Wednesday 16th April 2014
Via, Veritas, Vita (“Way, Truth, Life”) is the motto of Glasgow University where Ruth and I studied in the 1980’s and summarizes Jesus’ amazing assertion in John 14:6 – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And today we saw three different examples of faithful Christians looking to proclaim this truth in modern Africa.
We were certainly happy to be traveling less today, and our first stop was a real eye-opener. For, in stark contrast to the indigenous Evangelical Bible College of Malawi in Blantyre, the African Bible College in Lilongwe was a pristine transplant of American college life complete with manicured lawns, smooth ‘sidewalks’, and middle-aged white men jogging in lurid plaid shorts. Perhaps this was not so surprising given almost half the staff come from overseas and the college relies on significant external funding. However, as we listened to our kind host Mr Chang’anamuno, I had to admire the rigorous academic approach that ABC took to its degree course which gathered students from wide area of East Africa. Nevertheless I could not imagine such a capital intensive and traditionally academic approach to education, producing tens of graduates a year, being the scalable and sustainable approach to leader training that is required by the modern Malawi church.
Our next meeting was with Pastor Gerald Malindah who is Deputy Chairman of ZEC, and the pastor of Kawale ZEC, one of the big Lilongwe churches. It was fascinating to see the way Gerald was using the assets of the local church to create income that would progress the mission of the church; for example renting space in the church compound to minibus drivers as secure car parking during the week. However, even more exciting was his vision of a church where every disciple was equipped and released to make disciples, and to discover the enthusiasm we both shared for saturation training of all ZEC leaders. This was wonderfully reflected in the church’s focus of multiplying disciples who proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life; a focus that we did not see everywhere we visited.
Then we were off for our third and final stop of the day at the offices of Veritas College Malawi, and specifically Rev Dr Davodson Chifungo and Martin Etter. In an exciting contrast to African Bible College, Veritas (see here) focus on foundational bible training through the local church and more formal diplomas and degrees through distance learning with the Australian headquarters. Its all designed to give church leaders and members access to training when residential Bible college training is out of reach.
The impression was that the predominant focus of Veritas is on enabling ‘truthful’ bible interpretation (hermeneutics). And while this is critically needed in Africa, on first pass the approach appears to still be quite academic – especially if the objective were to reach the mass of untrained elders in ZEC. And while the approach of Veritas to train local trainers to train others begins to bring some scale to the process it still appears to lack the sort of multiplication capability necessary for saturation training of hundreds of leaders in a denomination the size of ZEC.
What a fascinating day of fellowship with three such different groups of faithful Christians aiming in their own way to proclaim Christ the Way, Truth and Life. And what a relief that it was just a short drive back to the guest house!