I am often saddened at the realisation that we Zambian Baptists know so little of our own spiritual history. As I have recently studied this history I have been amazed at its richness. There are so many lessons and challenges we can learn from the sacrifices and victories achieved by the pioneers of the Baptist faith in Zambia. Such lessons can only enrich our individual and corporate lives as we realise that we are treading where spiritual giants have trod. One such spiritual giant is Paul Kaputula Kasonga (1902-1954), once popularly known as Paul the Leper. His life ought to be better known among Zambian Baptists today.

Childhood and Conversion

Kaputula Kasonga was born about 1902. Very little, if anything, is known about him before he showed up at the doors of the mission school in Kafulafuta in order to pursue his education. This was towards the beginning of 1916, when he was about 14 years old. As he sat through the various Bible lessons God soon opened his eyes to see his sinfulness and the all sufficient salvation procured for him in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus one evening – on the 9th of July 1916 to be precise – he knocked on the door of one of the missionaries, Clement Doke, and asked if he could give his life to the Lord. “Shikulu Doke,” he said, “I want to turn over my heart.” Let us allow him to tell this event in his own words,

“I came to the Mission at Kafulafuta at the beginning of 1916 and in the middle of that year Walona Doke arrived. I was then a school boy and heard the Word of God from Shikulu Filipo and Shikulu Wale and Shikulu Doke. The words of a hymn we sang, “Jesus is coming again,” arrested me and made me think, so I went to Shikulu Doke that night and had a talk with him and there and then gave my heart to the Lord”

That was the story of how one of the earliest converts among the Baptists in Zambia came to Christ – at about 14 years of age. When schools closed Kaputula disappeared from school and did not return for the rest of that year. However, as the missionaries went around preaching the gospel from village to village they finally found him because of his witness. Each time they went to a village they would ask, “Have you heard of Jesus?” and the answer was invariably, “No, who is he?” But one day upon asking the same question in one village, they got the answer, “Yes, we have heard about Jesus. Kaputula told us about him.” That is how they found their long lost convert. Sadly, they found that Kaputula had contracted leprosy and was segregated from the rest of the village. He was living alone across the river in a small hut. The missionaries organized for him to be brought to Kafulafuta and with the use of medicine were able to arrest the disease and Kaputula was able to continue his schooling.

Having learnt how to read and write, Kaputula was assigned the task of accompanying Clement and Olive Doke to start a new school in Kawunda Chiwele. Kaputula recalled the event: “Shikulu Doke and Walona Doke went with me and Mose Katanga to open the school. They left us there while they went off itinerating in the villages. Whilst there, Mose and I constantly preached the Word of God in the surrounding villages, and quite a number responded to the message and became Hearers.”

It was soon after this that Kaputula testified to the Lord’s saving grace through the waters of baptism and changed his name from Kaputula to Paul. The day was 7th March 1920. Kaputula wrote, “At that time we had only the Gospel of John and Mark, together with Jonah, in print in the Lamba language. These we read constantly. This reading and talks I had with Shikulu Filipo and Shikulu Doke led me to ask for baptism. I had never seen a baptism, but several of us were seeking baptism at the same time, so Shikulu Doke had classes for instruction with us. We were five: Katandika afterwards Luke Mavula and Ngolofwana being Reuben Chumpuka, and Chilayi his brother now known as Mako, and Jakobi Mununga and myself.” That is how Kaputula Kasonga became Paul Kasonga, named after the great apostle Paul.

“The Early Years” in Chirupula

The first assignment that Paul Kasonga had as a preacher came soon after that. It was a call that came from Chirupula, some one hundred and sixty kilometres south-east of Kafulafuta. Chirupula was a nickname given to a white farmer, J E Stephenson, who lived in the area, because of his fierce whipping. He had become so much part of the life of the area that he had even married African wives and had children with them. This is the man who had asked the Mission Superintendent to send them a teacher who could open a school on his farm. The lot fell on Paul. How he responded to this call and how his ministry went there is best told in Paul’s own words:

