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Southern Region Youth Camp

Posted on August 20, 2013 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Pete was down at the Southern Region Youth Camp on the 7-11th August in Chiphwembwe. Like the Central Region youth camp in Salima in April this year, the theme was “Banja La Mulungu – Kukhala ndi Kuchita” (The Family of God – Being and Doing). This camp was attended by over 800 youth from the rural and urban areas in Southern Malawi! This is where the greatest concentration of the AEC congregrations are.This was a challenge in itself as the youth from the rural areas in the lower shire learnt to interact with the urban youth from the hills of Blantyre. One young man commented on how practical the theme was as the youths had to learn to be members of God's family during camp where accommodation in the local school was so cramped by the sheer numbers!



Pastor Chisoni Bridge with the Southern Region Youths


Pete was one of the organisers along with Pastor Chisoni Bridge (AEC National Youth Coordinator) and Pastor Fostance Mtolo (Sports Friends), and he also gave a Bible talk on “the Mission of God’s family” as well as running an interactive seminar on “Youth Choir Discipleship Groups.” The other talks were: "Adoption into God's Family"; "Living as God's Family"; and "Persvering as God's Family. The other seminars were: "Sports outreach"; "Gospel'centred Relationships" ; "HIV/AIDS awareness" and "Education and Career Development." We also had a Q&A session that allowed the youth to ask questions from the panel of faciliators about the topics they presented. 



The Opening Bible Talk by Pastor Chisoni Bridge


Pete giving his talk


Bible Discussion Groups


In the afternoons, the youth engaged in sport activities such as football and netball. Due to the numbers, the youths had to be split into 20 teams which roughly had about 40 youths per team to complete in football and netball competition. The teams were a mixture of youths from different churches so that they would get to meet other youths and learn to be the family of God in the midst of diversity. On the last night, there was a talent show which showed up some amazing talents in song and dramas.



Girl using maize flour to mark the lines of a netball game


Boys watching an exciting football match


The youth loved the camp so much that they have requested that the camps be longer next year. A big praise was that many youths gave their lives to follow Christ after Pastor Chisoni Bridge gave his opening talk on “Adoption into God’s Family.” Please pray for ongoing effective follow-up of these new believers and those who have made recommitments. Pray also that the youth will keep growing and persevering in the family of God despite the challenges they face, and that this youth camp will be for many youths a milestone along their spiritual journey.


 

 Many youths making a decision to follow Jesus



Interview with Chisoni Bridge

Posted on June 7, 2013 at 9:15 AM Comments comments (2)


I first met Abusa (Pastor) Chisoni Bridge at a discipleship conference end of last year. My first impression of him was “he's got a booming voice for a little guy!” It’s one of those voices that makes you stand out as a preacher and one that makes people listen to you. Little did I know back then that he would be the next AEC National Youth Coordinator. I think it was by God’s sovereignty that we met at the conference and that we kept in touch right up to the point that he was appointed into the role.


Chisoni and I have a few things in common. Firstly, the circumstances surround our births where we both could have died if not for the grace of God. Secondly, our names were derived directly from the circumstances surround our births. Thirdly, we are both the youngest among our siblings, and last but not least, we both have three young children, all in the same order: girl-boy-girl!


In God’s timing too, we are both about to start our respective ministry roles after we both move into our respective houses. My family and I will be relocating to another house mid June, and Chisoni is planning to move up to Blantyre by the beginning of July.


He visited Blantyre a few days ago and I thought I would take the opportunity to interview him and feature him in our belated May newsletter.


P:  Chisoni, you have quite a unique name. “Chisoni” in Chichewa means “sorrow” and “Bridge” is not Chichewa is it? Tell us how you got your name, and the significance of it.


C: This is indeed my real name, and was given to me by the doctor who delivered me in the hospital. The doctor was touched by the way I was born because my mother when she was about to give birth to me fainted for about 4hours, after 4 days of struggling. The doctor thought my mother would die or that she would bear a dead son hence the name “Chisoni.” “Bridge” is the nickname of my grandfather. His real name is “Miles.” He was given his nickname because he was a drunk and he often slept under the bridge. For me, I am using it spiritually… feeling with people to cross on the ‘Bridge’ to the Lord.


P: Tell us about your family.


 C: I am in a family of five children. First born is a female. Four are boys and I am the last born. I was born on 26th July 1981. I am married to one wife, Memory, and we have three children – Deborah (13yrs), Joshua (8yrs), and Naomie (3yrs). My parents - Benford and Miga - are still living and their occupations are farmers. All my relatives are married and some are staying in rural areas. One is a chief of a village and another is a plumber. About my academics, I went to primary school, junior and secondary school. Mind you, my family was not real Christian family because my parents were beer drinkers and practiced traditional beliefs. But one day I asked my mum to leave her traditional practices and turn to God, and challenged her to collect all her things of traditional practices to be burnt which she finally accepted. Beer is practiced no more, and my parents are now church elders.


