior subsistence farmers none of whom is a taxpayer, a cause of much resentment to the hard-pressed taxpayers. So the tax on the 400,000 is 40%, and this drives many gifted people out of Zambia. You remember that they are also expected to support with their incomes relatives and distant family members in school fees, hospital bills and in old age. I asked one man how this unofficial family support works: “My brother and sister and I agreed to pay all my mother’s bills, power, rental etc. But as the years have gone by they increasingly think that as my wife and I have no children we can better afford to pay those bills than they can, so I am virtually the only one who is supporting her.” He added, “It’s OK.” As the government does not tax self-employed people there is a huge black economy. Tradesmen and craftsmen and businesses both great and small want to be paid in cash. Garages prefer to sell new cars for cash. The Asian community especially does everything in cash, even purchasing houses; they sit and count out cases of money Kwacha by Kwacha to pay for a home. The dollar is the international currency.
Kitwe is Zambia’s second city with a million population; the Ndola airport is 45 minutes away and there pastor Happy Ngoma and one of his deacons Philemon were awaiting me. The banker from London was also recognised and warmly greeted and waved goodbye too as he went off with his waiting wife. Incidentally, one particular thing I like about Africans is that few men wear shorts. You think of America where everyone wears them and they expect me to wear them too. Here I am in perfect dress co-ordination with the entire nation, but, alas, shorts are creeping in. Philemon drove me on initially fine roads to Happy’s home where I will be staying for the next week. Occasionally one comes across a typical African sight, all the passengers of a large broken down taxi-bus standing listlessly on the side of the road while a number of men are gathered at the front looking under the bonnet. The inter-city roads are excellent, as are those around centre-city Kitwe, but the suburban roads are a disgrace, a sea of potholes with cars driving on every side of the road to avoid them. These vehicles come zig zagging slowly towards you sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right, while you are doing the same driving towards them dodging these antitank traps. Someone said to me that in the rest of the world if you see a car drifting from one side of the road to the other you judge that the driver is drunk, but here in Zambia if you see a man driving straight ahead on the left crashing over one pothole after another, then you know that he’s the one who must be drunk. There is a pathetic man working on a section of road near Happy’s manse filling in holes with a shovel and standing in the middle of the road putting out his hand for a coin as we lurched by at 8 mph. He is, in fact, an actual drunkard, and most of the Kwachas he gets are spent on beer. Along the roadside are the lonely women with little tables on which are pyramids of tomatoes, or eggs, or sweet potatoes, or a mound of ground nuts. They sit on stools under umbrellas, but I never spot anyone stopping to purchase anything from these lonely women.
Everything was splendid in
the Kitwe Manse; large bedroom, firm beds, a moving fan; big bathroom; chirping birds (less songbirds here); the water is fine and there are jugs of orange squash and Marie biscuits for elevenses. There is constant boiling water as electricity is cheap in Zambia because of the abundant rivers; the hydroelectric schemes are good and constantly being improved. The Chinese are building a new plant now. I had a long bath and got the dust of travel out of my pores. Everyone gets monthly electricity and water bills, and they are approximately for the same amount. My dirty clothes were taken and washed by the servant and were soon baked dry on the clothes line. Who could ask for anything more? The servant in his 20s keeps going, for example, daily brushing the big carpet on his knees steadily moving across it. He dusts everything, washes all the clothes by hand in the bath and later irons them. Then he sets to in the garden and cuts the grass and weeds. He never stops. The windows and also the door are barred; many homes have razor wire or an electrical fence on top of the walls. There is no house without a high wall around it. Happy has a watchman, but what good would be watchmen when confronted with a gang of armed criminals who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot to kill? In fact there is little murder compared to South Africa, and thieves will run away if discovered rather than attack. This week however two men were sentenced in court to be “taken and hung by their necks until they were dead” for an armed robbery that resulted in the householder’s death. The lessons from this are good for the home security business. I never felt remotely intimidated. It is a safe country, where everyone seems to have a mobile phone, and how they use them. They go off every ten minutes in the car, at the meal-table, during prayers; no place is sacred to their interruptions. People believe in their right to call other people at any time in any place. As they walk down the street young and old talk away to one another as in Wales, and there are billboards on each street corner advertising the ubiquitous cell phone.
I talked to Happy about his siblings. They were all raised in nominal Methodism but Christian students spoke to him about the gospel and later the sovereignty of God, setting him off on his journey. He believes that in the last decade his father has been converted; his mother too has made a profession but he wonders how genuine it is. This is what concerns him, two of his brothers have died of AIDS, but at such crises his mother turns to the ubiquitous witch doctors and they have told her that her sons died because a spell was put on them, and she has chosen to believe that. Happy has a brother who has been working in Wales for five years, he is not sure where.
Happy came to believe in the limited purpose of the atonement before being persuaded of others of the truths of free grace. It came to him while reading the words of Caiaphas on the purpose of the death of Christ in John 11:50-52: “It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spoke he not of himself, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation. And that not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” They were the ones for whom Jesus died; that he might accomplish that goal for them.
