It has been four years since the Adventist Church in Zambia celebrated its first centennial (May 6, 7, 2005). I was privileged to witness and participate in the celebration. Rusangu Mission, once dubbed the “Mother of Adventist Missions” in Zambia, hosted the event. The celebration featured music, sermons, and a skit by young people who portrayed scenes from the life of the first Adventist missionary to Zambia, William H. Anderson.
The celebration aroused many memories of the early work in Zambia. In the theme of “Never Give Up,” we all caught the spirit of sacrifice that propelled the pioneers as we sought to recapture for ourselves their vision.
As we carefully reflect on the historic event and what it meant for the church in Zambia, several lessons for the Adventist Church today can be taken from our experience.
Looking to the future
First, this event ushered in a new dawn—the beginning of another century of commitment to the work of spreading the gospel. The centennial not only focused on past achievements and commemoration of the pioneers’ great sacrifices, but it also celebrated the arrival of a new term of work. The event pointed the church in Zambia to the unfinished task ahead of us and gave freshness and a renewed sense of urgency to our task of spreading the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6–12.
Second, the celebration placed Rusangu Mission Station in its proper historic perspective as the “Mother of Adventist Missions” in Zambia. Here the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Zambia started with a small band of believers led by W. H. Anderson. Beginning with ten pupils in 1905, the Adventist family at Rusangu increased to 38 students two years later. From this humble center, several outstations among the Tonga-speaking people were opened in distant places. In later years, missionary activities spread to other provinces of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). For example, Samuel Konigmacher left Rusangu Mission Station and opened Musofu in 1917, Chimpempe in 1921 in northern Zambia, and in 1928, Liumba Hill Mission in western Zambia.
Since then, hundreds of local churches and several educational and healthcare institutions have been established in Zambia. From one mission field, the church grew to three fi elds and later realigned into six fields in 1988, two of which are now conferences. By the third quarter of 2007, the total membership of Zambia Union stood at more than 560,000.
From such small beginnings, the work flourished. Our job includes being faithful to the tasks before us, wherever we are in the world. In many places, pioneer missionaries start out small; the Lord alone knows what fruits will follow.
Third, the celebration deepened the faith and confidence of delegates in the Scriptures and Spirit of Prophecy. Each presenter assured delegates that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had “not followed cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:6),* but Bible-based truth first handed down to the patriarchs and prophets, and later to the apostles of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1–11; 1 John 1:1–4). Kwabena Donkor, an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, stressed our need to know and understand for ourselves Seventh-day Adventist eschatology, in particular Revelation 13. Volumes of seditious literature from splinter movements are distributed to unsuspecting believers and, as a consequence, many Adventist believers have left us. Only a personal knowledge of the Word of God can shield us individually from error. Though we have great confidence in Ellen G. White’s ministry, instrumental in shaping our church, and her writings continue to be a blessing to us today, we must stand firm on the Word of God as the foundation of our beliefs.
The promise of Christ’s return
Fourth, the centennial celebration also reaffi rmed our faith in the return of Jesus. The event reminded delegates that the Lord was one hundred years nearer to coming than He was when W. H. Anderson and his team pitched their tents and began to preach the Parousia among M I N I S T R Y 25 J U N E 2 0 0 9 Tonga-speaking people of southern Zambia. Over the years, thousands of our citizens have believed in the Lord and the message of His return. The rapid spread of the gospel and the readiness with which hearts are receiving it everyday is unprecedented, and clearly points to a soon-coming Savior.
Call to unity
Fifth, and finally, the celebration called delegates to theological and doctrinal unity. In recent years, the Adventist Church in many places around the world has experienced a crisis in unity; it has been called “the fragmenting of Adventism.” The nature of the crisis is largely theological, centering on various issues like the role of women in the church, the nature of the prophetic gift, and Creation.
Whatever the reason for the dissension among us, the centennial celebration called for unity—unity in faith, doctrine, and practice. One church leader explained the difference between unity and oneness. He argued that it was possible to appear united, without being “one.” He said some people were united in matrimony but were not truly one in purpose, plans, and action. Similarly, the church may unite in songs, worship, or work even when they are not “one” in faith, doctrine, or practice.
Oneness, he stressed, went deeper than unity. Oneness was a conscious effort that involved the will, emotions, strength, and mind. Jesus prayed that the disciples “may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22). It was only when the early church had attained oneness that Pentecost occurred (Acts 2:1, 2). Because they were one, it was easy for them to share. Oneness in church shows evidence of discipleship.
Finally, wherever unity exists, God recognizes it by pouring His Spirit on the people concerned. Not limited to any age or race, the gift is available to all the faithful followers of Jesus. When the Holy Spirit falls upon the church, broken relationships are mended, trust replaces suspicion and faultfinding, and routine formalities in worship come alive with meaning and purpose.
No doubt our centennial celebration was a special event for the church in Zambia reminding us of the importance of establishing small groups for worship, as well as educational facilities and healthcare institutions. As mentioned earlier, from a small group of ten individuals in one area, the church in Zambia grew to a current membership of more than 560,000 believers.
The challenges discussed there reflect, in many ways, the challenges our church faces all over the world. Yes, we can marvel at where the Lord has brought us so far, but much more needs to be done. Whether in Zambia or Iceland, in Peru or Japan, we must continue to spread the good news of Christ to the entire world.