We (Paul Gamston, Jonny Dowds and Alastair Steven) flew into Lusaka on 22 April, and were looked after by members of Kabwata Baptist Church over the weekend, one of whom kindly picked us up very early on Monday morning so we could catch the 5am bus to Nakonde. It was a gruelling 15 hour journey, but we were met by our genial hosts, Peter Kaluba and Lemmy Chilekwa.
Conference in Nakonde
The conference was held in a church building, somewhat off the beaten track, but the pastors got there! Accommodation for those staying over for the week (some 20-25) was in a school building about ½ mile away. It was there that we also had our lunch each day. We discovered we needed to be translated into Bember (the most widely spoken local language in Zambia), so that considerably reduced our margin of ‘free time’. The bonus was having a team of translators who not only did the basics, but put their heart and soul into the teaching by the way they used voice, face and body.
Up to 70 pastors, evangelists and deaconesses came over the course of the week, the vast majority being there all the time, and qualifying for a certificate (only given out to those who attended at least 3 of the 4 days). Early reports suggested that some were a little underwhelmed by what the syllabus (year 1 of the new PTI syllabus) seemed to offer. This was, however, soon dispelled as the pastors began to appreciate the new things they were learning in the Bible Overview and ‘What is a Christian’ sessions. Even more startling for many was ‘Reading the Bible’, led by Paul. A number realised that their reading had been superficial and that they’d not really understood what the biblical author intended. The pastors broke into groups of varying sizes during all the sessions – this was unusual for conferences they normally went to, but much appreciated. Our only regret was that we couldn’t really increase that amount of time. I also need to say that there was a lot of fun and laughter alongside serious study!
Conference in Mpika
We travelled south to Mpika in time for us to preach at different churches on the Sunday morning. Our experiences varied a little but, suffice it to say, that those differences were as nothing compared with the contrast with the very middle-class church in Lusaka the previous Sunday!
This conference was set in a secondary boys’ boarding school – we met in a classroom, and those staying for the week slept in a dormitory. Food was prepared over a wood-burning fire! We were closer to 80 in number for the week, although attendance was bit more sporadic. Highlights of the week for us included a very good morning devotion from one of pastors, who showed an ability to handle a passage and to set it into the biblical framework we’d been teaching, and joyful enthusiastic singing, particularly at the start of a new session. The framework of the teaching sessions followed closely the pattern for Nakonde. After both conferences there is the question ‘What have the pastors really learned?’ After a group discussion on a passage in Genesis, Paul’s translator confided to him that he’d preached the same passage in his church a few weeks earlier – and now realised he’d missed the main point. He would go back to them and apologise! We pray that for many others the penny may have similarly dropped, and that they’ll ‘do their best …. to be workmen who do not need to be ashamed’ (2 Tim 2.15).
The pastors in Nakonde and Mpika look forward to Part 2 next year. There is need for training in much of rural Zambia, and we will explore with our Zambian hosts whether further conferences may be feasible.