“This next patient is the wife of a Bible college student, who has come here to Zambia to prepare for the ministry.” The inference did not conjure any imaginations of wealth. “She has lost more than eight pregnancies, and thus far they have no children.” The doctor shook his head with sorrow. In Africa children are still considered a blessing from the Lord. However, his examination offered both insight and hope. In1978, technology was advanced enough for them to place a stint in one of the heart valves of this young woman. Within a year she conceived. The doctors encouraged rest, and the first trimester elapsed safely. After the second trimester, hope escalated by degrees. Finally, might God bring them His heritage in a child!
Civil strife was rocking Zimbabwe to the south so at the time, a strict curfew was mandated in Zambia which restricted any movement outside after sundown. Therefore distress and angst sang their dismal melodies as the young woman went into premature labor. Ruben Nkata, the young husband and Bible college student, had no car and no phone, only a God and a cry. This pregnancy had lasted only seven months, but with no way to reach a hospital, what could he do to save the life of a premature baby?
Miraculously, a knock came at the door. Out of the night loomed a policeman, the only people allowed on the streets at this hour. “I was just thinking about you and your family,” he said to his friend, “and thought I would check in on you.”
“None too soon, my friend, none too soon!” Ruben exalted his Lord in his spirit. Many officers traversed by foot or on bicycle, but his friend at the door commanded a vehicle! “Can you get us to the hospital in your squad car?”
The baby lived, and because the Most High God had heard their prayer, they named him Zachariah. The baby brought joy to the couple. Ruben finished his training and began pastoring a church in Lusaka, Zambia. No other child was gifted to them, and sorrow, as so often occurs in Africa, revisited the young family in ministry. When little Zach was barely three his mother returned to Malawi to participate in the wedding of her sister. Despite warnings against over exertion, she pounded the cornmeal in preparation for the wedding feast. The stint in her heart came loose; she collapsed and died. The poor family observed a wedding on one day and a funeral on the next.
“Ruben can’t care for the child. He’s a pastor. He’s in the ministry,” his in-laws reasoned. Poor or not, Ruben was determined to raise his son.
He already crossed cultural bounds for three years by being the “baby carrier” to protect his wife’s health and strength. Surely God, who gave this child, would provide for its care! But culturally, Ruben could not win. Before marriage he had not afforded the “bride price,” and thus with the death of his wife, the custody of the child now fell to the allotment of his in-laws. “I have always loved the orphan children,” Zach told me once. “I was an orphan.”
Benevolence and grandparents usually go together, but as Zach moved to school age he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in the city. There he was mistreated, ridiculed and shamed. He served as the house boy, the shoe polisher, the janitor— the in-house slave child. By this time his father was prohibited from visits of any kind, and though he sent Zach clothes and shoes, it was the cousins that benefited from these gifts. Ruben could not have known that his only son was subject to daily abuse; being beaten with a rod, being forced to sit in solitary confinement without an evening meal, and finally worst of all in African culture, to not be allowed to attend school. He was, after all, as his uncle said, “stupid.”
By 1998 Zach was broken and bitter, and the future seemed bleak. Another family member sensed the relational problems and suggested to send him back to his dad, who was still around.
Indeed, Ruben was around. By 1998, Ruben had planted more than 10 churches in Malawi. Despite the gloomy predictions of poverty, Ruben also displayed diligence in the earthly field growing maize and beans. Though accompanied with difficulty, he kept the children from his second wife fed and in school. One can only imagine the tears and emotional upheaval when this poor pastor embraced his God-given son for the first time in a decade.
Providentially that year, for the first time ever, the ministry of Gospelink arrived in Malawi. Desiring to see the Gospel spread and lives changed through the knowledge of God, Gospelink began a quest for church planting preachers who had already been doing the work of the ministry. Ruben qualified. Ruben’s application was accepted, and Ruben became one of the first preachers sponsored by Gospelink! How did he use this new financial support? High school is not free in Malawi, without the sponsorship it is doubtful that Zach could have gone back to school, but not only did he hungrily return to education, he excelled.
“I am not coming to work for Gospelink for the money,” Zach once told me. “Gospelink helped my family years ago, and now I want to help this ministry.”
The education improved Zach’s English and gave him a new lease on life! In a handful of years, he subsequently met a missons team from South Africa. Impressed with Zach’s demeanor, a Christian couple offered to pay for Zach to be educated in South Africa, an implausible dream for any Malawian. By western standards this couple flourished in their family owned business, and Zach went from rags to riches. New clothes, a nice house, and even a BMW became his accessories.
After Zach graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, the family offered him a place in the business. The position and opportunity could never be exceeded in Malawi, but Zach’s heart must honor another contract regardless of circumstances. He had told God, His God, the only true God, that if given such an opportunity, then he would return to Malawi and serve his people.
I met Zach in 2009. His character, already forged by his Lord and life’s trials, prepared him for leadership at the Gospelink Malawi Training Center. Enormous amounts of capital from the United States have purchased tractors, solar panels, trucks, vans, buildings, and pavilions; but the character to manage people and to live in a rural setting where superstition and hypocrisy abound cannot be bought. Today Zach’s motivation flows from a God given desire to serve. He smiles as he regards the 43 children now living at Harvest Hope Home, saying, “Someday, they will lead this place.” He truly desires to make others successful. Daily he fears God, knowing that God is at work with these orphans, knowing God told us to subdue the earth, and knowing it is the glory and power of God that will cover the earth and heal the nations.
Zach and Ruben’s story is one small seed. Ruben is still planting churches and evangelizing. Their testimony has been scripted by the Lord of the harvest Himself. He orchestrated events to enable someone in America in 1998 to pick up a sponsorship of a national preacher for a few dollars, which in turn enabled a poor boy to go to school, which in turn. . . well you’ve already heard the story. But the fruit of that story is still growing because that is what God does! It is our privilege to be involved in the growth of the church, and in the growth of souls, by being involved with faithful national preachers who know God and trust Him to write the final chapters in their lives no matter how difficult they may be.