In the evening there was a neighbourhood Bible Study and I walked for a mile in my flip-flops through a pleasant area with Happy and Elizabeth and their 13 year old daughter Lom, greeting various people on the way. There seemed to be few dogs about, unlike Nairobi. Later I wondered whether there were not just as many. The Bible Study was held in one of the members’ homes; Felix is a lecturer at the Kitwe University in Forestry Economics. There are thirty staff in that department. The new strains of trees are brought in from Mexico. The copper mines use a lot of pine pit-props like the Welsh mines also did. The things one learns . . . The Bible study consisted of 9 people looking at Ephesians 5, “women submit to your husbands” and most of them contributed, and did so well. After the closing prayer a big bowl of boiled groundnuts (peanuts) was put in the centre of the table.
For supper back in the manse we ate rice, minced beef and vegetables; ice cream and banana for desert, a typical meal and very tasty. It is all delicious with even a cooked breakfast on offer as well. We had family devotions and Elizabeth prayed earnestly and at length to conclude the evening and I went to bed at 9.45 and slept on and off through the night, keeping cool under the fan. What a happy initial 24 hours in Happy’s home.
On Good Friday the Conference of the United Kitwe Chapels began at 3 p.m., or ‘fifteen hundred hours’ as they say. They also might say when you ask them when something had occurred, “Two zero zero three,” instead of “2003” as we would say. Little national quirks. The conference was held in the large Nkana East Chapel erected a few years ago, one of five or so Brethren Assemblies which have become Reformed and they work together. In other words, they have called pastors, abandoned the dispensational interpretation of things, but maintain the weekly breaking of bread. There were about 250-300 people in the congregation; ‘Golden Bells’ was the hymnal plus an OHP and we sang such familiar hymns as, Our God our help in ages past, Loved with everlasting love, Who is on the Lord’s side? Crown him with many crowns, etc. I knew them all except for one or two OHP choruses. All the singing everywhere throughout my time in Zambia was unaccompanied. There is plenty of harmonising and some slight variations to the tunes. There were banks of recording equipment down one side at which two diligent men sat taping. In the first session, beginning this survey of the book of Revelation as they had asked me, and preaching on the first three chapters, I sweated a lot and mopped my brow with the red spotted handkerchief I had inadvertently brought to the meeting (Pastor John Ploughman was in the pulpit); it was a good thing that Iola wasn’t there, but by the next day they had installed a tall fan and trained it on my back and it made a welcomed improvement. No sweat; I didn’t have to use the crisp white handkerchief I had brought. They probably now think that large red spotted handkerchiefs are used by everyone in Wales. People kept turning up throughout the sermon, even to five minutes from the end when they had to sit in the front seats.
English is spoken beautifully. There is just one man whose heavy accent I’ve had difficulty in understanding, and of course the little children. “What pretty hair you have,” I say, “What’s your name?” A little squeak of an answer comes, and if it is an African name I am stumped. But those are the exceptions. Conversations are profound, and intelligent, and English spoken so finely. For example, one man making announcements on Saturday told the congregation there were leaflets describing a certain work at the door: “Please pick up a report for your personal consideration,” he said. You wouldn’t find such elegance in Aberystwyth. There is the same desperate shortage
of preachers here as in Europe. The church Nigel Lacey pastored in Lusaka is hunting for one now. It is an important congregation for Zambia. Kitwe Chapel have called someone.
I spotted another white face in the congregation, the middle-aged wife of a son of one of the early Brethren Missionaries born and raised here in Zambia. Her husband came to the next session. He has worked for the mining company. He is a supporter of Holy Trinity Brompton and commends the Alpha course, but he is no longer an elder in the church. These two made no attempt to contact me. The new pastor in this Nkana East Chapel is Tryson Mtonga, a former lecturer in mathematics in the University.
On Friday night I went to the second university of Zambia, the Copper Belt University which is here in Kitwe. It was the beginning of the new term and the CU asked me to speak on, “What is the Gospel?” The meeting, due to start at 18.00, started at 18.35 and about 25 students slowly turned up. One of the men in charge, William, was converted 25 years ago during his first week at Swansea University and baptized by Owen Milton under whose ministry he sat during his postgraduate work in genetics. His own children are at university age.
Saturday was the main day of our conference with the same number of people attending and I spoke on Revelation three times at 9.30 a.m. (chaps. 4-7), 11.30 a.m. (8-12), and 2.30 p.m. (13-18). I suppose it was all a bit of a plod with good flashes. They were wonderfully concerned to meet my needs taking me to Pastor Tryson’s house lunch time, feeding me there and putting me on a bed for 40 minutes. Then the questions that I was asked from 30 pieces of paper at 3.30 were pretty searching stuff, and my limitations were quickly manifest. They wanted the exegesis of various verses, and of course desired more explanation than I had given on the ‘144,000’ and the number of the beast 666. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have spread their superstition on 144,000. How significant that the clear teaching in Revelation on the torment of hell is denied by them, but that they actually make literal the number 144,000, and say it refers to the top JWs who knock more doors than anyone else. They are the ones who will leave the world and will get to heaven, so they teach, but the rest of the JWs will spend their time on the fabulous new earth. Works, all works, wretched works, like building across the bottomless pit a bridge of sand.