 P: Tell us abit about your spiritual journey. How did you become a Christian?


C: Even though I was born into a family of not real Christians at the time, my parents still sent me to church activities like Sunday school and youth group. In secondary school, I also joined the School Christian Organisation Ministries. Although I was involved in these I was still doing evil things like smoking, drinking, walking with ladies to mention a few. I also made a decision to be baptised but this didn’t transform anything in my life. After finishing my secondary level I went to Blantyre to search for a job. There, I attended Ndirande AEC with Pastor Ndekha who helped me to understand about Christianity. By then I was a teacher of Sunday school and I asked him about Bible college because I had a calling to serve God in his ministry as a full-time minister. And the Pastor helped me from John 1:12 to understand that I needed Jesus to be my personal Saviour, and have power to be sons of God.


P: Who had a great influence on you growing up? Why?


C: I have a lot of people who influenced me spiritually like Pastor Jimu Major; and Mrs Katukiza who was my Sunday school teacher; and Mr Lidi my patron in youth group who came every mid-week to share with us the Word of God.


P: Before being appointed as the AEC National Youth Coordinator, you were a pastor of a church… in fact several churches in your area. How did you become a Pastor? Why?


C: I can say it is by the grace of God because in our family there was no one who was a pastor. Again through the involvement of His activities, these made me to join in pastoral ministry in order to serve Him since the harvest is plenty and the workers are few.

During my pastoral work I was involved again in youth ministry under Area Council level while I was in Nkhotakota as youth coordinator. So when I got the information that HQ was looking for a youth coordinator for AEC national, excitement rose in my heart because from the beginning I have done from church level, Area council level and now the time has come to coordinate on a national level and create a direction for youth activities and involvement in church development.


 P: What is your vision for the youth in Malawi?


C: Since half of the population of Malawi is below the age of 25, Malawi is a ‘youth’ nation. Being a youth nation, I want to see young people be God-fearers. How? By abiding in God’s word through Bible studies in their meetings. I want to see young people help the church by doing evangelism fulfilling the Great Commission. I want to see young people at the church doing mercy outreach (e.g. visiting sick people, hospitals and prisons). I want to see young people conducting and preparing Open Air meetings through singing choir at the bare ground. I want to see young people in Malawi depending on their own by providing them vocational training through youth camps or establish youth centre for them to learn skills. It’s a challenge for the youth after school life to find employment. I want the youth to have a right way of preventing issues related to their health such as HIV/AIDS through awareness of the dangers of this disease. I want to see the youth’s potential fully realised, utilised and directed correctly; because the youth are energetic, adventurous, industrious, strong, healthy and willing to learn.

 

P: How can people be praying for you?


C: Please pray for God’s guidance and commitment in my new role, and for more resources in the youth ministry. Pray also for good health for me and my family; and that suitable housing will be found for us to move to Blantyre to commence my role.

_____


Chisoni and I will be working together in partnership to build an effective youth ministry in the AEC. We are both passionate about seeing youth come to know Jesus and to make him known. We are both seeking the Lord’s leading and listening to Him regarding His plans for the youth in the AEC. Pray with us in this.


~ Pete

 

Inbetweeners

Posted on May 7, 2013 at 3:05 AM Comments comments (0)

This inbetweenness

This walking the two

This expansiveness

That sees me neither

Fully one

Or the Other

 

Fully one

Seems to promise so much

 

Neither one

Seems so unfulfilled, empty, vague

.....

The gift of betweenness

As we journey to be

Fully one

 

May we be generous with our

Discontent

 

by David Michie, Perth, Australia*


I came across this poem in a Paul Hiebert book when studying Cultural Anthropology at Morling College nearly two years ago. It resonated with me the first time I read it, and it resonates with me even more now in Malawi. It resonates with me because it captures well for me the tension, frustration and hope of living in another culture. This is especially true for me as a cross-cultural missionary trying to serve effectively in the culture that i'm in, and trying to identify with the people we walk along side to the best of our ability. This road of "inbetweenness" is not an easy one but nevertheless it is a gift.

 

The face of missions is changing in so many ways today. One of the ways is that missions is no longer just about 'pioneering' work where traditionally the Western 'Christian' nations sends missionaries into the unreached Majority world. For the Majority world are now sending missionaries of their own into the wider world too. Missions has become "anywhere to everywhere." The importance of 'cultural mediation' is therefore important.


