JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
“I NEVER really had an ambition until I was going through my secondary school years,” says Conrad Mbewe, who is today celebrating 30 years of pastoring the Kabwata Baptist Church.
At some point, however, the young Conrad did entertain thoughts of becoming an aeronautical engineer, just because the phrase sounded very prestigious.
“But I never went beyond thinking about it,” he says. “For some reason, it sounded like a far-fetched dream.”
Perhaps not too far-fetched, because Conrad Mbewe did actually become a mining engineer, although he would soon after abandon the lucrative career to become a pastor.
His dream to become a clergyman was formed during his high-school days, but it was while studying at the University of Zambia that it gained momentum.
“While I was studying for my mining engineering degree, I developed a desire not only to talk to people about Jesus but also to preach to groups of people. All this was happening while I was still in my first and second year at the university,” he says. “I wanted to be a pastor from my first or second year at university and could not wait for a church to call me.”
By the time he was in his fourth and fifth year, Conrad had become the leader of the University Christian Fellowship.
In fact, so passionate was the engineering student about matters of faith that he had taken to reading a lot of Christian books.
“I remember a friend who came into my room when I was doing my final year, he looked at my bookshelf, and said, ‘Conrad, what are you studying at this university?’ I told him that it was mining engineering. He replied, ‘No. Looking at your bookshelf one would think you are doing a major in theology and a minor in mining engineering.’ I looked at my shelf and agreed with him because most of the books on my shelf were to do with the Christian faith and not with mining,” he recalls.
After graduating from university in 1984, Pastor Mbewe went on to work in Mufulira for the Zambia Consolidated Copper Mine (ZCCM), the conglomerate which had sponsored him to university. But even then, Pastor Mbewe’s eyes were focussed on preaching.
“While I was working in Mufulira as a mining engineer, the church I was worshipping with basically gave me the pulpit. They said, ‘If you are not working on Sundays, you should be the one preaching.’ So, I preached almost every Sunday and really loved it,” he recalls.
In 1987, there was an opening to pastor Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka. That same period, Pastor Mbewe was offered a scholarship by his employers to study for his master’s in engineering in England.
“I was also informed by my head of department that I was the next in line for promotion. I felt confused about this. Yet, none of those two openings and promises caused a struggle in my heart. I still put in my resignation and left in September that year, even if I knew that I was going to be earning less than I was currently earning. I wanted to be a preacher for the rest of my life,” he says.
And since then, Pastor Mbewe has never looked back.
In 2003, he enrolled at the Cape Town Baptist Seminary to study theology.
And for the next 10 years, he would go on a study marathon, obtaining a Master of Philosophy in Theology, a Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology, and a PhD in Missions.
But despite his high academic qualifications, Pastor Mbewe is not fastidious about titles.
“I honestly do not mind what titles people use,” he says.
Pastor Mbewe has also authored 30 booklets in Zambia, plus four books which have been sold internationally.
Pastor Mbewe says what motivates him to wake up each day and minister to people is that the Christian Faith has the greatest message in the world about how a loving God gave his only Son to save the sinner.
“Everywhere I look, I see people who need to hear this. Too many young people are directionless in life; they lack a grand purpose to live for, which they can only find in Jesus. Too many old people are disillusioned and disappointed; they have destroyed their marriages, their families, and their lives. I know that through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, they can have a new beginning. This is what motivates me. I want to be a blessing to them,” he says.
But 30 years of ministry has not been all plain-sailing for Pastor Mbewe.
“I would be lying if I said that I have never felt like giving up,” he says. “There were times in the life of Kabwata Baptist Church when I felt lonely and not cared for.”
He says on two occasions, he was terribly opposed by the very people who should have supported him in the church.
“I recall, that on one of those occasions I had to depend on sleeping tablets because I could not find sleep. I even wrote my letter of resignation and was about to hand it in when friends came and pleaded with me not to do so,” he says.
Today, he is very appreciative of his congregation, including the people that once opposed him.
But how has he managed to avoid the common pitfalls among the clergy nowadays – women and money?
“First, it has been by the grace of God. There is a saying that the will of God will not take you where the grace of God cannot keep you. There have been times when I have been spiritually off-guard and would have ruined my ministry, but God has graciously rescued me at the nick of time. Second, it has been by taking seriously what I read in the Bible and prayerfully applying it to myself every day. It is when pastors neglect their own spiritual walk with God that disaster follows,” he says.
Pastor Mbewe says he has also surrounded himself with friends and elders to whom he is accountable.
And he comes out strongly on some of the scandals being reported in the church today.
“I feel as if the church pastoral office has been highjacked by people who have no business being there,” he says. “They do not preach the gospel but are sexually abusing women in the church and defrauding congregants of their hard-earned money.”
He says in the past, such preachers used to get disciplined, but these days, they get away with their wrong-doing.
“This is what breaks my heart because it is growing like a cancer. If the church stops being a standard for morality in the world what hope is there for society?” he wonders.
Pastor Mbewe is also a well-known proponent of the death penalty.
“I cannot teach anything other than what the Bible teaches. I have listened to the arguments of people who want the death penalty abolished and they are largely based on pragmatism. Even there, I find their arguments weak,” he says.
“When they try to use verses in the Bible to say that the Bible supports the abolition of the death penalty I often find them twisting the words of the Bible out of context and then totally neglect the wide ranging teaching of the rest of the Bible. So, as long as the Bible clearly teaches that murderers should also pay with their own lives, I will say what it says.”
He adds: “The moment a man leaves his home with an intention to go and maliciously deprive someone else of his life he should know that in that same moment he has forfeited the right to hang on to his own life.”
Conrad Mbewe was born on December 12, 1961 in Balovale (now Zambezi district).
His father, Benson Evans Mbewe was a teacher, while his mother, Claire Linda Kawandami, was a registered nurse.
He is the second child in a family of three. His older sister is a medical doctor in England while his younger sister was a banker working for the Bank of Zambia, but she died in 2010.
Pastor Mbewe’s mother was Zambia’s second registered nurse and the first Zambian chief nursing officer at the University Teaching Hospital. And from time to time, she was on television being interviewed or being reported on because of her outstanding career achievement.
And because of that, the family was also listed in the Who’s Who in Zambia book that was produced in 1968.
Pastor Mbewe says he got his inspiration to study from his mother.
“I wanted to have a distinguished career like her and worked hard in school because of that,” he says.
Pastor Mbewe attended primary school at Mumuni, Lotus and Ndola Primary schools. Then he went to Chiwala Boys Secondary School for his secondary school education, where he graduated as the second-best student.
In 1984, he met his wife, Felistas in Mufulira. He describes her as a “jewel”.
“Felistas was a member of the church that I joined there and so we began to do a lot of Christian service together. One thing led to another and we got married on January 2, 1988, a few months after I became the pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church,” he says.
Pastor Mbewe says Felistas is the one thing he would carry with him out of the world if allowed to.
The couple has three biological children plus three others they adopted, in the African traditional sense.
“One of the greatest joys of my life has been seeing these children grow into adulthood over the years. The eldest is now married and we have two grandchildren,” he says.
Asked what he would like to be written on his gravestone, Pastor Mbewe says:
“Here lies Conrad Mbewe, a sinner saved by God’s grace through Christ Jesus.”