Sunday was a special day; at 4 a.m. I was awakened with a deluge of rain hitting the corrugated iron roof and peals of thunder and flashes of lightning for an hour. This has gone on for most of the nights following. I went at 9 a.m. to a Bible study of the adults who are examining Bible translating through English history. They did Wycliffe last week and it was Tyndale and the Geneva Bible this week and next week the Authorised Version. It was very fine. We looked at the latter verses at the end of Revelation 22 concerning the sin of adding to Scripture. “Were notes written on the sides and bottom of pages in Study Bibles actually adding to Scripture?” was the question and the answers were great.
The main service started at 10, and it meandered a little. Only one resurrection hymn was chosen and there were readings and hymns and choruses and announcements and various prayers which went on for an hour, and then just after 11 I started and preached on the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. The service finished at noon. How much shorter are our services in Aberystwyth. There was a great listening. People are dressed smartly, some having driven to the service in splendid people-carriers; they have responsible jobs. They carry well-used Bibles and are serious about the faith. I suppose that, counting the many children, there were about 150 present, and I guess I was the oldest. I ate with a business couple who travel the world with their work and then at 3 the final fifth session on Revelation took place in the Nkana East Chapel which was again full. So the studies in Revelation ended well as they had begun, with that bit of a struggle in the middle three sessions, which were all on the Saturday. But the Committee of the Convention are going to publish them in a little book as they published Keith Underhill’s addresses on Mission when he was the speaker here two years ago. Then there were another dozen great questions on slips of paper, but they were more manageable than Saturday’s, less questions about the exegesis of individual verses in the book of Revelation. I enjoyed thinking on my feet and answering them, and I believe the congregation was with me.
The Lord’s Day ended with a meal for the elders and committee members of the Conference and their wives in the home of a businessman and his wife who had lived for a few years in Colchester. There were forty of us, and outside caterers came in, and we sat out on white garden furniture in a large garden under the stars eating around scattered tables until 11 p.m. enjoying the fellowship and the happiness of the occasion. Again I was the oldest by far which is odd for me. The Southern Cross was pointed out to me and also the star that is nearest to planet earth. I spoke to a headmaster and he was grim about the situation in the government schools in the country. They have just had a long six week teachers’ strike which began on the first day of term, and they have lost all that period of teaching. Another strike is threatened next week. I asked him in a scale of one to ten in job satisfaction where he would put his own work. “Four,” he bleakly told me. Interesting conversations, and there were no insects to distract us; no trace of mosquitoes in particular, though each day I diligently take my expensive tablets. I have been invited to eat in various homes, proper delicious food like pumpkin, egg plant, a fish like trout, deer, and ‘nchima’, the ground up maize which I prefer to potatoes. I was given at one table a native drink that the hostess’ sister had made out of some roots. “You must try a Zambian drink.” I drank a tumbler full and it was OK, a bit gritty, but fruity. Then I thought I was not taking enough care, but we had prayed at the beginning of the meal – as we do – for God to bless the food to us, and I have had no stomach upsets. The Lord has heard our prayers and even my lingering cold and the slight nose bleeding I brought with me has disappeared in this warm air. Of course I submit to all the Lord sees fit to bring into my life. So I have known the dark phantoms of distress during the night watches, but that will always occur, particularly when God is blessing.
One delightful surprise was meeting again Alfred Nyirenda. He studied in Spurgeon’s College 25 years ago under Bruce Milne and Douglas Brown, that brief conservative time in its era. He returned here to Zambia and was a fine preacher in Lusaka and here in Kitwe where he led many of the leaders of this Conference into an appreciation of God’s free grace. I met him with Iola in South Africa fifteen years ago and we are soul mates. He had many questions about the UK, Westminster Chapel, Heath and its former pastor Vernon Higham, the Leicester Conference etc., and I gave him what news I had. He is
ten years younger than me and is now the head of a new orphanage which is rapidly building up to be the home of 196 children in 30 bungalows with a mother and aunt in each home. There are half that number present there now but it will soon be full. All the women in the individual houses are single and over 40 years of age; there are two in each house, a mother and an aunt. On Monday (my day off) I was taken by Tryson Mtonga and Happy Ngoma and their wives to visit this large village with its school, medical centre and all purpose hall. It has all been erected in the last 2 years, the bungalows of fine brick and they look grand spread across a gentle slope on a very large site. Children came running up to hold my hand and skipped along at my side while Alfred held my other hand as we walked in African friendship. Every home has a couple of vegetable gardens. Some of the kids were abandoned babies, a few pounds in weight with little chance of survival, while others are the orphans of those who have died with AIDS. Some of the children may be HIV positive but no discrimination is made against them. Money initially came from Austria to set up the village, and it all runs at a budget of 200,000 pounds a year, which seems to me incredibly small for sixty staff and a few hundred children. Erroll Hulse did a photo feature on Andrew and the orphanage in a recent ‘Reformation Today’, but being there made all the difference to understanding it.
