Ministry in Central Africa of Presbyterian Church of Victoria (Australia

October 16, 2010

Short-term mission in Central Africa – 2010

report and evaluation


Under the leadership of Rev Dr John P Wilson, Clerk of Assembly, the Presbyterian Church of Victoria led a twelve member team to both Zambia and Malawi to work alongside our partner church for four weeks. This is our report.

i)  Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Blantyre Synod

Blantyre Synod is a very large grouping of over 500 congregations/prayer houses and nearly 200 ministers containing a theological mix that you might expect in Presbyterianism that has not been through the union process. Its main theological college is warmly evangelical, but not consistently reformed. For some, post-grad studies are often taken at the divinity department of Fort Hare University in Sth Africa which brings back to Blantyre the more liberal and liberation theology that you’d expect. It receives financial and practical help from PCI, PCUSA (Pittsburgh Presbytery), CofS, PCC and ourselves.

There are church practices that we (who visit) are not comfortable with, for example, ministerial dress, deference given to ministers, and the style of Lord’s Supper celebration which more resembles CofS practice than ours. Also, the Synod has ordained women into the ministry. We who visit never make this an issue, and we work in churches whenever invited regardless of this. Though, when asked, we are able to explain our theological stand for qualified male-only ordination and other reformed distinctives.

Blantyre Synod (from the senior leadership down) is very appreciative of our partnership and invites us to continue with them. This is not simply African politeness, nor is it a reflection of gratitude for material support. They are genuinely appreciative of us. At the farewell banquet this year the Moderator thanked the Aussies for our consistent support and friendship over the years: “You bring faith with you – it’s your strong faith that you speak of all the time, that’s why we love your coming.” Ours is a theological influence.


An obvious place to start this evaluation is to affirm that the personnel who make up the team significantly determine the effectiveness of the mission. This year’s group were almost entirely returnees which meant that:

  • our preparation briefings were more meaningful (i.e. we each drew on past experience in our sessions)
  • we hit the road running from the first day without the need for an orientation program – i.e. the cross cultural shock on the first weekend was much less
  • we were warmly received by our partner church who immediately recognised us as friends
  • our ministry built on previous work done instead of starting from scratch – i.e. we knew where to begin our ministry this year

The advantage is clear: keep returning with experienced campaigners and the work of the manager is easier and the ministry with our partner church is more effective.

Weighing against this is that we are not widening the participation to others who could, or should, volunteer for service. Hence the number of people involved becomes static and the number of PCV churches being blessed in this ministry remains a small group. There remains debate on the question of experienced campaigners vs. recruits.


Preaching Grace

There are so many opportunities and invitations to preach. There is a thirst to hear the Word of God. I could hardly keep up with the invitations. And we are preaching to 100s and 100s of people at one time. People are attentive and they are moved by expository preaching of God’s Word, and find it refreshing. Many comments are: “That’s not what we’re used to.”

But that’s not the point. If we were not there, they would still hear preaching by their own pastor. We don’t go all that way to fill pulpits that, in our absence, would be filled anyway!

Let’s evaluate:

  • The attentiveness and gratefulness might be because we are white and visiting from the West – to some extent this novelty factor is inevitable. We DO stand out as different, and difference draws attention to itself.
  • The attentiveness and gratefulness, to some extent, is anticipatory of a future church-church partnership and comes with the expectation that this might lead to money – money to build, to rebuild. This is based on my past experiences and even conversations with visiting speakers from PCUSA. We’re seen in the same light by some congregations who are hopeful of handouts. Congregations hear of another congregation receiving visitors and then the next year receiving gifts. This may be one reason that the Synod administration keeps posting us to their mate’s churches, despite our plea to go to rural or poor or smaller churches.
  • On the positive side, I was thrilled by the unsolicited comments of the Synod Moderator: that “You Aussies bring faith with you – that is your gift to us!” What he meant was that we are able to passionately and clearly articulate the true things of faith and that we display the true character of faith with openness and that we talk about them freely.
  • There are frequent feedback comments from the elders of churches we visit that our preaching is powerful, effective, truthful and evangelical. We are always preaching on the central themes of the atonement, righteousness, grace – as we pledge to do in our PCA Declaratory Statement, para 1.

