Excerpts from a 2011 Report to EPC-A Presbytery by Rev Chris Connors
Dear Brothers of Presbytery,
With thankfulness to God, Philip Connors, Jonathan Burley and I have returned safe and sound from our delegation and visit to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Malawi (EPCM).
I present this report concerning the EPCM to the Presbytery on behalf of the delegation. The report comes from delegation as a whole and as the result of discussion between the three of us and after careful revision of the final draft. Every attempt has been made to represent what we found with care and deliberation; and without gloss, exaggeration, minimisation or giving false impressions by leaving out information that might be necessary for Presbytery to have as true and complete picture as is possible.
This report will not focus on the events and experiences of our visit to Malawi, as those have largely been covered in the reports sent back for the congregations via e-mails during the visit. Rather, this report will focus on what we have found with respect to the EPCM as to its:
- Origins and history
- Localities, distribution and size of its congregations
- Ministers – its present ministers and their training and location
- Most Pressing Needs.
Our prayer is that what we now present might truly represent the church in Malawi and be useful to the Presbytery as it considers what the Lord would have it do in response to the Macedonian call we hear from EPCM.
Origins and history
The EPC began when four ministers and some elders formed an organisation called the “Evangelical Ministry of Malawi”, with the aim of preaching the gospel to the poor in Malawi.
The ministers had come to know one another by attending various gatherings of ministers and conferences. They found that they shared a burden to take the gospel to Malawi’s rural villages. It troubled them that the poor people in outlying villages were being neglected by the mainline churches. It seems that, for the mainline churches, the conditions were too challenging for most ministers and their families in those churches. Furthermore, even when sizable congregations were able to be established, the poverty of the people, who are subsistence farmers for the most part, made support of a settled ministry almost impossible. So, it was easier, and more “viable’, for the churches to focus their labours in Malawi’s cities and larger towns. It also troubled these men that the mainline churches were not faithful to God’s word, and it concerned them that even the more conservative and ostensibly Reformed churches were doing such things as ordaining women and permitting sin to go undisciplined within their midst.
So the men, while still within their various denominations and mission organisations, set themselves to pray and to preach to the poor, and to wait on the Lord to see what He might do. They began to preach via an evangelism team made up of these ministers and some reliable men they knew. Thinking that they would be able to encourage the people who would continue in their present churches and assist them with Bible studies, they were soon overwhelmed with the response to the preaching. The people to whom they preached told them that they did not want to return to churches that were not preaching the truth they were now hearing. The result was that, within months, several locations had sizable numbers gathering around the gospel preaching – and the growth from that beginning was remarkable. They organised what they call “the national evangelism team” and went further abroad preaching and conducting follow up meetings to assist people who have questions.
Through these means the church continued, and still continues to grow. In the intervening years the group has grown from 4 preachers and some helpers to 48 congregations and around ten thousand souls in Malawi and Mozambique. They continue to be called to come preach and establish works in more the distant regions. The Lord has also gathered large numbers of Muslims to Christ in the Machinga region. EPCM’s work now extends from Central-Northern Malawi down to the far South of the Lower Shire’ Valley.
In 2007 they came to the conclusion that they were in need of assistance. They could see that, in response to the demands of the people, they had to establish a new church so they could be faithful to the Word and care for the souls God had gathered. But the task was daunting and they felt that they needed guidance and help from an established and faithful church. Having no confidence in the Reformed works that were already in Malawi and neighbouring countries, they set themselves to pray that God might guide them to a faithful church in the West that could assist them. They made a list of churches that they had discovered on the internet and which they began to research. As a result of a rigorous process of analysis and exclusion they decided that the EPCA “had something tangible” in its adherence to the Reformed faith and Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). They wanted a church that held honestly to WCF, because Rex and Precious had been exposed to WCF and embraced its teaching as they understood it at that time. So, they contacted us through our web site. The mail was sent to Pastor Connors, and he sent it to Elder Peter Torlach and the contact was followed up. Since then EPCM has continued to grow rapidly – and is still expanding. They feel that the EPCA is faithful to the Westminster Confession and is teaching what is in the Bible without addition or subtraction. They state that their contact with us has been a blessing to the EPCM and is helping them to become a more solidly reformed church.
Geography – congregations, and localities.
