FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Nearly two centuries have passed since the renowned missionary and explorer David Livingstone disappeared in “deepest, darkest” Africa until an American journalist found him six years later. This summer, a student from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary followed God’s missionary call and lost his way in the head-high grass and countless intersecting footpaths of the same African bush.
It was nearly dark when Anthony Brister finally found his way back to camp, unharmed. Brister, a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling student, traveled to Zambia with a team of five other volunteers from Southwestern in early June. They pitched camp in the bush east of the nation’s capital, Lusaka, near the villages of Twikatane and Chifwema. The team never had trouble with baboons or black mambas, a problem they had anticipated. But they were shocked one day when a cloud of killer bees hovered over their camp. They were truly in the African wild, where nobody wants to lose his way.

According to Art Savage, however, many Zambians are lost in a maze of religious ideas far more confusing than the winding paths of the African wilderness. Savage, associate director of the World Missions Center at Southwestern, rejoiced that nearly 90 Zambians found their way out of this maze when they believed the Gospel.

“Zambia is a very open country … to everybody,” Savage said. In fact, the nation’s population includes Roman Catholics, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. With this plurality of religions, Zambians in the bush are often left wondering whom they should follow, and for how long: “Do I follow you today and the next guy tomorrow?”

With the guidance of Southern Baptist missionaries in Zambia, the Southwestern team confronted this problem by helping new believers understand the importance of baptism, of being a believer in Christ and of being a Baptist. Each morning and early afternoon, the team would do hut-to-hut ministry, visiting with families personally. In the evening, they would show the Jesus Film. The light of the movie projector, which shone brightly in the African night, drew hundreds of Zambian villagers.
After the villagers saw the Jesus Film, they were encouraged to raise their hands if they desired to receive salvation through Christ. To prevent misunderstanding about the Gospel, the team would then invite interested villagers to a meeting the next morning, where they would learn more about what it means to be a Christian and a Baptist. According to Savage, this training helped ensure the “health and longevity” of the two churches the Southwestern team planted during their trip.

Waylan Owens, professor of pastoral ministry at Southwestern, attributed the growth of these new converts ultimately to the work of the Spirit, adding that he could not “quantify” the impact of the morning lessons to the Zambian believers and the newly planted churches. Christians, he said, should not “underestimate what the Lord can do and will do when we present His Word and will as clearly as we can to those who profess their faith in Him.”

Owens said such teaching is based on Christ’s commission to make disciples of all nations. During this trip, he not only took the opportunity to disciple the new Zambian converts but also to encourage his own son to follow Christ more fully. Joshua Owens, 14, ventured to the African bush with his father.

“An international trip is especially helpful for a young man or woman in providing a number of opportunities for growth,” Owens said. Among other things, he pointed out that international missions service can build faith, patience and endurance. The expectation for a young person to give his testimony will take him outside his comfort zone. Further, uncontrollable situations that arise during international trips may boost his prayer life and dependence on Christ. The experience, Owens added, truly gives the young believer a new outlook on life:

“Traveling halfway around the world, seeing four foreign countries, living in the African bush, seeing people come to faith in Christ, building relationships with missionaries and with the indigenous people, and living the adventure of all things that are new and wild and even potentially dangerous puts Disney vacations and other entertainment into perspective.”

Southwestern student Pam Schroer said she was excited to be involved in planting two churches. As a Master of Divinity student with a concentration in international church planting, she learned firsthand how churches can be planted in the bush. She felt honored to share the Gospel with one girl who had never before heard the name of Christ. During hut-to-hut visitations, she also helped lead a man named James and his wife, Violet, to Christ. Both as a memento of the trip and as a reminder to pray, she shot a photo of this couple and their family.

At the end of their trip, the Southwestern team traveled on the road for eight hours to the city of Livingstone, near Zambia’s border with Zimbabwe. From there, they visited Victoria Falls. David Livingstone was the first European to discover these falls, and they have since been listed among the wonders of the natural world. But Schroer commented, “After all the people we met and after how we saw God work, it kind of lost its luster.”