The church of Barotseland had its origins in the work of the "Paris Evangelical Mission" (PEM) with its mainly French and Swiss missionaries whose mission had been in Lesotho for many years, and by the 1870s they saw possibilities in working north of the Zambezi with people who, because of the population shifts of the 19th century, were familiar with the Sotho language.
After expeditions by the famous pioneer missionary Francois Coillard to Barotseland, a mission station was established about 80 miles upriver from the Victoria Falls at Old Sisheke (now Mwandi) in 1885. In the following year, Sefula mission was started a further 200 miles upstream near Lealui, the headquarters of Lewanika the Lozi King. In 1892 Lealui Mission Station was opened and most of the PEM's work was in that general area.
Coillard and the other European missionaries were accompanied by Sotho Christians, who must also be recognized as pioneer missionaries. Although the Sotho language was known in Barotseland, the climate and much of the culture were unfamiliar and challenging for them, along with diseases, such as malaria, that were not present in their mountainous homeland.
The mission became the Church of Barotseland but later in 1964, under the name Evangelical Church of Barotseland, the church became independent. Later in 1965, the church merged with other churches shortly after Zambia’s independence to form The United Church of Zambia. The churches in this union were; The Church of Central Africa, Rhodesia (a mission work of the Church of Scotland), the Union Church of Copperbelt, the Copperbelt Free Church Council, the Methodist church as well as the Church of Barotseland.
It is explained that the political liberation of Zambia contributed to the urgent union of the Churches echoing the slogan of “One Zambia, One Nation” coined by the first Republican president, Kenneth David Kaunda. Today the United Church of Zambia (UCZ) stands as the largest Protestant Church in the country covering all the ten provinces of Zambia.
The Church of Barotseland became the State’s official Religion with the Litunga, King of Barotseland’s endorsement. Consequently with the signing of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 that made Barotseland part of Zambia the church of Barotseland too was united in the United Church of Zambia (UCZ) and all its missions taken over by the latter. However, there is one sanctuary in Mungu that still stands as The Church of Barotseland (a subject for another time.)
Whither to Now, Church of Barotseland?
With Barotseland’s statehood, we most certainly will not have The “United Church of Zambia” in Barotseland. Therefore, it is expected that The Church of Barotseland, like most Barotseland institutions of governance that were destroyed or affected by the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, and its eventual abrogation, will be restored. This will, however, not entail that there will be no freedom of worship or conscience in Barotseland but rather that it is a normal phenomenon for every country to have some ‘Official’ state religion which will coordinate official religious activity in an all-inclusive and non denominational, non discriminatory manner for national unity and inspiration.
We therefore, will expect that the Church of Barotseland will take that role and oversee all national chaplaincies and state religious activities, while the rest of different faiths continue to do their own missionary activities in accordance with the laws in force at the time in the kingdom. This will be nothing new as The Church of Barotseland will only be resuming its former status it had before the still born Barotseland Agreement of 1964!
Meanwhile, it is gratifying to note that the United Church of Zambia has been launching their Golden Jubilee Celebrations as they turn 50 years of existence in January of 2015. The following is a message posted on their web site:
Golden Jubilee Celebrations – Message from GS!
“Jubilee greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
As you may be aware, The United Church of Zambia (UCZ) will commemorate 50 years of existence on the 16th of January, 2015.
The UCZ came into being following the merger of the Methodist Church, the Church of Central Africa in Rhodesia, the Copperbelt Free Churches and the Church of Barotseland. Since the merger, the church has continued to grow with a membership of over two million across the country.
The jubilee celebrations will therefore, give us an opportunity to look back and appreciate the grace of God in keeping the UCZ truly united in the midst of trials and tribulations. The occasion will also remind all of us to count the blessings God has bestowed upon the church resulting into the growth, both spiritually and numerically.”
Tukongote! Litunga ni Lyetu! God bless Barotseland kingdom!