The historic Chalcedon Conference on Christian Culture in Zambia was perhaps one of the greatest expenditures of time, money and resources that Chalcedon has ever invested in one ministry trip. Peter Hammond of Frontline Fellowship gave the conference exceptional marks. He said, "I have ministered in Zambia six times before. This conference generated the most enthusiasm, and brought the greatest response I have ever seen. It was a brilliant success."
But Peter's assessment must be tempered by his pre-conference warning that ministering in Africa is completely different from what any of us had previously experienced.
Concerned about protecting the investment Chalcedon supporters had made to this project, the team sent Brian Abshire and Dave Warren (one of Brian's deacons from Lakeside Church) a week early to check on arrangements and do advance work. The extra time gave the team firsthand information about the social, cultural and economic problems facing this brave, but severely wounded nation.
The Scope of the Problem Facing Zambia
The task facing Zambia is indeed daunting. First, this country should be called the poster child for Marxism. Twenty-six years of socialism has almost destroyed the nation. Under British colonialism, Zambia was a rich, prosperous nation, considered the jewel of Africa, but the Communists ate out its heart and it will be a long time recovering. The whole country is in very real need of repair, literally. Repeatedly, when we asked when was the last time maintenance had been done to a road, a building, an elevator (or whatever!), the answer was "1963," the year of independence. Yet, there are signs of recovery everywhere. Roads are being repaired, buildings put back into shape, people put to work. But there is an enormous amount of lost ground to recover.
Second, the people themselves are in lamentable shape, physically. The CDC in Atlanta cannot give official figures, but informed opinion is that more than 65% of the population is affected with HIV, mostly through contaminated blood (another legacy of socialized medicine!). We saw no old people on the streets, because few people live long enough to get old! Eight out of ten deaths are HIV-related. We were warned that if we suffered a life threatening injury, we would be better off risking bleeding to death by flying out of the country than receiving treatment there. Malaria, typhus and other diseases are pandemic.
Third, poverty is rampant. For many Zambians, finding enough food for the day is a full-time occupation. The problem is compounded by rural people flocking to the cities, in hopes of finding work that just does not exist. These new people put incredible stress on already overwrought social services, and the whole system is in danger of complete breakdown.
Marxism not only destroyed the nation; it destroyed the will of many people to work diligently and effectively. The people were taught that the state would provide all their needs, and it is hard to relearn self-reliance and take personal responsibility. Begging is common, though vigorously condemned by the government. Zambian Christians, for the most part, have not had a consistent Christian witness on the importance of hard, diligent, conscientious labor. So much foreign aid has flooded the country, that for some, the connection between work, savings and prosperity has not been made.
Throughout the first week before the rest of the team arrived, Brian and Dave had a whirlwind series of meetings with cabinet members, newspapers, radio stations and leaders in the community. Even though Zambia United Christian Action president John Jere had sent out over a thousand personal invitations, advertised in the newspaper and had purchased three television spots promoting the conference, the message often still had just not gotten through. We also spent time examining Zambian culture in Lusaka in detail, trying to get an understanding of the people, and the problems they face. With John's inestimable help, Brian and Dave were able to meet with a variety of people, enthuse them with the idea of the conference, and convince them to attend (one prominent member of the National Investment Center, responsible for privatizing state-owned businesses, immediately got on the phone and strong-armed a number of people in various government ministries to come to the conference, "You WILL come to this conference won't you? I would be VERY disappointed if you are not there." It worked.)
The pre-conference radio interviews also went very well. Christian Voice radio reaches all of Africa. They were so pleased with the interview that they broadcast it three times before the conference began. ZNBC (the national radio network) and Phoenix radio (the only privately owned FM station in Zambia) were both most supportive and gave us maximum air time.
Brian preached in several churches and met with local pastors to promote the conference. Initially, it was hard to get across the importance of this conference ("What do Biblical Reformation and Christian culture have to do with preaching the gospel?"). But God was gracious and a considerable number of pastors made commitments to attend, and take the principles back to their congregations. For every pastor we ministered to, we affected at least 100 other Zambians with basic Christian Reconstruction doctrine.
We were able to write and deliver press releases to four major newspapers, which were printed in their entirety. Radio and television also used the press releases in their news sections. Hence, from a human perspective, not only did the conference receive maximum exposure, we were also able to speak, literally, to the entire nation about the basis of genuine revival and reformation.
In arranging a conference of this size and scope, there are a million details to be worked out. Peter Hammond sent one of his missionary teams ahead to help with the practical side of organizing. Robert Zins, an ex-USAF officer and Frontline Fellowship missionary to Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique was absolutely indispensable. Robert frankly ran himself ragged around Lusaka making final arrangements such as finding a sound system and tape recorder (this doesn't sound like much, but it was literally a miracle to find one in Zambia) so that both video and audio tapes could be made. He also organized the registration system so that we had the names, addresses and occupations of all the attendees (crucial for future ministry).
