VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 4/8/15)—Baptists in the U.S. and Zambia are celebrating the renewal of a partnership between International Ministries (IM) and the Baptist Convention of Zambia (BCZ). This step promises to be a mutual blessing to the U.S. and the African nation of Zambia, which was known as Northern Rhodesia until 1964.
Dynamic growth has been occurring among the churches of BCZ, which numbered 350 in 2001 and have now grown to nearly 800—a 125% increase. This expansive ministry requires resources beyond those thatany one convention of churches can provide by itself. The partnership that is now being strengthened between BCZ and IM can help to address this challenge.
IM Area Director for Africa the Reverend Dr. Eleazar Ziherambere has been instrumental in developing the relationship between IM and BCZ. From 1992 to 1997, Ziherambere was the general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, composed of 40 church conventions with approximately six million members. While the Fellowship’s office was hosted in Zambia, Ziherambere became personally familiar with the needs of the Zambian Baptists.
After serving the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey (during 1997–99), Ziherambere joined the IM staff to encourage African-American congregations in the U.S. to become more involved with international mission. He and Dr. Walter L. Parrish II, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of the South (ABCOTS), led a group of ABCOTS clergy on a mission trip to Zambia in 2001. Other such visits followed, and in 2003 ABCOTS and BCZ signed a covenant that, among other actions, called for sister relationships between ABCOTS and BCZ congregations. This led ABCOTS clergy to offer seminary-type training for BCZ clergy during their subsequent visits to Zambia. At that time, of the 350 BCZ churches, only 50 were led by pastors with formal biblical training.
In 2005, IM and BCZ signed a covenant that led IM missionaries Charles and Sarah West to serve in Zambia, where they offered leadership training. This same covenant called for regular evaluation of the IM-BCZ partnership. Because of tension within the BCZ leadership, IM regretfully concluded in 2012 that the relationship needed to be suspended.
In the months that followed, BCZ leaders began to work on a resolution to their internal problems, and IM Global Consultant for Peace and Justice Dan Buttry helped complete that conflict transformation process in 2014. People shed tears of joy as they expressed their gratitude for the event. This has opened the door to a renewal of the IM-BCZ partnership, which Ziherambere states “will pave the way for people in our local churches, especially ABCOTS, to reconnect with their brothers and sisters in Zambia for mutual exchange and blessing.”
Additionally, in response to a BCZ request for IM to send someone to assist with women’s ministries, newly endorsed missionary Kathy Charland was recently assigned to Zambia. She is slated to help establish a women’s center and work with economic empowerment for women. All those involved are celebrating God’s timing, as Charland had sensed a call to serve in Zambia even before BCZ was developing a request for someone with her skills. Charland’s heart has been in Zambia ever since she served there as a volunteer in 2007.
Reid Trulson, IM’s executive director, states, “We are grateful to be at a place where we can see how God has woven together various threads of ministry, producing this beautiful tapestry of the IM-BCZ partnership.”
American Baptist International Ministries is celebrating 200 years of ministry in 2014. Organized in 1814 as the first Baptist international mission agency in America, IM began its pioneer mission work in Burma and today works in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas serving more than 1,800 long-term and short-term missionaries. Its central mission is to help people come to faith in Jesus, grow in their relationships with God and change their worlds through the power of the Holy Spirit. IM works with respected partners in over 70 countries in ministries that meet human need.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with over 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.