Then and Now: The Spread of the Gospel in Zambia

Then and Now: The Spread of the Gospel in Zambia

When the Pilgrim Holiness Church opened up new mission work in Zambia (Northern Rhodesia at the time) in the early 1930s, three key initiatives were established: planting/building churches, building schools and establishing health facilities including a hospital and health clinics.

Soon after, a significant list of deeply impactful and devoted missionaries served the Church in Zambia, hoping to reach the country with the good news of the Gospel. The list begins with missionaries like Henry (Alfred) and Cora Reynolds in 1932, and stretches to today, with Cory and Kris Thede serving at Jembo Bible College.

“The Days of our Pilgrimage” by Paul Westphal Thomas and Paul William Thomas details that at the time the Pilgrim missionaries first arrived, one and a half million people were divided among seventy-three tribes, scattered across 290,323 square miles. Henry Reynolds and Paul W. Thomas (the General Secretary at the time) quickly found that they were the first missionaries most Northern Rhodesians had ever seen, and that they had never heard of Jesus Christ.

Today, the national church has grown tremendously under incredible Zambian leadership – praise be to God. The Lord has multiplied churches and disciples in a way that only He can, and continues to do so through the faithfulness of The Pilgrim Wesleyan Church of Zambia.

The Church of Zambia has 486 churches and 25,000 members, 25 schools (including one bible college and one college of Nursing), one hospital and three health centers. A Wesleyan university is currently in progress there as well.

Wilma (Cheney) Wissbroecker was one of many Wesleyan missionaries who served in Zambia, from 1964-1991. While there, she taught various grade levels, and for a while, served as a headmistress of a girl’s boarding school.

She spoke very highly of the students she felt privileged to teach, and noted that several students went on to lead in prestigious roles, from serving the government to leading The Pilgrim Wesleyan Church of Zambia!

Dr. Alfred Kalembo, who is the former National Superintendent/Bishop of the Pilgrim Wesleyan Church of Zambia, was one of Wilma’s beloved students. She said he even became a Christian while she taught a membership class.

This is also detailed in Dr. Alfred’s book, “Breaking Barriers: My Journey with Jesus,” where he notes that those in the new believers’ class affectionately called her “Aunt Wilma.” He also details her influence:

“I remembered Ms. Cheney’s words that Jesus would not force himself to come into my heart. I had to invite Him … Finally, in the middle of the night, I got out of my bunk bed and dropped to my knees and prayed to God. ‘Lord Jesus, if you are there and if you love me, please come into my heart and forgive me of my sins. Amen.’”

Rev. Fred and Carol Cromer, a missionary couple who began their service in Zambia as Wilma concluded hers, also have fond memories of Zambian church leaders, including Dr. Alfred.

Fred worked in theological development, while Carol first homeschooled their four children, and then began teaching women at the bible college. As their young family got started in Zambia, they ended up living in the same compound as Dr. Kalembo and his young family, who were beginning their own journey in ministry. Together, the two families grew and learned.

Though there were national leaders involved in every step of the church growth in Zambia, the Cromers were serving when some of the major transitions took place. For instance, when Fred served as “Mission Director,” he said part of his job included turning things over to the national church – something he was excited to do.

Bishop Juden Siachitema, the current National Superintendent/Bishop of the Church in Zambia, said he feels excited – and at times, overwhelmed – by the growing Church. Church numbers, schools and health facilities continue to expand, despite some financial challenges.

The schools have often operated as an avenue to disciple and train leaders, Bishop Juden said – in fact, most current Church leaders joined the church through the schools.

In order to continue developing strong Wesleyan leadership, there is a deep need for the upcoming Africa Wesleyan University, he added. Training and theological education will be much more attainable.

There are also hopes to employ a farm manager and to expand agricultural training in Zambia, as farming is one way the Church can become more self-sustainable.

“Almost 90% of our churches are in the rural areas where survival is by farming, and only about 10% in the urban area, where there are people who … tithe in monetary form,” Bishop Juden explained. He added that pastors in rural areas typically grow their own vegetables, and the churches support their pastors with food from their own farms.

This is one reason why Bishop Juden feels excited by the agricultural education Cory Thede is bringing to Jembo Bible College. Cory said that planting new kinds of fruit trees and establishing a plant nursery will help provide hope for future increases of income and nutrition. He also hopes that every church, parsonage and school will someday have dedicated medical gardens, produce gardens and orchards to benefit the churches and local communities.

There is deep gratitude that runs through the Church in Zambia, for the work that missionaries have dedicated themselves to over the years. Now, Bishop Juden said the goal is to reach a point where the Church can fully stand on its own.

“We are still on the back of the missionaries, like children who are on the back of their mothers, because most of our programs that are successful, there is a hand of the international church or … Global Partners,” he explained.

As the Church in Zambia continues working toward becoming more self-sustainable, please join us in praying for their leadership, education, financial provision and overall wisdom.

Additionally, if you or someone you know has ever served in or visited the Church in Zambia, please email us at – Bishop Juden would like to make sure they keep up with their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.