On Wednesday, June 25, the rest of the Chalcedon Team arrived to a relieved and grateful Dave and Brian, who by this time had developed nervous ticks. Andrew Sandlin, editor of the Chalcedon Report and Journal of Christian Reconstruction; Wayne Johnson, an internationally known political consultant and Chalcedon board member; Monte Wilson, evangelist and director of Global Impact (a charitable ministry to developing nations); and Peter Hammond (Frontline Fellowship) immediately helped shape the final details. After a planning session that night, we committed the entire program to prayer and prepared for the next day's activities.
On Thursday, Andrew and Wayne met with the deputy minister of education who encouraged Chalcedon readers to start Christian schools in Zambia. Not only would they give us every possible assistance, but they also offered us free land to build schools, farms, businesses, etc! That afternoon, Wayne and Andrew met the former Marxist dictator of Zambia, Kenneth Kuanda, the same man who had imprisoned Peter Hammond a decade ago (we decided NOT to send Peter to that particular meeting!). Wayne and Andrew boldly pressed the claims of Christ, to the shock of Kuanda's handlers. Monte Wilson did various radio interviews during the day. Meanwhile, Peter spent the day arranging the final details of the conference, especially the crucial aspects of literature distribution. We had to get good books into the right people's hands. While the Chalcedon team brought the heavy artillery (Rush's books), the Frontline folks have developed and published an enormous number of small, practically oriented books geared to the needs of the average African. Peter has this ministry down to a science.
Yet with all our advanced planning, we were still uncertain of what to expect the opening night. John had arranged for hundreds of personal phone calls to cabinet members, MP's, business men, lawyers and pastors, who had confirmed that they were going to attend. But as Peter warned us, "confirmation in Africa means nothing. African culture is very polite and respectful. They will tell you what they think you want to hear, and the reality may have nothing to do with the promises." As the time came for the conference to begin, people arrived in dribs and drabs. As the evening progressed, the conference center slowly filled. By the end of the first session, the entire venue was packed. The audience consisted of diplomats, reporters, government ministers, pastors, Bible college students and a large number of businessmen. God was gracious!
Peter Hammond, at Chalcedon's request, opened the conference and chaired all the sessions. John Jere led the group in worship. Monte Wilson delivered the first lecture on "The Greatest Commandment" to a packed house, the people hanging on every word. Suffering ailments from inadvertently drinking the water, Monte still delivered a powerful and rousing talk on loving and obeying God. The response was so positive, that we immediately made some changes to the program and had Brian deliver one of his lectures entitled "Optimistic Eschatology." Zambia has been heavily influenced by pietism, undercuting their ability to reform their nation. Why try to solve social problems if the Lord is going to return soon anyway? The response to Monte and Brian's opening lectures was extremely encouraging.
Friday, the lectures began at 0900 (Zambians use the 24-hour clock) and at first, the conference hall was only partially filled. But as the day progressed, people continued to come, and by mid-day, was at almost full capacity (that's called "African time"). Andrew Sandlin delivered a talk on "All of the Bible is for All of Life," demonstrating the authority of Scripture over every area of life to choruses of "amen!" Brian spoke again on "The Clergy and Cultural Transformation." Wayne presented an overwhelming case for limited civil government. Monte spoke twice to a rapt audience on creating wealth through hard work, saving and investing. Peter Hammond spoke on Entertainment and Exploitation. In the late afternoon, the whole team was kept busy at a panel discussion where the Zambians asked us specific questions based on the lectures.
That evening, Wayne, gave what was universally acknowledged by the team as the most important speech of the conference entitled "Humanism on Trial." It was brilliant, it was scathing, it was one of the best refutations of humanism possible. But the team feared that due to the communication problems, the speech might be going right over the audience's head. However, on the after-action reports attendees filled out, Wayne's talk was repeatedly cited as one of the most important and useful.
Saturday, we had hoped, would be our biggest day, but Africans do not think like Americans. The conference center was about three quarters full, but we continued to draw on a good representation of Zambian society. Wayne's lecture on a practical guide to effective political action was well received, though not all of the target audience was yet present. Monte spoke on capital punishment, an important issue before the national government. Peter delivered lectures on our Christian Heritage and the Great Reformation, Andrew on a thoroughly Christian education, Brian on Biblical Principles of National Defense. John Jere preached an outstanding sermon, summarizing all the previous lectures to an enthusiastic audience. Meanwhile, between lectures, groups of Zambians flocked around each of the team, asking specific questions about how to apply the principles we had been discussing.
Though the conference was attended by members of parliament, deputy ministers, and diplomats, neither the president nor the vice president ever appeared. We had been assured that both would attend, and that the vice president would open the conference. Yet, even though we had flooded his office with phone calls, faxes, and letters, and asked a number of his deputy ministers to talk with him, we could not confirm his attendance. John even called the VP's pastor, who sent the church administrator over to his house to talk to his wife! We were most frustrated, since the whole point of the conference was to speak directly to the national government about how to Christianize their nation.
