The First Primitive Baptist Church of Tanzania, Africa.
I am Elder Sam Bryant, pastor of the Vestavia Primitive Baptist Church in Birmingham , Alabama. I have been asked to give a brief account of Elder Obey Ndalima of Tanzania, coming to the Primitive Baptist church, and the constitution of the first Primitive Baptist church in his homeland.
Born in Tanzania, east Africa in 1964, Brother Obey Ndalima came from a family who worshiped in spiritual darkness for generations. Idolatry was a great part of their religion. They were not exposed to Christianity in any form until Brother Obey's father, as a young boy, was converted to a belief in Jesus Christ around the year 1930 through the work of missionaries from the USA. In time, Bro. Obey's father was ordained to preach. He brought his family up in a Christian home and taught them all he had been taught about the Christian faith. He even gave his children Bible names, which is how Obey came to have his name. However, Brother Obey's father was illiterate, so what little he knew about the scriptures he learned only from the missionaries. This was true of most of the pastors in Tanzania at that time.
As he grew older, Brother Obey was not content with what he was learning in the churches in Tanzania. He had a desire to study the Bible and learn from the scriptures. His long journey to the Primitive Baptists began in 1998 when he attended a Bible college in South Africa for two years. Due to difficult circumstances and the cost of the school, he was ready to give up and go back home to Tanzania. According to Bro. Obey, he prayed fervently about forsaking his search for the truth and going home. Just a few days later he learned about a Bible college in Birmingham , Alabama , where native Africans could attend free of charge.
After a great struggle to obtain the money to travel to America , Brother Obey made arrangements to come to Birmingham , Alabama in the year 2000 on a student visa. Once in Birmingham, he attended Estonian Bible College. God opened a door for him to come to America and by faith he did so. He learned our language and many of our customs. His presence in America was made even more difficult by the fact that he could not obtain a visa for his wife and four children. The only time he was able to see his family was for six weeks each summer when he returned to Tanzania. Bro. Obey was not sponsored by a church, organization, or mission board. He related to me that his search for the truth was between Obey and God! While in America he worked at different jobs in the city to provide for basic necessities and to have money to send to his family in Africa .
While a student at the Bible college, he attended different churches in Birmingham but could not find a church where he felt at home. In March of 2004, he was attracted by the word "Primitive" on the church sign at Vestavia Primitive Baptist Church. He looked up the word in the dictionary but that did not satisfy his curiosity. Soon after seeing the sign at the church, he attended services at Vestavia and upon first arrival, encountered brotherly love, a comforting gospel message and a simple form of worship. He was impressed that there were no "market-driven tactics" to entice people to join and began attending every Sunday.
I met Brother Obey for the first time in April of 2004. While filling an appointment at Vestavia church, someone introduced him as Brother Obey from Africa. During the first week of May, 2004, I moved to Birmingham to assume the pastoral care of the church. On the first Sunday in May, my first Sunday as pastor at Vestavia, I saw him in the congregation. It would have been hard not to notice him as he was a tall African man, with a very strange accent, in an all-white congregation in the south!
In order to get to know Bro. Obey better, I invited him out for lunch. During our meal he told me that what I was preaching was answering questions he had for years. He related his confusion about the salvation of the dying thief. Bro. Obey had been taught that in order to go to Heaven you had to "accept Jesus", be baptized and live a righteous life until the end of your life. Yet here was this thief who did not have any good works and had never been baptized and Jesus said, "Today you are going with me to paradise." This indicated to me that Brother Obey was hearing and understanding the true gospel. God opened the door to the truth and by faith he walked in. That was very exciting to me! Brother Obey had been attending every Sunday since March. On May 16th, 2004 he came forward and asked for membership in the church. Although we were all surprised, the entire church gladly received him as a member. His humility, gratefulness and kindness had won the love and respect of the entire congregation. The Lord opened the door to the church and by faith Bro. Obey was obedient to walk in. What an example of obedience!!