EPCM has a central HQ in a house it rents in the town of Luchenza, which is central to their work. It has 5 main “regions” in which its work is concentrated. The congregations in each region are under a regional Presbytery – with the 6 ministers taking special oversight over one region each. The regions (Presbyteries and ministers overseeing) are, from North to South:
- Liwonde – Jack Mpakera (a largely Muslim district where the 2 churches were burnt)
- Phalombe – Royed Wayer
- Zomba – Royed Wayer
- Luchenza – Rex Chitekwe and Precious Kanyowe
- Milange, Mozambique – Magriva Mugaya, George Banda.
- Shire’ Valley – Precious Kanyowe and Rex Chitekwe
(Rex and Precious share the care of congregations in Luchenza and Shire’ Valley Presbyteries).
The brethren kindly prepared the following list of its congregations for our information:
EPC MALAWI CONGREGATIONS AND PRESBYTERIES AND PASTORS RESPONSIBLE
Ministers – its present ministers and their training.
The 6 ministers of EPCM, their former churches and training, in alphabetical order, are as follows:
- George Banda – came from the Evangelical Church Of Malawi, and has a Diploma in Theology (3 years) from the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi. George does not have English.
- Rex Chitekwe – came from the Lomwani Mission, and has a BA in Biblical Studies (4 years) from the African Bible College. Rex has very good English.
- Precious Kanyowe – came from The Evangelical Church Of Malawi, and has a Diploma in Theology (3 years) from The Evangelical Bible College of Malawi. Precious has good English.
- Jack Mphakera – came from The Church of God in Malawi, and has a Certificate in Theology (3 years) from the Likhubula Bible Institute. Jack speaks all the dialects of Malawi and Portugese, but has no working knowledge of English.
- Magriva Mugaya – (not sure of the details of his background but his training was in a Mozambique college run by one of the Reformed churches out of South Africa.) Magriva speaks Portugese and Chichewa but not English.
- Royed Wayer – came from The Evangelical Church of Malawi, and has a Diploma in Theology (3 years) from the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi. Royed has only a rudimentary knowledge of English.
Two points can be noted re these men. First, none expect to live long. The life expectancy in Malawi is under 50 and they are around that age. They are concerned that there be men prepared to take their places. Second, all express a sense of being under-equipped and needing more training.
As to the relationships between the ministers, they seem to have genuine respect for one another and to value the differing gifts that each possesses. Leadership seems to fall to Rex Chitekwe by virtue of his education, natural gifts, personality, and communication skills. Precious appears to be a stable and thoughtful foil and anchor; the reliable administrator among them. Royed and Jack appear to be hard working, pastorally-oriented doers of work. Jack’s work among Muslims brings added pressure, and he has been unwell with high blood pressure and generally poor health – though we never heard him complain. Magreva Mugaya and George Banda are harder to place, for they live at a distance, our contact with them was minimal, and they don’t have English. At present all these men seem to be working well together, with no apparent friction or hindrances to their usefulness and cohesion. They attribute the growth of the church, naturally speaking, to their ability to work together for the good of the church and the cause of the Reformed faith in Malawi.
The EPCM also asks its most capable ruling elders to act as “lay preachers”. They feel this is necessary while they have such a shortage of ministers – 6 ministers and 48 congregations. The ministers express their anxiety about what the elders might be teaching in their absence, and long for the time that they will be able to visit more regularly and even have ministers trained in the Reformed faith to preach in all the congregations. They have been encouraged to see the enthusiasm with which the Reformed faith has been received by the 200+ ruling elders who attended the conferences. The instruction given and rooted in the Catechism has provided the elders something solid with which to work and to carry back to the congregations; and this gives the ministers hope that the elders will now conform their instruction to what they have themselves been taught of the Reformed faith.
Obviously, the training of men for the ministry is one of the most pressing needs of EPCM.
EPC of Malawi has a constitution that is recognised by the Malawian government. This document is styled by the ministers of EPCM as “our Draft Constitution.” They explained that it was an urgent necessity in their first year that they present a constitution to the government, so that EPCM might be recognised as a religious institution and receive protection under Malawian law, and so be afforded protection to worship in Muslim areas. They cobbled together a constitution from various sources, knowing that their constitution was “a work in progress” and would need revision. That action proved wise and important when their church buildings were burned by the Muslims. For, the local Muslim village chiefs were forced, by law, to recognise EPCM’s right to exist and worship as Christians in those places.
We have, at their request, shared with them our own Constitution and a copy of our church’s Law and Practice. The men have expressed their appreciation of these documents and their intention to rework their constitution in light of what they are learning as they study these documents and come to see what it means to be a confessional Reformed church.
