Mambilima Mission 1898 to 2017

Robert Muir, Cowdenbeath, Scotland

Mambilima means ‘the jumping waters’ and gets its name from the raging of the waters of the Luapula River over the rocky outcrop just above the village. Dan Crawford reached this point in his canoe as he and Grace were on a visit to the grave of David Livingstone. 

Mr. Pomeroy began the work and was joined by his sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson. These early days were turbulent as the political climate was tense. When the Andersons moved for health reasons, Dugald Campbell arrived and took over the work. Soon a house was built and a school room erected. Two church services were held every day and a school for children began. Soldiers, government servants, chiefs, children and adults attended the services. Against the background of the practice of witchcraft and lycanthropy, Campbell preached the good news of salvation for a number of years, but there was no response to the message.

With no results of believing faith in the Saviour, Dugald became despondent. In such a fit of despondency he called the elders of the village and announced that as no one believed the teaching he was going to move elsewhere. The elders listened but pleaded with him to stay. One elder said changes were taking place in the village and certain evil practices had been stopped. ‘No’, he said, ‘Do not leave us. Keep on preaching’. Campbell continued the work and a few Sundays later the movement came. 

The hall was packed to capacity and many had to stand to listen. Campbell preached, conscious that the Holy Spirit was working. There was a move in the congregation as a man stood up and raised his head. It was Mitamba, the witch doctor, who was known and feared by all. God had spoken to him and he was a troubled man. ‘Last night’, he said, ‘In despair I cried out to God for forgiveness and I trusted Jesus Christ for salvation’. He was now a new man in Christ and went on to prove it by his lifestyle. He was publicly baptized in the river and, in the weeks that followed, further confessions of faith were made and the church began. However, these were difficult days in the Luapula valley. Campbell suffered personally as his wife and child died at Luanza, and another two children were taken in death later. Beyond this, loneliness, and the incidence of malaria, diarrhoea, dysentery and black water fever all took their toll.

In 1905, Mr. and Mrs. W. Lammond joined the work, but Mrs. Lammond died from black water fever in 1906. In 1908, Mr. Lammond remarried and his new wife joined him in the work.

The gospel continued to be preached and its power was seen as devilish practices and native rites were abandoned by those who trusted the Saviour. Over this period, sixty-two men and women openly confessed faith in the Lord. As the gospel brought liberty in Christ, the reading of the word brought a change of behaviour in the home. 

The blessing they had experienced soon meant that the school room where they met was not big enough, but the people had a mind to give for the building of a hall. The women carried the water from the river, the men made the bricks and fired them, and in three months the hall was complete and debt free. 

Sadly, there was a set-back to the work when the government doctor found signs of sleeping sickness, and this spread, closing down the work. They were not allowed to return to Mambilima until 1922.

Soon after that return, in 1923, a new hall was opened and around 1,200 were present for that meeting and, on Lord’s Day, 200 broke bread. 

A little later, Miss Beatrice Fraser from Aberdeen joined the work as a registered nurse, Mr Charlie Stokes joined taking responsibility for the school work, and Miss Esther Woolnough came, being the first trained teacher for the girls. The schools developed and basic skills were taught, including the skill of making bricks and firing them in kilns, carpentry, shoe repairs, and soldering. Miss Woolnough encouraged the development of education for the girls, ultimately providing them with fifty New Testaments, having taught them to read. The medical work also developed under the leadership of Miss Fraser, and at least 100 patients were treated at the dispensary each day. The word of God was brought to the patients and staff each day.

In 1931, Mr. Swan laid the foundation stone for the ‘new’ school classroom, a building still in use today! In 1940, the school for blind children was opened and numbers increased until, in 1945, there were 1,030 pupils attending.

In 1944, Miss Woolnough left Mambilima for Mansa, but in that same year Meryl Shepherd joined the work, and was followed by her sister Elizabeth Shepherd in 1946. 1944 was also the year Noeline Stockdale arrived from Carlisle and took over the hospital, allowing Miss Fraser to retire. In 1949, Cathie Arthur joined the hospital work, and Archie Ross arrived and took over the school work.

As the work entered the 1950s, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Ford joined the work, and the work of the hospital and schools progressed. Later, Morag Anthony, and then Margaret Jarvis, arrived to strengthen the work.

