Dear Family and Friends
Jesus said “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in Heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen." Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)
I greet you in the precious Name of our Lord and Commissioner Jesus Christ!
The Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ is the most profound challenge we face as Christians. It challenges us in all areas of our lives, such as our knowledge of the Bible and ability to communicate its message, especially the Gospel, clearly. Our Faith – to persevere through the toughest of trials. Our obedience - to act upon the commands and teachings of Christ. It challenges our motives which influence our everyday decisions. Will I love my neighbour as myself? Will I pray for those who curse me?
Am I interceding for the lost? Am I living a holy life, as I reach out to an unholy world? As the Body of Christ we will always find ourselves with a frivolous Christianity when we fail within our personal capacities to actively partake in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I was confronted with the challenge of Christ`s Commission when I first completed the Great Commission Course (GCC) in January 2014. My whole worldview was shaken and my perspective on Evangelism, especially cross-cultural Evangelism, changed a lot. After the GCC I immediately started with the Missionary Apprentice Training Programme at Frontline Fellowship. I had the privilege of embarking on the Congo Overland Mission in June 2014. We ministered in Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi, and Congo. This newsletter will focus on the time I spent serving at a Bible college in Malawi.
The Road to Mzuzu
After three months in the field with the Frontline Mission team ministering in Zambia, Burundi and Congo, I was sent to serve with Sola Scriptura Bible College in Malawi. It was the evening approximately 18:35 that Michael sent me off to Mzuzu by bus. When I boarded the bus, I immediately realised that I was about to have an African bus ride of a life time! All the seats were taken and the people had filled up about half of the aisle, making me even the more the centre of attraction when I joined the standing passengers. It wasn’t long before the aisle of the bus was completely full. Eventually they told me to sit in front, on the engine cover which is situated next to the driver's seat. It was a hair-raising experience to see the driver move into the right hand lane of the oncoming traffic when entering a right hand turn, on a blind mountain pass! At this point I was also still recovering from a fourth eye infection. The eye patch I had on offered some relief, but there was still a persistent itchiness and strain to keep my right eye closed.
I arrived in Mzuzu at 3am the next morning and was quite exhausted from the eight and a half hour rollercoaster bus ride. Rev. Peet Erasmus was waiting for me at a guard post just outside of Mzuzu. We made our way back to the college and instead of going straight to bed we drank some coffee and talked about the college.
We had many more discussions about Sola Scriptura and the needs of the college. Rev. Peet expressed his gratefulness for some support to assist him and help at the college, I could see how it was a breath of fresh air to him. It was clear that Rev. Peet (78 years old) was exhausted from running the college all by himself. It took me about three days, from my day of arrival, to recover from an enormous blister on my foot which became a big wound after a doctor pierced the blister. They had a pair of crutches lying around which helped me to stay mobile.
Having the memories of the Great Commission Course still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t wait for my foot to heal. I wanted to speak to Rev. Erasmus about implementing PT at Sola Scriptura. He was very much in favour of the idea and said that I could start the next morning, which we did and arranged that the men do PT three times a week starting on Monday, and the women twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. PT was actually helpful to shake off that morning doziness and get a nice fresh start for the day of academics. Life in Malawi certainly does not provide one with the comforts of South Africa. For instance, every week, or second week, we have to collect fire wood. Fire wood was the main source of energy, as electricity would be in South Africa. It is just not acquired with the flip of a switch. As a matter of fact, the collecting, the chopping and splitting of the wood is one of many examples of the active lifestyle you can have in Malawi.
The Need for Maintenance
Being practically minded, I immediately saw a serious need for maintenance on all the buildings and campus property. Although the three houses, men's and women’s dorms, and lecture hall was very well built initially, the maintenance of these buildings is unfortunately suffering neglect dew to a shortage in sufficient support/resources. But I was not aware of the extremely tight budged Rev. Peet was working with and only after a month or so realized that the very reason I was there for, to help Rev. Peet with the things which are slipping through his fingers. Seeing he had both hands full with seventy-five students to manage, this was going to remain unchanged. This did not discourage me because there were many other tasks besides maintenance.
