A reformed congregation that doesn't use grace to silence the fear of God...
(Tim) Conrad Mbewe serves as the pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia--one of the more vital reformed witnesses the Lord has raised up in our time. The congregation is known for reaching into the dregs of society in a non-patronizing way, doing frontline evangelism, training pastors at a pastors college they sponsor, planting churches around the country, etc. As I said, the Lord's presence and blessing are obvious to those familiar with the congregation. This is a reformed congregation with a large heart, no censorious spirit, expansive in its witness and hopes, and living in the fear of God.
Maybe that's the thing that most strikes me about Pastor Mbewe and his people: they have not used reformed doctrine as a pathway to cheap grace that silences the fear of God. Everything is not "grace, grace, grace" to them. Their harp of ten thousand strings does not harp on that one string so long.
This is a test. Read through Kabwata's prayer letter noting the parts we must admit would never be written; or, if written, never quite make it past the editor's keyboard of our own churches' newsletters. To help with the task, I've put several in bold italics.
If the letter piques your interest, here's Pastor Mbewe's blog where you'll find a truly Biblical apostolic African voice.
* * *
KABWATA BAPTIST CHURCH PRAYER LETTER
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Dear brothers and sisters,
We open this prayer letter with the words of Scripture, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). That is our testimony as a church as we review the last few months of the year 2008, including the first few months of this year.
The year 2008 was full of tears, as we lost precious church members who graduated from the church militant to the church triumphant. We also wept much over the excommunications that were necessary in order to avert the judgment of God upon the church...
Those who chose to stubbornly go in the pathway of sin had to be expelled from the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was painful for those of us who remain behind. Then there were the tears caused by the hardness of human hearts due to their unresponsiveness to the gospel. We wept much over precious souls who do not know just how precious their souls are and would prefer to dine and live with pigs. Thankfully, we had something to rejoice about. Nine people were welcomed into membership since our last letter. However, this was balanced off by the fact that we underwent our annual updating of the membership list, which saw a few names being dropped from membership. So, our membership remains at 335. We thank God for each of them!
We have previously asked you to pray with us as we consider ways of dealing with the space problem on Sunday mornings. We have asked some members living south of Lusaka to join a church-plant we started there in October, but that has not totally solved the problem. We were unable to work fast enough to finish the second phase of our ministry centre to enable us break down a few walls in the main church building to increase space in the auditorium. Work is progressing at full throttle.
We have a very good turnover of visitors every Sunday and are still trying to maximise on this God-given opportunity to fish from “the bathtub”, as it were. We really need to improve our capacity to follow up these visitors. Pray for us.
Under our calendar activities, we mention here our youth camp last December, which drew about 420 teenagers for four days of listening to preaching on the final judgement. We thank God for this opportunity as we have already began to hear reports of conversions as a result of this camp.
As the church grows, we are finding that the home groups are providing a vital place for more intimate Christian fellowship among the saints, and also as an important means of reaching out to our community. We live in days of opportunity in Zambia! We are, however, concerned about those members who neglect such meetings because they easily get lost in the crowd and fall through the cracks. Pray that our members will maximise on this means of grace and also participate in reaching their neighbours through this avenue while it is day!
(As usual, in the interest of space, we can only report on a few of the KBC ministries)
Publishing Ministry: This ministry continues to produce evangelistic booklets and tracts for free distribution every Easter and Christmas, and also during our annual outreach at the National Agricultural Show. The ministry also continues to circulate the Pilgrim Bible Reading Notes written by Alec Taylor of the UK. We are now circulating 420 copies per month. Whereas up to now the books written by our local pastors (e.g. Pastors Conrad Mbewe and Raphael Banda) have only been produced in photocopied format, Pastor Banda found a sponsor and got his booklets reprinted with more modern covers. The booklets were then launched at a well-publicised event with the support of the Ministry of Education so that they could be used in schools. Interest is slowly growing from friends abroad to help us get these books in more permanent and attractive format. Pray that this interest may mature into actual books of this quality being sold in various bookshops in Zambia.
