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Celebrating 100 years of Baptist work in Zambia

KAFULAFUTA Baptist Church building in Masaiti district on the Copperbelt Province is one of the country’s historical heritage monuments because of its long-lasting legacy of being the birth place of the Baptist movement in Zambia.
This oldest Baptist church building on the Zambian soil has immensely contributed to the advancement of Baptist work in Zambia.
It was for this reason the Zambian Baptist fraternity last Saturday converged on the historical site for the centenary celebrations.
Situated in Senior Chief Mushili’s chiefdom, Kafulafuta Baptist Church building was opened for public worship in December 1916, barely 11 years after missionaries Reverend William Phillips and Henry Masters established Kafulafuta Baptist Mission in 1905.
The building, which was constructed with burnt bricks, is still standing today since its establishment by England-born South African missionary Professor Clement Martyn Doke and his elder sister Olive Doke.
Even the descendants of Clement, led by his only 88-year-old surviving daughter Eunice van den Aardweg, were present at the colourful historical occasion that was held under the theme “Celebrating 100 years of God’s faithfulness”.
Clement was just 23 years when in 1916, he and his sister Olive, laboured in Masaiti to set up the country’s oldest Baptist church that has given birth to hundreds of other churches countrywide.
Family spokesperson Elwyn van den Aardweg, Eunice’s son, said the Doke family was elated to be part of the celebrations.
“On behalf of the descendants of Clement Martyn Doke, we would like to thank Pastor Conrad Mbewe of the Zambia Baptist Historical Society for inviting the family to Kafulafuta. It has been a privilege for us too, to walk into the church building and experience Zambian hospitality,” Mr Aardweg said.
The family praised God for his blessing upon the work of a myriad of His servants that include Clement, Olive and the first indigenous pastor, Paul Kasonga.
“We also join with you to celebrate the memory of God’s servants who ministered here at Kafulafuta. Whilst we pay tribute to them, we are not here to praise and honour human beings. We are here to honour our Lord and Saviour and what he did through the lives of His servants,” he said.
The celebrations, which were spiced with gospel songs by various choir groups, were also used to unveil the new headstone on the grave of Pastor Kasonga.
Copperbelt Minister Bowman Lusambo encouraged the Baptist fraternity to work closely with the National Heritage Conservation Commission (NHCC), which is a statutory body under the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, to preserve the church building as a national heritage.
Mr Lusambo expressed happiness that Kafulafuta Baptist Mission, not only preaches the word of God in communities but also provides health and education services to the local people.
He said in a speech read for him by Masaiti district commissioner Nebat Matatiyo that the church has a duty to serve as a model for unity amongst people of diverse backgrounds across the country.
Northern Baptist Association of Zambia president George Mwenda said the church building is a national treasure.
Dr Conrad Mbewe, the Zambia Baptist Historical Society representative, who is also Kabwata Baptist Church pastor, said the Kafulafuta Baptist Church building stands as a symbol of the works of the Church in Zambia.
Church representative Webster Nonde said the church building will undergo a facelift but stated that none of its original features will be altered in view of the ongoing process of turning it into a national monument.
NHCC regional director Dennis Haambote pledged his organisation’s support towards turning the origin of the Baptist Church in Zambia into a national monument for it to attract local and foreign tourists.
Kafulafuta Baptist Church minister-in-charge Benson Chitumbo said the church will always be indebted to the missionaries for their good work and for establishing a rural health centre in the area for the benefit of people.
In 1905, Reverend Phillips and Masters arrived in Lambaland from Malawi to set up the first Baptist mission in Zambia at a place where the Kafubu River and the Kafulafuta River meet.
They started evangelising the Lamba people before Clement spearheaded the construction of Kafulafuta Baptist Church building in 1916.
Reverend Joseph Doke and his son Clement had arrived at Kafulafuta Baptist Mission in 1913 from South Africa on a fact finding mission.
On their way back to South Africa, Rev Doke died in Zimbabwe and Clement quit his job and returned to Lambaland in 1914 alongside Mr and Mrs German as missionaries to assume his father’s role.
They came under the South African Baptist Mission, which was the missionary arm of the Baptist Union of South Africa.
In July 1916, Olive joined the missionary team and found Kafulafuta Baptist Church building under construction and was present when the building was opened for worship in December.
In 1921, Clement returned to South Africa due to the ill-health of his wife Hilda Lehmann while Olive remained in Lambaland for the rest of her life.
Olive died in 1972 and was buried at Kafulafuta Baptist Mission’s special burial site where a number of other church leaders lie.
The mission also houses a boarding school for boys that was built in 1912 by reverends Phillips and Masters.
It was the school that attracted Pastor Kasonga to Kafulafuta Baptist Mission in 1914.
By 1931, Pastor Kasonga became the church leader on the mission.
He laboured indefatigably with the missionaries and other local converts for 22 years before he was ordained in 1953 as a pastor together with Anasi Lupunga and Bob Litana but he (Pastor Kasonga) died the following year.
The visiting Doke family, which included Elwyn’s wife Tracey, daughters Nicky and Kelly as well as his brother John, also laid wreaths on Pastor Kasonga and Olive’s graves together with Baptist Union of Southern Africa general secretary Angelo Scheepers during centenary celebrations.
Clement’s first desire upon arriving in Kafulafuta, was to learn the language of the Lamba people and understand their culture and folklore, which he did.
He trekked from village to village for up to three months at a time, taking every opportunity to preach the word of God and shot wild animals which he fed the villagers and students at the school.
Because of his aptitude for languages, Clement, who translated the Bible into Lamba language, was appointed Professor of African Languages at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
He commanded authority in many African languages including Shona, Sesotho and isiZulu and authored the Zulu-English, Lamba-English dictionaries and a number of other Lamba grammar books.
Clement also authored a book titled “Lamba Folklore” where each story is recorded in Lamba language with an English translation on the opposite page.
At 80, Clement wrote his last book titled “Trekking in South and Central Africa” in which, he documented his life in Kafulafuta, the people he lived and worked with and many interesting life stories of early 1900s.
Towards the latter part of his life, he lived in Alice in Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, home to the University of Fort Hare.
He had been a widower for 30 years and his eldest daughter, Erica lived with him in a humble dwelling with a beautiful garden which he named “Kwesu”, meaning “our home” in Lamba language.
Clement’s memory will forever be embedded in the hearts of the Zambian Baptist fraternity for being the face behind Baptist work in Zambia.
Last Saturday’s celebrations of 100 years of the church’s existence accorded members a rare opportunity to interact with the descendants of the Doke family

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