Jammu, 8th July 1998
by Alex Abraham
Coordinator, Project North West 2000 AD
By Johan Combrinck
Date: 20 - 24 April 1998
Venue: Chongoni Centre
In their first post GCOWE'97 meeting Malawi's delegates noted that there was no structure in the country representative of the Body of Christ with the ability and mandate to lead a National Initiative. Recognizing that such a national structure would be needed they decided to form an ad-hoc working group with one mandate; to communicate the vision for a National Initiative targeting Malawi's unreached to denominational and mission leaders. Those leaders would then be asked to identify representatives to attend a consultation of national leaders to discuss the need for a National Initiative.
A further commitment was to disband the ad-hoc working group at the end of the consultation. The idea was to give way to a nationally elected body that would more truly represent the interests of the broader Body of Christ in the country.
The result was a weeklong consultation at the Chongoni Centre out side the national capital, Lilongwe.
This first ad-hoc working group consisted of Dr. Ryk Van Velden (chairperson), Rev. McOwen Mwale (vice chairman), Mr. Stephen Bota (secretary), Past. R. Chikawakwa. (treasurer), Rev. Major Jimu (member)
Ross Campbell and Johan Combrinck, co-coordinators for African National Initiatives, were invited to present the National Initiative strategy and to help Malawian leaders think through the implications of such an initiative. Malawian speakers included: Francis Mkandawire, General Secretary of the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Rev. Mvula J. Mvula, chairman of the EMA and country leader of Navigators and also chairman of the Malawi Bible Society, Rev. J Mphatso, General Secretary of the General Synod of the Church of Central Africa - Presbyterian (CCAP) (The oldest and largest church in the country), Rev. Dr. Ryk Van Velden, Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) missionary with the CCAP, Major Jimu, senior government advisor and chairman of the government sponsored commission on poverty, and also national director for Every Home Crusade (EHC), Rev. Y.Chienda (Nkhoma Synod), Rev.L. M. Chakwera (General superintendent of AOG),Rev. W. Chidzambuyo (Principle of Likubura Bible Institute), and others.
Every delegate was expected to pay a token registration fee of 60 Kwacha (US$2). The balance to cover the five days accommodation, meals and transportation was paid for out of a gift from the Presbyterian Church (USA) Southern Africa Office.
A love offering of MK700 was taken up to bless the resource ministry personnel that had come to present their programmes to the consultation. A further gift of MK365 was collected from the delegates to bless the staff of the Chongoni Centre for their hard work in serving the members.
On the last evening a challenge was put before the delegates to "put their money where their mouths are". They were asked to pledge towards a seed-faith offering to help get the process rolling. An amount of MK14,100 was pledged.
1 Day one was given to introducing the current state of world evangelisation, introducing National Initiatives together with sharing of several African models. Delegates were also made aware of available resources, both within Africa and from around the world.
2 Day two dealt with the current realities within Malawi. Leaders looked at, and discussed the state of the Church. Both Harvest Field and Harvest Force realities were analyzed. The need for mission both within Malawi and from Malawi was discussed. They also looked at the need for a national research project and the mobilizing of a national prayer movement. Lastly, realizing the root of much of the problem, attention was also given to the issue of reconciliation and unity. (More on this later)
3 The last day featured workshops, during which time the Malawian leadership broke out into small groups to discuss the priorities and policies relating to an ongoing National Initiative. This led to an election of the Malawi National Initiative Steering Committee. The gathering decided that three members from each of the three regions of Malawi should be elected. Election of these regional representatives was done by the groups from those respective regions. The whole group then came together again and voted on a chairperson.
The following members were elected to serve on the National body:
The following comment on the first day by Rev. J. Mphatso - (Gen. Secretary of the General Synod of the CCAP) clearly represented the sentiment among much of the group as they first came together. He reported, "The main problem in Malawi is a lack of unity and mobilization in the Church..." During the first two days different speakers also referred to the need for "greater unity in the Body" and a "strategic united front". Reconciliation among the broader Body was needed in order for anyone to expect anything to come of a National Initiative in the country. All agreed. But no man-made plans could have foreseen the incredible move of God's Spirit on the third evening.