“At first I refused to go because I was afraid of the fierceness of Chirupula, but Shikulu Filipo talked with me and strengthened me by reminding me of the story of Joseph when he was sold into Egypt. He said I must not be afraid for it was God who wanted me to witness and work for Him there. His words strengthened me heart and I consented to go. I went in faith that strength would be given me and that God would go before, and He did. When I arrived I found that my fears were groundless, for Chirupula received me very kindly and trusted and liked me, and I was very pleased and happy. There, too, I used to go to the surrounding villages, when my work was done, and give out the Gospel message. I had charge of Chirupula’s six children for the school hours. His two wives and the wife of the neighbouring doctor were very interested in the words I had to tell them about Jesus, and often came to talk with me…

“On Sundays I gathered the people on the estate at Chiwefwe for a service, if I was not out in the villages… Bwana Chirupula was so pleased with me and with the fact that he could trust me that he did not want me ever to leave him. In fact, when I intimated that I wanted to go home and rest, he got angry and said he would report me to the Magistrate at Ndola. His brother Peter, though, told him that that was not right and that if I was happy I would come back after a rest. So the Bwana consented to my going home for a holiday and Reuben Chumpuka was sent down to take my place. By the time I got back to Kafulafuta I found that Shikulu Doke and his wife had left to go down South and that Shikulu Cross had come to take his place and Walona Stern had come to keep Walona Doke company. That was in 1921.”

Paul used to smoke as a Christian. He never smoked in the presence of the missionaries in Kafulafuta because they discouraged anyone from smoking. In fact, they punished the school boys if they found them smoking. But now that Paul was alone in Chirupula he smoked publicly, and yet it was while he was in Chirupula that he gave up the habit completely. How did that happen? In Chirupula there was a strong Seventh Day Adventist presence and they taught that Christians did not smoke. So, when Paul went around the villages preaching the gospel, the people were confused to see him smoking also. As this apparent contradiction came to his attention, he was so convicted of it that he prayed to God to help him overcome this addiction and indeed the Lord helped him. That was how he stopped smoking.

Paul’s return to the mission was not really a holiday. He learnt carpentry from the missionaries – a very useful skill in those days. He also soon got involved in preaching the gospel and many people came to the knowledge of the Saviour through his preaching.

Paul’s holiday was soon over and he returned to Chirupula. However, his return was short-lived as the leprosy had returned. He was taken back to his small village hut across the river from his village. The disease spread quickly and sores developed all over his body. He was such a pitiful sight. All kinds of herbal medicines were used to try and cure him but it was all in vain. Paul trusted in his God and spent almost all his time reading the Lamba New Testament, which had only come into print that year. In due season, his fingers and his toes dropped off, and so his younger brother who used to bring his food would turn the pages for him as he read the Scriptures. God spoke to him through its pages and he grew in spirit by leaps and bounds. One day a witchdoctor came to offer to heal him, but Paul could not accept this. “If you will use your medicine without any of your witchcraft incantations and spirit worship, I will accept it; but if not – go!” The witchdoctor was impressed by Paul’s stance and offered to try and help without any of his spiritism and worship. He burned powerful medicinal herbs and applied them to Paul’s body and that is how he slowly began to heal.

“The Full Harvest” at Kafulafuta

Paul wrote to the missionaries at Kafulafuta about his healing and asked if he could go and join them once again. They were surprised to hear from him because they had lost hope that they would ever see him again and they gladly consented to his return. They sent two men with a hammock to go and collect him. When they returned, the missionaries thought they came back with an empty hammock. Paul was in there but he had become so thin that he was just skin and bones. He could not even walk. The missionaries wept when they saw what the disease had done to him. As for Paul, he was still all smiles and full of joy at what the Lord had done for him. He was glad to be back among the brethren. With further medicine and good food, Paul was able to regain most of his strength and earlier body size. That was how Paul returned to Kafulafuta and he remained there for the rest of his life.

Having lost all his fingers and toes, Paul had to learn to walk and write again. As he regained his strength, he began to use a walking stick to walk around. In due season, he learnt to walk on the stump that was left of his feet. Similarly, he learnt to hold a pen in between the stump of his thumb that was left and his palm, and with practice learnt to write again. As he developed in both walking and writing, he started taking some classes in the school again and was glad that he could be useful of the Lord once again.

