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Living the Dream: An Interview with Voddie Baucham

My recent trip to Africa took me to Lusaka, Zambia, where I had the chance to sit down for a few minutes with Voddie Baucham. We talked about his move to Africa, what he loves about Zambia, what he misses about America, and who would triumph if he and his pal James White ever got into a fight…


Tim: I come all the way to Lusaka, Zambia. Who do I run into, but Voddie Baucham. What are you doing in Lusaka?

Voddie: Living the dream man.

I’m actually serving as Dean of Theological Education at African Christian University here in Lusaka. Been here, it’ll be three years in August, believe it or not, that we’ve actually been here. So, just helping the Reformed Baptists of Zambia start a university.

Tim: Now, how did that come about? You’re pastoring in Houston, and then suddenly you’re living in Zambia, involved in higher education. How did that go down?

Voddie: I came to Zambia for the first time in 2006. And I came to preach at the August conference that the Reformed Baptists put on here every year. I was actually introduced to that conference through Paul Washer, whose a mutual friend. A friend of Conrad’s, a friend of mine. Came here and preached. Spent two weeks traveling and preaching and doing various things. And, there was a fit here unlike anywhere else that I’d ever been. Unlike any other thing that I’d ever been involved in. And when I went home, you know my wife asked me how the trip was. And I told her, I said, I think I want to be buried there. It just … I seemed to fit here. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know when, but I knew that I would be involved in the work that the Lord was doing here. I was blown away by what had been happening here over the last three decades with this vibrant Reformed Baptist movement. This indigenous Reformed Baptist movement, it just … And then, when the opportunity presented itself, you know, God just sort of made it clear to me, my wife and our elders, all at the same time, that this was the opportunity and this was the time. And so we did it.

Tim: Alright. Now, you’ve got a couple kids, so you had to bring, not just yourself, not just your wife, but, how many kids came with you?

Voddie: Seven came with us.

Tim: Seven kids came with you.

Voddie: Yes, and two left back in the States.

Tim: Okay. So this was a major thing bringing a big family right across the world.

Voddie: It really was.

Tim: Yes, and how did that go? What was that like? That’s culture shock, times nine.

Voddie: It’s about like, you can imagine, what a lot of people don’t realize when they think about that move is, we brought everything. So, essentially, you know, we sold our house, which is a whole other story. Because it took almost a year to sell.

Tim: Those weren’t the best days for real estate.

Voddie: Yes, it was rough. And so, everything that we owned, basically, we packed up and shipped here. And we had to ship it about a month before we left. So, we’re living out of suitcases, you know.

Tim: Times nine.

Voddie: Well, times seven, you know. Well, no, times nine, times nine. So times nine. We’re living out of suitcases, in the US first, and then we came here and spent a month living out of suitcases while we were waiting for our things to get here. I mean, there was a reason that this was one of the last places in the world that the Gospel reached. It’s a hard place to get to.

Tim: Yes.

Voddie: We are in the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa. We are landlocked. Yes. It was, so, it was an ordeal, you know. Just think, our children are now, you know, from 14 down to 4, or 13 down to 4, you know. So, just think about that three years ago. And, living out of suitcases, as we made the transition. And when we would fly, you know, we’re in the airport and people would always go … The head-bob count, you know.

Tim: Right. And you guys were doing a lot of head counts too as you go.

Voddie: Yes. That’s what we did everywhere, you know. We didn’t call names. We just counted. If we got to seven, you know, we just hoped that they were all ours and we didn’t have anybody else’s.

Tim: Yes, I grew up in a family of five kids and I just remember my mom constantly counting us and just keeping her little flock together, so. Alright, so you arrive in Lusaka, you find yourself a place to live. How’s it been settling in over the last couple of years?

Voddie: You know, it’s been up and down. When we first got here, Zambia was in the middle of massive load shedding, especially Lusaka. So we spent 8 to 14 hours a day without power. And it was a rotating schedule. So, some days we wouldn’t have it in the morning, some days we wouldn’t have it in the evening. Some days it was split. Yes, that was interesting with all of us. We stayed in a temporary place and there weren’t a lot of rooms there. It was very interesting, you know. Yes, it was interesting.