If we continue we must send men who can preach on the central things of the faith and by example inspire hearers … but as well, men who know WHY they preach and HOW they are preaching like that and can explain and teach the elements of good preaching. There are opportunities mid-week to gather young men together and explain HOW to preach the Word. We must train others for ministry, not just excite them with good preaching.

We need to send preachers who understand biblical theology, homiletics and hermeneutics – who can assist in the training of preachers and mentoring preachers and encouraging good preaching. Homiletics and hermeneutics and biblical theology are needed, especially among the elders and evangelists who are often called on to preach but have no theological training and therefore little formal understanding of these things.

Can we prepare the way for a permanent placement? There is so much we can do with the right man who loves preaching grace, and for his wife to teach women the same truths of grace. Grace is being eroded all around. The prosperity teachers are in Central Africa in plague proportions. Even within the synod there are many pastors teaching a form of works in order to keep a “hold” over their people. Temptations for subverting the gospel are everywhere. We need a strong Bible teacher.

We need to send men who are fit and well and have plenty of energy. For example, on my last Sunday in Blantyre I preached to nearly 2000 people altogether at St Columba’s CCAP congregation. This was spread over three services starting at 6.00 am. I finished preaching by 1.15 pm. Every time I stood to preach I found an amazing energy to open up the Word again, and though I should have been tiring, I found the Holy Spirit gave me discernment and energy. We need to identify pastors who can preach well but who also have the experience and ability to teach homiletics and hermeneutics at an elementary level.

Right at the edge of a developing village, 2½ hrs drive from Blantyre, is CCAP’s Neno Girls Secondary School, a strategic place for a school. The enrolment is now just past 300 girls doing their last four years of secondary school education. For those who do well in their exams they can then sit for the university entrance exam. The standard of education needs stimulus and improvement – not many girls make it to post-secondary education (which they need to be equipped enough to find employment).

 The education department of the church (CCAP) oversees this mission and they have developed the school with specific goals in mind for the protection and development of girls who are marginalised and vulnerable in Malawian society. In a typical Malawian family, if there is a choice to be made, boys are sent to school in preference to girls. Girls are vulnerable to rape, early pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and premature death.

Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) Melbourne, has for years been raising funds for this school. But I want to do more. The need is for partnership in the educative process. Here is where it’s more delicate. We can’t be seen to be crashing in over the staff – each of whom is a government qualified teacher. But, generally speaking, their educative method – their pedagogy – is poor. There is not much intuitive learning, inquiry-based learning or anything that reflects the last 60 years of education theory. Their method resorts to rote learning and unison repetition of standard patterns and sentences. The best thing we can do is to loan them staff for periods of time. Of course we need to accommodate them in facilities that are of sufficient standard for us westerners. I’m hoping that PLC might put forward names of volunteers – but they would need to be confessing and practicing Christians.

It wouldn’t be difficult to manage this – all the teachers would need is orientation to African culture for a couple of days then transport to Neno. After that, they would work at the direction of the Principal.

There is less value in bringing teachers for just 3 weeks of a short-term mission – it’s not sufficient time for making a significant difference in the school. Little can be achieved in the students’ lives (though I’m not dismissing that altogether) and I doubt that much can be achieved systemically in the school.

I inspected the visitors lodge which is looking good in plan but only built to lintel level so far. It would be a safe house for visiting staff to stay if we can complete it properly. What gave me heart in this extremely poor country and among the ever present “aid dependent” culture (i.e. hand out for more), the school community is showing resolve and a form of strategic planning. The school has been working on making 200,000 bricks to build a multi-purpose hall and begin much needed staff housing. The soil of Neno is such that they can at least do this for themselves – make bricks. The hall is needed as a central meeting house for the whole school (planned to grow to 400 girls) and the housing is needed for staff because it’s difficult to attract quality staff to Neno without it.

