Recently my wife and I had the privilege of travelling by road to Swaziland for a weekend of ministry at the Mbabane Chapel (a non-denominational, baptistic congregation). This was our first visit to Swaziland, a tiny country (smaller than the Kruger National Park) with a population of one million, wholly surrounded by South Africa, and the venue for the upcoming Sola 5 Conference in September this year. We entered the country through the Oshoek border post, via Middelburg and Carolina, about five hours’ drive from Alberton.
All we collectively really knew about Swaziland was that it is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world; that the king was notorious for having many wives with expensive tastes; that this was impoverishing the land economically; and that Swaziland has the highest per capita HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world.
We were surprised at how mountainous the country was. We were hosted by a Scottish pastoral couple, who in past decades, prior to a further pastoral stint in their homeland, had pastored two Baptist congregations in South Africa. Ken and Brenda, a delightful and gifted couple, have many years of experience caring for and nurturing many congregations over probably four decades of ministry.
I had been invited to go there and minister to some men at a breakfast on the Saturday morning, as well as to preach the Word at their morning service on the Lord’s Day. I thoroughly appreciated, and was encouraged by, both opportunities for involvement. By way of encouragement and edification for us as a congregation, let me make some observations and share these musings in retrospect with you.
Mbabane Chapel looks like a solid church with healthy body life, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a church in the area. (The Sola 5 Conference will be held at the only Sola 5 church in Swaziland, namely Manzini Fellowship Church, about thirty kilometres away from Mbabane.)
At the men’s breakfast, there were about nine different nationalities represented from all over Africa. We ourselves are privileged at BBC to be included in such a multinational family, and as we deliberately seek to build an overtly Christian culture, we must increasingly pray for, expect and be delighted by the appearance of more and more nationalities being present in our own community.
As a church we need to constantly be thinking through our confidence in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here and there, churches have opportunity to be stewards of financial resources and to get our hands dirty, so to speak, in social upliftment programmes. The observable effects of progress in such community work is so obvious that we must anticipate the danger of such visible results from drawing us away from our passion for the gospel message itself. This is a very nuanced issue, and herein lies the threat: Have we not been exhorted extensively in the Pastoral Epistles to be “zealous for good works”? This trip, and all we were exposed to, forced us to ponder afresh where a healthy focus lies when we are surrounded as we are by a sea of need.
In the living out of ministry priorities in the life of the church, let us also be very aware of the need for leadership training at every level within the church’s busyness. Be aware that, from an eldership perspective, we have sought to ensure that every ministry is constantly nurturing multiple leaders. Every leader is to ensure that he or she has an understudy. It is all too easy for a thriving ministry to suddenly find itself with an underdeveloped succession plan. Training up future leaders is a top pastoral priority at BBC.
Let us take seriously the instruction given in 1 Timothy 1 regarding praying for our civic leaders. It would seem to me, as an outsider, that Swaziland and the church there suffers from weak national leadership. We must pray regularly and fervently for those in authority over us!
Do not take for granted the fact that, in the common grace of God, things work in our communities. Roads are generally well-maintained, streetlights work, and order prevails. This reality is not automatic, nor is it our birthright; it is God’s grace, and we should be the means by which it continues—both through our prayers and our strategic and fragrant activism to ensure that it is maintained.
It was a privilege to have been in Swaziland, and to have ministered the Word there among God’s people. I look forward to being back there soon for the Sola 5 Conference.