We also called in at a Methodist conference centre being built by money from the USA. The breeze blocks for the building were being made on site by four men shovelling their mortar and grit into a mold and slamming down the top again and again to pack the mix together. They do this standing in their bare feet. Ouch! Then there is a large warehouse making doors and chairs, and alongside it is another industry, a banana plantation. The conference centre and sleeping quarters are steadily going up and the Kitwe church is looking forward to using it for their church conference next year.
One feature noticeable in many Christian homes is that TV is on in the corner non-stop. Even when I visited them the TV was rarely switched off; the children wander about, look at it for a while and walk around and then are back sitting and watching for long periods. We’re talking to one another, and then our eyes drift over to the ubiquitous box. There are two channels if one does not have an expensive satellite dish which few can afford. The first channel is the government channel, and that does have BBC news international each day at noon for half an hour. Then there are a lot of soaps, and regular football. The alternative is the other channel which opened two years ago and it is sort of free. It is the Trinity Broadcasting Corporation and the 700 Club. There are some good things on this channel. Some of the interviews with Christians going through trials are heart warming and biblical. But in the peak viewing periods you get health and wealth teaching, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin, Oral and Richard Roberts, the women preachers, Reinhard Bonnke, with their histrionic fake healings, and constant appeals for money (I said ‘sort of free’). Here into their living rooms come the American preachers with their incredible wardrobes. God save us! This channel is being switched on and left to run all day in a million religious homes, only switched off at bedtime. It has enough truths to justify untaught Christians watching occasionally, and enough glimpses of glamorous churches – vast auditoriums, big choirs and singers, folksy intimate promises of life- transforming cassettes and video messages (‘for only $20 – in a pack’), wealth and health everywhere, certainly more than enough to build up a restless spirit of dissatisfaction with the real congregations we all attend. Zambia is a nation with some excellent preachers but they are rarely on the box. What this wonderful country which is so interested in the gospel is getting is Hagin and Hinn. Gullible Zambians watch all this fleshliness and think that this is true Christianity. Intelligent working Zambians, on the other hand, disdain such Christianity as laughable. One bright spot is that the sermons of Nigel Lacey have all been videoed and they are shown on TV once a week at 5.30 and there is a man with a remarkable testimony of conversion through stumbling across this programme who was in the Lusaka Baptist congregation with me on the final Sunday night.
Tuesday night I began my second assignment, the three two hour sessions on preaching given at the Kitwe Chapel, the mother church of these 5 or 6 Reformed Brethren Assemblies, at their regular School of Theology meetings. About forty people turned up at 6 p.m. for the first evening with eight or nine wives in attendance. I lectured for an hour and then answered questions in my waffly way about the call to the ministry, lay preaching, and can one defy the call of God, etc. At times I used a meat cleaver when a scalpel was needed. Afterwards I was taken to the home of a lawyer called Kennedy for supper along with the elders, deacons and their wives of one of the smaller assemblies to be a part of this group. About twenty of them break bread on Sundays and then an hour later 120 people come to their morning service. They are serious about getting a pastor. Two of the officers work deep underground in the copper mines, one is an electrician, another a lawyer (Kennedy himself), another the headmaster I had spent time with on Sunday night and clearly the respected leader of this group. Their wives were teachers etc. They asked me questions but I was happier quizzing them, like the students on a Sunday night in the Manse. I asked them what books they had found most helpful. It was not too promising a response, pretty wide ranging stuff, but Kennedy said, “The Forgotten Spurgeon.” Then I asked them what were their favourite hymns and Happy’s wife Elizabeth, blew me out of the saddle when she quoted John Newton’s “I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith and love and every grace,” etc. She could repeat it all. She had learned it from the fine Metropolitan Tabernacle hymnal, Psalms and Hymns. Her praying reflects her grasp of biblical theology. I returned home at 11 after an evening of fine fellowship and prayer. Then I discovered that my mobile phone from Aber. works here and I was able to call Iola and the children. That was good.