The other need I saw was for a fence to safeguard the girls from intruders and to declare NGSS land and protect it from encroachment. In a country where title deeds for property don’t often exist, it’s important to claim your boundaries, preferably occupying all quarters of it, otherwise others from the village can “legitimately” use it or squat there.

It seems strategically important to have teachers go under the umbrella and with the recognition of the PCV. i.e we need to find a way for the PCV’s APWM committee to maintain oversight and have the PLC relationship develop as part of the PCV - Blantyre Synod partnership.

Ministry to Women (by women)

Each year we have placed Christian women at Chigodi Women’s Ministry Centre to work alongside women participating in the CCAP training program. The training program extends far beyond three weeks that we are there, so our ladies’ input is a small, but significant, element of the overall work. Such is the trust that has developed over the years between CCAP Blantyre Synod and PCV that the Chigodi Director hands the 3 weeks over to our women to run with whatever they wish.

This ministry is already effective and valued, and some life-changing skills can be transferred in this time. It can be enhanced by long-term commitment. Instead of short termers, going for 3 weeks, is there a way we can seek within the PCV for a 6-month placement? There would be some difficulties for someone to live there for 6 months, but a husband and wife team might be possible if the husband was a handy-man type who could work away at long term repairs and improvements to facilities. A husband and wife team could go and serve independent of a short-term mission team. Provided Rev Kay Day is available to arrange things, it doesn’t need much preparation or coordination from a management point of view.

The church in Blantyre is thanking all those who contributed so generously to the PCV container appeal – the supply of goods for craft and other activities at Chigodi is invaluable. In each container there are supplies of cloth and material and knitting wool that lasts for two or three years. The container ministry is costly but effective. If we found a generous hearted donor we could easily co-ordinate a biennial effort for such purpose. i.e. it’s not TOO difficult to find the volunteers to collect, manage and pack the goods – out Reservoir/Eltham way we are so used to it. The costs vary according to the exchange rate, but it is something near to $12,000 at the moment – that’s approx $9,500 Freight Forwarder charges and approx $2,500 to be sent to Malawi to cover their import and taxes charges.

Can we find a husband-wife team who could give 6 months service to this cause? Otherwise there is benefit in two or three women attending short-term on another short-term mission provided the women are able to teach Scripture and have some practical talent to demonstrate. Thorough preparation before is essential – it is not sufficient to leave for this mission without weeks of preparation.

Are there ways of attracting philanthropic support from generous-hearted Christians who could help sponsor a biennial container appeal?

Orphan Care

Other women (though it doesn’t have to be women), who choose not to join into the Chigodi ministry, help out with various ministries including orphan care. Many a morning is spent at CCAP supported day-care centres. We show our love to these children, read to them, sing with them, feed them, talk with them of Jesus and assist in all the practical ministries of the day.

CCAP has many programs under the general heading of OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children). The need is never ending. There is no shortage of ministry for volunteers and we are not obligated to fund anything except to cover petrol costs each day. This is the only difficulty in that we are reliant on the Synod organising and providing lifts to and from the day-care centres each day.

Regarding the APWM partner society ORBUS. Orbus has now been handed over to CCAP Blantyre Synod to manage as an ongoing ministry to orphans. It is no longer owned by a separate company with Australian and Malawian directors. It has been successfully handed over in such a way as to protect the integrity of this mission and to preserve always its original purpose – to serve Christ by ministering the love of the gospel to orphaned and other vulnerable children.

There will be ongoing needs at Orbus for Australian workers to enter into in future years. There is no accommodation on-site, so this will necessitate daily trips to and from the site from the accomm centre in Blantyre.