During the next few weeks my discussions with Brother Obey increased. It was apparent that Bro. Obey had a vast knowledge of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, after having been in Bible College for 6 years (two years in South Africa ). As we studied together, we talked of how important it is to rightly divide the word of God. He was quick to embrace the doctrine of the unconditional election of God's children out of every nation and family and language. Early in our visits we talked extensively about our eternal salvation from an everlasting hell and the fact that this salvation is alone by the sovereign grace of God. We also spent many hours discussing a temporal salvation for the elect that is to a great extent based on our obedience.
As he studied, the scriptures opened up to him in a wonderful way. He learned to rightly divide the words "salvation" and "saved" in the Bible by asking the simple question, "Saved from what?" He related that this simple truth opened up the scriptures for him more than anything he had ever learned about the Bible. After weeks of discussion and teaching he was becoming grounded in the truth of salvation by grace. Eventually I began to call on him to speak to the church. This began on the first Sunday in September, 2004. God opened a door for Brother Obey to speak and by faith he walked through it! It soon became apparent that he had a great gift to teach. None of us at Vestavia knew where all this was going to lead but we were sure enjoying the journey.
Eventually I asked him to preach every Sunday afternoon. He loved to preach on the salvation of the dying thief. One of his favorite texts was the statement of Jesus on the cross, "It is finished". He asked a professor at the Bible college - "What part of 'It is finished' don't you understand!" He also enjoyed preaching on Romans 10:1. He said his heart's desire and prayer to God for Tanzania was that they might be saved from ignorance of the truth of salvation by grace alone! He could bear record that many in his homeland, even among the Muslims, showed evidence that they were children of God because they were bearing the fruits of the Spirit. He could see they had a zeal of God, even as he had possessed, but not according to knowledge. He was so happy to believe that many of his African ancestors would be in Heaven even though they were never blessed to hear the gospel and know the truth in this life!!
The missionaries who had gone to Tanzania had taught them that all who had not heard the gospel were lost. That meant that whole generations of his ancestors were in hell. Brother Obey believed that himself until he came to the Primitive Baptist church.
Brother Obey was very busy in his daily life. He attended school and worked at a restaurant near the church. However, we studied the Bible together as often as possible. I have never met anyone who showed so little resistance to the truth. He soaked it up like a sponge. It was so wonderful to see him excited about the ability to rightly divide the scriptures. I soon asked him to travel with me to various meetings in the area. He was graciously received at each meeting we attended. When he was able, I began to take him with me to meetings out of state. Everywhere he preached, he was blessed and won the respect of those who met him. As his knowledge and understanding in the word grew, so did his ability to speak.
During the months of studying and traveling together, Brother Obey and I became close friends. From his godly conduct, excellent manners and utmost respect for authority, Brother Obey was such a pleasure to be around. Blessed with a great sense of humor and a joyful personality, we enjoyed many times of laughter together. But occasionally I could see a far away look in his eyes. His time for graduation at the Bible college was approaching and he began to talk more and more about Tanzania.
Brother Obey loved America. One day when we were at the food court in a mall, he looked around at all the beautiful places and threw his hands up and said, "I love America!" He had been in the land of plenty for 5 years and he knew that only poverty awaited him in Africa. Many students who come here from Africa to study never return. But Brother Obey had a great burden and desire to return and preach the gospel of grace to his people. The spiritual treasure Brother Obey found in the Primitive Baptist church was worth immensely more than the material blessings of America.
Had it not been for the fact that Brother Obey's visa conditions required him to attend the Bible College, he would have quit the school to study daily with Primitive Baptist ministers. In spite of this, we continued to preach and study together. Upon graduation in July 2005, Brother Obey intended to return to Tanzania in August. In early July, Vestavia Primitive Baptist church voted to call for a presbytery of Elders to examine him and ordain him as a Primitive Baptist minister if they found him qualified. On Saturday, August 13th, 2005 , twenty six elders met at Vestavia to consider ordaining Brother Obey. The meeting house was filled to capacity, and a solemn spirit settled upon the proceedings. It was a day to be remembered. During the questioning phase of the examination, he answered over 20 questions about the beliefs of the Primitive Baptists and all the ministers present were satisfied with his soundness in doctrine and practice.