Ten more attended the second night of lecturing and during the day Kennedy came and took me around Kitwe, for example, slowly driving along the side of the vast collection of sheds and lean-to’s that comprise the market, a central feature of every town on the continent of Africa. We travelled down one side of it, a hundred yards long, but it is also a hundred yards wide with row after row of tradesmen within that square. Everything is for sale there, electronic goods, clothes (“Italian Fashion” one lean-to was called), tools and hardware, bicycles, and food including the best bread in the city. Everyone shops there from the highest to the lowest, but some of the tradesmen are rough and many women don’t go there alone. The clothes not sold in European charity shops have been sent in containers to Africa and other countries for the last twenty years. Here in Zambia they call it ‘sala-ula’ in a derogatory reference to them being ‘turned over and discarded.’ This trade was wiping out the local textile industry and so the government had two courses of action, banning it entirely (as they have tried to do in Zimbab
we) or taxing it steeply (which Zambia has done). This market has had many sala-ula stalls. People saunter along flicking over the tumble of clothes. They get bought, picked apart, redesigned and resold by keen seamstresses. That was the tradition for twenty years, but now even this sala-ula has been overtaken by Chinese imports. New garments made in China are cheaper than charity shop rejects shipped to Africa in transporter containers from Europe. So the sala-ula stalls are getting less and less and Chinese clothes stalls more and more.
The smell in one corner was ripe; “dried fish” said Kennedy, but the doctor’s wife Rose raised an eyebrow when I told her over supper his remark. I would love to have wandered around with Kennedy, but he was late picking me up and we had other places to visit. He took me to his legal office on the second floor in downtown Kitwe. You know solicitors’ officers in Wales with the sets of thick legal books lining one of the walls, the calendar, computer on the desk with the secretary opposite the door? Same here. We also went to meet a friend working in the office of Oxfam, the biggest Western charity in Zambia. Kennedy had heard only vaguely of Christian Aid and Tearfund. The lady told me of the work they are doing with the poor. No water projects are needed because Zambia has rivers everywhere; none of the dry gulches you see in Kenya. You have to watch out for crocodiles in these rivers.
Kennedy also took me to a new church building near one of the shafts of a copper mine. It was interesting to see the familiar pithead winding gear and cooling towers in such an exotic location. The church has walls, roof, doors and iron window frames and so the people are able to worship there long before completion. They have been supported by the other congregations in getting started but the completion is their responsibility, so now there is a lull before glass, electricity and plumbing is installed. Some of the youth workers, if that is not professionalising a broad concern in some of the young men, were playing football with the local boys. I got broad grins of welcome. There are three or four such new churches being set up in the Kitwe area and immediately people from the neighbourhood come along and listen. No declining congregations here.
Elizabeth gave me a demonstration of making Zambia’s staple diet, ‘nchima’. The maize was traditionally pounded and ground up with a pole smashing the ears of corn. That is still done in the rural districts but the women in the neighbourhood of every small town take their corn to a mill – a machine that separate the orange maize husks from the white heart and then grinds that corn in a minute. They take both home on their heads or on a bicycle or in a car if they can afford one (the chickens eat the husks). An orthopaedic doctor told me what knee problems African women have in middle age from carrying burdens on their heads. In the cities Zambians buy sacks of ground corn, and depending on the family, one will last a month. The sack the family here buys costs 1.40 pounds. Town people have a much more varied diet, and Elizabeth is typical of the younger cook. We even ate pizza and on another occasion hot dogs. She showed me how nchima is made mixing the ground corn into an inch of cold water, then she added double or treble that mount of boiling water. The maize expanded and the mix turned into a porridge. She let that simmer and bubble and spit away for 10 minutes, and then she added another cup of ground maize and mixed that – like mixing cement – until it was ready. “Come to the table!” One eats it with meat and vegetables. I eat it with a knife and fork of course, covering it with gravy, but the African says that a fork ruins the taste of nchima; “You have to eat it with your fingers.” One nursing teacher with a big smile on her face was telling me that she was reading a paper on mental problems or clinical depression and that one giveaway of this condition was eating food with your fingers. She collapsed in peals of laughter
I was taken around a township on the edge of Kitwe this afternoon, “not for the poor people”, Kennedy was at pains to point out. They did not look poor though their houses were not quite as well built as the houses in our part of the city. The children coming home from school in their uniforms were immaculate. The township has 80,000 people and these brethren are planting a church here; it is the church with the copper miners and the headmaster and the 25 members. The site of their new church is a large untidy field and they have put up the iron girders which looked like a modern sculpture. The next church I was taken to was the very reverse, a log cabin kind of structure with no windows, again in a large field. They are confirming ownership and planning permission before going the same way as the other church.
I gave my last lecture at 6.10 for an hour on Thursday and then answered question for 45 minutes, and now that we have got to know one another there was a lot of relaxed good spirits throughout this time. I took their photo and then went for supper to an elder’s home – the one who had been converted in Swansea. What fine godly people they all are. We were home by 11 and I could pack for tomorrow’s early start.
