Visit to northern Zambia strengthens parish links

Tuesday July 8th 2008

The Vicar of Antrim, Archdeacon Stephen McBride (right) and ladies who attended worship in Kitwe.The vicar and curate of Antrim Parish were able to see at first hand the benefits of a link between their parish and Kitwe in northern Zambia when they visited Africa in June.

The Ven Dr Stephen McBride, Vicar of Antrim and Archdeacon of Connor, and the Rev David Ferguson, curate, were accompanied on the trip by the Rev Brian Stewart, rector of St George’s parish, Belfast, which also shares the same link.

The group stayed in Kitwe, Zambia’s second largest city, and the main centre in the Copperbelt, Zambia’s famous mining area, where despite it being the Zambian winter, they found blue skies every day.

The link between Antrim and Kitwe has been established for six years through the Rev Keith Scott, former rector of Carnlought, who went to Zambia with CMSI.

“Keith lectures in St John’s Anglican seminary where the clergy of Zambia receive their theological training.  Keith lives on the campus with his wife Lyn who lectures in English.  Their children Adam and Hannah attend an international boarding school.” 

All kitted out for a visit to a mine. With the group is the Rev Keith Scott, centre with beard.The Bishop of Northern Zambia, the Rt Rev Albert Chama and his Vicar General, the Very Rev William Chisanga have both visited Antrim. 

Stephen said: “This visit to Zambia was our first trip to Africa.  We visited our partners in mission in order to learn at first hand what life is like and to visit the projects our churches have helped to fund.

“We visited the members of the diocesan office staff to learn about how the diocese is funded and equipped to meet its ministry strategies.  We met with the students studying at the theological college and had a ‘talk back’ session on what life is like in Northern Ireland and the fulfilment and frustrations of being a clergyman. “

He went on: “As part of our link, we helped to fund a water tower at the college to enable the students to have a more reliable water supply. We learned a great deal about the hardships the students endure in order to meet their training requirements. As travel is expensive, most of the students only get to meet their families during their vacations.”

The group also visited a number of health project.  “We joined the home care health visitors who are involved in the health projects sponsored by the diocese,” said Stephen.  “HIV and Aids pose a huge problem in Zambia and these projects offer health care and pastoral support to those who are struggling with this life threatening condition.  The visitors provide medication, food and most of all, a hand of friendship to those who need it most.”

Antrim parish is currently helping to fund a farming project which will provide jobs for 20 people.  Stephen said: “This is a very practical form of evangelism.  The church aims to show people God loves them by first of all providing for their physical needs.  Jobs and money are in very short supply in this remote part of the diocese.  Helping people to have a sustainable income can be the lifeline to a more comfortable existence.”

He went on: “Alongside the farm, a school will be built to provide education facilities for the children and also will be a centre when adults can learn about health issues.  Finally, a church will be built and a parish evangelist will help to form a congregation.”       

Stephen described the trip as ‘an experience of a life time.’  “We are most grateful to the people of All Saints for giving us the opportunity to go on their behalf,” he said. “The Sunday before we left, we had a commissioning service where the people sent us off with their blessing and assured us of their prayers while we were away.  It was very humbling and also encouraging to go with such a send off and such support.”

The archdeacon went on: “Nothing can really prepare you for the poverty of certain areas in Zambia and yet even in the remotest and poorest of places, we encountered such genuine friendship and welcome. 

“People who had only the barest of essentials still found time to worship God.  It was very interesting to see so many churches working together in the various communities we visited.  The church holds a central place in the lives of so many people in Zambia which is 95 per cent Christian.”

He said the churches the group visited were bursting at the seams on Sunday.  “The worship was vibrant and alive and a dynamic mixture of the reverence of Anglo-Catholic ritual and the informality of Charismatic evangelicalism.  Most parishes had large Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade companies, Mothers’ Unions, members of the Guild of St Veronica and the Men’s Anglican Fellowship.  To be a member of the church is to be involved at every level.

“We witnessed a church where financial resources are in short supply, but blessed with people who serve Almighty God with heart and mind and soul and strength.”

Stephen added: “The things which we may be worried about in Northern Ireland are nothing compared to the obstacles the people in Zambia have to overcome.  The visit certainly has made us look again at where our priorities lie in our own lives and ministries.”

He described the worship as one of the highlights of the trip. “I knew African worship was very different to the way we worship in Antrim, but it was only by taking part in the services that we got a real flavour of how important the things of God and his church are for our partners.”

Stephen added: “We have come back with cameras full of photographs and minds full of memories such as the sights, sounds, smells of cooking, the noise of the market place and the laughter of children in schools, the harmonic singing of the students in the college chapel and the beauty of the vast expanses of unspoiled countryside.”

The trip, he said, had convinced the group of the need to strengthen support for the people of northern Zambia.

“£1,000 will roof a church, £10 will provide food for a person on the health care project.  We can provide material and financial resources, but our partners can teach us about what it means to be truly dependent on God.  The people we met were the living embodiment of Christ’s  beatitudes as recorded in opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five,” Stephen said.

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