Rev. Chakwera (General Superintendent of the AOG) and Rev. Chienda (Presbytery Moderator for the CCAP) were asked to speak jointly on the issue of Reconciliation and Unity. Each of these leaders took about half an hour to share a Biblical exposition and to explain the need for such unity. But then it was towards the end of Rev. Chakwera's exposition, as he was relating his personal experience of rejection and hurt in the past, that spirit of the meeting changed. A tangible sense of awe and the presence of the Lord filled the place. Rev. Chakwera shared his pain. He also asked for the forgiveness of all those in the room - with a special plea for forgiveness from his CCAP brethren against whom he had been carrying much bitterness.
At first an uncomfortable silence settled in over the gathering. But then it broke as Rev. Chienda walked up to Rev. Chakwera and hugged him in forgiveness. That gave way to a spirit of brokenness upon the whole congregation. Many wept. Others joined in asking forgiveness for their part in pointing fingers. Some admitted to having had a spirit of superiority in the past. Others admitted to animosity and mistrust of other groups. One working committee member even admitted to having met to discuss with others of their own specific persuasion at this consultation to try and block another group from "taking control of the process".
The result of this move of God was a total coming together of this group around a common commitment to seeing Malawi reached for Jesus. No longer was it each group's own agenda that mattered. No longer was it important who took the lead or who got the credit. Rather, what now mattered was that the job get done and that God get the glory. This then was also reflected in the voting for an executive committee the next morning.
Johan Combrinck co-coordinator for African National Initiatives said, "I have been coming to Malawi with this same message for over twelve years now, and this is the first time that I've seen anything like this... Never before have I experienced such a true coming together of the different groups that make up the Church of Jesus Christ in this country. My experience in the past, rather has been of a Body largely divided and suspicious of one another...For the first time in all these year I have great hope that all of Malawi now can be won for our Lord!"
Rev. Mvula Mvula, Chairman of the Evangelical Association of Malawi said, "We have experienced a breakthrough!" "The church needs a united effort to reach out to the unreached tribes and people groups of Malawi. This consultation has been the first where church leaders of different churches and organizations have clearly expressed the need of working together as a team in reaching out to the unreached with the gospel of Christ. I am very optimistic that this will make a great impact in our nation. I fully support the efforts of this initiative and will work and pray for the success of this initiative. We in the Evangelical Association of Malawi are excited in the way God is answering our prayers in reaching out to the unreached of Malawi."
Dr. Ryk Van Velden, Chairman of the National Steering Committee, remarked, "We have been humbled by the Spirit of the Lord!"
Rev. J. Mphatso, General Secretary of the General Synod of the CCAP wrote the following, "TOGETHER WE CAN DO MORE!"...This consultation, the first of it's kind, is not only an eye opener, but the first rung in the ladder towards mobilization of the Body of Christ in Malawi...It is our marching orders to go and reach the unreached groups of our people in Malawi. Until the time of this consultation there has been a lot of mistrust, disrespect, and friction among and between denominations and organizations / ministries. This was affirmed during the last but one evening when one of the delegates stood up and confessed about a plan (from his group) not to give chance to the mainline member churches to be part of the National Initiative Committee. This confession demolished the devil's wall which would hinder the process of electing an acceptable committee. I have been encouraged indeed by the consultation."
Mr. Willie Musopole, National director for Trans World Radio said, "..at last we now can move forward with the process".
Mr. Francis Mkandawire, General Secretary of EAM, in a remark to Johan Combrinck said, "Thank you for all the years that you have invested in our people...Thank you for keeping on coming back...Thank you for not giving up on us!"
Mr. Wells Sakala, Evangelist and university lecturer and member of the National Steering Committee said, "Disunity among Christians and especially among Christian leadership has been one of the primary causes for not getting a clear Christian message out to the people. All the infighting among denominations and Christian groups, each one trying to make the other look bad, has caused confusion among non-Christians as to what to believe...Therefore, where Islam comes with it's more "unified" message, that appeals to the people, and they often opt for that over that of the Christian appeal...However, with this kind of response from this gathering we certainly can turn the tide against the Islamic onslaught in Malawi."
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