The Publishing Ministry also oversees our website. Visit www.kabwatabaptistchurch.org and you will see that our website has continued to develop in line with new developments in the internet world. The fact that it has sermon audio capabilities has meant that the sermons we hear on Sunday are available for anyone anywhere in the world to listen to. We thank God for the growing listenership in different parts of the world. We also thank God that these same sermons are being hosted on the SermonAudio website. Pray for us that we may maximise on this modern tool of communication for the sake of the gospel.
Children’s Ministry: The Sunday school has been running well with most children coming from the homes of church members and regular visitors. Since we firmly believe that our own children should not be the primary target of the Sunday School (because they come under our parental teaching regularly in the home), there is need to get more children to come in from non-Christian homes in the area near the church. Our church-run school (Eagles Nest School) scored very high grades last year with all the Grade Seven pupils passing their final exams. There are plans to commence Grade Eight in 2010. Pray for the Lord’s guidance in these plans.
Our Missions Conference: The conference went very well last January. We are grateful to God for the ministry of Phil Hunt, who exhorted us to take the work of missions seriously. New pledges were made for the year 2009 during the conference. Pray that the Lord will help us to be faithful to our pledges. Pray also that God will call missionaries from our midst as a fruit of this annual conference.
Bonaventure (Missionary: Oswald Sichula): The work in the St Bonaventure area, south of Lusaka, commenced in September 2008. As stated earlier, we advised our members living south of Lusaka to join in the work. So Pastor Sichula has a sizeable start-up congregation. They have found a school in which they are meeting but they need to find a better place because the school is in a bad state of disrepair.
The pastor and his family have also found a home just outside St Bonaventure. So, they are now within range of their sphere of work.
Nyimba (Missionary: Charles Mwanza): This work commenced early last year. The church already has an average attendance of 35 people on Sundays. They face the challenge of literacy and have decided to use this as an evangelism point. They now hold literacy classes three times a week. The local Community Education Officer has become interested and wishes to help. The issues of witchcraft are a problem among the people with accusations flying back and forth.
Preachers’ College: Last year proceeded well, with about twelve students. The Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary (SGTS) of the Sola 5 association of churches is planning to move to Lusaka, and so we hope to merge operations by the end of this year. Bruce Button, the principal, and another brother from the USA (James Williamson) plan to come and join us as lecturers and administrators for SGTS, our college in Lusaka and the one on the Copperbelt. There are also plans to start a Christian university here in Lusaka under the Reformed Baptist churches to be called the Africa Christian University, and, hopefully, the SGTS will be its theological faculty. Pray for all these major developments. They will certainly take our work forward as a church in the educational sphere.
Building Trust Fund: This Fund had a very good year relative to previous years in terms of loan repayments as well as subscriptions. The Fund loaned out just over $22,000 over the year. The administrative team continues to work quietly but consistently. It is hoped that the newly independent churches among us will soon get on board and benefit for their own construction needs.
Covenant College: We continue to sit on the board of trustees of the Covenant College in Petauke. We sent out two missionaries who finished studies there in the course of last year. These are Charles Mwanza and Matthews Bwalya. We have been giving practical support to this college by offering to host their lecturers and staff, and to provide logistical support, whenever they are transiting through Lusaka. We thank God for giving us a part in this strategic work in the eastern part of Zambia.
OFFICERS & STAFF
Deacons: Mr Kasango Kayombo and Mr Logan Nyasulu were added to the deaconate towards the end of last year. The former is now deacon in charge of administration and the latter is deacon in charge of special projects. As usual, the deacons have continued to work very well. Together they are keeping the diaconal aspects of the church going. Praise God for these developments among the church officers.
Well, brethren, the report speaks for itself. The end of 2008 was full of activity—new members coming into the church, successful meetings, new outreach endeavours through the ministries, more churches being started and more missionaries being sent out, more church officers being added, etc. We have seen growth on every side. Pray for us not to take these blessings for granted. They have followed after many years of tears. May we not stop putting heart and soul in the work of the gospel. Amen!