WEST MONROE, La. (BP)–A newly married housewife, a self-employed CPA, a retired businessman and a supervisor for a major insurance company — three of whom were rookies to the mission field — saw 181 Zambians eagerly profess Christ on a five-day mission trip in May.
These four volunteers from First Baptist Church of West Monroe, La., went village-to-village, conducting evangelistic surveys among the Lungu, a people group in Zambia’s Northern province that traditionally practices witchcraft and spirit veneration. Catholicism and Jehovah’s Witnesses also have had an impact among the Lungu.
“The vast majority [of the Lungu] have never had the true Gospel presented to them,” said Wade Coker, an International Mission Board church planter in the region.
And time is short for many of the Lungu to hear the Gospel. The ravages of malaria and AIDS have shortened the average life expectancy to just over 37 years. Almost 20 percent of Zambia’s population lives with the HIV virus or AIDS.
The 350 Lungu who took part in the survey were “warm, receptive and extremely hungry to hear what we had to say,” volunteer Debbie Takewell said. “This trip really brought life to the verse that says ‘the harvest is plentiful.'”
After the team witnessed to individuals and small groups for a week, more than half of the survey participants professed faith in Jesus. The volunteer team had more than 200 prayer partners back home interceding for them.
Coker, who in 1997 was the first Southern Baptist missionary assigned to northern Zambia, accompanied the four volunteers and translators. The great response to the Gospel was humbling, he said.
“There was one village we went in, and the people were not responsive at all,” he said. “After spending time in prayer, the floodgates opened up. It truly reminded us that He is the Lord of the harvest and that He gives the increase.”
However, the witnessing teams knew the rolling hills of the African bush hid countless other unreached villages. In fact, the 350 men and women who heard the Gospel represented only 0.1 percent of the total Lungu population.
“In the southern Africa region, many people are responsive,” Coker said, “but the workers are too few to reach everybody.”
While many rejoice over the souls saved, the advance of the Kingdom in Zambia is creating great discipleship needs. No complete Bibles are available in the Lungu language, and the closest Baptist church to the recently evangelized area is about 40 miles away.
Though the new believers did not want the workers to leave, the purpose was not to establish a church in the area, Coker said. Instead, the goal of the mission was to determine which areas would respond positively to the Gospel.
Coker is working with national believers to create plans to gather these new believers into churches. He is praying that God will call someone to work in the area fulltime.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HUNGRY TO HEAR.