Another milestone was reached in 1956 when the first edition of the Bemba Bible was produced, providing a complete Bible in the mother tongue. At the same time, a small radio station was commenced. However, in the years that led up to independence, increasing nationalism and anti-European feeling meant the police had to move in to protect the lady missionaries. Finally, on the 25th October 1964, Zambia became the ninth African state to gain independence from the British crown, and fortunately the change was conducted in a peaceful manner. Perhaps the greatest blow to the work came on the 24th of February 1968 when Mr. Lammond became ill and was taken into the presence of the Lord. For many, this was the end of an era.

It has been great to see the spread of the gospel in the last eighty-five years, much of that due to the African believers’ faithful witnessing to their fellow villagers of the Saviour, the message backed up by the change the love of God has brought into their lives. In 1982, there were forty-one churches and many had congregations of 200. Alongside those who spread the gospel, there were local believers who stood out in their ability to teach the scriptures. These included Henry Pandawe, Charles Muyembe, and Bwanga Jackson who have been used of God in teaching the word.

In 1983, Mark Davies arrived, followed by Shirley Thomson, and they were married at Mambilima in 1986. Soon after Dr. Martin and Naomi Cooper, Mr. and Mrs. Ken Hatcher, and Mr. and Mrs. Rod Boatman joined the work. They used their joint experience in administration, nursing and teaching to forward all aspects of the work at Mambilima. 

As work progressed into 1991, a hospital management team was set up to help run the hospital. Young Zambian men were brought onto the board of management for the hospital and the school, preparing them to take over the running of the establishments when overseas staff would no longer be there. By the end of 1996 all the missionaries had gone and local staff were in charge.

My first introduction to Mambilima was in 1997, while fleeing from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because the station was then without a missionary, and preparations were being made for Centenary celebrations in 1998, my wife, Margaret, and I were asked if we would go and host the visitors that were coming. Although the assembly at Kashikishi, north of Mambilima, were encouraging us to go and help them, we were aware of many areas at Mambilima where we could be involved. For example, the hospital required help and, as we were both nurses, we felt we could assist, especially in administration. We were also teachers and could help with the schools too. Finally, Margaret was fluent in the Bemba language, as she had previously spent time at Mambilima. Thus we settled for Mambilima and the assembly elders welcomed us into what became a busy but exciting and satisfying work. 

When we took over the mission we were conscious that, because of age, we had a limited time span. Whilst there was much to be done with regard to teaching the word of God, there were buildings and property that needed upgrading. During the next twelve years to 2012, improvements were made to the buildings. This included the building of an operating theatre, an out-patient department, wards for men and women, a new laboratory, a dental room and staff houses. Most recently, we have been able to build a new state-of-the-art maternity unit. Alongside these developments, every morning the word of God was preached over loudspeakers, and daily visitations were made by the evangelists and the believers to the patients. Thus, during their stay in hospital many came to faith in the Lord Jesus.

During this period, we also saw the school develop, starting as a school for disabled children in primary grades. Permission was given to expand into secondary school level. In 2004, Brass Tacks came, and, over a period of six months, a new building with six classrooms, assembly hall, teachers’ office and toilets were built. At the same time, the dining room was doubled in size, and the foundations for the new meeting hall for the church were laid. Working with the local builders they also developed their building, plumbing, and electrical skills. Since then, another three classroom blocks have been built. The high school now has around 300 pupils and the primary school has also increased to around 180 pupils, both able-bodied and disabled. The teachers at the schools are all believers, and most in assembly fellowship. Again, the word of God is brought to the children every morning, and it is great to know many of the children have trusted the Lord Jesus. We give God thanks for the liberty there is to teach the word of God both in school assemblies and in classes.

During these years we had the joy of commencing and teaching consecutive Bible study, which they love to call ‘Bible school’. At Kashikishi, mature students come for two months twice a year. Then at Mambilima they meet for two months twice a year. These are great times of fellowship and blessing as the scriptures are taught. Also, every second year, the Luapula conference is held here, and thousands attend for a week of Bible teaching, fellowship and singing. A group of local elders has now taken over the running of the site.

Since 2012, Margaret and I have been residing in Scotland and visiting Zambia once or twice a year. From those early beginnings when the gospel was first preached with no obvious fruit, now every second year around 10,000 will gather for one week in August to enjoy the word of God, fellowship and singing. We look back over the years and see God’s goodness.