Please note that we did not raise this issue of reforming their constitution and practice. In fact, we avoided doing so. But when the ministers (in the course of our discussions) learned that we had a copy of our Constitution and Practice with us, they insisted upon taking them home to study – and after some nights of study they expressed the judgment that they needed to revise their constitution. We counselled them to proceed very carefully and prayerfully in this matter – and pointed out some implications of what it would mean should they conscientiously adopt constitution similar to our own. We mentioned such things as the bringing of the whole doctrine, government and worship to a standard and test; and what is involved and required of office-bearers, and the vows of office, etc. We pointed out to them the seriousness of making solemn vows before God and his people. And we mentioned the great blessing that comes to a church that is truly united by a like common faith.
The ministers of EPCM seemed, at the time, to see that the integrity of a church is in her Constitution and her faithfulness to adhere honestly to that Constitution. They want integrity; but, as yet, they may not understand all that would be involved.
This matter of the EPCM’s constitution would, we anticipate, be something that needs to be discussed and taught more if our work with the EPCM continues.
Most of the several thousand members and hundreds of elders and deacons do not own a Bible. 4000+ Bibles could be place in EPCM and still not every adult would have one. Therefore, Bible study is a rare and precious privilege for these brethren, and a working knowledge of the Bible is minimal. One may not assume, for instance, that the members know that Leviticus is in the Old Testament, or what the Old Testament is; let alone the relation between Old and New Testaments. They have relied on what they hear preached, the few Bibles that are in their village or nearby villages and on the simple teaching songs they pass on from generation to generation.
Very few of the members, elders and deacons had read a Reformed book or Confession till contact with our church – that is, in the last 3 – 4 years. Most of the members, and many of the elders and deacons cannot read English with understanding – and certainly not complex theological texts. But they are open and teachable and trusting of the Bible. They have a warm spirituality that embraces Jesus Christ in simple trust with the knowledge they possess. And, they have an evident spiritual hunger. When they hear the truth of the Reformed faith they embrace it with joy. They have a sense of “needing to know.”
The EPCM Constitution contains a brief “Statement of Faith” which concludes by asserting that the Westminster Confession of Faith“ is our doctrine derived from God’s Word and it is our confession and will be our practice.” We saw good evidence that the ministers and elders of EPCM are unequivocally committed to the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible and authoritative Word of God. Their brief statement of faith has eleven points and is generally sound and Calvinistic. The Statement demonstrates that EPCM is not infected with Pentecostal or Premillennial errors. This basic doctrinal soundness seems to be due, in large part, to the exposure of two of their ministers, Rex Chitekwe and Precious Kanyowe, to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Rex studied the WCF as part of a 4 year Bible college training, and Precious Kanyowe has possessed a copy of the WCF and studied it with appreciation for a number of years. The rest of the ministers and the elders, however, have until recently had little or no working knowledge of the Reformed faith or the Westminster Confession. The EPCM has not been, to our knowledge, acquainted in a meaningful way with either the Shorter or Larger Catechisms prior to our visit and instruction on the Catechism.
The knowledge base among the members is rudimentary. Most would not know the meaning of the most common theological terms and concepts, nor are they even aware of most of the theological issues and errors that occupy our minds in our churches in the West. For example, they had not heard of theistic evolution, they simply accept what Genesis says as truth. Like children, they are happily naive and eager to learn. This is a beautiful simplicity, but it also leaves them exposed and vulnerable if/when error creeps among them. The ministers will need to be taught, carefully and wisely, to discern the errors when they hear or read them so that they are prepared to lead and protect their congregations.
There are indications that the EPCM are aware of the dangers. Their present ministers have adopted a policy that we, EPCA, should vet any books that come among them and are read by the ministers, elders and students for the ministry. Also, they have not taken up an offer from the CCAP head quarters in Blantyre to use a rather extensive theological library – because they feel that they cannot yet discern clearly enough between truth and error to do so.
To return to the matter of Rex Chitekwe’s exposure to the Westminster Confession, Rex was required to pass exams on the doctrine of the WCF as part of his studies in the African Bible College. His instructor for three years in various subject was O. Palmer Robertson. (Dr. O. Palmer Robertson is a man of deep and proven commitment to the Reformed Faith. He is presently the Director and Principal of African Bible College, Uganda, and Professor of Theology at African Bible College, Malawi. Formerly, he had been on the faculties of Knox, Covenant, Westminster, and Reformed Seminaries. He is the author of several books, including The Christ of the Covenants, The Final Word, Understanding the Land of the Bible, and The Israel of God.) That exposure to the Reformed faith under the instruction of a solidly Reformed man, the approving embrace of Westminster by Precious Kanyowe, the way they shared their understanding with their colleagues, and a genuine belief that the Scriptures are the infallible Word of God is what explains the basic doctrinal soundness of EPCM.