As part of the student’s training, they have weekend outreaches in different areas every new term. We transported the students with a Toyota Land cruiser and Toyota D4D 3.0 single cab bakkie (pickup trucks). We were traveling roughly 440km per vehicle on Fridays and Sundays, bringing it to 880 kilometers every weekend per vehicle. Not only was this an expensive expedition on our health but also on the colleges limited resources. There are so many factors in the mission field, which is constantly pushing you to your limits, but with a steadfast faith in Christ, we can persevere through difficult times.
Serving the Community
The community around the college property are often dependent on the help of the college vehicles. Rev. Peet will give the women of that area a ride when he drives into town, so that they can take their maize to the hammer mill. I also had to do many ambulance runs in the middle of the night, which I enjoyed doing. At a certain point I was asked to pick up the corpse of an old man and take it to his home, where about two hundred people were waiting. Because of all their protocol that needed to be followed, it took a very long time before they actually loaded the coffin so that I could transport it to the place of weeping.
Malawi has a subtropical climate and has a five to six month rainy season, which would inevitably leave any inclined road with some degree of erosion damage. A part of the main road leading into the campus grounds has a quite severe incline, and henceforth severe erosion. It was an enormous mission to get the needed amount of soil onto the road with only one wheel barrow, but we pushed hard for two hours and were able to finish the transporting of the soil onto the road (100+ wheel barrow loads). The next day we continued to wet the road with buckets of water. We walked about 35m to a small river nearby and filled up 20lt buckets in each hand and then walked from the river to the top of the inclined road, about 45m, and worked our way down splashing the water on the new earth. I transported 650lt of water walking 16 times to and fro with two 20lt buckets – I wasn’t very keen for PT the next morning! I also used the Land Cruiser to drive up and down on the road to compress the wet soil. Ridges were added to the first 30 meters of the road before the downhill slope. This decreased the amount of water running down the road quite significantly. I constructed three diagonal ridges which are ten meters apart from each other and each of them has an outlet point on the left side of the road. The logic of ridges is that you do not only divert the water but you actual lessen the collective volume of water on the surface of the road to patches of 5x10m, instead of 5x200m which literally creates a small river. The erosion damage on a 5x10m patch is significantly less and far easier to repair and maintain.
Lectures on Jeremiah
Rev. Erasmus and I eagerly anticipated the arrival of a South African lecturer from the Dutch Reformed Church. He was going to lecture on Jeremiah and other subjects, but due to reasons unknown to me, he never arrived. This left Rev. Erasmus with one week to find a new lecturer. He contacted a former student who is pastoring a church in Mzuzu area and asked him if he would be willing to lecture on Jeremiah. The pastor told Rev. Erasmus that he first had to make some arrangements before he could commit. Three days later Rev. Erasmus came to me with an intense concerned expression on his face and asked: “what are we going to do now?” It turned out that the pastor he phoned on Monday just moments earlier called and said that he would not be able to lecture on Jeremiah. The lectures on Jeremiah were scheduled to start next week Monday and Rev. Piet was due to leave for Mozambique for two weeks on that same Monday! All of a sudden, time stood still... as I observed this potential prospect of me managing seventy five students for two weeks, but also lecturing them on the book of Jeremiah with only five days to prepare! What a thought! I barely processed this only to discover with the over-joyed expression on Rev. Erasmus’s face that I just volunteered to lecture on Jeremiah!
It was late Wednesday afternoon that I was promoted to lecturer and I used the remaining hours of that day to scout for all the available materials on the book of Jeremiah. Thursday I was able to get in a few hours of preparation despite some interruptions. On Friday I only had time to prepare from early the morning till lunch time, after which we took the first two groups of students to their points of ministry for the weekend and arrived back late the night after dropping off the last two groups of students. Saturday I had all day to read up on the book of Jeremiah. Sunday was the same as Friday, only we were fetching the students. The next week arrived too soon and Ds. Peet left early that Monday morning for Mozambique. I was overwhelmed by the reality of what it truly meant to lecture people on the Word of God. As I stood before those precious Malawian people I just knew that I was infinitely unprepared for the great task ahead of me. I prayed and trusted our Lord Jesus to give me wisdom and guidance in the book of Jeremiah and that He will open the minds of the students.