The church building in Kafulafuta where Paul Kasonga exercised his powerful preaching ministry. It is the first Baptist building ever erected in Zambia and was opened on 24th December 1916. In its earlier years it had a thatched roof.
The church building in Kafulafuta where Paul Kasonga exercised his powerful preaching ministry. It is the first Baptist building ever erected in Zambia and was opened on 24th December 1916. In its earlier years it had a thatched roof.  

It was not long before Paul became the acknowledged African leader of the Lord’s work among the Baptists not only at Kafulafuta but in the whole of Lambaland. He was a born leader. His life was a wonder to behold. Even the missionaries noticed that they had a leader in their midst and so gave Paul the task of preaching in the morning services at the mission station. In 1931 for the first time the missionary reports going back to the South African Baptist Missionary Society included one African on the list of its leaders, and his name was Paul Kasonga. The people heard him gladly because he had a way with words in his mother tongue. pNo missionary could preach in Lamba as he did. Also, because he knew the mindpset of his own people, he used the sword of the Spirit to drive out sin from the darkest recesses of their souls in a way that no missionaries could. He used a lot of illustrations in his preaching. His stories made biblical truths come alive. One moment he would have the worshippers roaring in laughter as they saw the folly of thoughts and customs, and the next moment he would use the same illustration to drive home very solemn truths with powerful conviction. Paul was also very involved in translation work. Because he knew the various shades of meaning behind the Lamba words, he was able to assist the missionaries find just the right words as they translated various biblical texts and other books from English to Lamba.

One area that Paul was truly gifted in was that of counselling. At his home, at any time of the day or night, you would find enquirers queued up waiting their turn to receive counsel from his lips. Many backsliders were restored to the Lord through his patient personal instruction. Many marriages that were on the verge of collapse, especially because of childlessness, were also restored after a couple of visits to his home for counsel. Some who were already separated were reunited as a result of his counsel. This was despite the fact that he himself never married because of his leprosy condition. One of Paul’s friends, Shedeleki, wrote, “He, with his wisdom, was instrumental in saving many marriages which would have come to divorce. Those who were determined to separate, after long conversation and prayer with Paul, have gone away in a different frame of mind, and, with God’s help have kept together. They are with us today as happy families, living witnesses to Paul’s loving tenderness and understanding, and yet persistence, in maintaining God’s laws about marriage.”

Paul Kasonga (seated on left) with Anasi Lupunga and Olive Doke in 1941.

At one time when all the missionaries left to go on furlough, Paul was left in charge of the entire station without a single missionary to supervise him. He found in Anasi Lupunga a kindred spirit and the two worked wonderfully together. They started prayer meetings in which they particularly prayed for the other professing Christians who were taking their Christianity lightly. By the time the missionaries returned from furlough they found a kind of revival had broken out in their absence. There was a greater seriousness about the things of God and a deeper spirituality among the people at the mission station.

Despite his condition, Paul went throughout Lambaland preaching the gospel in the villages. Bob Litana recalled one of those trips when he accompanied Paul and Olive Doke. He wrote,

“We started in Lesa’s country and then went on through Nduweni down to Machiya. Miss Doke and I stayed to have a meeting at Mukwangu, while Paul went on with his men to Shikayuni in Mukubwe’s country. When he came back, we all started off on a long journey which took us through the forest with no villages, as we wanted to reach Fungulwe. We tried the shortest route as time had gone. But we lost ourselves and nearly died of thirst. We had to turn back to the Lufuwu river and camped there that night. Next day we got to Milambo following the banks of the river. Further on, Walona Doke got ill with fever. So I said to Paul that we ought to suggest to Walona that we return straight home because she was ill. But Paul said, ‘No, let us suggest that she go back with the carriers. We will make a machila to carry her in; but we will stay preaching God’s Word in the villages. But if you are afraid that she may get worse on the way, you go back with her and I will stay.’ When we went to suggest to Walona that she go back to the Mission because she was ill, she refused, and furthermore, forbade us even to send a letter to Mr Cross, in case he insisted on her returning. She said, ‘Even if I die on God’s journey, it is quite all right.’ Then Paul said, ‘That is a good answer, let us go to Lubwesya and rest a few days there.’ On that journey, a great number of people changed their hearts and numbers came asking questions of the things of God and the way of life. Sometimes we did not have time to eat. During those days, Paul very diligently taught the people. He was never tired of speaking of the things of God.”