The ministers say that they knew that the Reformed faith was “the truth”, and that they wanted to be Reformed, but exactly what it means to be Reformed was hazy. It seems that their initial focus has been to bring the church’s life and practice more into line with Scripture. There has been reform in practice. For example, when they learned that it was not Biblical to sing uninspired songs in worship, they called a meeting of their Assembly, made a decision to sing Psalms only, and after explaining the reasons to their people, implemented the change across all their congregations. The fact that they had only 15 Psalms in their language did not deter them; they made a start with what they had, and are working on translating the rest into Chichewa. The same was true for such things as instruments in worship, clerical garb for ministers, worship uniforms for female members etc. But it was not till they were exposed to the systematic theology of our Shorter Catechism, and the 5 Solas of the Reformation and 5 points of Calvinism that they began to see what it means to be “Reformed” in doctrine. They now see more clearly that “Reformed” involves an antithetically God-centred world and life view, and that a Reformed church is one in which Christ himself, by his Word alone, determines the doctrine, government and worship. They are anything but deterred.
Are they teachable?
The ministers and elders appeared to receive our teaching, in every area, without resistance or unease. Our plan was to take them constantly to Scripture and the Confession and Catechisms for every part of our instruction and discussions, and as we did this we saw their confidence and trust in the Reformed/confessional faith deepening. At the conclusion of our visit the assembled ministers and elders expressed their thankfulness to God that he had answered their prayers and given them a clearer understanding of the truth. They are requesting and indeed urging EPCA to provide more teaching for their ministers, students and elders as soon as possible. They speak in terms of having had something “very great” shown to them and wanting to learn more.
EPCM is a young, evangelical, Calvinistic church that wants to learn the Reformed faith more perfectly.
The government of EPCM is in its formative stage. The organisational structure was, like the constitution, cobbled together on the run as the church was growing. Note that we say “was”. They are reforming as they learn. The structure was, as follows:
The above diagram is scanned from page 4 of the EPCM constitution. From our time in Malawi can make several observations about the government and practice of EPCM.
First, when the government is styled a “management structure”, it does seem to be an accurate reflection of things. They have a hybrid ecclesiastical/business model in which the structures have Presbyterian titles but function like management of a business. It is not clear that the EPCM structures correspond in any meaningful way to the Presbyterian model of higher and lower “courts” with their respective powers and relations. Bear in mind, that this structure too was cobbled together on the run in order to submit a constitution to the government. The urgency and haste is reflected in some of the typos and incomplete sentences that appear in the document.
Second, the structure is hierarchical. This comes out in the powers given to the General Assembly – “to oversee and control all the spiritual and temporal activities of all congregations…” This was pointed out to the ministers, and they are agreed that hierarchy has no place in the kingdom of Christ.
Third, there is not a working understanding of the Biblical principles of church government as we apply them in our Presbyterian structure.
Fourth, the EPCM does not understand the office and function of Deacons. They have viewed Deacons as younger men (who might one day become elders) and who are messenger/helpers for the elders. There have no Deacons court. The elders oversee whatever finances there are in the local congregations.
Fifth, the EPCM constitution originally gave women a place in their management structures. They have since removed women from rule and teaching in the church. Their leading women, due in part to the separation of men and women within Malawian society, are, however, relied upon to teach and assist the women and girls of the church in a multitude of ways. The women at the conference, all of whom were wives and mothers who ordinarily are busy from before dawn till after dark caring for family and fields, expressed their thankfulness that they were now be free of the burden of official duties within the church. So, this appears, at the moment, to be a happy reform for EPCM. It is not clear to us how they came to this position, but it seems likely that as they engaged with the Sola Scriptura in other areas of their church’s life they saw the application.
Sixth, it is not clear to us just what cultural or even tribal/chieftain influences might be at play in the structuring of the EPCM — care will be needed so that any advice is fully informed and wise in its approach. It may be that EPCM will apply the principles of Scripture and end up with some “Africanisms” in the mix.
Seventh, you will notice that the word “Executive” is lined out in the flow chart diagram, above. That was done by Pastor Rex (as we travelled in the bus) after discussions about the Biblical pattern for church government. He felt that they would need to make changes. It is encouraging that the brethren are willing to receive instruction; and given their reforming history, change is possible. But, for the time being, what we find in the constitution is their practice.