We need to find ways in which PCV volunteers can assist might become clearer. It is preferable, if we have volunteers for “orphan care” to assign them to Orbus to work alongside the Malawian directors. We have an agreement with Synod that Orbus management will receive and deploy approved Australian workers. This is of more strategic value than filling in for a week or so at one of Synod’s day-care centres.

Vehicle Repair and  Maintenance

Over the course of two years we have been able to make systemic changes to the operation of the CCAP Synod car maintenance division. Jim has overseen the implementation of a computer recorded system for keeping tabs on each church vehicle and its service record. He also renovated the workshop and brought power to it for the first time to enable the CCAP car mechanics to get on with their work more efficiently. We have empowered them in their work. Whereas for years they were more at the forgotten end (ignored) of the Synod pecking order for attention and for funds. In fact, funds almost never went their way.

Recently we have also provided them with a concreted work place for car repairs. Instead of lying down on rough broken rock to work on a car … they have concrete floors.

Jim was pleased to find that the tools we had supplied last year were all still being used and the vice was still attached to the work bench. So, my assessment is that someone could come and work alongside their CCAP mechanics at any time. The facilities are much better for work. However, the person(s) would need to have a source of funds from their supporting and sending churches because that is often the critical factor as to whether a vehicle gets repaired or not. Perhaps a church could support a mechanic with a fund of $5,000 for repairs and parts that he could have discretionary power over. A car mechanic team could go and serve independent of a short-term mission team. So long as we have some funds available, it doesn’t need much preparation or coordination, as there are always synod vehicles off the road for repair and the accommodation centre for the Synod is a short walk away.

Building and Construction

Though we have successfully sent two teams to Blantyre for building projects – they have not been without difficulty:

  • they are costly projects – a large church roofing project costs approximately $12,000 and so we need a generous church or two to raise this amount prior to departure;
  • they are sometimes difficult to arrange and coordinate with the Synod as plans seem to change and  transport to and from the site is not easy to arrange;
  • of all the departments of Synod I have found the Building Department the most difficult to extract clear and workable plans from.

On the positive side we have built up a good reputation with the Synod because of successful roofing projects in the past and also we have donated our power generator, drop-saw and nail-gun to the Synod and they have agreed to make them available to any future Aussie team that visits. The end product (i.e. a roofed church where the building has remained roof-less for 10 years) is of great value to the African church and an event much celebrated in the local village.

Such building projects enhance the spread of the Gospel, but they do require more organising and supervision from a management point of view.

We need to find and send more builders and also to start early on approaching churches with a view to church-church sponsorship. 

Rev Colin and Mrs Shirley M’Bawa, PCV’s founding partner in Malawi, now in Zomba

Colin and Shirley are doing well. They are content in ministry and very happy to serve Christ in Zomba. The opportunities for gospel ministry have opened up significantly in this strategically important city. It is the former capital city and still a centre for education and a city in which the CCAP has a strong presence.

Colin is particularly gifted in receiving and mobilising visiting preachers.

PCV might look at endorsing a PCV pastor to visit and minister in Zomba CCAP under Colin’s direction. However there is some difficulty here and sensitivities that need to be explored as the Synod would have all such appointments made through their office – but, with regard to the Synod office, Colin feels marginalised.

Bible Distribution

Any time we visit, if we take donor funds from home, we can enjoy this strategically effective ministry. Thanks to the amazing generosity of so many individuals and churches we have been able to purchase more than 1,000 Chichewa Bibles for distribution to needy people over the last two years. This ministry of Bible distribution took place at various times during the missions and in various places. There are many people, hungry for the Word, who have no money with which they can buy a Bible. This is a gift with effect and blessing that continues long after the Bible has been presented.

PCV can always have this ministry in mind whenever and wherever future visits take place. An appeal for Bibles can bring forward money from PCV churches that are put to immediate effect as soon as the team lands in Africa.

ii)  CCAP Zambia Synod

This is a much smaller synod because it’s been through the “cleansing” process of church union and this is the remnant – about 90 congregations/prayer houses and 35 pastors. They invite me to come each year for an open-air evangelistic rally, for teaching theological students at Chasefu and for preaching in churches.

