Many things I am and so happy to be: Husband, father, employer, employee, Uncle, in-law, friend, Zambian and etc. But none can match this one thing: I am a child of the Almighty King! I am twenty seven years in Him today! Yes, twenty seven years ago on this day,
Jesus found me, washed all my sins away.
(Ray Munsaka, on Facebook, February 13, 2014)
God is sovereign. Yes He is. This is the truth, more than any other, which comforts our hearts. And yet, in our humanness, we must admit that there are seasons in our lives when it is not EASY to believe that our sovereign God is faithful. When our faith is sorely tried, our eyes bedimmed with tears, and we struggle to trace the outworkings of His love, God’s sweet and still small voice begins to grow faint. That voice which is always there, becomes barely audible.
The death of a cherished brother and friend, RAY MUNSAKA, has come like a deep stab to the hearts of many. It was early morning in Zambia, Saturday, April 12th, 2014 when my wife Shupe phoned me and told me that Ray had gone to be with the Lord. The previous day, he had been involved in a road traffic accident on the dreadful Chingola - Kitwe road. He was admitted to the Nchanga South Hospital in the ICU. My hope and prayer, like many other brethren, was that the Lord might spare the life of our brother and give him back to us well again. Sadly, It was not to be.
Being on the other side of the globe, (I am writing this from the USA), it was just before midnight when the call of Ray's homegoing came from Shupe. I felt numb. So suddenly, so unexpectedly, our brother was gone. Sleep eluded me, tears just continued to stream down my face. I groaned all night, struggling to make sense of what had happened. The pain of this tragedy just overwhelmed me in this distant, foreign land. Yes, I have no doubt he has gone to a better place. He is no more to experience the frowns and aches of this world, but in my heart, my raw emotions cry for his presence still – my mind struggles to deal with the reality of this loss – gone so early and so soon.
Ray and I, with tongue in cheek, referred to ourselves as Reformed Baptists untimely born. Our pedigree, as some of our not too amused peers observed, could not be traced to any of the reformed powerhouses of our country. We were like a root out of dry ground. “Could anything good come out of Nazareth?” Some may have enquired. Yes, from our Nazareths, by God’s grace we sprung up, loving and cherishing the doctrines of grace that shaped our worldview and tremendously strengthened our faith, sharing a kindred spirit.
It didn’t take long from the time we met 17 years ago for our hearts to be knit together with strong bonds of brotherly love, thanks in part to my wife who was already good friends with Ray and Martha from their UNZA days. Over the last 17 years, our friendship had not only blossomed between the two of us, but between our wives as well. Visits into each other's homes were many and lovely. Our bedrooms were not sacred and restricted places we kept away from each other, and so were our hearts. To be in Ray’s company was always a delight; a memorable occasion. There was never a dull moment between us. The laughter, the theological musings, football, marriage, parenting, etc. What is it that we never talked about? I must confess though, that sometimes I felt envious of my brother whenever we were together. Ray was a very handsome man, and it was not difficult for people to second-guess who between the two of us deserved a second, third, and fourth look. So I seemed to be always in his shadows, eclipsed by his presence. Strangely, he was hardly, if at all, ever conscious of his fair physical appearance.
There is so much I can say about Ray, but let me just share with you my few and fond memories of this beloved brother and friend.
1. His Intellectual Capacity
Ray was a very intelligent person. He had an awesome brain, great learning, and wisdom. This was God's acknowledged gift to him. He thought analytically and logically about issues, and applied his mind fully to solving any complex situations. I have met few men with Ray’s brains.
And that intelligence was used to God’s glory as he pored over God’s word for many hours to seek to understand it before he could stand before God’s people to teach or preach. He was painstakingly detailed, and studied God’s word with the precision that people in his profession are known for. I remember him a few years ago, posting a picture on Facebook, smartly dressed in a jacket and tie. Underneath the picture was the caption: "In the study, dressed up for preaching. Better preach undressed than unprepared." That was not just meant to be humorous, that's how he applied his heart and mind to the task of preaching. Did you know that Ray could write, read and speak German fluently? An intellect indeed.