The EPCM has embraced purity of worship. They came to this decision early in 2011, without discussion with us, and prior to our visit. They were influenced by the books we sent them, and by the articles in our Magazine. They speak in terms of needing to grow in understanding of the theological and biblical grounds for their practices, and of their desire to be able to give solid reasons for their practice to any who might ask or challenge them.
Their worship service consists of the reading and preaching of the word, prayer led by the minister and elders, the singing of Psalms unaccompanied, the taking up of a collection, and the reciting of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed.
Their church buildings are mud brick and thatch or roofing iron roofed. There were no religious symbols or other superstitious paraphernalia surrounding their worship.
The EPCM has set some of their members to the task of translating the Psalms into Chichewa, and when the project is complete they hope that they might receive assistance to format and publish the end product.
Work of the EPC
Thus far EPCM has been primarily focussed on evangelism and consolidating the prayer houses and congregations that are being raised up. The Lord is continuing to hold before EPCM an open door to preach the gospel and evangelise. They continue to receive invitations to bring their ministry into more villages and regions in Malawi and Mozambique. They are finding that their ability to continue extending the boundaries of their ministry is restricted by lack of ministers, transport, and finances.
The ministers of EPCM also see that they must disciple the saints that are gathered into the church the Christian life, and they see the need to teach and instruct them so that they might be grounded in the knowledge of the Reformed faith. With 6 ministers and 48 congregations this is a huge challenge. The present ministers feel the burden of not being able to provide for a regular ministry and pastoral care in their congregations. Also, they now feel the added burden of instructing all the elders who lead services in the minister’s absence. They fear that their flocks may, by virtue of the elders’ ignorance, be regularly sitting under the teaching of error. This concern is greatly intensified now that they have learned the truth more perfectly, and it is very important to them that their people hear the truth.
That concern explains why the EPCM were so insistent that we should conduct a conference. They wanted their elders taught the essentials of the Reformed faith. The conference we conducted, though it was costly, ministered to one of the EPCM’s most pressing needs. Of course, we did not know just how significant it would be. The 200+ elders and 50 women who attended the conferences carried the Reformed faith home into the villages via the Shorter Catechism and are teaching it throughout the church; and the ministers now have something objective and systematic that they can require of their elders, follow up and preach among their flocks, and work with in ever place.
Principal Needs of the EPCM
Before we describe the needs of EPCM, we give a brief description of the circumstances of the church… and before that, an acknowledgement of the difficulties we face in and around the area of material assistance.
First, it quickly became apparent to us that it is indeed problematic to insert financial and material aid into the hearts and lives of the saints in third world conditions such as pertain in Malawi. It does evoke the worst of visceral responses; lust, pride, self-seeking, greed, envy, discontent etc. This is true for us all, but is more of a “phenomenon” in the interplay between the cultures. One observes a shadow pass over the eyes of dear Christians when the hint (or prospect) of “getting something” touches upon the mind. One also sees the brethren fighting against it – but not being able to break free. This is distressing to observe – yet it is unavoidable for we are “rich, white men” and the awful poverty that envelops and binds even the Christian brethren in Malawi has a very real and urgent “ethos” to it. When poverty senses the prospect of “getting something that might help” a deep longing – a “grasping hand” – is spontaneously evoked. Of course, that is not true to the same degree for each individual – but it does appear to be the case more generally – principally. And it seems to be true with respect not only to the insertion material goods or money, but the prospect of it. There is a “dynamic” to this that has to be recognised.
Second, the “fact” that it is so problematic to insert financial/material aid is not, in itself, a sufficient (or valid) reason to have no dealings with the poor. It must be viewed rather, as a challenge to wisdom. The poor must be helped by the not so poor – the question is how best to help?
The EPCM is unique in that, as has been mentioned, she has carried the gospel to the poor in the rural villages, and her remarkable growth produces congregations made up of the poor from within those villages. This means that when it comes to resources, the church is people-rich and cash-poor.
Whilst there are a small percentage of members who are employed and receive a small income, the vast majority are subsistence farmers. Each family can generally grow enough food to feed themselves family, but they have almost no means of generating an income — no money. If the season is bad, as was the past season in some regions of Malawi, things quickly become desperate. In good years, what they can gather together by selling some of their produce or in some other way is required for such things as supplementing the diet (to buy some sardines, meat or vegetables etc from time to time is a luxury), clothing, and education of their children. Many cannot afford education. State funded education covers the first six years of schooling, but after that an education that might equip a child to get a job and earn some money will cost around 90,000 kwacha per year, per child ($550 Aus). When these circumstances are taken together, the “cash” resources of EPCM are minimal. The people have very little that can be given to support the ministry. In fact, the ministry, at present, receives nothing from the giving of the members of the church. What is able to be given is used by EPCM to maintain their church structure (transport and associated costs to get the elders together for meetings, communication between the ministers and elders, communication with us via the phone and internet, etc), and for outreach. It is important for us to understand this situation. The ministers receive no income from the church. They tell us that they made a commitment together, and before God, to minister to the poor in Malawi – and to trust God.
