When I was a young Christian, I often wondered why my understanding of the biblical text was so different to that of most common pastors and preachers. Back in my boyhood days, the calling and ministry that was the envy of many was the ministry of the evangelist. Everyone wanted to preach like the evangelist because that was the gift that was associated with power. We used to see evangelists preaching the Gospel, healing the sick and expelling demons. Those days, healing the sick and expelling demons was associated with the ministry of the evangelist outside the church. The churches had no problem understanding the evangelist’s ministry that way, as a ministry to the lost and unsaved outside the church walls.
However, I used to wrestle with the thought of the evangelist’s ministry in the church. It appears, most people had totally shut the ministry of the evangelist as one that has no bearing in the church. It was normal to hear pastors say, “If you are an evangelist, go outside the church, don’t try to come here and evangelize.” As a youth, my continued interest was in reading and studying God’s Word. After my conversion to Christ, I had resolved to pursue a study of the Scriptures and understand what they taught. So when I approached one of my pastors and began to share with him my desire to study at a theological school, he laughed at me and said, “You know what Ernest? There is no reason for evangelists to go to a theological school. All you need is the power of the Holy Spirit in evangelism.”
Despite him sounding convincing, I felt that what he shared with me was just an assumption and not the real stuff. He went on, “Those that have gone to theological schools have lost the urge of the Spirit. And I am afraid; you will come back and be a briefcase minister. You are still very young; bible schools won’t admit you unless you are over 21 and understands the nature of your calling.” This time, he sounded very convincing. However, with my stubbornness, I asked him which schools I could apply so that I could hear directly from them. He suggested a few schools with a pessimistic tone.
Going through the list, I discovered one that one of my uncles was studying. He was at his second year at Pentecostal Bible College. I went to him and shared my vision, and he encouraged me to apply. However, he said that it was important for me to first finish high school and then applies for studies. For me it will be too late. I had a serious passion for study. I felt that there was something wrong in the way I understood Scripture and how pastors were teaching since most of our views were conflicting. I wanted to find out what their problem was or what my problem was. So I sent in my application but did not include my age in the application letter. A week later, the postman brought some good news in the mail. I filled in the application forms with haste, took the registration fees and went to PBC.
When I got there, I found my uncle standing by the gate, just leaving the library. I informed him that I had come to register; he looked at me and saw how serious I was. Then he said, okay, let me take you to the Administrator. In the Administrator’s office, she looked at my application form and then on me. She asked, “How old are you?” I responded, “12.” She studied my innocent face for some time, and then she said, “We cannot admit you. You should be at least sixteen years of age to apply for a place to study. In the meantime, we would put your application on hold.” I was devastated. There was nothing I ever wanted in this world as getting admitted at the Bible College and study for ministry. My uncle tried to comfort me, and he assured me that the short bible correspondence courses that I was talking from Global Literature Lifeline, Emmaus Bible College, Zimbabwe Christian College, Zimbabwe Mailbox Bible Correspondence Club, SOON and Emmanuel Press where good enough for me if I could get serious with my studies. They would save as preparatory classes while I waited the age of admission at PBC.
Ever since my coming to Christ a year before, I had mesmerized myself in the study of the Bible through correspondence courses. I had laid hands on several courses, books and pamphlets that I could literary find. I had found a tattered Gideons International New Testament in the rubbish bin and I had devoured it like a starving man. I pressured my mother into buying me a complete Bible and she denied. She claimed that my new found faith was so extreme. That Christmas, I refused to allow her to buy me new clothes as was the habit, and made it clear that I needed a complete Bible. She refused to buy the Bible and didn’t buy the new clothes for me, except for my brother.
I wrote to the Mailbox Club and told them I needed a Bible, they suggested I should send them stamps for $2.80. I didn’t have that money so I was in a serious crisis. The correspondence courses I took could simply reference some verses or quote a few phrases. I needed information and I needed to see what is really written in the text. I think I am a naturally gifted teacher, I pay attention to detail and I wanted to cross check the verse with the Bible and I didn’t have one. One day, new Bibles were bought at the primary school where I was doing my sixth grade. They were some Good News Bibles to use for the Religious and Moral Education class. I went to the teacher and asked him for my own personal copy. Mr. Mutombwa was a very generous man, but he declined my request. Left with no choice, I stole my first copy of the Bible. When I got home, my mother asked me where I had gotten the Bible. I told her that it was from school and I was going to read it until she bought me a Bible or until my teacher has forgotten about it. I preached from the Good News Version for two full years before it was also stolen from me.
My uncle kept me inviting me to their school. He would recommend some books, borrow them from the school library and gave me to read. As a result, every week, I had a habit of finishing one theological book. My study habits were formulating. I started asking questions and doubting some theological views. I was in the Pentecostal tradition, but the more I checked the Scriptures, more Pentecostal teachings and practices were found wanting. Yet, this is the denomination that I was in, and up to now, I have attended the same church ever since I was eleven. I have some fine friends in the Pentecostal camp that I sharply disagree with when it comes to their understanding of Scripture and its interpretation, but I understand that they are merely matters of opinion.
When I was fourteen, I stumbled upon an old copy of Benson Idahosa’s biography Fire in His Bones by Ruthane Garlock at Christ For the Nations Institute in Dallas Texas. I read the book at one sitting. The book was very encouraging and motivational. I learned about the CFNI extension studies program, and applied immediately. Since I knew that my age could disqualify me, I did not indicate my age on the application forms to make it look like someone had forgotten it. In two months time, two full boxes of over 100 bible curriculum books hit my house. I devoured the books and successfully completed the program in a year and there I was with my first earned academic certificate in Biblical studies. The CFNI program helped me so much and it became foundational for my future theological studies. The issues it raised and questions it left in me made me to hunger more for learning.
I have always understood my calling as an evangelist. However, it looked like back in my boyhood days, some pastors did not believe in the proper training of evangelists in the word of God. Theology was viewed with suspicion and pastors who came from theological schools were usually looked down upon as those men that have learned the ways of men and lost the Spirit. They would mock saying, “Are you a pastor or a man of God.” For many in the churches, the word “pastor” meant one who was trained to be a pastor. They saw the trained clergy as those people who depended more on books than the Spirit. Those days, very few pastors had studied to the Bachelor’s level in theological studies. Once a pastor had graduated with a Diploma, it was considered to be the end.
I too wanted a Diploma. I thought if I could get a Diploma, I would have significantly achieved my theological quest. However, I was still fourteen and it would mean two more years before I set my foot in a theological classroom. So what did I do? I did not idly sit down hoping days would fly. I set my heart to seek for theological books. I would do part time jobs and purchase books. Those days, America was generous. If you would request theological literature from some ministries, they would supply you with used books or new books. However, if you would state that you were a pastor, they would give you more than an ordinary believer.
By the age of fifteen, I had one of the biggest libraries an average African pastor could own. My volumes numbered thousands. Most theological students and pastors would come and borrow my books. Sadly, those that were borrowed would be returned in bad shape or would be stolen. One pastor who was using a full house asked me to move my library into his house because it would be safe there. Since I respected him, I moved all my 2,500+ volumes into his home. After 2 years, not even a single book was recovered. The pastor had many stories to tell, but at home, I had again started gathering a new library. I am a natural born reader and my passion for books is so strong. I love reading; I love writing. Back in my teenage years, I was good at it and my eyes were still good. These days, my eyes seem to be growing weary, but as long as I have opportunity, my best and loyal friends are my books.