Tim: Yes. And the kids, how have they adjusted to life in a, I mean, not just a new country, like a new culture?

Voddie: Yes. There’s been some culture shock. It’s interesting. Somebody told us that, you know, that kind of, 18 month period is when you expect … Usually, when you think about culture shock, it’s just, you know, you get to someplace and you look around and things are different. They drive on the other side of the road. But really, you have to get into the culture before you begin to realize how foreign things are. And it takes a while. And we did, we hit a wall at about that 18-month mark. And it was difficult. Well, of course, we had the advantage of homeschooling and so a lot of the difficulties that children experience with a transition like this were sort of mitigated by that. But still, there’s stuff man. And, it’s ironic, because we thought that because of the way we hit the ground and because of all of these things that we had to deal with, that we were getting it over with up front. But, no, it happened. You know, our two oldest children are back in the US. Our first grandchild was born while we were here. Yes. There were some … My wife’s father died. You know, she didn’t make it to the funeral. Yes. There’ve been some ups and downs. But it’s been great. The people here have been amazing. You know, God was good, in that, there were eight years of relationships built, you know, before any of this started.

Tim: You know what you were getting with a guy like Conrad and like his reputation is well established, so there’s not going to be great surprises. Like, oh, I didn’t know he believed that. It’s out there.

Voddie: Yes. And we were really friends. We knew each other for almost a decade and, you know, spent significant amounts of time together, here and in the US. So that was really helpful. And when we first got here, his youngest child, his daughter had just finished university. When we got here, she showed up with her suitcase. She moved in and lived with us our first year and a half.

Tim: Oh, wow.

Voddie: Absolutely invaluable. It was amazing. Not just from the standpoint of another set of hands, but a Zambian, who guided us through a lot of things. It was amazing, I mean, we just, how do you … How do you put a value on that, you know?

Tim: Right, yes. What are a couple of things about Zambian culture that have really, let’s say impressed you, that you really appreciate?

Voddie: I appreciate, I appreciate Zambian people, and how people matter here. I’ve had the experience on a number of occasions where I’ll go into someplace, and I remember specifically, trying to deal with my phones. It’s different here. Here you buy talk time, you don’t have a plan, right, you’re talking to people and all of a sudden, you hear, beeb, beeb, and they’re gone. Ten minutes later they call you because they scratched off some talk time and put it in their, you know. And so, I’m at the store, getting ready to get some talk time, and you know, I’ve got to call, I’ve got to get some more talk time, I’ve got to get this done. I walk up to the counter, and I’m like, I need … And the girl goes, good afternoon. And I’m like, good afternoon. I need … And she goes, and how are you? And all of a sudden, it just sort of brought me back. Because here, that’s what you do.

Tim: You’re not in Houston anymore.

Voddie: Yes. It’s not just, let’s just do this.

Tim: It’s relational, right.

Voddie: It’s relational, you know. And all of a sudden, when I kind of got that … Because I used to hate how long things took. But you know, when you get to the front of the line, they treat you like you’re the only one there, you know. And everybody else just has to wait.

Tim: I noticed in the customs line today, it moves at its own pace.

Voddie: Yes. The customs line moves at its own pace. And, yes, it is. It’s a very welcoming culture. There’s a kindness and a gentleness to people here. And it’s interesting because you know, Zambians are … You know, if you’ve ever been in New York, if you’ve ever walked around in Manhattan, people kind of have that, you know, Manhattan stare.

Tim: Right. You don’t exist.

Voddie: Yes, you don’t exist. You talk to them and they look at you like you’re crazy. Well, Zambians kind of have that Manhattan stare. But if you speak to them, the smile comes in, they stop. So, it’s this weird combination of, you look like, you know, one thing. But the minute, you know, there’s an engagement, the warmth comes on, yes, it’s great.

Tim: What are a couple of things you don’t miss about America?

