Moderator's Comments - Posted 1 January 2018
“One faith, one Lord, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4).
My diary entry for 27 August …
Words cannot adequately describe the exquisite experience of worshipping God with PCA’s partner church in central Africa – alongside beautiful, warm-hearted, faithful Malawian Christians at CCAP Mawira (on the Shire River at Liwonde). My Malawian brothers and sisters ministered to me in a powerful way.
The first (English) service began at 7am, so the 4.30am rise at my Zomba lodgings was invigorating. Every element of the service was done attendant to purpose (to glorify God). Everything from the sincere welcome speeches in the vestry with the elders, through the singing, Bible reading, prayer, announcements, preaching and even the closing prayer, formal thank-you, handshakes and singing of amazing grace in the vestry post-service was done with reverence and dignity.
250 powerful voices singing great hymns of the faith, hymns familiar to me, was breathtaking and inspiring. ‘Glory be the God the Father’ was sung like I’ve never heard it. Such passion to bring honour and glory to God. Six special choirs, each with their brilliant item of praise.
It was a real blessing to share the ministry this day with an old friend Abusa Rodney Bona (now 75 years of age, but still working full-time) and my 'identical twin brother' Rev Colin M’Bawa. Three old men leading the service!
After 30 hours in transit and little sleep I shouldn’t have been alert, but I had such upholding through the prayers of people back home in the PCA, I felt the most liberating empowerment to preach and to communicate with the whole congregation. I took them through the amazing encounter the Roman centurion had with Jesus. Words flowed, Scriptures opened, lives were coming under the inspired Word of the living God. The worship service was full, and after 2½ hrs, as the Session Clerk was summarising my message, I realised that the service was drawing towards a close. I felt disappointed. I could have stayed longer. 2½ hrs of wonderful heavenly worship of the living and true God. We could have sung more, prayed more, heard the Word more. No one wanted to get away.
I gave the congregation multiple printed copies of the message so as people could go over it again in their homes. Also I hoped it left them with an example of how to open up Scripture and teach the Word to others.
One of the great blessings for me, was a sense of assurance of faith. I see the radiant faces, hear fervent voices and heartfelt confessions of faith in the saviour and I know we’re worshipping the same Christ Jesus as Lord. Then I remember that these folk weren’t raised like I was in the comforts of western life, surrounded by resources and books, recordings and conferences … but in deepest central Africa. Yet, the VERY SAME saviour: Jesus Christ, has gripped their soul as has mine. Surely Paul got it right: “one faith, one Lord, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4). From a background utterly removed from mine, from within a life context that’s radically different to mine … their faith in a Triune God who saves through the crucifixion and resurrection of the beloved Son of God – is a POWERFUL witness that gives me assurance of faith.
What a blessing this is, that our worship and expressions of Christian faith are the same. Walking the dusty streets of Malawi, breathing the soot-filled air, dodging in and out of chaotic traffic – I feel absolutely like a fish OUT OF WATER, especially with my pale skin and English-only language barrier. BUT, I walk into this CCAP church and I feel these are my people, this is my faith, my Lord … and in all the important things … MY LIFE.
The presence of so many Christian churches in Malawi testifies of a time when the Church of Scotland was powerful in the Word of God and urgent in bringing the gospel of salvation to the nations of the world. The early Scottish missionaries did such a faithful and enduring work in establishing Christian faith in these lands. I refer to the work of David Livingstone and Dr Robert Laws and a host of others, many who died early in their days, some through attack by wild animals and others by the dreaded fever that mosquitoes bring. Of course, this is the work of an earlier version of the Church of Scotland – when it was devoted to bringing the message of the Word of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
It also brings to my mind a Wilson forebear I never met. But my father did, and he spoke highly of his Uncle George and enjoyed listening to his stories when back home on furlough in the family home in Alfreton, Derbyshire. Rev George H Wilson served for 25 years on Likomo Island (in the middle of Lake Nyassa) heading up the Theological College for the Church of England mission of the early 20th century. G H Wilson gave the strength of his years to training young Malawians in the Word.
Back to my day … after a short break for Coca Cola (yes, it’s found in every country in the world) the 2nd service was in Chichewa which, obviously, is harder for me, but I can tell what’s going on even if I’m not understanding their words which are so quickly spoken. I use my standard Chichewa greetings and sermon opening sentences … a method I use in order to make a relational connection. I was flagging by now, low in strength and the eyes were beginning to close over … but somehow, the Lord provided superhuman strength and attention, and I was able to preach again without feeling the weakness that I should have been feeling.
By 1 pm, we’d concluded and I went on my way to the manse rejoicing. Chambo fish (whole fish) and nsima for lunch. This is the local delicacy, but at first glance it appears to be all bone and no flesh. Not being very adept at extracting the flesh from the bones of chambo, I did feel ashamed at how much of it I had to leave for fear of choking on a fish bone.
A day to remember, and a reminder that we in the PCA have a wide-open door for opportunity to minister in Malawi. We need to understand where we best fit in – and that’s probably to spend time here in preaching and then training others to preach and teach. There is a recognition in CCAP that PCA can lend a hand in discipling leaders in becoming teachers of the Word of God.
There’s plenty of English-speaking congregations in the major cities of Malawi. Recently retired ministers … can you give a year of your life in this way? Ministers of the PCA, what about spending your long-service leave here?
John P Wilson