April Fool’s Day and Tryson came at 6.15 to pick up Happy and myself for the hour’s drive to the airport. They have been good friends to me. The plane left at 7.15 and we were a dozen passengers flying to Lusaka, the 2 million population capital of Zambia. Urbanisation of the country has gone on apace, more than any nation in Africa. I was in Lusaka merely for a long stop over. An employee of Holiday Inn met me and drove me to the home of Silvester and Joyce Hibajeni where I stayed for a few hours. Banner of Truth books lined the shelves. Joyce drove me back to the airport four hours later and I flew to Livingstone 70 minutes away where pastor Michael Bwembya met me and took me to his home. His wife Jacqueline is pregnant with their fourth child and sweet and chatty, full of questions. “What do you think of Harry Potter?” she asked. She had to leave me for an hour as he also did and the only book in the room was Johanne Spyri’s “Heidi,” which I began to read with delight finishing it the next day. I had never read it growing up because it was a girl’s book. What a lovely Christian book it is. I asked Jaqueline how many brothers and sisters her husband had. “None,” she said. “An only child?” I said. No, his siblings had all died of AIDS. For supper a Christian doctor called who specialises in AIDS, leading an AIDS foundation, and time with him was informative. The highest density of AIDS in Zambia is around Livingstone because it is a border town for truck routes and trains.
On Saturday the power and the water all stopped at 8.15. I had had my morning wash, but it was a disruptive element to the day the power not returning until 6 p.m. while the water did not flow until 11 p.m. What toilet flushing then occurred across Livingstone. It also meant that Jacqueline had to cook on a charcoal brazier outside at a time when an honoured guest was staying in their home. We set off f
or the Victoria Falls and on the way visited the David Livingstone museum, but we were refused entry because of the lack of electricity. I wanted to buy T-shirts with special names and pictures of animals on the front for the grandchildren but the power to operate the machines was not available. I tried to buy some things in a curio shop with my credit card but the absence of power meant that credit cards were not accepted. It was all a nuisance. David Livingstone was the first white man to discover the falls – “the smoke that thunders” is the African name – and he named them after his queen. He made this discovery 150 years ago this year and so there is a special effort being made to promote the falls for the tourists, but this is an inaccessible place except for small planes. It is a five hour drive from Lusaka.
We drove along a country road for a few miles from Livingstone passing a few guarded entrances to the drives to three large modern hotels. Then we arrived in a large yard surrounded with African curios, and a man in a head-dress, bare-chested who was playing a primitive xylophone with a box collecting money in front of the contraption. There was room for a few dozen cars, and this was the entrance to the Victoria Falls. We went through the entrance, a narrow door and signed our names in the visitors’ book (one looks for ‘Wales’ or ‘Welsh’ just in case someone else from Aberystywth happened to be there). There were not many people at the Victoria Falls, a few hundred, and then we walked along a narrow concrete path through jungle of a dense growth until, around a corner, one gets one’s first glimpse of the Zambesi river plunging over this precipice. It is awesome, and one stands and gazes for an age, but this is just the beginning. The path winds on along the cliff top on the opposite edge of the Falls at a lower elevation so one is looking up at them. There are plenty of viewing places to stand and see the Falls from different angles. The Victoria Falls are one mile in length, and no one has ever been able to see them all because they give off such a spray that one’s vision is limited. No one can see the bottom; it is all spray; one cannot see the sky above because of this same thick cloud of spray, and one can just see a few hundred yards of the waterfall before the mist closes in. It is very impressive, primitive and frightening. How mighty are his wonders.
Then as one goes on one gets wetter and wetter, and wetter and wetter, and wetter. One gets soaked through. One comes to a pedestrian bridge and as one crosses it clouds of spray like a hose pipe are directed at one. It is not pleasant. The water is cold and constant; it comes down and it comes up. From the north and south and east and west it rains at you and on you and through you relentlessly. It is like standing in a shower fully clothed and switching it on cold and standing there for ten minutes facing the shower and then turning one’s back on it for another ten minutes and getting one’s back soaked, and then repeating the experience, back and fore, soaking oneself. So I clambered across this bridge, and I was shouting involuntarily, “Ooooooooh! Ooooooooh!” all the time, indifferent to any other pedestrians, and glad to get to the other side and under some trees, but they send in the dive bombers, huge individual drops of water, millions of them, ferocious, relentless, “Mmmmmmmm-pow! Mmmmmmm-pow!” Ten a second. Give me the drenching cloud any day, and back into it one goes, on and on to the end with the last view of these majestic earthy falls rumbling on, utterly oblivious to we ants gazing up at it, lacking words to describe the sight. Below and to the east from the Falls is the gorge as the Zambesi goes on its way. There are bungi jumps somewhere, the highest in the world, and white water rafting, and above the gorge the railway bridge linking Zambia to Zimbabwe, that is, old Northern Rhodesia to old Southern Rhodesia.
