Nicholas Lamoureux writes this report about the newly-established Nkhwazi, Malawi congregation. Nicholas and Megan spent nearly a year serving in Malawi.
In 2017 there were two UCG congregations in Malawi, Africa, located a little over five hours away from each other. At that time, there was only one elder in the entire country, and long-distance travel – as is common in many parts of Africa – is not carried out without a certain degree of difficulty. So, it became necessary for Lewis VanAusdle (Pastor of NYC and surrounding congregations and Senior Pastor of Malawi and Zimbabwe) along with his wife Lena (coordinator of UCG’s Good Works program) to temporarily-relocate to the area to act as interim Pastor for one of the two congregations, until such a time when the local leadership could be developed and trained to continue under its own power. During their year of service in Malawi, Lewis and Lena tended and worked with the congregation in Lilongwe (central Malawi), with the Blantyre congregation being pastored by Gracious Mpilangwe (Southern Malawi). They departed in December of 2017, having overseen a period of congregational growth and the construction of a new church hall in Lilongwe, among many other things.
During that year of 2017, Brennan and Michala Hilgen also arrived on the scene in Lilongwe. Recently-married, Brennan and Michala came from Colorado with a desire to serve God’s people in a big way, and ended up residing in Malawi for 20 months between 2017 and 2019. Early in 2018, there arose an opportunity for five acres of land to be purchased in Western Malawi – one hour away from Lilongwe – where it was the intent that a small farm project be initiated. This plot of land is located about 3 miles off the main road, out in the middle of nowhere.
Coincidentally (or was it?), one of the two Deacons in the Lilongwe congregation just so happened to reside 5 miles away from the new plot of land which was purchased by UCG, enabling him to oversee various projects which took place on the five-acre plot of land. This local Deacon’s name was Cephas Chapamba. Cephas is a doctor who owns a local clinic in Nkhwazi – a small village in Mchinji District, Malawi. Since his start in UCG, Cephas has regularly made a 2-hour round trip each Sabbath back and forth to Lilongwe from his home. And this is where the story begins to get interesting!
In the fall of 2018, the Lilongwe congregation kept the Feast of Tabernacles on the newly-purchased land in Nkhwazi. Imagine, if you will, that you are a sustenance farmer, growing the crops you need to provide food for your family each season (or a small amount of money to buy that food). Each and every day you travel along the same dusty footpath through corn, peanut, soy, and tobacco fields on your way to tend your crops. One day, you come across a field near your village that usually has peanuts, but all of a sudden, it’s being cleared of brush, and people are beginning to erect bamboo huts on it! Now imagine the curiosity, confusion, and amazement you and your village might have when you see a group of people from the city beginning to arrive by minibus and motorcycle, and spending an entire week wearing suits and ties and singing hymns for eight days way out in a cornfield?!? If you can imagine that, then you can imagine just how the local villagers felt!
In any case, that first Feast of Tabernacles celebration was one to remember, and it resulted in the local villagers inquiring about just what in the world was going on! Well, one thing led to another, and soon there were 10-20 villagers meeting semi-regularly at Cephas’ clinic every other Sabbath or so, at which point Brennan would travel out to conduct Bible studies with them on basic doctrines (tithing, Sabbath, holy days, etc.). Oh, and of course, none of the villagers speak any English, so Cephas would have to translate everything!
The Work Grows!
These Bible studies carried on for a bit, and then Megan and I arrived in Malawi in February 2019, and Brennan and Michala returned to the US. Now at this point, I decided to travel to Nkhwazi for a weeknight Bible study every Wednesday night. The villagers have no electricity, so Cephas and his son would drive two vehicles out to the village via a barely passable, muddy goat path, load up all of these individuals, transport them to his house, and then bring them home after the Bible study. Of course, these villagers were working all day in the fields, so they could only attend a Bible study after dark. Sometime shortly before the Spring holy days I conducted a Bible study on the truth about Jesus Christ being in the grave for three days and three nights, and we had around 35 villagers present. After taking the villagers home in three vehicles packed to the gills, it was decided that we needed to begin having bi-weekly Sabbath services.
