by Phil Towse
Phil and his wife Gwen, along with their three children Anna, Ben and Levi, serve the Lord at the Sakeji Mission School in Zambia, after moving there in August 2010.
My parents, Dick and Barbara Towse, came to Zambia in 1967 and I was born in a mission hospital here. With my two siblings, my early years were spent at Sakeji Mission School – it has held a special place in my heart ever since.
The Lord first grew an interest in Zambia in Gwen’s heart while she was at university. Subsequently, she carried out an elective hospital placement in the country, just before she qualified as a physiotherapist.
Shortly after we were married, we spent 18 months working in the Zambian Copperbelt in construction. During this time, we visited Sakeji. We both felt burdened about serving at the school and thought we could make regular short trips to that end. Then, unexpectedly, circumstances changed and we had to move back to the UK.
The Lord used various events and Scripture verses to lead us back to Sakeji. In 2009, we both felt the Lord’s call. Although Gwen was convinced of His leading, she was reluctant to move continents again as the children were settled.
The Lord gave Jeremiah 29:11 to her several times, reassuring her that, if we followed His plan, we would never lose out. How Gwen smiled when she saw this verse on the fridge of the first house we entered at Sakeji!
The next question was when should we go? That month, quite unexpectedly, my teaching contract was terminated. This news was a shock as I had been promoted just a few months before. We took this as clear direction of our imminent departure. Initially, we planned to wait for the necessary work permit to be granted, but, as we prayed, we felt the Lord asking us to exercise faith. So, we packed up our life in the UK and flew to Zambia, with only a visitors’ visa in hand. Two months after we arrived, our work permit was approved! Since then it has been successfully renewed biannually.
Sakeji is a unique school, used mightily by God over the past 92 years. It was founded by Dr Walter and Anna Fisher, who served at Kalene Mission Hospital. The Fishers had sent their children back to the UK for education, and, by taking their furloughs separately, their children were never more than three years without seeing one of them. They dreamt that one day there would be a school in Central Africa to which children of missionaries might go, instead of being sent back ‘home’, or the parents having to leave the mission field for their children’s education. The Lord answered their prayers, and provided the necessary funds and personnel to begin the work.
In 1925, the school opened with only one pupil! Since that day, the number of students has fluctuated. In the mid-1970s to 1980s there were around 120 students; this year we have 83. The initial vision of the school was to educate ‘missionary-kids’ and, when I was a pupil, they comprised 90% of the students. Today, they make up a small percentage, with the majority from Zambia and other backgrounds. Some are children of Zambian mission workers, others of believing parents from assemblies and evangelical churches, who wish their children to be taught in a Bible-based school with high moral and academic standards. Others’ parents are doctors, nurses and support workers on mission stations, or they live in places where there are no local schools that can give their children a high standard of education.
Sakeji is a boarding school for Grades 1-9 aged 5 to 16 and teaches for 34 weeks of the year. The curriculum is Bible-based and mixes British, North American and Zambian curricula. The staff are all assembly-commended workers from around the world. Currently, there are seven qualified teachers and eight others working in administration, catering, maintenance, nursing and as dorm parents. The Lord has wonderfully provided staff over the years and several, including myself, trusted the Lord while studying at Sakeji. The school benefits from the help of short-term workers and employs around 40 local people in catering, cleaning, gardening, laundry and maintenance. Each day begins with a devotional time for the local workers and it has been a joy to see some of them saved.
We have tremendous freedom to share God’s Word. Devotions before breakfast are followed by a school assembly, where the students learn a character quality, and see examples of this in the Lord’s life and in the lives of His servants. Scripture class is often the first of the day and memorising Bible verses is integral – many students can recite over 100 verses by the end of each year! On Sundays we have morning and afternoon Sunday school. The older students also attend a local gospel meeting, and join the staff for ministry and evening fellowship once a month. Each evening closes with a devotional time within the dorms.
Gwen and I are involved in several areas of school life. As well as being a full-time mother to our three children (another son, Levi, was born in 2012), Gwen teaches classes, supports other teachers, and
helps with after-school activities and in supervision. I teach the older students in Grades 8-9 and oversee the academic side of the school. I also share responsibility for weekly, whole-school assemblies, and devotions to students and staff. Our workload varies depending on staffing levels. As the need arises we have helped in the boys’ dorm, with the catering and in covering the head teacher’s role. There are countless opportunities for willing servants at Sakeji!
At times we feel quite stretched, but the Lord has always supplied what is needed. God is faithful – Lamentations 3:23.
It has been an immense privilege to see many students saved and baptised. In a country where corruption, immorality and witchcraft are prevalent, even among educated people, it is a great opportunity to instil God’s Word into these young lives. Think of the impact these students can have on their communities as well-educated Christians committed to serving the Lord! When we consider these students to be the future of the Lord’s work – as exemplary citizens of Zambia and throughout the world – it fills us with awe at the responsibility. The school’s motto, ‘Tu Vero Permane’ (‘But continue thou…’), is a summary of 2 Timothy 3:14-15. We thank the Lord for many students who live lives for His glory.
We have been a part of some amazing works of God at Sakeji; however, we also face many challenges. One of the first things we learnt, and are still learning, is that God brought us to Zambia to change us more than we would ever change anyone else. James 1:22 reminds us to ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only’. As we live in a very close-knit community, being observed by students and fellow-workers 24/7, we cannot teach one way and live another. Also, where the Lord’s work abounds, the devil is very active. We must constantly be on our guard, especially when it comes to relationships with others.
We have a desire to reach out to the wider community with the gospel, see assemblies grow and the Lord’s work furthered throughout the country. We are thankful
for the opportunities to lead weekly Bible lessons at an orphanage, to teach in the local high school, and at conferences and camps. However, there are countless other opportunities locally and the need is great. Achieving a work-life balance is a challenge. We both desire to learn Lunda, the local language, but making time to study is difficult. Furthermore, there is much about the Lunda tribe that we do not understand; it takes wisdom to show respect and dignity, but also to correct when biblical principles are not being followed.
Sakeji is situated in a very remote area. There is no link to the national grid, no running water, sanitation facilities or tarmac roads and no supermarkets. Although a challenge, we praise God for the available infrastructure, a testimony to the expertise of many individuals over the years. We are grateful for Zengamina, a hydro-electrical power station, which provides us with 24-hour power. We are thankful to friends overseas who send supplies and for those who support Sakeji financially, thus enabling this great work to continue. We give thanks for individuals who have sacrificed their time to come and help, and for the continuing prayers of God’s people.
We are deeply humbled to be a part of Sakeji, a place God has used for the eternal blessing of many. One sows the seed, another waters it, but it is God alone who gives the increase.
- for continued freedom in Zambia to share the gospel
- for daily divine wisdom for how best to serve the students
- for more qualified teachers who have a real heart for the Lord, to come and share in this amazing work.