The late missiologist, Paul Hiebert suggests that missionaries will need to be engaged in 'cultural mediation' as "inbetweeners" - "who stand between different worlds, seeking to build bridges of understanding, mediate relationships, and negotiate partnerships in ministry" (Hiebert, 2009:179). This is so important for me to remember as I work with the church here in Malawi. While it is not pioneering work that I will be engaged in as the church is quite well established here, but its about 'negotiating partnerships in ministry' for the growth and expansion of God's Kingdom here in Malawi. I imagine a day when the church here together in partnership with foreign missionaries reach the pockets of unreached groups in Malawi such as the Muslim Yao tribe, the Chinese diaspora and the Asian (Indian/Parkistani) communities living here. The ability to build bridges of understanding between cultures is so crucial in this work.

 

Living in Malawi has really brought out this reality of "inbetweeness" for me. Its a tension I feel on a daily basis, walking the inbetween of cultures. Not just between the Western and African culture but also between the Chinese and African cultures too. Living here in Malawi has really forced me to think more deeply about my "Chinese-ness." While I have grown up in Australia with its western values and I consider myself "Australian", there is an inescapable part of me that is still Chinese - my looks and my family story and identity. Jo and I have been confronted to think more intentionally about our kids, and what kind of "identity" they will have growing up here. They are Australians but their heritage is Chinese. While we bring them up in an "Aussie" kind of way, we also want them to appreciate the heritage they have come from. That is why we take them to the Chinese resturant here (run by mainland Chinese) on a weekly basis so that they are exposured to the Chinese language and culture. We have started teaching them Mandarin. Yes, it is quite funny especially as my Mandarin is pretty limited! And I hope to tell them more of my family history so that they grow knowing it just as my grandparents have told me. In doing this, I hope that they will grow up confident in who they are and comfortable in their own skin, and that they will appreciate their "tri-culturalness" - Chinese Australian living in Malawi. That they will see this as a gift, the ability to walk in the "inbetweeness" of cultures but firmly grounded in their true identity in Christ.

 

One of the challenges of living in the 'inbetweeness' can be 'discontentment' as the poem suggests. For we are neither rooted in one culture or the other.  But we need to be 'generous' with our discontentment. What does this mean? For me, I think  this discontentment of being an "inbetweener" should not make us guarded or defensive because we will often be misunderstood, but rather to see it as a gift that can be used by God to build bridges between people of different cultures and bring reconciliation where there are differences. We are to be generous with our love, kindness and grace shown in our words and actions. This is the kind of generousity that we are to show. For Christ came as the great "inbetweener" between Heaven and Earth, to be our ultimate mediator between God and Man. He was greatly misunderstood but He loved us nevertheless to even die for us on the cross so that we might truly understand God and become citizens of His Kingdom.


 "The gift of betweeness as we journey to be fully one" is the hope that we have that one day in the New Creation our cultural distinctiveness will no longer be barriers to fellowship, but become a way by which we worship King Jesus as His unified people. Until that day, as we live in this world of brokeness and conflict, we use our gift of inbetweeness to navigate between cultures and  hope to create foretastes of the coming heavenly reality along the way.


Pete


* Taken from The Gospel in Human Contexts - Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions by Paul Hiebert.

 

A Tribute to my Grandma

Posted on May 4, 2013 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (1)

When my collegue shared at the prayer meeting a few days ago that her grandmother had passed away, it brought back thoughts and feelings of when my grandmother passed away (3/08/12) not long after we had arrived in Malawi.


During that time with alot of things going on with just having arrived in a new country and trying to settle in with the family, I didn't really have the emotional space to process the loss, and it is only now 9 months after having arrived that we feel more settled into life here that I have more emotional and thought space to reflect on the passing of my grandmother. While I felt sad that I was unable to return to Sydney for the funeral, I knew that I had said my goodbyes when I saw her at the hospital several days before we departed for Malawi. Jo and I knew that there was a real possibility that she would pass away soon after we arrive in Malawi. Jo encouraged me to take time out of our frantic last few days to go to see her. Looking back I'm so glad that I did. Using my limited Hokkien mixed with Mandarin that I knew, I was able to talk to her. She prayed for me for the journey that lay ahead of me to Malawi, and I prayed for her, and deep in my heart  I knew that would be the last time that we would pray together.