In God's providence, however, we miraculously met the Vice President Sunday morning, just before we left the country! He was very apologetic about missing the conference. It seems that his personal secretary had just refused to give him any information about us. However, General Miyanda did ask us to return to Zambia, this time to speak to parliament and meet with the various members of the government. Hence, we were able to make the top-level connections that had motivated us to take on this project in the first place. Not the way we wanted, not the venue we wanted, but eventually, by God's grace, we accomplished the mission. From our meeting, we concluded that the VP is a solid Christian man, committed to evangelical doctrine and trying to do what is right for his nation. When asked if he would kindly open the next conference with a speech, he replied, "No, speeches are for politics, I'd rather preach." You gotta love a man like that!
In the final analysis, what did we accomplish? We ministered to over 160 delegates from 6 nations, including the High Commissioner of Malawi, the High Commissioner of Botswana, several senior members of the Zambian government, military officers of the Zambian Army and Air Force, and many pastors, teachers and businessmen. The conference left a permanent record of audio and video tapes that contain the basic principles of Christianizing a nation. The tapes may be one of our best legacies to these brave people, struggling to reformation in the most difficult of circumstances. The audio tapes will be broadcast repeatedly on Christian Voice radio. (For information about availability, contact Chalcedon.)
Furthermore, Monte Wilson is sponsoring several orphanages, and supporting several widows, Andrew Sandlin is educating a number of young ministers, providing entire libraries of Christian Reconstructionist books to several Bible colleges and the University of Lusaka, and started a Christian Reformation Society with more than 35 members. Wayne Johnson is now providentially placed to help build the MMD into a truly consistent, Christian political party that can win the next election (see Wayne Johnson's article, page 13). And our new friend, General Miyanda, just may run for president in four years time. Brian and Dave have a personal invitation from the Deputy to the Vice President to come back to Africa, lead a revival in the copper belt and go lion hunting (see Brian's column on "Wild Animals" in the JuneReport).
Despite jet lag, intestinal problems, cultural miscommunication, bad scheduling, canceled airline flights, lost bags, bad food, insane taxi drivers, rental cars without brakes, thieves breaking into our rooms in the dead of night, getting lost, (after dark, in the worst, most crime infested section of Lusaka!), we made some wonderful friends, we trained some godly and courageous pastors, we made contact with dedicated Christian leaders in the national government who want reformation and reconstruction for their nation. And we did it because of the faithful support and prayers of Chalcedon readers.
The road to Reformation is long and hard. But in the final assessment, the Chalcedon team is convinced that Zambia took an important step down that road as a direct result of this conference. During the last few hours, the "Lusaka Concord" was drawn up and approved unanimously by the entire assembly. The Concord is a declaration of Christian responsibility to reform Zambia according to Biblical truth. It will be presented to parliament by members from the conference, published in national newspapers and sent to pastors and churches across the country. It may well be that in future generations, when all of Africa has been reconstructed for Christ, that the Lusaka Concord may be one of her most important founding documents. We wrote it, because you sent us there. The people received it and embraced it because despite our sin, our weakness and failings, God is sovereign and gracious and nothing will stop the advance of his glorious Kingdom.
But the work is just beginning, and for our brothers and sisters in Zambia, there is so much to be done that the task may appear overwhelming. Perhaps one small anecdote, out of a hundred we could tell, illustrates both the scope of the problem, and the heart of the Zambian people. We met many widows in Zambia, but one in particular reached our hearts. She asked us what could be done for widows. We responded that Biblically speaking, younger widows are normally to remarry. She responded that so many men have died from HIV that there are few men left in Zambia for godly women to marry. We then said that the church, not the state, has the final responsibility for welfare. She replied that the churches are overwhelmed by the number of desperate people crying for relief.
But this one lady was undaunted. She told us that she rises each morning before sunrise and bakes pies. She then takes the pies to a local intersection where she sells them to passersby. With the money she receives, she buys ingredients for the next round of pies, and whatever is left over, is what she has for food and clothes for her family. Now as wonderful as this may be, there is more to the story. As she sold her pies on the street, her heart reached out to the orphans who are all too plentiful in Zambia. So, she took 15 of them into her house, and feeds and clothes them as well! Though an English teacher by training, she cannot make enough money to provide for basic necessities on what she would make teaching. So each day after baking and selling her pies, she home schools each of the children, using a Christian curriculum!
Now there is a success story that ought to thrill every Chalcedon Report reader's heart. A brave, hardworking, home schooling, entrepreneurial mother, not afraid of taking dominion by meeting real needs. Monte Wilson's ministry, Global Impact, is taking this courageous lady on as a special project. But her story could be multiplied a thousand-fold. Amid the most difficult of circumstances, the Zambians are learning the hard lessons of self-reliance, personal responsibility and diligent labor. It would be a terrible loss if their hard work is undermined by the antinomian nonsense flooding the country. If we do not teach the Zambians God's principles, someone else will teach them Satan's.
Did we change the nation of Zambia in this one conference? Of course not. At best, we cultivated some ground, planted some seeds, watered some first struggling sprouts. The Reformation in Zambia has a long way to go, and needs our ongoing encouragement and support. But, and this is an important but, they are taking the steps necessary to see the blessings of the gospel flow. Readers of the Chalcedon Report can, in the final analysis, consider themselves partners with their Zambian brothers and sisters in this great endeavor, a partnership that will ultimately result in the transformation of a nation.
- Brian M. Abshire
Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.