August 2014 by Pastor Chris Connors and Phil Connors.
We arrived safely in Malawi, at Blantyre’s Chilleka airport at 12.30 on Saturday. Pastors Rex Chitekwe and Precious Kanyowa were half an hour or so late meeting us. It turned out that the alternator on their car needed repair. Thankfully we found some shaded chairs outside the airport terminal and took in the sights and sounds for a while. A man who insisted on helping us carry one of our bags (and who we thought was there to meet us) held out his hand for payment. So we gave him something for his troubles and sent him on his way.
Warm greetings were shared and friendships renewed when the pastors arrived. They had hired an old car until their car was repaired. With the gear stowed in that car’s boot we headed off to stock up on some provisions, and buy a Malawian mobile phone SIM card so that we could hook into the mobile network and keep in contact with home. (It turned out that where we were to be staying was to be in a reception blank spot around the back of Mount Mulange on the Mozambique side. So after a few days of trying in vain to find a phone reception we ended up using the Mozambique phone network instead.)
After a stop to pick up the car from the mechanic and transfer our gear, we headed off to the Gawani High School. Such items as cornflakes, UHT milk, bottled water, tea, coffee, sugar, bread and butter, cordial and fruit juice were hastily gathered and placed in the trolley. Phil said that he had invited Pastor Precious to give a hand with the shopping. He was great at advising on what brands are good and what to stay clear of. The only thing
that he came up short on was pushing a trolley. Happy shoppers peacefully going about their business were suddenly confronted with the reality that their very lives were in danger as Pastor Precious came careering down the aisles knocking over several displays as he chided the mad machine that seemed to have a mind of its own (reminded
us of Mulga Bill).
All was proceeding well until Phil got to the cash register, unloaded his bounty, bagged it up and confidently presented his credit card. “Oh, sorry sir, we do not have credit card facilities in this shop.” After a while the manager calmed the lengthening queue and sent us to the EFTPOS machine to withdraw Malawian Quacha, or we were not going anywhere! A quick sprint out of the shop, six insertions of the credit card (it takes a bundle of Quacha to buy anything much) and back into the supermarket to release the increasingly impatient locals. Shopping bags duly packed into the back of the RAV, we merrily went on our way.
The trip to Mulange was relatively uneventful…….. except for an occasion where we drove up behind a large group of young people participating in a traditional “initiation ceremony”. This crowd made it difficult for us to proceed and just continued to walk along the road, dancing and chanting to the rhythm of drums. Pastor Rex, having had plenty of experience with this, drove up to and into the crowd blowing the horn as he went. This wasn’t received well on this occasion. Several of the young men began banging on the car’s back window. After a moment or two’s excitement as Pastor Rex had leaped out into the fray to protect the car, we made it through and returned to our trip.
The road to Mulange is very rough even at this time of the year. It makes us wonder what it would be like in the wet season.
Eventually, we made it to our destination and were welcomed to the Gawani Secondary School campus. We arrived about 6.40 on Saturday evening. The students were all on campus and met us with warm smiles and handshakes all round. The venue is good and seems appropriate for training. The school campus is spread out over several tiers that extend up an embankment with the mountain looming in the background. It is quite spectacular. The character of this mountain changes continually depending upon the time of day and the amount of light (and smoke) present, and the African red sunrises and sunsets are truly stunning. Both the guards and the cooks live onsite and even the school head mistress has a house on the campus.
Following breakfast and a bible reading taken from the 1 John, we headed over to the class room for practice preaching with the students and Pastors at around 8:00 am. The students prayed in rotation and each student presented at least two sermons during the duration of the training. Two were presented in the morning and two after dinner in the evening. Part of this preaching training involved the students critiquing one another on a series of categories: 1) context; 2) exegesis; 3) doctrine; 4) organisation; 5) delivery; and 6) Christ-centeredness. Even this process of critiquing one another helped the students listen with discernment, evaluate and appraise the sermons. Early on, the scores given by the students were noticeably different than those allocated to the categories by Pastor Connors, but as the days passed the gap closed until there was almost complete agreement.
