UK or Overseas?
It was in the Spring of 1969 that my wife Gillian and I were ushered into one of the meeting rooms of Wesley College Bristol, to meet a Committee made up of College staff and representatives of the MMS, (Methodist Missionary Society) to consider our “general offer”. For those uninitiated into the Methodist jargon, it meant that when asked whether we wanted to serve the church in UK or overseas, we had said, in effect, “Either, you decide,” to the powers that be. This general offer that we made was discussed by the Committee in our presence. “Do you realise,” said one member of College staff, “that this almost certainly means you will be stationed overseas? Are you ready for this?” We said, yes we were, and if they decided we were suitable for overseas work, we would like to go to….Zambia!
Why Zambia? You may wonder.
Well, I had become somewhat of a missionary enthusiast, and one of my heroes was Colin Morris, who had written about his ministry in what was until 1965 called Northern Rhodesia, and his battles against the white minority who had run the country. They were opposed to the African majority rule and independence that he and others knew was coming, whatever the white old-guard thought. Colin, as a young Methodist missionary, was a minister of the Free Church in Chingola, a mining town on the Copperbelt of Zambia. He had even put a big poster up outside his church saying “This church is colour blind”, much the annoyance of the predominantly white membership of the church. I had avidly read his books and heard him speak and I felt that I wanted to share in the new era in what, in 1965 became The Republic of Zambia.
In those days there were 3 “heroes” of mine at the MMS. Harry Morton and Pauline Webb and their commitment to African independence and to a new era of democracy and justice in southern Africa fired my imagination and played a big part in my decision to serve as a Methodist missionary.
United Church of Zambia
Well, the decision was made by the Committee and there was a recommendation that David and Gillian Curtis be offered to the United Church of Zambia, to serve the newly formed church; the appointment being made formally by the UCZ in this new era of partnership. The Synod of the UCZ agreed to our appointment to serve as Minister in the UCZ and I was stationed to serve in Luanshya Town Centre church for an initial term of 5 years . We actually arrived in Zambia in June 1971, two years later, Gillian having given birth to our first son Philip 6 months before we arrived.
After a couple of weeks in a small flat on the campus of the UCZ Ministerial Training College in Kitwe, another Copperbelt town, we were sent to do 4 months “language study” in the “CiBemba language cottage” at an old mission station in the CiBemba speaking Northern province of Zambia 500miles from the Copperbelt. After 4 months of happy relaxed language study, being taught by a Church of Scotland missionary who had been in the country many years, we returned to take over as Minister and spouse at Luanshya UCZ church, formerly called Luanshya Free Church. They still used Church of Scotland terminology with words like Consistory and Presbytery and they also used the Church of Scotland Hymnary. However, my immediate predecessor had been a Methodist Minister, so I soon found my feet. And that is how Gillian and I started our life as Methodist Missionaries.