A few short days later, he left us, bound for his homeland to preach the gospel of salvation by grace. It was a mixture of joy and sorrow for so many of us who had grown to love this dear brother from East Africa. We were happy for him and for his family and for all the people in Africa who would be blessed through his gospel labors. The Lord blessed Brother Obey to have a safe trip back home. He sent us word as soon as he could that he had made the journey without trouble and all his luggage arrived. Immediately he began to preach to those who would listen. A door was opening already for him to preach the truth in Africa and by faith he was walking through it to share the truth he had searched so long to find.
It is interesting to note that over 600 people attended a series of services where Brother Obey spoke in his home province shortly after he returned to Tanzania. He often visits this area which is a twelve hour drive from his present home in Dar Es Salaam. He hopes the day will come when he will be blessed to constitute a church in this part of Tanzania.
I made arrangements to visit Brother Obey in May of 2006. Along with Elder Charles Kitchens and Elder Paul Blair, we left for Tanzania. Traveling with these two precious brothers was a blessing. I am sure that each of us could write a book about our trip, but at this point I will only mention a few highlights. Along with his wife, his children, and about twenty of those attending worship services in his home, Brother Obey met us at the airport in Dar Es Salaam , Tanzania. They were all so kind and excited to have us in their country and we were delighted to be there.
Around midnight we arrived at the place where we would be staying. We were very tired, after having been up almost thirty hours. The next day we traveled by car around the city. I felt such a heavy spirit of depression settle over me because of the extreme poverty that existed there. However, that evening when we arrived at the little tent where the worshippers were gathered and already singing, my heart rejoiced to hear their beautiful voices singing hymns that sounded so familiar. They were not singing in English but we could recognize the tunes. One they loved to sing was "Pass Me Not Oh Gentle Savior". There were about forty-five people at this service.
For the next nine days we preached and traveled and helped to baptize twenty-four people in the Indian Ocean. Brother Obey translated every sermon we preached. I teased him and said, " Now you are finally preaching some good sermons!!" He translated with great enthusiasm. We rode on a crowded bus twelve hours one way to visit Obey's parents and preach in his father's church. His father has not seen the truth about salvation by grace but was very kind and respectful to us and expressed a great appreciation for us helping his son while he was in America. It will be a great day in Brother Obey's life if his father is ever converted to the truth!
On our last day there, we constituted the First Primitive Baptist Church of Tanzania. This was followed by a communion and feet washing service under the little tent with the grass floor where they meet. After this service ended, Brother Charles, Brother Paul, and I made arrangements for someone to cook and serve supper for the congregation. Darkness had fallen and we had to eat by candlelight. It was a great joy to share some material blessings with this precious group of Primitive Baptists who struggle each day just to survive. It was a simple meal to us but a rare feast for them.
Brother Obey asked me more than once if they looked like a real Primitive Baptist church. He wants to be faithful to the trust that has been placed in him to represent the true church of our Lord in Africa. I can say that all of us from America were so pleased with what we saw and felt. There is no question that the Lord has opened a door for His own glory.
Since May, Brother Obey has informed me that many more have begun to attend services and request baptism. The church in Tanzania is growing in grace and in knowledge. Other religious groups have taught so many Africans that their forefathers are all in hell because they did not have the gospel. The message of the Primitive Baptist church is so much more refreshing - that God's people will be in heaven because of what Christ did and not what they do. Elders Tim McCool and David Crawford are planning to visit Brother Obey on October 16th of this year. Please pray that God will bless them with a safe and profitable journey as they endeavor to preach the gospel and assist Brother Obey in his gospel labors.
God blessed Brother Obey to understand that the word "Primitive" on our church sign, meant "first" or "original". His love for the doctrine and obedience to the commands of God has helped him to truly live up to the name his father gave him - Obey. He has been faithful and obedient to walk through every door God has opened for him. God is still on the throne and continues to open doors. I believe He opened a door for us to preach the gospel in Tanzania through the prayers and faithfulness of Brother Obey. I trust you will continue to pray for this work of faith and labor of love in Tanzania. And please pray for the church in America. We long for God to open doors of utterance here in our land. The church in America does not need to be reformed but it truly needs to be revived!
In closing, I would like to express my appreciation for all the prayers that have been offered up on behalf of this work, and for all the encouragement we have received from Primitive Baptists all across America .
By God's grace,
Elder Sam Bryant
October 12, 2006