At present, the EPCM has 6 ministers servicing 48 congregations. Each minister is also busy with evangelism locally and with the “national evangelism team.” The ministers are also living without support from the church, as subsistence farmers. That is, each minister, together with his wife and children, works a small holding and hopes to grow enough food to feed his family for the year. Having no means of buying or maintaining a motorbike or car, they ride push-bikes.
In the summer wet season, the EPCM struggles. As was mentioned, the wet can continue for months. A few of their church buildings have roofing iron, but most are mud brick and thatch roof buildings, with small openings for windows and mud covered bricks for seating; or else they have thatch walls and roof, with mud seats. So when the wet season sets in the church buildings become dark, wet, muddy and dank places where the mosquitoes lodge – and attendance on the services and meetings falls off markedly. This means that in a normal wet season thousands go for months without worship or instruction from the church. This explains why EPCM speaks of needing roofing iron for their church buildings.
What are the principle challenges and needs of EPCM? What follows is in something like an order of priority – but it is somewhat of a judgment call.
Training of students for the ministry
EPCM’s ministers and elders all speak of this need as their greatest and most pressingly urgent. There is a very great need for more men to be trained for the ministry. EPCM has at least 25 men who have been judged by their eldership as suitable and ready to begin training, and others who are waiting to see what happens with the training. These men come from the various regions where EPCM has congregations. They have varying levels of education and proficiency in English. EPCM has set a requirement that all their students must have completed their high school education at least, and have a working knowledge of English so that they can read the texts and books that will be involved in any training they undertake. This requirement will prove problematic, however, because they speak of some quite extraordinarily gifted men, who because of their being orphans or coming from very poor families, have had no opportunity to obtain an education. It seems likely that they will try to include some such among the men they train.
We had opportunity to meet most of the 25 men in our travels. Pastor Lim and Connors spoke at some length with a gathering of 12 students during the conference in Luchenza, counselling them all to set themselves to reading their Bible right through once a year, and to immerse themselves in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and to meet regularly together for prayer and discussion about what they are learning with their ministers. We have since heard from EPCM that the church has taken this counsel on board and has put it into practice.
EPCM is asking that the EPCA train their students for the ministry.
Further teaching for the leadership
Again, some background might be helpful in understanding this as a need.
Most of EPCM’s elders and deacons, who can read English, had never seen a Reformed book or Confession until they came into contact with our church. When we began sending them good books and copies of the Shorter Catechism, and the “My First Catechism” for small children, it was something completely new. (By the way, this latter has proven to be very helpful as a means of simple instruction for their members and in evangelism as a means of instructing the newly converted. The proof texts are very important, because many have no Bible and those who do have no working knowledge of the Bible, so they don’t know where to look to find information on any given subject.)
Many office-bearers, and 4 of the ministers do not read English – and certainly not well enough to handle theology. This is no reflection on their intelligence – they are very intelligent, capable men, but they never had opportunity to learn. This means that it is not possible for us to send books expecting that that will be enough. That casts everything back onto Rex and Precious to teach, who express their need to learn, and who are overburdened already.
EPCM is asking that EPCA provide more teaching for her leadership, in every area of Reformed life, doctrine and practice. They feel that conferences similar to the one conducted in August 2011, where several hundred leaders can be instructed at the one time, are the most effective way to cover this need, and are most likely to produce unity in understanding throughout their congregations.
Bibles for the members (and Psalm and Catechism books)
Bibles. Most of the thousands of members, and hundreds of elders and deacons, did not own a Bible when we visited. During our visit, through the assistance of PCC in Singapore, 650 bibles were given to EPCM. This will put a Bible in the hands of many of their office-bearers, all their students, and some few of the poorest of their members. 4,000 Bibles could be given to the EPCM and still not every adult would have one.
Therefore, Bible study and a working knowledge of the Bible has been almost nonexistent for most of these brethren. One may not assume, for instance, that the members know that Genesis is in the Old Testament or that it is the book of origins/beginnings – of even what the Old Testament is, yet alone how it differs and is related to the New Testament. They have relied on what they hear preached, a few Bibles in their Christian fellowship and the simple teaching songs they pass on from generation to generation.
