Last week Myles had a great time getting out of his Blantyre study to help with the first of three ‘Pastors Bookset Conferences’ by Zambesi Mission this July/August. He felt energised to be back working so closely with such a great team, and also to be putting into practice some of the output of his research and reading for his dissertation.
This first of these 4 day, cross-denominational, training events was in Mchinji at the western edge of Malawi’s Central Region (see here) near the border with Zambia.
The team consisted of Pastor Simon Chikwana (Field Director for ZM), Pastor Connex Ijalasi (J-Life Country Director), Pastor Victor Zuze (from Limbe ZEC), Saul Mateyu (who lectures at EBCOM), Rose Chirwa (ZM Projects Officer). After such a hard working week together we felt like one big family.
The local pastors fraternal, and the host church (God Embassy Chapel for All Nations) had done a great job organising the event and attendance (boosted by support on local radio) peaked on the last day at over 160 pastors, evangelists and church leaders.
Despite the headline figures reporting over 75% of Malawians professing to be Christian (including 15% professing to be evangelicals), the church faces massive challenges from nominalism, legalism, syncretism with African Traditional Religions, and the accelerating encroachment of Islam. This leaves grass-roots pastors, who can be pastoring congregations of many hundreds across maybe a dozen sites and often without any formal training, desperately keen for teaching and training.
It was also a great learning opportunity for Myles, as he saw faithful bible teachers present on subjects as broad as Mission, Evangelism, Marriage, Culture, and Discipleship. And they did so with the power, authority, expertise and expert contextual understanding that comes from decades of service in the country as pastors, teachers and leaders.
For his part, Myles used the opportunity to develop a short intensive training programme on understanding and communicating a bible message. It is called ‘Preach the Word’ after the core passage (2 Timothy 4:1-6) that is used to both teach some biblical principles and as the example text for hermeneutic and homilitic practice. Myles introduced folk to a framework developed by a majority-world pastor for use in the majority-world, which he had further modifed based on other people’s work to emphasise the model’s applicability in oral cultures like rural Malawi. Myles enjoyed seeing the participants recognise that the core biblical foundation for preaching is to ‘expose’ the meaning of scripture rather than impose a meaning on it, and seeing their enthusiasm when they found how their inate oral communication skills could fit within the framework. Myles came away encouraged by the way the group seemed to empathise with so many of the observations and conclusions of his research, and even more so by the way the Q&A sessions and the many side conversations showed a real engagement with what seemed to be seen as a simple and practical tool to help the leaders faithfully preach the Word.
However, at an emotional level perhaps the team was most affected by the testimony of one of the participants. At the end of the conference he volunteered to give the vote of thanks on behalf of the participants. Bravely standing at the front he explained how, through all that they had heard concerning true discipleship and the biblical principles of marriage, he and his estranged wife (separated for four years) had been reconciled. It was a wonderful finish to a great week.
The team are now looking forward to catching up with all their various responsibilities back in Blantyre in the coming week before the next conference in the distirct of Mulanji 3-7th August.