I have not finished. Where do you think you go now? You retrace your steps. Yes, through all of that again. Yes you do, knowing what lies ahead of you now, through the jungle’s dive-bombing and across the bridge of wet wetness, and along the path of mighty spray. You thought you could not get any wetter. O yes you can. You discover a new kind of wet, a new dimension of wetness never before experienced. It has strange effects on you as you laugh and cry. There is this majestic sight of the Victoria falls on one side of the path. It calls for sobriety and feelings commensurate with one of God’s great wonders in his creation, and yet there you are, more bedraggled than you have ever been in your entire life. I look at my arms and they are white. I have never seen them look so white, purged of any healthy tone, leprous. I rub them to make sure they are alive. I can feel my fingers. The rain has run down into my shoes, a sole has started to come off my left shoe, and later I discover the dye has come off the shoes and stained my socks. “What were you doing wearing socks to the Victoria Falls?” you ask. I shall explain later. My handkerchief in my pocket is like a handkerchief taken out of a bath of water. Some bills in my pocket are soaking wet. A piece of paper I keep for making notes has turned into blotting paper. My trousers, with the weight of the water, slip down my legs and I have to use the highest notch on my belt to stop them falling down completely. We stagger back to the bank of the Zambesi river and sit on a stone and I laugh uncontrollably gazing at my whiter than white arms and soaking trousers.
There is a sign ten yards from the edge of the Falls in cold official capitals, “NO SWIMMING. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CROSS. BEWARE OF CROCODILES.” I earnestly obeyed every exhortation from my heart. People who are world travellers have described the Victoria Falls to me as a great fun experience. They have told me that in the hot African sun you are dry in next to no time. Do not believe them. You are soggy for the rest of the day. Every garment you wear is soggy, and sitting in soggy clothes hour after hour is not a lot of laughs. You long for dry clothes. You scorn me for the clothes I wore. True. But I am not the barefoot or sockless sandals man wearing shorts, and neither was my father before me. I was not raised that way, and that is what a trip to the Victoria Falls requires. I am a long trousers man, and will be until my dying day. You can hire capes and hoods. I was dissuaded by these same experts who said that the rain gets through and in. “You sweat and there is inner condensation. Better to brave the elements!” they said. Next time I will hire a cape. There were five women, followers of the Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa, who arrived with us at the entrance in their white habits with the blue borders. They all put on capes and hoods and looked like hobbits on their way to market, but they were drier than me at the end. Everyone in Livingstone was drier than me. If there had been a prize for wetness I would have won it easily. They would have had to make a new category of super-wet for anyone to challenge my record-breaking wetness. Maybe I have found my new sphere of excellence where I excel all others. Mr Wet of Wales. Break your hearts inhabitants of Blaenau Ffestiniong. I am the champion, a valleys’ boy from the south. I am not giving up this Lonsdale Belt without a mighty effort from some poor damp challenger. I might even die keeping the title, and weep like Alexander that there are no more waterfalls to conquer.
That afternoon we returned home and I peeled off my clothes, easier said than done, especially the sports shirt which stuck to my back as if wallpapered to it, but I managed and put on my dry clothes. What a delight. Then the accident occurred, with Michael escorting me to see his half acre of tomatoes, I stepped down from the back porch onto the breeze-block steps which were covered with an old bath mat. This effectively disguised the gap between two roughly cut blocks on the second step, and down went my foot, clad only in a flip-flop, with all my body weight, into the gap, wrenching it badly. How I limped in the next hours; I couldn’t go back to my room 50 yards away without resting on the arm of Michael. I needed a taxi to take me to church ten minutes walk away. They sent for a physiotherapist neighbour who looked at it, twisting it expertly one way and the other. I knew I had not broken it. I had put some ice on it immediately, but because of the power cut there was little ice, only the frost from the walls of the freezer. That helped. My shoe braced it on Sunday but I shuffled like an old man.
The Livingstone Reformed Baptist Church is about ten years old and it has had a chequered history, but under Michael it is heading in the right direction. Two of the officers came to see me on Saturday afternoon. They had been out in the streets for three hours giving out invitations to the special service on Sunday morning when ‘Jeff’ Thomas from the UK was to be preaching. What fine men, different, but solid supporters of the church. I asked them what books had helped them most and their responses showed the different attitudes we meet in congregations all over the world. One was not much of a reader and he struggled to find a book he could say had touched him. The other mentioned Iain Murray, Pink and the works of John Owen, “though they are not easy to read.”. He is a laboratory technician checking samples of bodily fluid. I was interested in that – how one knows if a man is HIV positive etc. This man chaired the meeting on Sunday morning. The church uses Grace Hymns plus a kind of Sankey supplement which is widespread in these church throughout Zambia. The early missionaries introduced and translated Sankey’s and this generation has grown up on these Victorian gospel hymns with their chorus structures. Eminently singable, but surely only to flavour the diet of more solid hymns which we had sung in Kitwe.
The church has purchased a splendid piece of land – all these new churches I have been taken to have to possess vast pieces of land, the smallest being two acres and the largest the size of a football pitch. They are going ahead raising the capital for the next step. They first of all put up a wooden temporary structure without windows or electricity; they build some temporary toilets across the other side of the enclosure, they erect some coverings for Sunday School classes, and then they make their presence felt in the neighbourhood. Then next they build a little house for a watchman and with him installed they can buy a lorry-load of breeze-blocks hiring a builder who will start putting up the basic structure. Or perhaps they will first get the girders and erect the outline of the building. Then they take a deep breath and gather more money and go on to the next phase. It is a long journey, but they have the heart for it all over Zambia.
