A short mission trip to Malawi, 12-24 April 2024

It has been almost exactly six years since the 2017 licensing exams that Pastor Chris Connors and I participated in. A lot has happened since then that kept us from returning to Malawi. First, our principal point of contact and erstwhile leader of the EPCM, Mr Rex Chitekwe, embezzled the funds of the EPCM to run a political campaign. Thankfully, he was not elected; but his unconscionable actions and the failure of the EPCM Synod to deal decisively with him left us leery of supporting the denomination further. To add to that, providentially, COVID-19 struck shortly after, so we could not enter Malawi even if we wanted to.

However, in February 2023, Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi and Mozambique hard. Seeing our brothers in need, we could not shut up our bowels of compassion (1 Jn 3:17). Our Diaconate sent some funds to provide relief to those who were most severely affected in the two countries. This was followed by an irrigation project supported by concerned brothers, wherein two plots of land were cultivated off-season using water pumped from a nearby river. A newly formed Malawi Relief Committee distributed the produce to people experiencing poverty. This was followed by a loan scheme where some men were given loans to buy seeds and fertilisers. They were to repay in kind with a portion of their harvest. Our Session and Diaconate began to talk about the possibility of a trip to assess the situation.

Austin Kanyowa with the Bibles
we purchased

Providentially, around the same time, Pastor Connor’s brother, elder Phil Connors, was also considering returning to Malawi. He asked if I would be keen to visit with him. Having cleared with our Session, I extended an invitation to brother Caleb, who enthusiastically agreed. Likewise, deacon Teen Onn (Tim) readily agreed to go with us when urged by elder Phil.

That’s how the four of us ended up in Malawi. We were concerned we might have difficulties with preflight and postflight customs checks as Tim had brought many pieces of equipment such as batteries, mobile phones and solar panels for the attendees. Amazingly, we cleared every customs check without a hitch. The Lord heard our prayers!

The Team

After a detour to buy Bibles, we arrived at Nalipiri Eco Resort on the night of 12 April 2024. The students were already there, waiting for us to have dinner together. There were twelve men coming from different parts of Malawi and Mozambique. Apart from Pastors Precious Kanyowa, Samuel Capesse and Patrick Selenje (the latter two having been previously trained and ordained), the rest of the men were strategically selected by the elders of their congregations for their faithfulness to Christ, their desire to serve Him, their ability to communicate in English, and their relative youth.

The Opening Lesson Upon Arrival

The programme for the next eleven days was intense. On a typical day, we would begin at 6.30 am with breakfast, followed by morning worship, followed by four or five hour-and-a-half long lessons on the Westminster Shorter Catechism and one or two sessions on a variety of delightful ministry handmaiden training, including Malaria Testing and Treatment, Building of Arches, Construction of Wheelcarts, Cultivation of Black Soldier Flies, Teaching like a Pirate and Visual Communication. All these were followed by an evening devotion whenever it was not too late. I led the morning worship and taught the catechism lessons, while Tim taught the handmaiden classes, and together with Phil and Caleb took turns leading the evening devotions.

Dr Tim teaching about black soldier flies

Although the WSC curriculum was the main staple, the students enjoyed the handmaiden subjects most. The WSC lessons may be likened to nsima (the Malawian staple made of maize flour), while the supplementary lessons are the relish! Tim is an incredibly engaging instructor. Imagine twelve grown men gesticulating with seemingly childish hand actions as they gleefully recite the catechisms from memory.

The Students Attending the WSC Class
Elder Phil augmenting the class

The students also enjoyed the contributions of Phil, who tried to fill in any perceived gaps in the instruction, and the counsel of Caleb, who sought to drill into the students the importance of accountability and diligence.

Caleb teaching accountability

On the first Sabbath, we travelled to Phalombe to worship with Pastor Royd Waya’s congregation, the Thundu EPC, while on the second, we worshipped with the Kathundu EPC.

Members of the Thundu EPC in Phalombe

We have many stories to tell, which we must refrain from due to space constraints. But I must mention how one of the students, Joseph, suspected he contracted malaria. Our local coordinator, Austin, was arranging for him to be tested and treated in the local hospital when Tim intervened. He tested him, found him to be indeed carrying malaria parasites and gave him a course of colloidal silver. Amazingly, he showed almost complete recovery by the next day. When another student, Patrick, thought he might have malaria too, Tim had Joseph test him. He was likewise positive, but with a different parasite. Patrick was also given a course of colloidal silver, and similarly recovered upon the wings of prayer within a couple of days. They both testified that they recovered more quickly and thoroughly than they would typically when treated with medicine from the hospital.

The Kathundu Congregation

Another story we should not neglect to tell concerns the application of the Fourth Commandment. We ate in the dining hall on our first Sabbath in the resort as we did not have time to make other arrangements. However, during the week, we studied the Fourth Commandment, and it became clear that we could not have the resort staff serve us on the Lord’s Day. It was quickly agreed then that we would have the staff prepare whatever could be kept for the Lord’s Day on Saturday, and that we would have two services with lunch in between for the whole congregation when we visit the Kathundu EPC on the second Sabbath.

The Jacket choir expressing their faith in songs

We had a delightful Sabbath without any nagging of conscience. Like the Thundu congregation, the members and visitors wanted to celebrate their joy in the Lord with songs and dances. Having learned how the Second Commandment forbids anything not appointed in the word of God to be done within formal worship, I was asked to close the worship service with a benediction before the various groups who wanted to contribute items were invited to come up. We were treated to an uninhibited and vibrant celebration of faith by our brethren in Christ. Then, we had lunch before the evening service, followed by a malaria clinic for those who felt unwell. What a day!

Malaria Clinic After Evening Service at Kathundu EPC

The four of us headed home with hearts full of praise to the Lord and ideas of how we can help our brethren. We agreed that there is an urgent need to continue in biblical and catechetical instruction. We also agreed that there is a need for handmaiden ministries to be spearheaded by concerned brothers rather than overseen by the church. Part of this handmaiden ministry must help our brethren become self-sustaining so they do not have to rely on foreign aid whenever a disaster befalls the land. Our prayer is that through our feeble efforts, the name of Christ may be greatly magnified as the gospel advances in Malawi and the church grows in strength and grace.

The road ahead will not be easy. Like the typical Malawian road, it is full of deep potholes that require watchfulness and adroitness to avoid without endangering passengers and pedestrians. Yet, there is a certain urgency we cannot neglect if we want to help our brethren. This urgency is best illustrated by the many new mosques that have sprung up along the trunk roads since our previous visit. Indeed, there is now a small mosque every kilometre or so along the road in some areas! Whoever sponsored these must be very wealthy, for they are very well-built compared to the average building all around. And every mosque has a borehole attached to supply drinking water, which locals inform us is only available to those who join the mosque or convert to Islam. One can imagine how a poor Malawian may easily be drawn to them to seek the help and solace that the gospel alone can genuinely provide. The window of opportunity to do something of

Oh, may the Lord stir our hearts to do what we can while we can. Oh, that at the end, we may not only hear our Malawian brothers saying with tears in their eyes, “Zikomo kwambiri!” but the Lord saying with approval, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy [Lord]” (Mt 25:21, 23). Amen.

—JJ Lim