Challenges in the Classroom
I started the first lecture for that day with an introduction to the book, and I started to write on the white board behind me. It was not long before a hand rose from the back row. I asked him “how can I help you?” He stood up and began to express his unhappiness, on behalf of many of the other students, that he, they, are dependent on lecture notes. Seeing that they cannot concentrate in class they need the notes to review it at a later point in time. Amused by his open honesty for not concentrating in the class room, I explained to him that it just simply was not possible to have lecture notes printed for them, for a number of reasons (no finances, no electricity, no time etc. etc.) I encouraged him to write down the things I was writing on the board and the things on which I placed emphasis, as I talk to them. I continued to write on the white board so that I could give an explanation of the things written on the board. But as I continued to write, my interpreter drew my attention to a raised hand among the students. The moment I acknowledged his hand he jumped up and with much self-pity, he expressed on behalf of many others in the class, that they are dependent on hearing what the lecturer is saying. He said “we cannot write in English, or in Chichewa, so you must please talk more.” At this point it dawned on me that there was a serious diversity in the classroom of literate and illiterate students. I understood his point and thought it well to just take a moment to explain what I am writing on the board. I barely started to explain what I was busy writing on the board when another student jumped up: “But Pastor Rhino! You know, some of us are too much dependent on what is “written” on the white board, and now you are only talking!”
With such conflicting requests and interruptions it was a very exhausting experience and very hard to make progress with the first lecture. By the end of the second lecture, I realised that I had just presented all of the information which I had been able to compile over the weekend – Which meant that I was going to find myself, every afternoon, till late night, preparing from scratch for the next morning’s lectures. This in my mind was the worst case scenario, because my own source of knowledge on the book would not be a comprehensive overview of the book, but rather limited to each chapter and unaware of what lies beyond. This obviously restricts one's ability to do cross-referencing within the book and hence fail miserably to portray the context and its significance. I decided to give the students homework for the rest of the week so that I can have at least five full days to prepare. I gave them verses to memorise, a sermon to prepare, and five object lessons which they had to find in the book of Jeremiah.
The next week arrived much faster than I would have hoped, but by the grace of God we looked at the book of Jeremiah chapter by chapter for the rest of the week until Thursday, and Friday morning they wrote an exam. The homework I gave the students to do became an additional two piles that awaited its turn to be evaluated and marked. I marked 75 exams, 75 papers on the five object lessons, and 75 sermons.
Foundations for Farming (“Farming Gods Way”)
Mr. Mark Becket is one of few missionaries in Mzuzu area who does the Farming God's Way (FGW) training. It was with his invitation that I came to hear of the three day workshop he was hosting on his farm, 8km from the college and 6km from Mzuzu. The training cost me 1000 Malawian Kwacha per day which was back then something like R44 ($3), and there was a delicious lunch included. I knew from previous exposure to this farming method that it is very simple and easy to apply, but I was doubtful if three days could possibly be sufficient for training. As we progressed through the three days I was fascinated how basic and obvious the principles are. We participated in many of the methods taught. For instance, we went to a small patch of land 10x20m and practiced the “High standard” principle by using a long rope with markers on every 60cm. The markers indicate where each hole should be made. The end result is minimal soil tillage and seeds planted in a straight line optimizing the percentage of harvest yield significantly.
The life-changing testimony of a Malawian man who trusted a missionary to teach him FGW, made me realise that this is what Malawi needs – FGW training is saturated with the Word of God and based on Biblical principles. One of the Biblical principles they look at is that a curse is brought on the land when a witchdoctor is consulted and “muti” applied to the field. They teach that God is the Creator and giver of all life and without His blessing nothing will prosper. After a field has been planted they stand and pray to Almighty God, our Lord Jesus Christ and acknowledge His Lordship and that without His blessing all our efforts are in vain. Before they pray they say that this is not some magic trick to make the plants grow. It is an acknowledgement that Jesus Christ rules over everything and that we are nothing without Him.
The vision of Sola Scriptura is clearly stated by a painting on the wall of the lecture hall: “Africa for Christ!” written over the map of Africa. This is an ambition which is true to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ given in Mathew 28:18-20. And I believe that God has used this institution to bring many people in a closer relationship with Him, and even prepared them for the higher calling of Matthew 28:18-20.
Thank you for your prayers. Please continue to intercede for Pastor Peet Erasmus, as well as the nation of Malawi and the vital work of training pastors and teachers to disciple the nations.
In His service