A home-grown talent full of vitality

The New Apostolic Church Zambia is certainly worth a closer look, and not only because it is hosting this year’s Pentecost celebration. The District Church is the second largest in the New Apostolic Church in terms of membership and it was established by an African. And then there is still its music that Zambia is so well known for …

The working area of District Apostle Charles Ndandula, which also includes Zimbabwe and Malawi, is comprised of 1.4 million members. The Church in Zambia alone accounts for more than 1.1 million. Only the New Apostolic Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo tops that.

A student assumes his teacher’s name

Zambia is not your typical example of classic New Apostolic missionary work. In many other countries, the Church was founded by European or North American ministers. This was not the case in Zambia. It was an African who brought the New Apostolic doctrine into the country: the later Apostle George Henwood Mkandawire.

George Mkandawire was born around the year 1900 in Nyasaland (modern Malawi). His parents were able to send him to school. He was a gifted and unusually ambitious student and took on the name of his teacher: Henwood. When this teacher was transferred to Cape Town, George decided to leave his parents and join his mentor and go South Africa with him and his family. This is where he met his later wife, through whom he became New Apostolic. In the congregation of Athlone it quickly became obvious that this was a very active member.

Aid organization honours founding father

In 1928 George Henwood Mkandawire—in the meantime he had been ordained a Deacon—settled in Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia). Following his ordination as a Priest, he began to baptize the first souls and thus laid the foundation for the first congregations: first in Livingstone, the country’s capital at the time, and then in Lusaka, today’s capital. The doctrine soon spread throughout the country. In 1954 George Henwood Mkandawire was ordained as an Apostle, the first black Apostle in the history of the New Apostolic Church.

The Church in Zambia commended its founding father in a special way. In 2003, it established a humanitarian aid organization and named it Henwood Foundation. The foundation’s declared aim is to contribute to a reduction in poverty by ensuring food security in the region. The foundation also supports and promotes training projects and health programmes, in particular the fight against HIV/Aids.

A surge in growth calls for a communion wafer bakery

On Christmas Day 1955, Apostle Henwood sealed an 18-year old young man who would become well known in the New Apostolic world: Duncan Burton Mfune. With this ordination not only the first black District Apostle was appointed but also a church leader who managed to give the development of the Church in Zambia a big boost. When he started out, there were about half a million New Apostolic Christians. By the time he retired, this number had more than doubled.

The course set by him—which includes the founding of such organizations as the Henwood Foundation—is being continued by his successor, Charles Ndandula. One of the projects promoted by him is the communion wafer bakery that opened in Zambia in 2012, the third such bakery of the New Apostolic Church. From 1931 on practically all congregations were supplied with communion wafers from a bakery in Bielefeld in Germany. In 2003 then a communion wafer bakery opened in Cape Town in South Africa and started to supply Zambia. Since 2012 Zambia has been producing its own wafers in Lusaka.

What gourds have to do with singing

And then there is the music … Right from the beginning, singing played a big role in the Church in Zambia. At first it was very distinct and traditional music and included songs for choirs in which the basses sang into gourds to produce more volume. Since there was generally a lack of notated music at the time, the choir leaders learned and memorized the various parts and sang them to the choirs, who would reproduce what they heard.

The turning-point for the choirs came in the early 1970s with District Apostle Andrew Fernandes. Among the district leaders he discovered two musical talents. One of them was a certain Duncan Burton Mfune, whom he entrusted with developing the music and the repertoire in the district. Many other good conductors followed, not least from South Africa

How the choirs in Zambia sound today, is something Chief Apostle Richard Fehr described in a circular to the Apostles following a visit to Zambia, “When a choir of more than a thousand voices sings, it feels like a spiritual earthquake.” By the way, the choir that will sing during the Pentecost service will be 2,500 voices strong.

The New Apostolic Church in Zambia has a lot to offer in the way of musical talent. One such talent is shown in this video: Asfold Mudenda, a four-year-old, is leading the choir and orchestra in Lusaka. The clip was first published on Youtube in October 2010.

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Andreas Rother
21.05.2015