African lady walking
Outside Lusaka

My trip from Nepal to Zambia felt like a time warp. You can go ahead and erase all those images in your mind from UNICEF commercials and BrAngelina adoption trips. They may reflect other parts of Africa, but they don’t reflect much of life in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. There are poor people here for sure, especially outside the city, but there are also quite a few middle-class and even upper-class Africans who haven’t earned their wealth through corruption. My trip from the airport witnessed many SUV’s, BMW’s, and well-dressed businessmen on their way to work. There are plenty of American sized grocery stores, a few malls, and many large homes all with high electric fenced walls. As far as the church goes, unlike Nepal which is 2.5% Christian, about 80% of Zambians confess some sort of faith in Christ and in 1996 it was declared a Christian nation. You may think this is great news. And in some ways it is. But just as the post-Constantine Christianization of the Roman Empire created mass problems for the church, the lip-service many Zambians give to Christianity presents its own challenges to the gospel here. And then there’s the whole “health and wealth” movement that has infiltrated so many countries in Africa. Zambia is no different. Apart from the nominalism and the prosperity gospel, others Zambians will repackage traditional animistic beliefs in Christian lingo, making it tough for westerners to sort out a genuine confession from renovated voodoo. There’s still much work to be done here.

And the Zambians are doing the work. I’m shocked—as are most western missionaries who visit Lusaka—at how self-sustaining and theologically rich

Me with pastors Kalifungwa and Mbewe
Me (white guy) with pastors Kalifungwa (left) and Mbewe (right)

many churches are here. There’s an informal network of Reformed Baptist churches in Lusaka that are extremely healthy compared to many churches in Africa. Heck, compared to many churches America. To put it in perspective, two of these Reformed Baptist pastors, Robert Kalifungwa and Conrad Mbewe, have raised up and sent out 20 fully supported missionaries in the last 10 years! They have planted churches all over Zambia and beyond. And all of this is home grown. Pastor Mbewe, whom Desiring God labeled the “African Spurgeon,” told me over lunch that “most Americans think we’re running around chasing elephants.” I about coughed up my burger in laughter—partly because his booming laugh shook the room, and partly because he’s probably right. The fact that the restaurant was playing Kenny Rogers’ “the Gambler” only added to the irony.

Once again, the church of Zambia doesn’t need us to come show them how it’s done. In many ways, I’d love for them to come here and show us how it’s done. However, they are inviting the west to partner with them in what they are already doing. And the one main area where pastors Kalifungwa and Mbewe said they could use a lot of help is with Christian education.

Mbewe
Conrad Mbewe, the “African Spurgeon”

And that’s why I’m here: To explore potential ministry opportunities with African Christian University (ACU), a Christian liberal arts school that’s looking to launch classes in 2014. And to make this leg of the trip super exciting, my own pastor Matt Larson flew all the way out to join me!

I can’t wait to tell you about this amazing school. It has the potential to drastically improve both the spiritual and material poverty of the continent. I’ll talk about ACU in the next blog, but first let me introduce you to our host Dr. Ken Turnbull.

Ken is an American missionary who’s heading up the ACU project, and he has a fascinating journey. Ken has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and a post-doctorate from Cal Tech. He spent a number of years as a tenured professor at University of Arkansas where he had a vibrant and promising career. And then, at the age of 40, God called him to the mission field. A few years later, he and his wife packed up their 5 kids and moved to Mozambique where he spent 3 challenging years working as a church planter. Long story short, he got connected with pastor Kalifungwa who told Ken his vision about the college and the rest is history. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen a scholar of Ken’s caliber with such a promising career do what he did. Move over Albert Schweitzer

So Ken has come here in his own words as a “support to what God has already

My pastor Matt Larson (left) talking with Ken Turnbull on the site where ACU may be built
My pastor Matt Larson (left) talking with Ken Turnbull on the site where ACU may be built

been doing in the hearts of these African pastors.” He’s truly serving, not controlling, this African-based, thriving ministry. He’s adamant that he’s here not as the big boss, but as a servant to the local pastors. The indigenous nature of this thriving ministry is enough to get me excited. But it’s ACU’s fascinating vision that’s put hope in my heart that in spite of the corruption, in spite of the poverty, in spite of the violence, in spite of the theological anemia that’s swept across much of the continent, there is yet hope for Africa. And after talking with Ken over the last few days, I’m becoming a believer that such hope lies in ACU and ACU-like projects. They have the potential to transform a continent. I’ll tell you why in the next post.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Seems like we (in the American Church) often have some sort of messiah complex that compels us to make “mission trips” to serve foreign churches as if us mixing cement or painting a wall or singing American worship songs is somehow going to be a benefit. I would love to see us fund churches in other countries to send missionaries over here to share with our churches what God is teaching them about Jesus. Looking forward to your next posts. ACU sounds pretty cool.

    • Ya, I was so please to see NOTHING of that all-too familiar “messiah complex” in Ken Turnbull, the American missionary I hung out with. I’ve never seen such a truly brilliant American missionary become such a servant to the indigenous ministries. It was so encouraging!