In Zambia, I am asked annually to lead the team for an evangelistic rally in a town of their choosing. I train the team in how to preach evangelistically and then also preach each evening into the night air to any who have ears to hear.

On the concept of leading a short-term mission team to Zambia there are considerations to bear in mind:

on the –ve side:

  • there aren’t as many developed and/or sponsored programs working in this Synod that we can join into – i.e. there are no orphan day-care centres operating, no women’s centre, no resource centre etc
  • the Synod doesn’t own central properties as Blantyre Synod does and certainly no accomm centre like Grace Bandawe – i.e. the Synod has one 5-acre property on the outskirts of Lusaka called Chunga, where they own a manse, an office, a chicken farm and space to grow
  • the accomm they use for o/seas visitors in Lusaka is the Roman Catholic guest house Kapilinga, which is spacious , comfy, but not cheap (allow $50 per day)
  • the only other accomm centre is CCAP owned Lundazi Boma guest house (northern Zambia) – a guest house that is bearable, but rudimentary (allow $25 per day)!
  • Zambia synod covers enormous distances and 70 languages, meaning we must bring larger amounts of money to pay for more diesel – they think nothing of travelling 9 or 10 hours by road to get to the next mission and serve the rural parishes

on the +ve side:

  • the Zambian Synod brothers and sisters are closer to us in humility, spirituality, worship and mission purpose
  • they need our support as they are not as recognised by overseas churches as are the larger groupings of churches under the banner United Church Zambia
  • the Synod is inviting us to come and they have the ability to organise a mission for us

PCV is to consider the following:

  • a distinct Zambian-focussed short-term mission program to run mid-2012 – I suggest 2012 because I believe that it would require nearly 18 months lead-up time in preparation
    • one week’s ministry in Lusaka
      • the men (who would need to be theologically trained) could offer eldership training seminars, or, more widely, seminars for all in leadership
      • others could work alongside the HIV/AIDS department of the church which is headed by a very keen minded man Costin M’wale – i.e. Costin is an African who has the ability to think strategically and articulate things clearly – his mission is firstly educative and then to assist and encourage medical intervention and care
    • two weeks’ ministry based at Chasefu - we could be housed at Lundazi Guest house for weekends and then transported to Chasefu (50 min) for Mon – Thur to be either billeted in Chasefu homes or camp out – but there is not much luxury at Chasefu (eg no power)
      • we offer a teaching course by some of our trained ministers at Chasefu Theological College, so we need ministers who have ability and aptitude for theological education
      • others can teach and tutor at the CCAP school on the same site at Chasefu
    • we could be useful in funding and building up the facilities at the CCAP Chunga farm

iii) CCAP Harare Synod

I have held discussions with Pastor Juma (General Secretary). They are pleading for us to go across the border and visit. They are smaller again than the Zambian Synod. They would value a partnership.

 conclusion - future of the partnerships

It’s time to consider renewing partnerships with the two synods and to consider making a further partnership with CCAP Harare Synod. There are partnerships worth signing because we have so much in common with regard to doctrine and practice that we work harmoniously together in the Gospel (maybe the Reformed Churches in Sth Africa are like this to PCA). Then there are partnerships worth forming because we have essential doctrine in common, though not all practices, and yet we have a profound influence for good. I think our relationship with CCAP falls within this second category.

The CCAP leadership in both synods are very warm towards us. The General Secretary and Deputy, the Moderator and Vice, in each synod are engaging and competent church leaders. They go out of their way to receive us, excuse our cultural blunders and acquiesce with nearly every request. They are men and women of integrity with a deep love of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

PCV is considering sending the Victorian Moderator, Rev Andrew Bray, to do this in 2011 on behalf of the federal APWM committee. The current partnership agreements have run their course.


John P Wilson

(Melbourne, Australia)