Early on, it was amusing to see a score of 4 by the students reduced to a meagre 1 or 2 with the resulting shaking of the head and prolonged starring at the ground as Pastor Connors patiently explained where the problems were and how to go about correcting them. Pastor Connors would take the students through the text that the student had and help the whole class to work with the different parts of Scripture in the process.
The students in the EPCM are resilient and cheerful in their desire to learn. They step up again the next day with a smile. This was a positive experience for everyone, and there was a cheerful, enjoyable time had by all. It did seem that this way of teaching is effective with the students in Malawi. They seem to learn best with a hands on, practical approach. The subject areas of the teaching this time were:
- Hermeneutics, (the study of the laws and principles for interpreting the Scriptures).
- A continuation of instruction on Homiletics, (the art of sermon preparation and delivery).
Studies conducted took the students through the principles of Hermeneutics. The sermons and some of the studies are recorded and can be provided to interested persons upon request.
Singing of the psalms prior to and following the sermon presentations is a fantastic “African’ experience and has to be heard to fully appreciate the harmonies and manner in which it is delivered with consummate ease and rhythm.
Three formal exams were required of the students during the course of the teaching. Results were mixed but it is acknowledged that all students did the very best that they could do according to the level of their abilities. Several teachers are included in the student body while others are simple family men used to labouring in the fields. The results and progress since the time of our last visit is very encouraging.
Sunday was our last full day in Malawi with the EPCM and quite a special day. The day began with the usual heating of water and a wash. As usual, we are invited to sit with the men and share their breakfast of sweet potato, dry bread and tea. We then prepared for travel to Safani congregation approximately 50 minutes away from our base. This day was to include a sermon by Pastor Connors followed by a baptism conducted by Pastor Precious and the administration of the Lords Supper conducted by Pastor Royd Waya. Pastor Rex preached the sermon for the general worship service. This enabled us to witness these three men at work in the ministry and it is clear that they are well loved and respected by the members of the EPCM. This time we sat to the side and had a quiet interpretation given to us so that the worship was uninterrupted by a translation. We observed the administration of baptism to 10 children, and were invited to the Lord’s table and afterwards were invited to the Supper with the brethren. The way that the EPCM administered the Lord’s Supper and baptism was almost identical our own practice. The ministers are trying to help the members understand more about the truth as they go so they read the Shorter Catechism on each occasion as a way of explaining and helping to prepare for both sacraments.
After the services we were invited to an elders home to share a meal of chicken, rice, spinach and onion (called Chinese cabbage in Malawi). It was then back on the road to home base – same road, same pot holes!
Upon arrival at the school grabbed a few moments to rest prior to dinner. It was then get ready for the last session of practice preaching session for the last six students. So on this Lord’s day we enjoyed two sermons, one baptism, two members accepted into membership, one Lords Supper and an additional six sermons in the evening + travel in between…..phew!).
The evening session of practice preaching saw some really good efforts from the students. It was encouraging to see our first “5” our of 5 scored by Silas Cedric from Mozambique for one category of his sermon. As recognition of this momentous event, Silas was issued with a new KJV bible by Phil (although he can’t speak write or speak English). Silas had done three years of Bible college before joining the EPCM. He applied to become a minister when he joined, but was told that he had to first learn the Reformed faith and become settled in the church. Now, after being in the church for three years he has joined the program for student ministers and hopes to be among the students that can be licenced to preach with the other students. He is working on English, and we hope that the Bible will be a help and encouragement to him. Phil also took all his spare ties (and some of his favourites) to be given to the students as gifts. Patrick Silengi, the student with the best overall score this time got first pick, then second and third got to pick, before the rest helped themselves to the remainder. By this time it was 12:30pm and time for bed.