Voddie: Costco, Amazon, next day delivery, now they’ve got same day delivery …

Tim: Same day delivery in Toronto, yes, you order in the morning, it’s there in the evening, it’s phenomenal, right.

Voddie: Yes, nobody likes you. I don’t miss the pace of things.

Tim: Right. I figured you’d say that. Like, that’s so noticeable as you get away from western culture, everything slows done.

Voddie: Yes. I don’t miss the pace of things. Yes, that’s just one thing that I really don’t miss.

Tim: Okay. A little while ago, there were rumors, something floating around about your health. You’re healthy, you’re okay? Things are good?

Voddie: Yes, well, you know, long story short, I have chronic kidney disease. I’ve had chronic kidney disease since my early thirties, and I’ve been on medication for that for a decade and a half and I had an allergic reaction. Yes, I’ll show you the pictures …

Tim: Oh good.

Voddie: Yes, I’ll show you the pictures, it’s kind of, yes, so, anyway. It was kind of a cross between Hitch and the Nutty Professor, you know.

Tim: Alright. Is the picture out there on the internet or anything?

Voddie: No, it’s not out there on the internet, but… So, anyway, this is the medicine that has been, because I have high blood pressure related to my kidney disease and this medicine was taking care of, you know, the kidney disease and the high blood pressure, whatever. So now, I’ve got to get off of this medicine because of the allergic reaction. So we did some tests. And my kidney function was atrocious.

Tim: Right, okay.

Voddie: Yes, I hadn’t tested it in a while. I wasn’t really experiencing any symptoms. But, yes, I talked about it to a group, when I was in the US. I didn’t intend for it to be posted, for that part to be posted, but it was. And so, you know, there you have it. I’m getting calls from my kids back in the US, you know, is dad dying?

Tim: Sending the medical flights to come get you, right, okay.

Voddie: Yes. But it was serious. And it was one of those things that could have made us have to leave, if things had continued to deteriorate. This is not a place you want to be on dialysis and it’s not a place that you even can get a transplant. So, I had to get on that. And for a while, you know, we weren’t seeing, you know, any kind of positive results. And things actually deteriorated even more. But I’ve started working with a Nephrologist in the US. He’s in Jackson, Mississipi where the grandbaby is. Because I figure, if I go back three, four times a year, I’m going to see the grandbaby, so, get me a doctor there. And then providentially, he’s a Kenyan, who studied in South Africa, in the US. He comes to South Africa to do training for doctors there once a year. So he knows medicine in this part of the world.

Tim: Yes, that’s a great connection, yes, okay.

Voddie: He’s got the best training in the world and he’s on WhatsApp. Which, you know, in this part of the world is everything. And, we’ve been communicating and working with a dietician. I’m down 13 kg’s since you saw me last.

Tim: Alright.

Voddie: And things have improved. Like dramatically. You know, we’re still trying to get everything where we need it, but things just, just recently have turned around rather dramatically.

Tim: Okay, good. One last question, I’ll let you go, I know you’ve got to get to a meeting. Let’s just say, you and James White, I know you guys are friends, you had a little bit of a tiff, you know and just couldn’t get along, ended up going to fisticuffs. Who’s going to win that?

Voddie: You mean, how long will it take?

Tim: You answer however you see fit.

Voddie: No, no.

Tim: It would just never happen?

Voddie: No.

Tim: You could take him.

Voddie: No. It just won’t happen.

Tim: Alright.

Voddie: No. It just won’t happen. But you know, James will surprise you.

Tim: You think?

Voddie: Yes. He will surprise you. His son’s a black belt in karate. So, something has to have rubbed off, you know. And he rides bikes at altitude, so you know. So it would depend on how long things went. If it’s over quick, I’ve got him.

Tim: You’ve got that high altitude training?

Voddie: If it took a while, I’m a dead man.

Tim: Right, okay, got it. Alright. Thanks for hanging out. And we’ll put some information about African Christian University for those who want to check it out and get more information about what you’re doing and what the institution’s all about.

Voddie: Thank you very much.

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