Look on the Fields: Malawi

Malawi, the “Warm Heart of Africa” is a small, landlocked country in tropical Central Africa, about the size of Pennsylvania, and one-third larger than the island of Ireland. Malawi’s much larger neighbors are Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. The country’s natural beauty of majestic mountains, fertile plains, and tranquil lakes is rivalled only by the charm of her lovely people, renowned for their friendliness and the warmth of their welcome.

Malawi (formerly “Nyasaland”), pioneered during the 1850s by Scottish explorer and missionary, David Livingstone, will celebrate 50 years as a nation in 2014, having gained independence from Britain in 1964. Following 30 years of one-party rule, Malawi is still a very young democracy with only two decades of experience of multi-party politics.

Malawi is an extremely poor nation, consistently among the world’s 10 most impoverished countries. Most people live without electricity or running water in their homes and over 80%¹ of the population survives on US $2/day or less. Public services are acutely under resourced and healthcare workers, teachers, and police officers are regularly unpaid. With the price of food and other essentials already skyrocketing, the people’s economic plight is likely to deteriorate. Donor nations are withholding support following a scandal involving an estimated $500 million, almost 30% of the country’s budget, missing from public finances in the past decade, roughly equal to the total amount of foreign aid in the same period.

Mainly (75%) “Christian,” Malawians generally consider themselves a “God-fearing” nation. Most major denominations are represented in Malawi, together with many well-known, and some less well-known cults. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Church of Christ (Campbellites) are particularly strong, but most are not keeping pace with the phenomenal growth in popularity of the miracle-working apostles and prophets of the “Prosperity Gospel.” The influence of so-called “traditional religion” remains very strong and many people from all walks of life still live in fear of witchcraft. Now, instead of (or, as well as) resorting to the witch doctor’s potions and charms for good health, wealth, and prosperity you can pay a pastor for a prayer or other blessing to achieve the same goal.

“Assembly” work in Malawi is very weak in comparison to some countries in the region. The reasons for this are varied, but it is notable that in Zambia, for example, Christian testimony in some areas was started over a century ago by assembly-commended missionaries and continued for decades uninterrupted and unhindered by other influences. By contrast, even many of the cults were established in Malawi by the late 19th century, with the earliest known assembly work having been started much more recently. Only for the last 12 years has there been a continual presence of assembly-commended missionaries living in Malawi since independence, although, over the years, faithful believers have visited from neighboring countries, notably our esteemed brother and sister David and Grace Croudace (Zambia).

Estimates of the number of assemblies in Malawi vary significantly. False teaching and ignorance abound, and it is extremely rare to find “believers” able to express clearly the terms of the gospel. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, ‘the Lord knoweth them that are His.’ And, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity'” (2Tim 2:19).

My wife and I were commended to the work in 2003, and have labored in the gospel in a variety of situations. In earlier years our work was mainly in rural areas among vernacular-speaking people, but more recently was centered in a bookshop ministry in the city of Zomba, with several weekly gospel outreach activities among adults and children alike.

In 2011 we faced inevitable upheaval as our only son, Philip, turned 17. With no Christian fellowship, no prospects for employment or further education in Malawi, and no right to remain in the country after his 18th birthday, we returned to N. Ireland to facilitate the next stage of his development. He has since been baptized and received into assembly fellowship which is a great encouragement to us, and we look to the Lord to undertake for Philip in the rest. “For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matt 6:32). In the meantime, it is my privilege to maintain involvement in the work in Malawi through regular short visits of several weeks’ duration.

The lack of established assembly testimony, the deep-seated misunderstanding concerning the gospel of the grace of God, and the proliferation of false apostles are serious challenges to the progress of the gospel in Malawi. Presently there are only three commended couples living in Malawi, one each from Romania, N. Ireland, and India. “Therefore said He unto them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest'” (Luke 10:2).

We praise the Lord for an open door for the gospel. Preaching in open-air markets and other public places, a recent group of “Seed Sower” volunteers was amazed that literally hundreds often gathered to listen to the gospel. Engaging people in face-to-face conversation is never difficult, and hospitals, schools, and prisons are open for preaching and literature distribution.

Literature publication and distribution is the backbone of our work in Malawi at present. Circulation of a regular bilingual gospel magazine is currently 50,000 copies per edition, with plans to increase that significantly in the near future. My visits to Malawi usually include a 3000 or more mile road trip to supply gospel tracts, magazines, and calendars to a growing network of local contacts that would otherwise have no source of sound gospel literature. There are many preaching opportunities along the way.

As you pray for the work remember those few faithful believers who strive in the gospel amid great hardship and spiritual opposition. Give thanks for the hundreds of thousands of Bibles, gospel tracts, calendars, and magazines that have been distributed over the years, for the door that remains open, and for the thousands of “Seed Sower” texts distributed last August. Pray for laborers, and above all that the Lord would be glorified in the salvation of many souls, and the establishment of faithful New Testament assemblies to the honor of His Name.

¹ Source: World Bank Poverty headcount ratio (2010).