‘Modern-day Livingstone’ ministers along the Zambezi River

Missionary Kenny Vines helps lead a Bible study with an aspiring church leader in a village along the Zambezi River. Vines and his wife, Lesley, are seeing doors open for the gospel in Zambian villages by focusing on direct outreach, community projects and spiritual multiplication. (Photo by Adam Covington/Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)


ZAMBIA (BP)—Elephants, antelope, hippos, crocodiles, buffalo and the occasional lion number among missionary Kenny Vines’ travel companions as he moves about his ministry in the African nation of Zambia.

On multiple occasions while on his way to a village for Bible study, he was cut off by a herd of elephants and had to travel another path. At other times during days of extended ministry, lions calling, hyenas laughing, elephants trumpeting and hippos bellowing provided the soundtrack to his nights as he lay in his tent.

‘Mister Livingstone, I presume’

Vines is “a modern-day Livingstone,” suggested Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Kenny Vines 300Along the Zambezi River, missionary Kenny Vines carries a vision to nurture villagers with hearts for evangelism. (Photo by Adam Covington/Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)“Tucked away in the most remote regions of Zambia, Kenny Vines and his family come close to reproducing the earliest experience of missions in Africa,” Patterson said, recalling the ministry of David Livingstone, a 19th-century explorer and missionary.

“Living far from stores or provisions, his wife (Lesley) cares for the family and, as a doctor, works with those in need of medical assistance. Kenny teaches the Bible, leads men to Christ and is frequently called when there is a lion, buffalo or elephant threatening people and they need a man with nerves of steel to face the challenge. Life for Kenny Vines and his family is more breathtaking than any novel that could be penned.”

Praying for God to open doors

Many Southern Baptists will pray for missionaries like the Vines family during the Week of Prayer for International Missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Dec. 3-10.

The Vineses have ministered along the Zambezi River in southern Africa since 2009. Deployed to Zambia about seven years ago, the couple eagerly prayed God would open doors to spread the gospel. Not long after they arrived, their prayer was answered for what would become the first of many times.

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While still in the language-learning phase of their deployment, Vines traveled to Luangwa, the village where he and his wife ultimately would be stationed, to explore the location and oversee the preparation of their home.

When returning to the language school, Vines stopped to pick up two people who were flagging his vehicle for a ride. As it turned out, his passengers were the wife of a chief and the chief’s aide.

“Later, when we moved to Luangwa, we went to see the chief and introduce ourselves to him,” Vines recounted. “That divine appointment with his wife and aide helped to pave the road to a great relationship with the chief. In our area, you need the chief’s blessing for all that you do, and because of how the Lord worked in the beginning, our ministry has been able to move and function in this area with no hindrance.”

Community ministries help establish relationships

One of the Vineses’ primary avenues for ministry is community endeavors, such as digging water wells, assisting in building projects and performing any other tasks a village might not be able to do alone. Such undertakings allow the missionaries to “get (their) feet in the door” and—they hope—begin Bible studies in villages with no church or missionary work.

The community ministry projects allow the couple to “show the love of Christ through actions,” as well as giving them “the ability to evangelize and teach a weekly Bible study in those villages,” Vines said.

“Community projects and community involvement are a great way to open doors of opportunity, as well as model faith and works,” he said.

Dealing with ‘problem animals’

Another ministry avenue unique to Vines’ Zambian mission field is assisting the Wildlife Department, serving as a volunteer the past three years. He often goes out at night to confront “problem animals,” he said. More than an opportunity for adrenaline-fueled adventure, these night calls open doors for spiritual conversation.

“When we head out on a call, we will oftentimes sit in the village around the fire for hours while we wait on the problem,” Vines said. “This gives me an insight into the village and culture that I cannot get via books or even an interpreter.

“Something happens when the sun goes down and you are sitting around the fire. People begin to open up in ways that I would never be privy to. In and through my relationship with the Wildlife Department, I have been able to peer into this culture, and God has given me so many new tools to use in sharing the gospel now that I didn’t have before.”

Sowing gospel seeds

The Vineses also teach in a local Bible school, volunteer at the village clinic, coach basketball at a nearby high school and provide one-on-one mentorship with aspiring church leaders.

In a weekly 30-minute radio program, Vines asks the community for questions—topics ranging from “Abaddon to Zion”—and offers answers from the Bible.

“This is a great form of broad seed-sowing since there is only one radio station in our area,” he said. “This means that for 30 minutes each Sunday evening, the gospel is being shared to everyone who turns on the radio.”

Making disciples who make disciples

In the midst of these efforts, one of the most rewarding aspects of the Vineses’ work is seeing people grow and mature in their Christian faith—including developing a zeal for evangelism.

“It is rewarding to see those whom you have trained show up at your gate and ask for more gospel tracts,” Vines said. “Then, as you say, ‘Sure,’ you are racing through your mind, trying to remember how you forgot that we were supposed to go out visiting today, when he says, ‘No, we aren’t going out.’ This is something he organized on his own. (It is rewarding) to see those whom you have mentored out doing the very thing, on their own, you have spent so much time teaching.”

Just as David Livingstone’s pioneer ministry beckoned others to follow in his evangelistic footsteps, so Vines encourages fellow believers to join him in spreading the gospel along the Zambezi River.

“There is an urgency to the call of sharing the gospel amongst these people,” he said. “But we can’t do it alone.”

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