We awoke today to an absolutely gorgeous day. The sun is shining, the temperature is in the low 70’s, and Mount Mulanje is showing off. I was excited to see that for breakfast bananas were available. However, these just aren’t any bananas. They are mini bananas about half the size of those we have in the U. S. What makes them different is the intensity of their flavor. I always say that these bananas are like Doritos–you can’t eat just one!
After breakfast and a quick look at Mount Mulanje in all of its glory on the portico of the hotel, we headed off for the ninety-minute drive to Chiringa. About halfway there we were stopped at a police checkpoint. When the officer saw us not wearing a mask, he asked us why we were not wearing a mask and threatened to arrest us on the spot. Now the funny thing is that we had not seen anyone wearing a mask since we left the airport in Lilongwe on Monday. In the entire Phalombe district no one even pretended to wear a mask. It was quite refreshing. After feigning ignorance and some persuasion by Nathan, the policeman let us go without further incident. Crisis averted!
The entire seminar had been building up to today. The last day of the IFCL seminar is my favorite because we get to talk about preaching. During the first session, Nathan taught on the nature of biblical preaching and then I taught on an Introduction to Expository Preaching. From the confused looks on the pastor’s faces, it was clear that they had never been exposed to expository preaching. I was reminded today how massive the challenge of training pastors to become expository preachers in Africa really is.
One of the most pressing problems we face as a ministry is the lack of even a cursory education among many pastors, especially those in villages such as Chiringa. In order to be a good expository preacher, you have to be able to read relatively well, understand grammar, vocabulary, theological themes, and be able to organize material in a logical and sequential manner. These are skills many rural pastors do not currently possess. But this is why ITEM exists. We embrace the challenge and seek to find innovative answers.
As I introduced the basic framework of expository preaching, I noticed that facial expressions began to change, eyes lightened, and laughter and applause erupted at various points. These kinds of responses are proof positive that you are hitting the target. What earlier had seemed like a foreign concept had quickly become an idea that the pastors not only were beginning to see was biblical but beneficial in their own lives and ministries. As we dismissed for lunch my heart was full and could not wait for the afternoon sessions.
After a lunch of strange chicken parts, boiled animal skin, and the ubiquitous rice and xima, we came back together for the final afternoon sessions. Nathan and I had decided before the seminar that we would make the material more interactive. One way to do that was by having the pastors to break into groups and to try their hands at creating an outline for an expository sermon. Consequently, the pastors were divided into seven groups and given thirty minutes to create an expository sermon outline on Psalm 46.
It was quite thrilling to see the pastors sitting in groups underneath the trees with their Bibles open and notepads out putting into practice what they had just learned. As I walked around to the different groups, some were loud and boisterous while others were quiet and reserved. But all of them were eagerly and intensely working together to create an outline. The journey to becoming expository preachers must begin somewhere. Who would have ever thought it would be under a tree!
When the pastors reassembled, we had one spokesperson from each group report on the title of the sermon and the points of the outline. While the outlines needed work, what was remarkable was that every one of the groups got the main point of the passage. That is a huge win! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and expository preachers are not made in one seminar. This is why ITEM is committed to walking through a process with these pastors. We do not want to blow in and blow out. We want to walk with them and help to provide a stable foundation they can build upon.
After the last group presented their outline, I came and gave a fifteen-minute exposition of Psalm 46, trying to demonstrate some of the things they did wrong and right. After the exposition, the place exploded once more in applause and hooting.
The final event of the afternoon was the graduation ceremony. This is really my favorite part of the ITEM seminars. As previously noted, most of these pastors have never graduated from school. For them to receive a certificate is a big accomplishment. The smile on their faces is worth all of the trouble and discomfort of traveling halfway around the world. We handed out seventy certificates, an incredible turnout for a place so far back in the bush.
At the conclusion of the seminar there were high-fives, hugs, hearty handshakes, and great camaraderie among everyone. At least half of the pastors made a point to approach us and tell us what a difference the seminar had made in their ministries. Additionally, several pastors who had come from other areas saw the value in what ITEM is doing and requested to bring the seminars to Blantyre and Lilongwe and even Mozambique, which is Malawi’s neighbor.
The requests are pouring into ITEM, not only from Africa but all over the world, to come and train pastors. The need is truly staggering. There are quite a few organizations who are doing pastor’s training, but ITEM is unique in that we are not just staying in the big cities. We are going into places others won’t go in order to bring training. However, in order to increase ITEM’s reach, we need to increase our base of support in the U.S. If you would be willing to give a special gift to help ITEM expand its reach during this critical time, it would be much appreciated.
We left Chiringa with our spirits lifted, but the excitement was far from over. Remember when I said that the only thing that is certain in Africa is that nothing is certain? On the way back to the hotel, our rental vehicle died. Fortunately, we had just passed through a small town. We were quite the sight, standing beside the road trying to figure out what to do. Before long, we drew a crowd. Then two young men arrived who said they knew a good mechanic in the town. A few minutes later, the mechanic and his posse appeared. When I saw the small wrenches and screwdrivers in his hands, I laughed to myself thinking how in the world does he think he is going to fix this problem with a wrench and screwdriver? I learned you should never underestimate African ingenuity.
Ultimately, our creative and competent mechanic diagnosed the problem as a faulty fuel pump. By this time, friends from the seminar had arrived in order to take my team back to the hotel, while Nathan waited for the car to be fixed, and met us a short time later none the worse for wear.
Malawi has been an incredible experience. My only regret is that I cannot stay longer. I’m excited about the opportunity ITEM has to make a difference in this jewel of Africa.
There were trials at every turn, but God was faithful.
~Chris McMillan (ITEM COO)