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Africa revisited

June 2005

A report on John Blanchard’s latest visits

John Blanchard recently returned from his fifth preaching tour in South Africa, and the fourth sponsored by Alpha and Omega Foundation in conjunction with Christian Book Discounters. CBD was established in 1995 with the aim of providing quality Christian books at the best possible prices to countries in Southern Africa and has seen encouraging growth in its work.

On his way to South Africa, John stopped off in Zambia, which he described to Evangelical Times as ‘a challenging eye-opener’. Zambia has features ranging from the outstandingly good to the truly dreadful.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of David Livingstone’s discovery of the Victoria Falls, and his impressions of Zambia were such that he wrote, ‘Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight’.

John found the Zambian people delightfully open to engage in serious conversation about the gospel — something that opens the door to fruitful discussion even with complete strangers.

 

Unhappy legacy

 

Less attractive is the legacy of twenty years of rampant misrule, which has led to terrible deprivation. Zambia is now ranked as the poorest country in sub-Saharan Africa, with 85% unemployment and average earnings equivalent to 50p a day.

Even worse is the AIDS pandemic, some 65% of its 10.4 million people being HIV positive. Life expectancy is just 36 years and at one point a pastor challenged John to find three white-haired people in a congregation of 400.

He was also told that in one church of 100 as many as 70% were infected through sexual promiscuity before conversion. One of John’s abiding memories is of spending time with a seven-year-old showing all the signs of full-blown AIDS, transmitted from his mother. He will probably be dead within a year.

Life-changing power

Yet in this baleful setting there is encouraging evidence that the gospel is proving its life-changing power. Straight after arriving from England, John was asked to speak in Kitwe — at a meeting for students and others held on the campus of the Zambia Institute of Business. Kitwe is in the heart of the Copperbelt region in the north of the country.

Faith Baptist Church there has an American pastor, Phil Hunt, and a dedicated team doing sterling work — preaching, teaching, running a school and an orphanage, and reaching out to hundreds of students at Copperbelt University.

So many people attended the meeting that about fifty had to stand outside to hear as best they could. A number were counselled afterwards and we understand that at least two professed conversion.

John’s next stop was the capital city of Lusaka, where the multi-faceted ministry of Kabwata Baptist Church is led by Conrad Mbewe, whose zeal for the gospel is a byword in many parts of the country. The highlight of this visit was a Saturday morning conference, when 300 young adults crowded into the church for two one-hour sessions.

Zambia’s needs made such an impression on John that he has launched a project to have his evangelistic booklet Ultimate Questions published in Bemba and Nyanja — two of the county’s indigenous languages that cover over 50% of the population. Both versions could be available by the end of the summer.

 

Dramatic changes

 

Immediately after the young adults’ conference, John headed for the airport and flew to Johannesburg for an evening service in Roodepoort — marking the beginning of his South African tour.

South Africa has rarely been out of the headlines over the past few decades and its racial struggles have been aired internationally with varying degrees of accuracy. The momentous political ‘revolution’ ten years ago has resulted in dramatic changes, though there is still much to be done as the nation battles its ‘seven giants’ — HIV/AIDS; crime; poverty and unemployment; families in crisis; violence; sexism; and racism.

Yet John told us, ‘It remains a wonderful country, breathtakingly beautiful, rich in natural resources and blessed with thousands of Christians of every ethnic background. These believers are testimonies to God’s saving grace and are seeking to serve him faithfully, often in very difficult situations’.

The Roodepoort service got the tour off to an excellent start at the end of a very long day. Sunday offered no time to recover, with two morning services at Northcliff Union Church in Johannesburg, each with 400 in attendance, followed by an evening in Rosebank Union Church, Sandton, when 500 heard an exposition of the Bible’s teaching on death and the afterlife.

Flaws in neo-Darwinism

 

Over the next three days John spoke at three universities — Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Pretoria — interacting with students who, because they are educated, may significantly influence many other lives over the coming years. An extended interview on Radio Pulpit gave another good opening. Their wide range of listeners is now boosted by internet streaming.

Among the evening engagements was an overflow meeting at Christchurch, Blairgowrie, at which a man who recently confessed his faith by baptism said he had been a ‘convinced agnostic’ until he read Does God believe in atheists? two years ago.

On the following evening, the pastor leading a service in Brackenhurst, Alberton, told the congregation of a number of people who had been converted through reading Ultimate Questions.

From Gauteng John flew to KwaZulu-Natal and went straight from the airport to Glenwood High School, Durban, to speak at a specially convened meeting of biology teachers and senior students.

The South African government has decreed that in two years’ time evolution mustbe taught at senior school level, and the meeting had been called so that he could expose the flaws in neo-Darwinism and confirm the solid basis of biblical creationism.

 

Churches planted

 

The following day began with a breakfast superbly organised by Grace Evangelical Church, pastored by Irving Steggles, who was until recently at Ladyfield Evangelical Church, Chippenham.

The room was packed with 80 people, many of them refugees from war-torn and famine-affected countries elsewhere in Africa. The same night, 100 came to an evangelistic dinner arranged at a local hotel by Christ Church, Pinetown. Under Ben Dykman’s leadership, this church is a dynamic fellowship that has planted twelve other churches in the last eighteen years.

John’s last day in KwaZulu-Natal was full and fruitful. It began with preaching in Christ Church to congregations of 400 at 8.00am and 1,000 at 9.30am. Later in the day he travelled inland to Pietermaritzburg where 500 came to a memorable evening service led by Bishop Warwick Cole-Edwards, and in which Christians from Rwanda and Mozambique also took part.

Bible Institute

 

From Durban a two-hour flight took John to the Western Cape, which had been suffering its worst drought in ten years, and to a busy schedule in and around Cape Town. Directly after landing he went to the studios of Cape Talk Radio for a 45-minute interview on the area’s biggest news and talk programme. Later in the day there was nearly a ‘full house’ at Newlands Evangelical Church.

The Bible Institute of South Africa, beautifully located in Kalk Bay, has been doing a superb job for over eighty years. Recent additions to its schedule includes a programme which brings seventy men from up to 280 kilometres away to receive 2½ hours of biblically-based training every Tuesday evening.

On this visit John gave three one-hour expositions to a group of pastors and church leaders, while later in the week he went to George Whitefield College and enjoyed a lively session there with some seventy students and faculty members.

A life turned around

 

There were many other engagements during the week, several marked by testimonies from people converted through reading one or another of John’s evangelistic books. One confessed that prior to his conversion he had been ‘an active atheist’.

Perhaps the most significant event was in the rural town of Villiersdorp, where a large crowd from at least eight other towns in the area joined together for two one-hour teaching sessions. These were enthusiastically received and the event seemed to point up a pattern that could well be copied elsewhere — perhaps even here in the UK.

On his last day in the country, after the first Sunday service, a woman said, ‘My life has been turned around this morning’. This was an encouraging seal on the whole tour, and John told us, ‘I left South Africa with very mixed feelings — delighted, of course, to be returning home, but sorry to leave a truly great country with such massive spiritual potential. God bless South Africa!’

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Africa