When did you go to Western Province to “spy out the land” and what convinced you that perhaps the Lord wanted you to serve him there?

I first went to Mongu in March 2005 on a one month gospel mission trip then returned back to my base in Lusaka. The church in Mongu at that time had no pastor. So, Lusaka Baptist Church was alternating a few of us whom the Lord was impressing upon our hearts a burden for urban outreach work.

What first dawned upon my mind immediately I arrived in Mongu was the need for gospel labourers in the Western Province of Zambia, which apparently was great at the time and is still great to this day. I was convinced that when the Lord shows you a particular need then he most likely wants you to do something about it. My “spy” trip was an eye opener that we begin to spread out where fields are white for harvest and the hands are few.

When the call to go to Mongu came my heart was already in tune to serve in God’s vineyard regardless of the place. So, it was not really a question of where. In other words it mattered less where the Lord was commissioning me.  “Here I am Lord, send me,” was the response. It was a move in obedience to the call. I finally left in May that year to serve as fulltime missionary.

What have been some of your greatest challenges in planting a Reformed Baptist church in Mongu?

Planting a biblical church is no easy undertaking in any given situation, worse still in a rural setting that is under-developed with high illiteracy and poverty levels. There have been numerous challenges.

  • Discipleship materials in the vernacular language: The Western region is particular about their culture. Therefore, any prospective convert you disciple will ask for a copy of some kind of sound Christian literature in their local dialect. Apart from Bibles, there are few materials readily available in the languages of the Western Province such as Lozi. This is a challenge we cannot ignore and bury our heads in the sand. There is a purpose as to why God gave us a mother tongue and yet we have opted to silence it. If we are to reach the masses of our own kindred who are marching to a Christ-less eternity in these vast rural areas, we need to start writing and translating into local languages some of our books with solid teaching. Otherwise our much loved and treasured faith will keep thriving only along the line of rail but remain weak in the outlying areas.
  • Infrastructure of acceptable standards: The pioneer missionaries in our land got it right when they prioritised the building of permanent structures wherever they took the gospel. The cults have adopted the same principle for many years now and results are there for all of us to see. It gives a status of seriousness to the onlookers. To the non-believers, church is a building. They use various excuses not to come to your church if you meet in a classroom or a sub-standard building.
  • Economic challenges: Western province is among the least developed provinces in Zambia. This leads to a high turnover of members, whether indigenous or not, who often have to go elsewhere to earn a living. Those seeking to advance their studies will have to relocate to towns along the line of rail. Unemployment levels too are equally high due to lack of major economic activities. Thus a good section of the church members are likely to be those who do not work. That can pose a huge challenge to the work.
  • Charismatic influence: I didn’t realise how much damage this movement has done to the gospel until I had the privilege of attending a church that meets at a school in the last few months. The school hosts about 14 churches and the majority of them are charismatic. The fertile soil for this movement is superstition, vulnerability, and ignorance. These elements are very dominant in rural areas were people are used to consulting mediums, witchdoctors, and all kinds of spirits. Therefore, the majority of the people that come to church will always claim to have a problem of some kind that the pastor must address. They do not want him to address it in a logical way but by supernatural means. The “man of God” must give prophetic utterances every Lord’s Day to satisfy the expectations of the congregants in order to keep them coming. Those of us sticking to the old time religion will have to take the hard way, despising the shame.

Have you had any encouragements by way of fruit while you have served the Lord in Mongu? If so, share one or two such testimonies briefly with us.

When we went “down the mine” my earnest prayer was for the Lord to give us indigenous converts above everything else. It took some time to begin to see the fruit. There are several areas of encouragement we have experienced over the years as a result of the long-term ministry. I shall cite a few examples for the sake of this interview.

Firstly, there was the conversion and growth in grace of a young man called Sepiso Sitali. He later became the first indigenous deacon at Kambule Reformed Baptist Church. He was doing Grade Nine when we first met him eight years ago. The second major encouragement has been the coming to faith of Alan Kakwete Nangana, a lead member of Lutende Reformed Baptist Church. This young man has equally been very instrumental on the ground in our effort to establish this work. The third source of encouragement has been the conversion of Poniso Kuyumbana to Reformed theology. He is now the pastor for Senanga Reformed Baptist Church. Time and space may not allow me to talk about the new Bible school that we have started and many more whom I have seen profess faith but have moved elsewhere where they are still standing firm and faithfully serving the Lord. In addition to that is the growing number of Reformed Baptist churches in Western Province from one to five in the recent past. That is no mean achievement.

The Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia has for many years neglected Western Province. I do not think it has been deliberate and we are not the only culprits because even the government seems to be guilty of this. Why do you think this is the case?

