During our short trip back to the UK we were delighted to be asked to speak on several occasions on our work with Zambesi Mission in Malawi. It was a great opportunity for us to look back and take stock of our first nine months in our adopted home of Malawi, and to think of what the future holds. We certainly concluded that our UK visit marked the ‘end of the beginning’ of our time in Malawi and that we looked forward to being able to contribute all the more strongly to serving God’s kingdom in Malawi on our return.We anticipated the kinds of questions people would ask us, and worked our report around them.
What is the biggest difference in your day-to-day life?
MYLES: Being a bit of a geek the most important difference for me, especially early on, was the lack of a reliable electricity supply to keep my PC running and a broadband connection to keep me in touch with the world. A more persistent challenge for me is to get used to a culture that has a very different approach to time keeping compared to global corporations.
RUTH: The biggest difference I have felt is the lack of long summer evenings. All year round it is dark by 6pm – no summer evening walks! The other big difference is driving and public transport. We have learnt the value of prayer for ‘journeying mercies’. The state of the roads, the driving – and indeed some of the drivers – make journeying much more of an adventure.
What is the high point of your time so far?
MYLES: I think that has to be the ZM Pastors Bookset Conferences which gave me the chance to understand more about the different cultures in different corners of Malawi. Living away from Blantyre for 4 or 5 nights was a great opportunity to get to know some wonderful Malawi bible teachers a lot better. It was also fun, after studying the topic in so much detail for my dissertation, to be asked to develop and facilitate three preacher training sessions at each of the conferences.
RUTH: My high point has to be running my first Song Creation Workshop with ‘Echoes of Grace’. I have had the wonderful privilege of helping this group of talented young Malawi Christians who want to use music for reach rural village areas with the Gospel. In particular I was able to apply my training to help facilitate the young people as they created new scripture based songs in their own musical style.
What has been the biggest low?
MYLES: For me that must be the feeling of absolute helplessness when faced with the devastation of Sonjeka village from the floods in early 2015. As someone used to a business world where I had the resources and manpower to be the instant problem solver it was excruciating to just stand and try to console a tearful grandmother who had lost everything.
RUTH: My biggest low was attending the funeral of four children killed in a suspicious fire at an orphan home. Those killed included the son of the house-parents, and witnessing their devastation, and the collective grief of a whole community, was a very moving and painful experience.
What is the greatest answer to prayer that you have experienced?
RUTH: We have really learned in the last few months how God delights to look after practical things. For example, we had been waiting to be granted our Temporary Employment Permit before bringing in our small shipment of personal items so we avoided the huge customs duties. After months of waiting, and desperately needing some of the items for our ministry, we decided to put things in God’s hands and bring the goods over. We should have known: the very same day our shipment arrived in Blantyre airport, we got word that our TEP was ready for collection at Blantyre Immigration Office. God has also been so gracious in providing us a lovely Blantyre home kindly provided by Zambesi Mission.
MYLES: Yes again it is the very practical things that spring to my mind. The way God has provided for safe travel as we drive long distances on the Malawi roads, and as Ruth travels by public transport with the CFCM team. For the way he has kept us so healthy. For the way he has guided our daughter’s future this year. For the way he has provided tenants for our house in Suffolk … He has felt very real and very present.
What is the biggest personal challenge you have faced?
MYLES: I think God was showing his sense of humour when he decided to call me from a global business world with its full-on ‘do-it’ mentality with a laser focus on timescales, deliverables and accountability, and place me in Malawi. My personal challenge is getting comfortable with the different approach to getting things done, and keeping my face from showing when I get frustrated.
RUTH: Travelling to trainings with CFCM or the ZEC Sunday School team, using the most culturally relevant transport – congested, diplapidated, long-distance bus, local minibus (also congested and dilapidated), or bicycle taxi – is often a challenge to my physical and mental stamina. Also a huge challenge is Malawi’s love of chickens, that finds them on buses, in the street, inside homes and inside churches. It is certainly designed to challenge someone with a bird phobia like me.
What are the biggest needs you have seen?
MYLES: In my view the biggest challenge of all in Malawi is not material but spiritual. It is the need for a greater depth of discipleship within the country; a renewed focus on making disciples and growing servant leaders who can make disciples who make disciples (2 Timothy 2:2).
RUTH: For me the greatest need is the discipling of children. The church in Malawi has no heritage of Sunday Schools or children’s bible clubs as we have and in most churches there is just no real provision. That is why I am so passionate about CFCM and the work it does to train Sunday School and Bible Club leaders.
What is the biggest cultural shock?
MYLES: Our biggest shock has perhaps been our increased awareness, as we have been around longer and been able to ‘peel the onion’ of Malawi culture – is the continuing pernicious influence of African Traditional Religion in the wider culture and within the church.
What next for you two?
MYLES: As we have already said, it feels very much like our trip back to the UK marks the ‘end of the beginning’ of our time in Malawi. So far our time has been largely about acclimatizing, observing, listening and learning.
RUTH: So as we go back I feel ‘Echoes of Grace’ is one of my key priorities. Also helping a Malawi sister to create new songs for a new children’s song book. And of course continuing to support CFCM as it moves into training trainers and grows its work in 2016.
MYLES: My answer would be ‘who knows’ as one of the lessons I have learned is to ‘go with the flow’ and enjoy the ride! However I am going back to a very busy time as we plan the agenda and the session material for the ZEC Pastors Conference in October. The church hopes to be relaunching its strategy that I have been helping with, and I shall be doing things like building their website and communication strategy; looking into the feasibility of a radio station; facilitating the development of a training strategy; and hopefully seeing a grassroots preacher training programme come together within ZEC.
What practical things can we do to help?
RUTH: Please continue – as we have always asked – to ‘Pray – Follow – Write‘. I am particularly keen to have people contact me if they want to join a new prayer network to support the work of CFCM. We – the CFCM leaders – are ever more aware of the need for much stronger prayer support.
MYLES: The members and leaders of ZEC desperately need bibles, and ZM’s ‘Word for Word’ program is a great opportunity for people to help with this. But I also have a passion to put a Chichewa study bible in the hand of the many preaching elders in ZEC (maybe a ‘Word for Word Plus’). There is also a real need for computers and smart phones to help ZEC organise itself more effectively.
RUTH: Along similar lines, I would love to hear from anyone who has spare musical instruments that they would like to donate to my music ministry where most musicians do not have access to instruments.