VICTOR KALALANDA, Lusaka
The Bible is certainly in the safest of hands, for if it had to be wiped out from the earth, a polished lay preacher in Zambia would ensure that it is re-written from his head word for word!He would hastily and successfully do that. There is no error, no stammering as he recites the entire good book from his phenomenal memory as scribes write it down.
This Bible fakir is, in fact, a typical learned lawyer, a personality exuding a different shade and stripe in religious and intellectual respects.
Inspiring a deep sense of spiritual awe and fascination, Elijah Simbai is his name, a no robot at all.
The very news that the 28-year-old evangelist is a veritable walking Bible is what the author of this piece sought to verify in a series of encounters.
As Mr Simbai recited the scriptures on the spur of the moment, one can prove first-hand how theatrical it is to be around him.
“What prompted me to start studying the Bible is what a preacher called Charles Brooks once said, that ‘as a preacher you must know the Bible so well that if a person is standing and reading the wrong passage, you can know that he is lying’,” he says.
The feat Simbai has accomplished, however, eludes the comprehension of Thomas Nyangulu of Lusaka who says, “It is not normal. Is the Bible the only thing he reads? I don’t think he can do it word for word!”
But whatever the reception, this preacher, who abounds with social grace and looks immaculate in suits, reads cases upon cases as a lawyer in the capital city.
He was born a premature baby in Livingstone and his parents divorced when he was only three months old
“My father did not want to be responsible over me. I was born a sickling and there wasn’t hope I would survive. However, I am not sure if that is what led to the divorce,” he says.
Though his father was Peter Nyirongo and his mother Miriam Simaango, he could not inherit either surname owing to the circumstances under which he was born.
“My mother was still in high school when she gave birth and she perhaps thought that I came as a huge inconvenience because of stigma. So, somehow I wasn’t even given her name,” the apparent introvert explains.
In light of this, he took on the names of Elijah Simbai, who was a distant maternal relative, and a preacher-cum-prophet under the Zion Movement in the then Kazungula district.
Mr Simbai has learnt the Bible by reciting scripture in the wake of his conversion from Rastafarianism to Christianity in 2006.
Although he was once a devout Rastafarian, he’s quick to mention that he would not smoke ‘the weed’. He sunk deep into the philosophy of the religion, listened to countless reggae hits, and kept a long afro that would get him in trouble at school.
“I joined the Seventh Day Adventist, got baptised and left Rastafarianism in 2006. Immediately I had to dispose of a sack of reggae cassettes I had owned,” he recounts.
Coming from a Zion background, his mother disowned him when he converted to Christianity and joined the SDA Church as she did not like the idea.
“She said I was rebellious, I prayed too much and studied the Bible too much. Her recommendation was that I go to Chainama Hospital because she didn’t think I was normal,” he narrates with emotion.
He was only 16 but the acrimonious dispute saw him chased from home, and he has since lived alone, working for every bit that has made him a lawyer today.
He is the kind of a person who will make you shudder and wish for the whole world to see as he runs through the Bible at ease with aplomb.
Even on the pulpit this preacher does the same, leading the congregation before him in Bible passages to back his sermons.
However, he is quick to mention that a preacher shouldn’t just be an ironclad authority on scriptures but one who is used by God.
“Preaching must not just be about reciting some Bible passages. Motivational speakers or even lawyers do that. But primary to the rhetorical abilities of a preacher and the lure and charm of oration, must be the power of the Holy Ghost,” he remarks.
Interestingly, Mr Simbai claims he would have forgotten the Bible by now if he had stored it in his mind and not in his spirit.
“I keep it in my heart to be drawing lessons from it all the time. The memory will always discard what it doesn’t use with time. That’s how it works,” he explains.
According to Mr Simbai, the secret for his mastery is cloaked in the way the sacred word is written: “The Bible is written in a predictable pattern and that is why it is easy to know. Verses are like jigsaw puzzles, so much so that you can be picking pieces and fusing them together.”
Though he uses different Bible versions when preparing sermons, he has a soft spot for the King James Version (KJV) in his meditation sessions.
With his law degree from the Zambia Open University (ZAOU) and currently pursuing his advocacy certificate, Mr Simbai professionally performs legal work and balances it with his spiritual life.
“I wake up at 03:00 hours; pray for an hour and spend two hours on Bible reading to start the day,” he says.
Naturally and inevitably, he has had to contend with some trying moments that threatened his commitment to the scriptures. For instance, he began to pine away and nearly quit reading the Bible in 2014 when a woman he was hoping to marry cheated on him with his best friend.
It is against all odds that he has stuck with the Bible, just as Mrs Exildah Masumbuko, who knows him, says: “He loves reading. Even when he comes for a weekend at my place, his chatting time is reading the Bible.”
Moreover, Pastor Moses Ngoma, who has taught from the Bible for seven years, admits that he cannot recite the Bible the way the lay preacher-cum-lawyer does. He said he finds Mr Simbai’s ability extraordinary.
“It takes the Spirit of God,” he remarks.
Truly, Mr Simbai’s command of the Bible is no mean achievement because he is dealing with a book that is by far the longest in comparison to other religious books which zealots memorise.
And if one should attempt to clear the world of all available copies of the Bible, on the internet or otherwise, they have to think twice because of this Zambian.
VICTOR KALALANDA, Lusaka