There is a great need for more Bibles. When Bibles are purchased in quantities of 1000 or more they cost around 1200 kwatcha – AUD$7.30, each. The exact amount, of course, depends on the exchange rate at any given time.
Psalms. There is also need for Psalm books in Chichewa. At present the church is using the few (around 15) renditions of the Psalms found the Hymn books they formerly used. They are working on translating the Psalms, and they hope to obtain assistance in printing enough copies of the finished product for their membership. That is a big project and a lot of books – but if they are going to be a Psalm singing church it is a necessary work and expense.
Catechisms and copies of the Westminster Confession. EPCM is also working on producing a polished translation of the Shorter Catechism into Chichewa, and having it printed to be able to distribute if throughout the church. This again is a big project, but necessary if they are going to teach the Catechism to their members.
And there is need for more copies of just the Westminster Confession itself, in paperback form put out by Free Presbyterian Publications. These are needed by the students for the ministry and the elders. There is also need for more Shorter Cateshisms and “My First Catechism” booklets in English. We have sent some hundreds of copies of these latter two, but there are thousands who long for a copy.
These are the most essential tools of a Reformed church – Bibles, Psalms and the Catechism/Confession. But they all stand beyond the financial reach of the EPCM.
Transport for the ministers
Transport for the ministers would be a great boon to their work, and is a real need for the EPCM.
As has been mentioned, while they have such an acute shortage of ministers, each minister is riding a pushbike to visit the numerous congregations under his care. When finances and routing permits, they catch one of the 15 seater Toyota Hi Ace buses that ply the main roads of Malawi to get to the general area in which their congregations are located; then hire a bike to ride the tracks into the villages. They maintain a circuit ministry between their many congregations. It is not uncommon for them to ride 50 – 80 kilometres several times a week. In summer the temperatures are extreme, and the wet turns many of the tracks into mud, and lasts for around 4 months. All the ministers are finding this taxing, and some in particular are struggling; Jack Mphakera has a heart condition and suffers respiratory problems, Precious Kanyowe has developed hip problems through the riding, and they of course all endure the effects of malaria as do most Malawians. Transport between the congregations would not only relieve them physically, but would make it possible to visit their congregations more often – but would make it possible to lead services at several locations each Lord’s day.
The EPCM, for the reasons previously mentioned, has no means of purchasing or sustaining the cost of motorised transport.
The costs associated with a car/bus that could handle the rough roads and hard treatment is prohibitive. A second hand, dilapidated Toyota bus sells in Malawi for around $30,000 Aus. And even if one ideal vehicle could be provided, it could not transport all the ministers between the many congregations in the various regions at the same time.
We feel that small, cheap to run and maintain motorbikes would be ideal.
While we were in Blantyre we visited the largest dealership and priced the motorbike most commonly used in Malawi — a Yamaha 125 trail bike. Jonathan Burley’s professional advice was that, because there were so many of these used in Malawi, the local mechanics would be up on their repair and spare parts would be plentiful and cheap if/when needed. Therefore, if a motorbike was purchased in Malawi, this would be the best one to buy. However, the price per bike was AU$7,300 (that is after 15% discount) — very expensive.
Since our return we have looked into other options. These fall into two categories, electric pushbikes and motorbikes:
- Electric pushbikes as an interim measure until motorbikes could be afforded. This would be a cost of approximately AU$1,000 per unit. It would also require a solar panel to generate electricity to charge the bikes – another $1,000. And a spare battery pack to give the bike sufficient range – $300. Total $2,300 plus shipping.
- The benefits of this would be that there would be little or no ongoing costs after installation, and that a solar charging point for the ministers at their homes would open up for them the use of laptop computers.
- The draw backs would be that electric bikes need to be shipped to Malawi, need recharging after 40 kilometres or so of travel and take 4-5 hours to recharge, need replacement batteries every 2 – 4 years, are limited in range, and untried in the intense usage and conditions.
- Yamaha 125 motor bikes purchased in Malawi – cost $7,300.
- The benefits of this would be a new machine with a three-year warranty and no shipping costs.
- The drawbacks would be the initial expense, and the ongoing running costs for a motorbike. We estimate that the ongoing running costs for registration, fuel and maintenance would be around $50 per week, or $2,500 per year.
- Second hand motorbikes purchased in Australia, repaired, and shipped to Malawi. The initial costs would vary – but it would be somewhere around $3000 + shipping, and the ongoing costs would be similar to (2) above.