Our final morning began bright and early at 5:00am. We were occupied in packing our gear, washing up the plates, bowls, cups and pots etc that are being gradually collected to serve as a resource for our visiting teachers. The student and pastors gathered around 7 am for final prayers,thanksgiving and a photo session which was full of fun and joy as well as gratitude for the training provided.
Our trip back along the Malawi/Mozambique border and around the foothills of Mount Mulange was very beautiful. The smoke haze had been cleared by a breeze and the mountain was revealed . Tea plantations in this area stretch up to the base of the mountain , and the vibrancy of the colours has to be seen to be believed. This return trip took us back on a short cut along the “Robert Mugabe” highway to Blantyre and then out to Chilleke Airport. Rex, Precious and Royd took this opportunity to again thank Pastor Connors for his efforts and prayed for our safe travel and return.
Perhaps you would like a bit of a feel for the location for the teaching. The school that was used is situated above the village of Gawani. This is a bustling village where all the buying and selling takes place for the immediate region. There are fish, clothing, shoes, vegetables and other essentials laid out on mats on both sides of the road for the passerby to peruse and buy. You can even get a haircut (or a close shave with death) at the local hair“salon”. Food is prepared and served for the student and guests in the school canteen. The building had its roof blown off in a recent storm and awaits replacement. Until that
time, the cooks are exposed to the elements. This doesn’t prevent them from producing the usual Malawian staple of seima, beans, cabbage, relish (a watery sauce made of onion and tomatoes with African spice); and in the evenings, rice, chicken and cabbage. Breakfast for the students comprises cup of weak, very sweet, Chombe tea, slices of bread or sweet potatoes with plenty of salt applied. No matter what or how this food is provided it is eaten with the hands which are washed with water.
When Malawians eat there is an almost total silence. We asked Pastor Precious about this and he explained that they like to “hear the food talking”. After a huge plate of
food had been consumed we did notice that the “talk”, as he put it, was not completely unfamiliar to the Aussie ear!
Our days at the school commence at around 5:30. Breakfast comes out of the supplies that Phil had managed to grab on our way from the airport. Midday and evening meals we have with the brothers. . We even had opportunity to invite Pastors Precious, Royd and Rex over for dinner on Friday evening. Phil cooked up a batch of spaghetti and made up a bolognaise sauce from mince purchased at the supermarket and tomatoes and onions from the local market. The high point of this culinary delight was a bottle of tomato sauce spiced with chilli (heat category 6 out of 10). We suspected it might be ‘hot’ but didn’t anticipate that it actually would take pastor Precious’ breath away. The cold Coca-Cola and Fanta purchased at the market and cooled in the freezer were copiously used to douse the flames which have until this time burned continuously throughout Malawi and Mozambique. Pastor Connors in the meantime helped himself to the plenteous leftovers and had a great time laughing as the beads of sweat formed on the clean shaven head of our African friends. Pastors Rex and Royed made the most of this the next morning by holding their bellies whilst guffawing and saying, “It is good, it is good.”
One thing that they all did however enjoy (including the students and the cooks) were banana fritters that Phil cooked one evening using bananas purchased from the village. 25 bananas later, everyone had their fill and they marked this in their books as at least something good that comes out of Australia. Pastor Rex did however suffer from heartburn the next day and we put it down to one fritter too many!
The trip from Malawi to Johannesburg, Perth, Melbourne went smoothly. The time goes so quickly on a busy visit like this one has been. It seems like just a moment and then it is over.
But we hope that the things shared with the students will lodge in their memories and help them become good and useful ministers of the Word. The EPCM ministers now have a program in place to keep the students working on the things that they have learned.
Please do pray for the students and ministers of the EPC Malawi. The work before them is very great and they feel that the work is more than they can handle without a continual supply of grace and strength from Jesus Christ. Do please remember to pray for them, Pray for both the ministers and their wives and children, and also for the students and their families.
We hope this report gives you all a feel for the work and the life of the brethren in Malawi.
May Christ continue to gather and establish his church in the World and in our corner of the vineyard.