"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that birds of the air come and perch in its branches" -- Matthew 13:31-32.
Early last year one of the brothers in the church in Zambia's capital Lusaka invited me to attend the church's 20th anniversary service which was planned for later in the year. Much as I desired to attend, I didn't have funds for such a trip. In time, though, some projects to which I wanted to commit money fell through, and I came to conclusion of how God wanted me to direct the money - buy a plane ticket to Lusaka. And so I did.
I had spent time with the Lusaka church, known as the Zambia International Church of Christ, the previous year when I was sent to Zambia by my employer. It wasn't hard and didn't take long to fall totally head over heels in love with this congregation of warm, loving, energetic brothers and sisters who so faithfully trust God through their lows and praise him for their highs.
So it was with great excitement that I headed out from New Jersey to see my Zambian family again and celebrate with them the grand 20th anniversary service of God's work in that church.
Zambia is globally famed for one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Victoria Falls, a World Heritage site. Scottish explorer David Livingstone described the falls thus when he first encountered them in 1855: "Scenes so lovely they must be gazed upon by angels in their flight." They are indeed an amazing sight and a breath-taking experience, especially when the mighty Zambezi River that feeds the rush and thunder of the spectacular falls is in full flow.
But nothing in Zambia is as special or endearing as the family of disciples who serve God there. And no scenes were so lovely in 2016 as those at the congregation's celebration and commemoration of 20 years since it was officially planted.
There is a lot to appreciate and congratulate.
Auspiciously the service was held on the church's own land, a donation from one of the families in the congregation. How generous and biblical! Just like Acts 2:45—"They sold property and possessions to give to [the church] who had need." A gleaming white tent and dashing decorative arrangements gave the forum a cheery, festive air.
It was electric and exciting to see a number of those who previously have left the church come in numbers to the celebration, as well as family and friends of the disciples. Past leaders of the church presented video greetings and messages of encouragement. Various age groups presented songs and dances that showcased the impact of the gospel on all generations in the Zambia church family. Worship music unified and electrified the gathering.
The keynote speaker was Barnabas Chukwueke, who with his wife Bertha led the team that planted the church in 1996. "God worked through 15 sinful people—courageous men and women," he reminded the congregation, as he honored the mission team members, some of whom were present. "They put their dreams on hold," he declared. "They came to love their neighbors."
Recalling the church's early baptisms, first wedding and initial Bible talks, Barnabas also looked ahead, and, inspiring the disciples' vision, he declared, "God is still at work. God is still dreaming for all the people in Zambia," asking, "Where do you see God using you to spread the truth of the gospel in the next 20 years?"
Then ... lunch. This is the least that anyone would expect who is well aware of legendary Zambian hospitality, which the disciples take several notches higher. At the point that I sunk my teeth into a succulent side of crisply grilled fish, I knew that the money I'd spent to be in Lusaka had been very well spent.
While ZICC stands for Zambia International Church of Christ, it might as well be an acronym for Zeal Intensified for the Cause of Christ.
Barnabas's wife Bertha is filled with overflowing joy. Describing the anniversary celebration she says, "Tears welled up in my eyes to see that most of the children that were in kids zone [years ago] are [now] disciples, leading the worship and doing various tasks in the church. As I watched them praising God, I finally realized this is what God's Kingdom is all about—passing down our faith and convictions to the next generations. It is that mustard seed that grew and became the largest garden plant."
A case in point is the story of Doreen Malambo. Doreen was a disciple in Lusaka even before the mission team got there because she was baptized in South Africa while her husband Henry was there playing professional soccer, then had to return to Zambia at the end of Henry's contract. Today Doreen, Henry and all four of their children are faithful, fervent disciples.
Florence Tukuta has been a disciple for 16 of the Zambia church's 20 years. She is grateful that God has used her to study the Bible with people and is humbled to have seen "God transform them right in front of my eyes." She extols the successive lead couples that the congregation has had over the years: Barnabas's and Bertha's lives were "a true reflection of what l was reading about Jesus"; under the guidance of the next lead couple, Benson and Irene Suede, God did a lot in the singles ministry and the church held its memorable first singles retreat; after their stellar shepherding came Steve and Carol Mukenya who "it felt like God had landed in a spaceship to personally come and encourage the church."
The church is now stewarded by a modern day Timothy. Twaambo Chikoye, who has led the church for almost a year, didn't turn 30 until a few weeks after the grand commemoration. He gives no ground to be looked down on because he is young, but sets a powerful example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. About the anniversary service he said, "As the theme stated 'Celebrating God's Goodness,' it was really that—a milestone of looking back and seeing how God has constantly been faithful to us as a church, remembering, as Deuteronomy 8 says, and dreaming for the next 20-plus years of how we respond to God's goodness and faithfulness." (Read more about Twaambo here).
(A few weeks ago a dynamic sister Yvonne Mogapi moved from South Africa to Zambia to serve alongside Twaambo and lead the women's ministry.)
HOPE worldwide is led by another brother who lives out Acts 2:45. Steve Clark sold his business in England and moved his family to Lusaka in order to spearhead HOPEww there, receiving no financial support from any source, and has helped galvanize new funding and expanded programming.
I am thankful that my planned projects fell through, as God used that to open a door for me to witness scenes so lovely, to feel the soil of Africa beneath my feet, glow in the glorious hues of a Southern sunset, absorb the aura and aromas of lively Lusaka, and be filled by the infectious faith of my Zambia brothers and sisters. They're not the Seventh Wonder of the World—they're more special than that. While the Victoria Falls take my breath away, the disciples stole my heart.