The development of the cell-phone network has brought huge changes to life in central Africa. Now people can be in contact relatively cheaply, and in some of the remotest parts you can get a signal, even if you have to climb the highest anthill to do so! Transport is also becoming readily available, from the large modern buses on the long distance routes, to the ubiquitous minibuses and pick-ups which travel over the most amazing distances and provide a lifeline of supplies such as soap, salt, cooking oil etc. for the rural areas.
Much of the initial work of evangelism and church planting when the missionaries arrived in Angola, Zambia, and DRC Congo over 100 years ago went hand in hand with the work of health and education of the people who were subject to tropical diseases and were largely illiterate. To this day, the work carried on by assembly missionaries still continues through institutions such as hospitals and schools, which are sustained either partly or completely by the assemblies in various parts of the globe. Most of these are located in the North-West of the country with 5 hospitals (Chitokoloki, Chavuma, Kalene, Dipalata, and Loloma), the mission school at Sakeji, and the nearby orphanage at Hillwood. In the Luapula province we have mission hospitals at Mambilima and Lwela, both of which are being managed by Zambian nationals who are funded by assemblies and government.
Some missionaries are involved in educating the young through either the Western sponsored Christian Schools, or through the Zambian state schools and colleges. This work is seen as an opportunity to teach at the most effective time in a persons life, where choices are made and paths are set for what will happen in later years. Sakeji School, Amano School and Chengelo School are the three "mission" schools. We often meet Zambians who were saved as young people through this work. Remember in prayer those who labour faithfully with the long term goal in mind of one day seeing adults with a strong Christian education living by Christian standards and fulfilling a vital role in the assemblies and churches within Zambia.
Estimates vary, but we reckon that there are about 1,200 assemblies in Zambia. Many of these are in rural areas, gathering in little mud-brick huts with a thatch roof (hence the reason why some of us have a constant pile of letters asking for corrugated roofing sheets). Believers coming from other areas to visit family or for small scale commerce help to maintain contact with the other assemblies, and hopefully a change of face for the preaching and teaching.
We praise God for those whose ministry involves the printing, publishing, and distribution of literature. With so many assemblies it is impossible to get round them all, and so the work of schooling in the Scriptures is carried out with the help of many dozens of African Christians who travel by foot or bicycle taking their Emmaus study courses and other books with them and selling them for a nominal commission. With the level of poverty in the rural parts where income is tied to the seasons, money is scarce, but those who are involved in the distribution of Christian literature see this as a ministry to the Lord. Sometimes those who have a significant distribution of books receive bicycles which greatly help in their work. There is frequently the request for old Bibles with chain references, and these are a great help for students of the Scriptures.
Two challenges we have found:
The relationship between missionaries and locals merits some comment in so far as it has helped the work of the Lord. In the course of our ministry we cover wide areas of Zambia, often where visits from missionaries are few. We notice those who form the backbone of the assemblies in such areas as Southern and Eastern provinces are often people from other areas who have grown up in the vicinity of the missionaries. We often hear, "Oh yes we were together with brother or sister at ". I doubt if these were all really close to the missionaries as being special friends, but the influence of these servants of God spreads far beyond their immediate associates. The Luapula province in particular, being the most densely populated rural area in Zambia, has spawned many thousands of believers who have moved to other areas taking with them the gospel of Jesus Christ and the assembly principles they were taught. One problem we have encountered is that the very dominant Bemba-speaking peoples are reluctant to learn other languages; where they want to start a new assembly in another area, the locals have visited and then left with the impression that it was a Bemba church and they did not want to be associated with it. There is an awareness of this, and there are attempts to use local languages in these other areas. Just recently an abbreviated hymnbook in the Tonga language was produced by some of the brethren in Lusaka.
The presence of missionaries either as residents or as visitors brings great encouragement to the people. It is also a great joy and privilege to be accepted as part of the "family" despite the differences of culture and "wealth". Belonging to a family means that in times of need, which can be frequent, there is the responsibility of sharing burdens and resources, and by doing so practical Christian living is taught by example. With growing spiritual maturity in the assemblies this kind of relationship becomes much more one of partnership and co-operation as equals. However, many in rural areas have for generations grown up knowing that somewhere in their area there is a missionary to whom they can go in times of need. To countenance a future without "parents" when the last one goes takes a lot of re-adjustment. In our own ministry we have tried to visit such areas where there are now no missionaries, and have endeavoured to give some encouragement with Bible teaching and fellowship.
Zambian national workers
From a cultural perspective, the one acknowledged as the teacher is considered to be the only valid authority for interpreting what is written in Scripture. In times past those recognised as the teachers were most often the missionaries or those who had been mentored by the missionaries. This has been and continues to be a highly effective means of providing national workers who in their ministry encourage growth in numbers through evangelism and growth in maturity through teaching and preaching.
Nowadays, with fewer missionaries to act as mentors, structured programmes of Bible study are organised in various areas for varying lengths of time from a few weeks to a few months at the Bible Schools organised by the Zambian believers in the Luapula and Copperbelt provinces. This concept is by no means new, and has been proved by previous generations of missionaries to be a good way of helping the Christians to gain the knowledge and skills to work effectively among their own people.
In recent years there has been an initiative to co-ordinate reports from national workers in the various parts of Zambia and also from those who have travelled to other countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, and DRC Congo. This work is still in its infancy, but we do commend the BMTZ committee to your prayers as they seek to use the means of a newsletter to encourage prayer and interest in national workers and their labours. Many of the recognised evangelists and Bible teachers continue to be self supporting because they do not receive any funds from their local assemblies.
Zambia is a vibrant and developing country, and the assembly work is thriving. This gives us all encouragement, and our prayer is that the Lord will continue to bless His work in this land.