2. His Thriftiness and Innovativeness
These two characteristics also attest to Ray’s mental sharpness. He used the available resources carefully, not wanting to waste anything at all. Like the Saviour he loved, who instructed His disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12), Ray, using his engineering mind never discarded anything. His philosophy was, “nothing is ever useless…its usefulness might not be apparent today, but it will sure be useful one day.” The garage at his house is full of stuff that many of us would have gotten rid of years back, but not Ray. His inventive mind was always devising ways by which “the stone which the builders rejected could become the cornerstone.” And we saw much of what might be called junk, with time, becoming useful. Some people may not know that much of the plumbing works and other fittings in their new house, were not done by a hired craftsman, but by the skillful hands of Ray. When he talked about certain ideas, they seemed so lofty to some of us, and our little faith could not see any life in those ideas, to our shame. What that mind dreamed of, and came to be, can only be described as the work of a genius. Money was saved by putting his mind to good use. He contributed his fair share in fulfilling the cultural mandate to subdue the earth.
3. His Culinary Taste and Abilities
Ray was a great cook! I must admit that he always made me feel ashamed of my own ineptitude in this area. With an apron hanging around his neck and draped over his chest, he would from time to time break a conversation while we sat in the living room, and dash into the kitchen to check on what he was cooking. When the food was finally served, it was of the finger-licking, tongue-biting quality. Sheer brilliance from a man who had recently declared himself a vegetarian!!!
4. His Humble and Saintly Spirit
If you thought of engineers as people who knew very little about human interaction, you are wrong, well at least with regard to Ray. He was not an icy cold, typical engineer, sure of himself, with very little or no relational skills. Ray knew what it meant to be a Christian and to be human and to care about people. He was endlessly patient, courteous and gentle. A great encourager, always overflowing with goodwill.
When I was leaving Central Baptist Church in Chingola to take up the pastorate of Trinity Baptist Church in Kitwe in 2001, Ray was moving in the opposite direction. He was leaving Kitwe for Chingola to take up a new job, and he and his family quickly settled at Central Baptist Church. In no time, he won the confidence of the elders and the church and was elected into the eldership.
A loving husband, a godly father, a humble servant of Christ, a mentor – and he fulfilled all these roles with excellence and a saintly spirit. One day, a few years ago, from the blues, Ray shared with me that he was thinking of stepping down from the eldership because he felt he was inadequate for this lofty office. I was shell-shocked. Here was man so gifted and fitted for the office and yet thinking so little of himself. What self-effacing humility!! Unpretentious, he always had his eye focused upon one thing - the glory of God.
He was a magnanimous individual. He was a Manchester United fan, and I am an Arsenal supporter. At not time did he make me or any one who did not support his team uncomfortable. He was gracious and inoffensive in everything he said and did. Those who followed his posts on Facebook know how he combined seriousness with lightheartedness in all his posts. Being a humorous person that he was, he never was frivolous, nor did he say anything with an appearance of evil in the use of social media.
In September last year, Ray and Martha came to see us in Lusaka. There was something they wanted to discuss with us. That night we went to bed way after midnight. Ray had struggled for a while over his sense of call to the gospel ministry. That night, as we talked, it was clear that he and his wife had now overcome their struggles, and were ready to launch into the deep and serve the Lord. I had no doubt in my mind, what an excellent pastor Ray was going to be; and what a suitable helpmeet Martha was going to be as she supported her husband in the ministry when that time came. But the Lord knew better, my cherished dreams of my dear friend serving with me in this calling was not to be. The body of Christ was not to be blessed with the pastoral ministry of this saintly man of God.
Martha, Munanga, Daniel and Khumbo. I may not be with you in person to share in your grief and pain. I write from a distant land, but please know that my heart is with you, and my prayers are being lifted up to the Father above on your behalf. The God who has taken away your husband and Father, is the sovereign God of the universe, and He will walk with you through the valleys that lie ahead. May He cause you to realize that even behind a frowning providence, somewhere and somehow, He has hidden a smiling face.
As we mourn our brother’s home call, this one thing is certain - that our loss is his infinite gain. He rests in the glorious company of the Lord he loved and faithfully served. Ours is to cheerfully submit to the Divine Will, and express our deepest gratitude to God for His goodness to the Church in Zambia in giving to us such a dear brother. We rejoice that his Christian life was hallowed and made sweet and precious to our hearts in the various relations which he sustained to many of us.
Let me end with a quote from Ray himself in his Facebook post of February 11th, 2014:
If one dies in his prime, we tend to say,
“He died before he achieved his purpose,
Death cut him before he reached his high.”
But for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, nay,
It was by death He achieved His purpose,
For He was born so He could die,
The manger was there for the cross,
And Golgotha can never be a loss,
By dying He cleansed our dross,
So sin should not be our boss.