In the northern region of Zambia, not far from the boarder of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are about twenty-two Seventh Day Baptist congregations. Some groups have well over a hundred and other groups are as small as a dozen. They come together each Sabbath and other days in worship, fellowship, and service to each other and their communities. They have many of the same blessings and trials that bodies of Christ experience throughout the world.
I was blessed during October 2014 with a visit to one of their smaller branch congregations in Ndola, Zambia. This group has a plot in their community allocated to their use as a SDB church. Since they only had a temporary structure for their worship facilities, the small neighboring Islamic mosque petitioned the local government for rights to develop the plot. Desperately responding to retain the property for Kingdom work, the low income members scraped up funds each week to buy building materials and pay for help in construction. In a few months they have completed concrete block walls averaging head height encompassing a space about 30’ x 60’ for a permanent building. Now they have contributions in hand from international SDB brothers and sisters to help finish the job.
They told me that before I arrived, it would amuse them when members of their community walked by and would say, “Look the missionaries must have come.” The congregation knew that God was doing the work through their own efforts, but much of the developing world has been conditioned to assume that only through the financial might of developed world sponsors can buildings be built and ministry be properly conducted. They were overjoyed that I was able to bring some assistance to their labor, but equally encouraged that I could confirm that they were the missionaries.
Not in the sense that they were going cross culture to carry the gospel, but in the eyes of their community they were people empowered and responsible to carry out ministry through reliance in God and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is a fundamental role that Jesus expects all of His followers to carry out in their lives. We each are to follow His guidance and offer our lives that He may work through us — not just the pastors or missionaries.
This experience reinforced my belief that through the Missionary Society we need to be actively partnering with international groups. But it is just as important that we consciously continue to help their leaders foster a church culture that understands that if God will have a work done somewhere, He will equip the local church to provide a relevant portion, if not all of the resources needed, for the work. I also feel that it is spiritually unhealthy for local members to not give to ministry work. Repeatedly, from overseas pastors I have heard that in general their people do not know how to give. They have a problem that ministries throughout the world lament — they may have many church goers, but few that truly love and sacrifice for God in ministry.
Developed world SDB conferences in some ways are like older brothers and sisters established and able to help their siblings — which they should. However, elder family members must be mindful of the responsibility of empowering to foster a mindset that understands that the work is to be done and it is to be done in ways that promote cooperative and healthy discipleship growth for everyone.
– Clinton R. Brown, Executive Director @ SDB Missions