These trips around the villages were only abandoned when a few years later the leprosy broke out again on Paul’s body. He again lost more of his body to this awful disease. Paul was largely confined to his house. Thankfully this time the mission staff had a new arrival – sister Greening – whose medical knowledge enabled her to treat Paul’s condition. Thus Paul was restored to health again, but he could no longer go on the long journeys out of the mission station. He had to be wheeled around on a bicycle in order to get around the mission station. However, his failure to go around the villages did not stop him from ministering to the churches all over Lambaland. Where he could not go physically, he went through his letters. Elison Chimbila, who was a deacon in the church at Kafulafuta, became his scribe because Paul could not write very well, having lost his fingers. Paul wrote letters of encouragement or admonition or guidance and comfort to various churches and to various individuals in those churches who needed help right across Lambaland. It is a wonder how much God did through his servant despite his infirmity.

Final Ordination and Death

You do not need to be a genius to guess that when the time came for the missionaries to appoint their first indigenous elders at Kafulafuta, Paul was the first person they had in mind. His untiring devotion and his strong Christian character commended him to them for this office. So he, together with other Lamba men, were appointed as elders. They used to have their meetings twice a month in his home, where they dealt with all the issues related to the life and ministry of the church. It was a great relief for the missionary who concentrated on other aspects of the mission station. Apart from preaching, Paul was also in charge of preparing young converts for baptism. Because of his poor condition of health and also because he put in so much time in the Lord’s work, the church supported him financially through most of this time, even though he was not really in full time employment in the church. He was greatly honoured and loved throughout the whole of Lambaland.

The funeral procession on 4th August 1954 walking to the burial site (where the Kafulafuta and Kafubu rivers meet) to lay to rest the remains of Paul Kasonga.

Finally, the missionaries felt it was time to ordain some men who were the fruit of their labours into the Baptist ministry of the Baptist Union of South Africa. The ordination service was conducted in June 1953 by the Rev Guyton Thomas and three men were ordained on that occasion – Paul Kasonga, Anasi Lupunga and Bob Litana. Paul only served slightly over one year as an ordained minister in the Baptist church before he went to be with the Lord. His last sermon, preached from a wheelchair, was on Sunday 18th July 1954. As he preached that Sunday morning no one knew that they were listening to his farewell sermon. His last Sunday on earth was actually on 1st August. It was communion Sunday and so the people were in from all the local churches in the area. Adamson Chilulumo preached a stirring sermon and Paul gave the closing benediction, as he sat on his wheelchair. He had to be fed the elements of the Lord’s Supper because he had no fingers. When the crowds dispersed, he asked that a photo be taken of him by the missionaries. This surprised them because they rarely took any photos on Sunday. Little did they know that this was to be the very last photo to be taken of Paul in this life! On Monday, Paul felt unwell but felt much better in the evening. However, in the early hours of the morning on Tuesday 3rd August 1954, Paul quietly slipped into eternity in his sleep. That was how this servant of God entered into his eternal inheritance.

Conclusion

I lay my pen down with pain in my heart. Should we Zambian Baptists lose such testimonies through neglect? Are we going to be spiritually better off if such biographical history is lost in the quicksand of time? I doubt it! Then where are our scribes? Where are our historians? We have many church members with diplomas and degrees in history. Why are they not recording our spiritual history so that generations to come will learn from the great works of God in times past in our own land. We know about the George Whitefields of England, the Jonathan Edwards of America. Surely, don’t we also need to learn about the preachers who once graced our own land? May this short article stir us to that end. Amen and amen!