As in other churches we visitors were asked to stand and were welcomed to the church. Could they stay behind afterwards and the officers will greet them? Then the congregation was asked to welcome them. In Kitwe this welcome was displayed in three loud claps, but in Livingstone in a burst of clapping as in the morning service in Lusaka Baptist Church. I went to the door to shake hands with every person as they were released pew by pew to go to the door. The children sat in the front row and they came up to me first, and after shaking my hand they stood next to me in an ever lengthening line. The members of the congregation came out, shook hands with me, and then, with the children next to me, had to join the growing line shaking hands with everyone else who left the church and joined the line. There were many happy conversations between people as they moved down the line greeting every other person who was in the congregation. I thought it was a brilliant exercise, a contemporary application of ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’ but I could not see how we could implement it in our own church in our weather and with our architecture and structures.
A couple of visitors were asked back to the Manse, one was a teacher who was Seventh Day Adventist who told me he enjoyed listening to the Bible being preached. I asked him about the SDA food laws. He said what they all say that it is merely for health, but I said that if he started to eat bacon sandwiches and pork chops he would never get anywhere in SDA circles. Is salvation by faith alone in Christ alone or is it by faith in Christ plus keeping these Old Testament food laws? If it is that then Christ has died in vain and we are still in our sins. If I must make a contribution to my redemption then I am a lost man because I can never make it perfectly. Simply to covet a bacon sandwich makes me a sinner if the SDA are right. It is odd how basic an issue is free justification though Christ in all sorts of circumstances – hugely with Rome, and then also with modernism which knows nothing of such a salvation. But here too in Zambia and central African where there are thousands of SDA churches meeting on Friday nights and Saturdays and denying eternal punishment as strongly as John Stott.
On Sunday afternoon I limped into Livingstone’s little airport and took the hour long flight to Lusaka to be met by Silvester and Joyce. They drove me to the evening service which started at 5 p.m. in LBC, Lusaka Baptist Church and we were there in good time. 200 were present; an elder preached vigorously; he is going through some verses in I Peter 1. Afterwards I met with Amos who had studied maths and statistics for a year in Aberystwyth in the late 80s. He was recalled to my mind by his long wooden crutch; he had polio as a child. He now teaches mathematics at Lusaka University. “I have been to your house,” he said. Also Karen’s uncle was there – she who lives in Tanygraig, Trinity Road. He works in Covenant College and told me he had heard that on the plane from London I had met the girl now working there for two weeks who is the teacher in Hemel Hempstead. Another man told me that the last time he had heard me was in a youth rally in Priory Street Dudley when I had preached on “Never man spake like this man.” Nice contacts. I had a peaceful evening with Silvester and Joyce. She is a physiotherapist and had some excellent ointment and set to working on my foot. For a half-hour she massaged it, rubbing the ointment in and seeking to disburse the build-up of fluids. Good, healing, painful stuff. The smell of that ointment filled the house.
On Monday I was given a tour of the city by Silvester. The university is less than 40 years old and originally set out in pretty pastures with a lake and playing fields and some impressive buildings. Today there is a dilapidated air about the buildings, the
concrete-dull decor, the agit-prop posters in the Students’ Union, the cheapness of the furnishings, the levelled-down quality of the campus, compared to its bright promise thirty years ago. The grass is now overgrown, the undergrowth in need of pruning; there are strikes with lecturers over pay, and demonstrations with students. The University – in a city of 2 million and a nation of 10 millions people numbers only 5,000 students including less than a thousand women, so that people who can afford it send their children abroad to study. There is not enough money in the country for the demands of health, education, police and roads. There are numbers of political parties; the ideologies of them all are the same, while the difference is one of personalities. Sudden issues will rise; a group of people will not like the way the government has responded to it and a party is born.
There are fine roads in Lusaka lined by embassies and the home of the prime minister. Down town the city bustles with energy and the adjoining streets are full of hawkers selling everything. There is one shopping precinct very USA in its appearance. There are townships emerging out of shanty towns bustling with energy lined by long plots full of men making and selling breeze blocks, stones, sand and cement, roofing materials, window and door frames as these areas, without plumbing or sanitation grow apace. There is no planning permission. A bank which opened up in that region is amazed at the business it is handling. The black economy again. There seemed more vitality there than at the University.
On Monday night Joyce worked again on my ankle for 30 minutes massaging and displacing the fluid and working the ointment in. I was up at 5.30. We went to the airport at 7 and I had the back seat on the plane when we left at 9. We were in Heathrow at 6 p.m. and thankful to God that all the prayers were answered for the whole trip.
GEOFF THOMAS 5th April 2005.