- Yamaha 110cc postie bikes. These bikes are available at auction in each state of Australia for between $1000 and $1200. They would need off road tires fitted, a full service, shipping to Malawi, registering and supplying with fuel. And they would need to be maintained.
- The benefits of this would be that these machines proven to be tough and reliable when maintained properly. A number are auctioned off each year after 20-30,000k of use. We believe that if fitted with suitable tires they could be well suited to the needs of the ministers.
- The draw backs would be shipping costs and the ongoing costs for registration, fuel and maintenance.
Given that electric pushbike would not cater for the whole range of uses that the ministry in Malawi requires, motorbikes seem to the better option. And the best option among the motorbikes, cost wise, is the Postie bikes.
If we were to consider sending motorbikes we would have to remember the ongoing costs that the brethren may not be able to meet.
Support for the ministry
As has been mentioned, the ministers of EPCM do not receive a stipend and are providing for their own and their family’s needs apart from the giving of the church. There are no Deacon’s courts in the local congregations. What moneys are collected are used for the broader denomination and evangelism.
Again, it is significant to know that the ministers of EPCM are aware that some things must change. They have requested urgent instruction for all their office-bearers in the principles of giving to the Lord’s work (tithes and offerings), and also in the Biblical structures that they need to work towards setting in place so that EPCM will eventually be able to provide something toward the support of their ministers. They are hesitant to venture into this area with their people — lest it hinder their reception of their ministry. This situation becomes even more significant as they look toward having more men trained and labouring among the congregations. They understand that unless the church is working at change, the present Ministers’ commitment (to labour as missionaries in a tent making ministry without receiving support from those to whom they preach) will, by default, become entrenched as the church’s settled state, and will be demanded of all future ministers, and the men who are now wanting to train for the ministry. And they see that this is a situation that is neither sustainable nor biblical.
Meanwhile, however, the ministry of EPCM is hard pressed. In poor seasons the ministers’ crops are insufficient to feed their families till next harvest. 2011 is a lean year. At the time of “tussling” there was no rain to form the kernels on the cob, and as a result the crop yields were very light. Some of the ministers in particular were in severe straits. Before we left Malawi, using moneys donated by our delegation, some members in Brisbane congregation and PCC of Singapore, we bought the ministers 70 bags of maize (AU$1,100) to get them through to next harvest. But that is only one year – and the Lord may yet send many more learn years.
There are, of course, other needs for the families of the ministers which are over and above the other members of the church in Malawi. While others can give themselves to gathering some money together in one way or other throughout the days, the ministers’ duties permit him neither time nor opportunity — yet he and his wife must also find funds for their children’s schooling — and try to provide for, and even to try to educate any orphans he and his wife have in their home. And the minister and his family, of course, bear the many hidden costs associated with his ministering so far and wide.
So, while ever the ministry is not being provided for by the congregations in some meaningful way these needs will continue. As more ministers are trained the needs will multiply. In droughts the needs will become extreme.
Care of orphaned children
The life expectancy in Malawi according to a UN survey is about 56 years for men and 57 years for women. But these figures may be much lower in rural areas. Also, many Malawians die every year from AIDS. Each congregation in EPC, consequently, has a number of orphans which the families are seeking to care for and educate, although this latter is almost impossible for the families. The men were not able to give us an exact number of orphans in EPCM, but they estimated that there would be several hundred, of all ages. Obviously, this puts great strain on the families – and contributes to the difficulties faced by the church. There are so many demands on the cash poor families – and the widows and their children, especially those orphans who have had both parents die, must be provided for.
The needs of these little covenant children is a very real and crying need.
We recommend that:
- the Presbytery deem itself to be satisfied that
- the EPC of Malawi (EPCM) is a true manifestation of the church of Jesus Christ in Malawi; and that
- the visit by our delegates has shown her communication with us to have been reliable and undertaken in good faith; and that
- EPCM is deemed to be a Calvinistic church with which contact is appropriate.
- That in acknowledgment of God’s voice in the EPCM’s Macedonian call to “come and help us” EPCM be received by the Presbytery as a field in which the EPCA will labour, in so far as she is able, in “oversees missions” — and that the work be called “Mission Assistance to EPCM”.
- That we take up the task of training their students — with the assistance of PCC
- Lead workshops for their officebearers — whenever we have ministers in Malawi
- Provide 4 postie bikes – in conjunction with our friend-churches around the world.
- Ask our members to consider establishing a “benevolent society for the care of orphans in Malawi”, which will represent their needs to the church world and administer funds.