There is no doubt the general perception is that the Western Province is a difficult place, and to some extent it is. The difficulties and discouragements peculiar to missions and church planting are very prominent in this region. But that is no reason at all to stay away from such a vast province because the battle is of the Lord and not ours. Perhaps three explanations among many others will suffice as to why many of us would rather go elsewhere than come to the Western Province.

  • The fear that things may not just work out: We are people that are accustomed to see results there and then. However, there are places with numerous challenges where spiritual results may take long to show. For instance we have been in Mongu for 10 years and yet it is only now that we have begun to see fruit. That can be very discouraging to the faint hearted. It is not easy to fish the whole night without a single catch, but we are to keep trying even if it means launching into the deep.
  • Language barrier: Each time we invite people to visit us or to come for a short-term missions trip, the response we get is that they do not know Lozi. Sadly, the majority of us are not prepared to learn because we consider it to be the most difficult language in Zambia. The Great Commission was to all the corners of this globe, not withstanding their tribe and tongue.
  • Walking by sight and not by faith: At first sight, Western Province is not attractive. The story of Lot and Jonah are a case in point. They wanted to go where it was their choice and not God’s choice, and in the end they learned bitter lessons. It is a matter of fact that the Western Province does not have much to offer to those who want extravagance. And, humanly speaking, most of us would want to be where things are happening, where we have the eye and attention of everyone rather than live and serve in obscurity.

When we stepped out we were aware of the nature of the task ahead. We knew it would not be easy, especially because we were coming from a different ethnic group and cultural background. It was simply a matter of surrendering ourselves us instruments of grace to a great God. We were prepared to fail while seeking to do his will. Let me appeal to the readers of Reformation Zambia: We must keep trusting with a childlike faith that the Lord who promised to build his church is faithful and he will do it no matter where.

Recently, there have been new Reformed Baptist churches springing up in the Western Province. Tell us about them.

When we went to Western Province there was only one Reformed Baptist church but now the family has grown to five churches with several preaching points around. This, in my view, is remarkable!

  • Kambule Reformed Baptist Church: This is a church plant of Lusaka Baptist Church. It was started in 1999 and is located in the central town of Mongu. This church really has a heart for missions and church planting. It has played a significant role in the ongoing gospel endeavours in the province. The leadership comprises myself, as the missionary pastor, and two deacons. The church is currently constructing a permanent structure and will soon change its name to Central Reformed Baptist Church to suit its new location.
  • Kaoma Reformed Baptist Church: The church was planted in 2010 under the oversight of Kabwata Baptist Church. It is situated right in the hub of Kaoma town. It grew fast and made tremendous progress in its first three years of existence. A lack of a settled ministry is somehow affecting its expansion. It is composed mainly of adults who periodically have to disappear to their fields for farming. The Nawas’ who have been at the helm of things since its inception have laboured faithfully to grow the work through prisons and hospital outreach. This, however, need to be supported by children’s and youth ministries which are currently lacking. The Nkoya speaking people dominate the town of Kaoma. The greatest need of this church is a fulltime missionary pastor.
  • Senanga Baptist Church: This church was planted in 2013 by Kabwata Baptist Church, with Pastor Poniso as its pioneer missionary. They are currently meeting at a school but have already acquired a church plot. Senanga is a little bit scattered, just like Kaoma, and has fishing as its economic activity. The majority of the inhabitants are Lozi speaking people with a few pockets of Mbundas. The church has seen stable growth in the recent past and the impact of the gospel is slowly bearing fruit. The pastor who is no stranger to this place has settled well. We need to support the work with infrastructure as soon as possible before the congregation he has gathered begins to scatter.
  • Lutende Baptist Church: This church was planted last year by Kambule Reformed Baptist Church. It is situated 30 km from Mongu along the road that goes to Lusaka, in a village called Lutende. Being in close proximity to the planting church, the work has benefitted in terms of human resource. It has a membership of nine and an average attendance of seventy on the Lord’s Day. The church is still looking and praying for an under-shepherd to take up the pastorate.
  • Liseli Baptist Church: This church is based in Sesheke district and was planted early this year by Kabwata Baptist Church. It is relatively new and, therefore, not much can be said about it. Sesheke is a border town with Namibia. It has a lot of potential for economic growth. Pastor Lackson Mudenda who needs our prayers, encouragement, and support in his labours, is spearheaded the work.

If you were to reduce all your prayer requests for Western Province to only three, what would those be? We would like our readers to hear them and join you in praying for this great province.

If I were to reduce my many prayer requests to three, they would be:

  • Pray for more labourers, men and women who will overlook their comfort for the cause of Christ.
  • Pray for those of us who are already labouring here to remain faithful and not grow weary.
  • Pray for more fruit and indigenous converts who can move the work forward.

Thank you, Pastor Chibesa, for according us this opportunity to interview you. We trust our readers now know more about the work you are involved in out in the Western Province of Zambia. Thank you!