Now from here on out The Work in Nkhwazi grew steadily, and it seems the only thing holding us back from exponential growth was a lack of manpower to conduct Bible studies and minister to the people. If I remember correctly, we were having the brethren from Nkhwazi travel to Lilongwe by minibus one Sabbath per month for the purpose of fellowshipping with likeminded brethren, until their numbers grew so much that it became impractical to carry on in such fashion. At that point, it was decided our brethren from Nkhwazi might only travel to Lilongwe on annual holy days, and Cephas, myself, and the other Deacon – Haiton Thungula – would rotate preaching to the brethren on Sabbaths. For Haiton, this was a four-hour round trip from his house, one hour East of Lilongwe, although he would sometimes be able to stay at his son’s house in Lilongwe on Saturday evenings.
The Truth Expounded in Another Language!
I had mentioned earlier that the Nkhwazi brethren do not speak any English whatsoever, and there are even quite a few members in Lilongwe and Blantyre who read and understand best in the local language of Chichewa (in addition to many in Eastern Zambia). For the previous two years, Cephas had been – in his “spare time” – translating The Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God into Chichewa; talk about a labor of love! Sometime during the middle of 2019, God used some of your tithes and offerings for the purpose of printing 1,000 copies of this tremendously-useful Bible study aid in the Chichewa language. Considering this event, I cannot help but wonder just how amazing the account in Acts 2:7-11 must have been to witness in-person.
A One-of-a-Kind Camp
As a brief notable point here in the story, it was somehow decided that a United Youth Camp should be orchestrated at the church land in Nkhwazi, so I reached out to Gracious Mpilangwe in Southern Malawi, the brethren in Lilongwe, the youths in Nkhwazi, and the brethren in Eastern Zambia in Filius Jere’s congregation (a man with whom most of you should be familiar), to see if they would be willing to join us for a camp experience. I won’t go into all the details of the camp, as you can read an article about it from a few months ago in the United News. Suffice it to say that this was the first time where four UCG congregations from two countries met together in Africa for edification and relationship-building!
Ordinations and New Family Members
In the fall of 2019, Lewis and Lena VanAusdle returned to Malawi for God’s Feast of Tabernacles. At this time, Lewis ordained Haiton and Cephas as Elders. This was a welcome development, as it opened the door for the Central and East Malawian churches to be cared for by local individuals. It was also during this Feast when Lewis and I traveled to Zimbabwe to encourage the brethren there for half of the Feast, and they were extremely glad to have us, although to tell that tale would be a monumental digression from the story at hand.
Beginning in the middle of 2019, I began counseling eight or nine brethren for baptism, with Cephas, Haiton, or other willing individuals translating. In late 2019 or early 2020, the first two men from Nkhwazi were baptized in a water trough, with 30-40 people looking on! Megan and I departed hastily in mid-March due to the onset of COVID, but there have been three or four more baptisms in Nkhwazi since that time, and the group of church members there has averaged between 30-40 present for weekly Sabbath services, with people from other local fellowships stopping by to sit-in on Sabbath services every now and then.
The Work Spreads, AGAIN!
As I wrap up this chronicle of The Work in Western Malawi, I find it necessary to call to your mind Cephas Chapamba and his local clinic, where he has put on display small leaflets of various pieces of information regarding Biblical truths. One day a man was in his waiting room and saw a copy of our Beyond Today magazine sitting on a bench: “Oh, how I wish I had something like this in my native language of Portuguese—then I could understand it,” he exclaimed to Cephas. It was at this point that Cephas wrote to me and requested that five or ten copies of our Portuguese-edition magazine be sent to him for distribution into the neighboring country of Mozambique.
Believe it or not, I received word that very week from the other newly-ordained elder, Haiton Thungula, on his way to visit family in Southern Malawi, that he had also come into contact with a different man from Mozambique who had also requested five or ten copies of our Portuguese-edition Beyond Today magazine. Haiton and Cephas continue to distribute these magazines on a regular basis.
An Ongoing Assignment
Five, ten, or twenty copies of a magazine don’t seem like much of a work. 1,000 copies of a booklet – in a world that is saturated with information – doesn’t seem like more than a drop in a bucket. 30 people staying in bamboo huts in the middle of a cornfield is such a small example, but it’s a work nonetheless!
In Mark 4:30-32, Jesus spoke a fitting parable which illustrates the meaning behind this great Work in which you and I are currently engaged: “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” My friends, we don’t always know whom God is calling or how He chooses to call them, but we know that He chooses those things which may seem foolish, to put to shame those things which are mighty, so that none may glory in the presence of God, but that He may be glorified by all.
As you consider The Work which is being carried out in Malawi, I invite you to consider God’s message, spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it,” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Enjoy the gallery of photos below highlighting life in Nhkhwazi.
A 2019 tour of the Nkhwazi Feast site by Megan Lamoureux