 

One of the things that I remember most about my grandmother was her prayerfulness. She had been praying for me even before I was born. She would often tell me the story of my birth and how I was born 2-3 months premature and how God had been gracious to me in letting me live. She would tell me that it was because God had heard her prayers about granting the family peace during my birth that she and grandpa decided to give me the Chinese name "Glorious peace."  Even growing up as a kid in those few short years in Singapore I remember her praying with my brothers and I. Everyday she would sit my brothers and I down and pray for us. She would pray that we would grow up loving God and serving Him with our whole lives; and that at least one of us should serve Him in full-time ministry. I was very young then, but this had made an inpression on me. As a kid you don't think too much of these things until much later in life when you are grown up and have kids yourself, and worry about their spiritual wellbeing. My grandmother had modelled to me the importance of prayer and to be God-dependent in all things.


 

Another thing that I remember most about my grandmother were her stories.  She was a natural story teller. Growing up she would often tell my brothers and I her life stories, and often there would be a lesson associated with them! She wouldn't just tell them once, she would tell them over and over again over the years... as though she wanted us to not forget them!  She would tell us her conversion story, and also what life was like in Indonesia, during World War II when they were hiding in the mountains from the Japanese soldiers, and how my aunty was born in a cave during that time, and how my grandpa was captured by American soldiers who thought he was a Japanese spy... and more! I have to admit they were quite exciting stories to listen to. I just wished that they have been written down before her passing to capture the details! In all this, my grandma had made a great impression on me by her pioneering and adventurous spirit!


 

My grandma married my grandfather around the age of 16 and not too long after they were married, they left their village in China and set sail for Indonesia. She became a follower of Jesus one day after being very sick and she prayed to God to heal her. Up to this point she had been a Buddhist and a worshipper of her ancestors, but due to this life threatening illness, she made a bargain with God. Not really sure how she came to know about God but I think it was through missionaries through whom she came to hear about God. She told God that if He healed her, she would commit her life to following Him. And God did heal her. By God's grace and enabling, she was able to keep her side of the bargain to follow Him to the very end.


 

These two things about Grandma - her prayfulness and her story telling - are important things that I would wish to impart onto my own kids and their kids. I would want my kids and their kids to grow up knowing that Jo and I are prayerful, God-dependent people and that we have family stories to tell them about God's faithfulness in keeping and sustaining us through all seasons of life. These stories are identity forming. The stories my grandma has passed onto me have shaped me into the person I am today, and the stories that I tell my kids will shape them into who they will become. My kids are TCKs (Third culture kids) and so was I to some extent. Being TCKs is confusing... Chinese Australians living in Africa. Are they more Australian than Chinese? Will they eventually become more Malawian than Australian? What will happen to their Chinese identity? I guess it doesn't really matter when they have their family stories to anchor into. Their story is embedded in Jo's and my story and our story is embedded in our parents and their parent's story and our collective stories are ultimately embedded in Jesus' story. It is in His story that we ultimately find our true identity. Our identity is bound up with His, and where we are headed is more important than where we have been. 


 

Thanks Grandma for your God-dependent faithfulness in following Jesus til the very end, and for your stories that have shaped me to be who I am today. Thank you most of all for sharing Jesus' story.



The last time I saw my grandma in hospital before leaving for Malawi.

Pete

AEC Central Region Youth Camp 2013

Posted on April 28, 2013 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (1)

"Banja La Mulungu - Kukhala ndi kuchita." This was the theme of the AEC Central Region Youth Camp for this year. In Chichewa, it means “Family of God – To be and to do.” Along with the other camp co-organisers/speakers - Luke (SIM Missionary with Sports Friends) and Fostance (departing AEC National Youth Coordinator) - we wanted to explore with the youth the idea of ‘being the Church.’ But without using the word “church” because most people often associated it with being ‘a building that Christians go to worship God.’ It misses the relational aspect of church as being ‘God’s people,’ whereas, 'the family’ emphasis relationships and responsibility to one another. As part of the morning Bible talks, we looked at the topics: ‘Adopted into God’s family’, ‘Living as God’s Family’, ‘The mission of God’s Family’ and ‘Persevering in God’s Family.’ 


This youth camp was held in Nanjoka, a rural village in Salima. Normally, it would take approximately 4.5hrs drive to get there from Blantyre (where home is), but on the way up, we (Fostance, Chisoni – the new AEC Youth Coordinator – and me) did a slight detour to stop by a town to buy cheaper tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes and other food supplies for the camp. But it became a very long detour as we ended up driving all the way up to Lilongwe (the other capital city of Malawi) and then back down to Salima. We left Blantyre at 10am and didn’t get to Salima until 5:30pm!!


There were about 210 youths who came to the youth camp from about 10 AEC churches in the Central region of Malawi. It was a mix of ‘village’ youth from the Salima region and the ‘urban’ youth from Lilongwe. On the first night of the camp, heavy rains came, despite not having rained there for about 2 months. The rains completely drenched the boys in the early hours of the morning as they were sleeping inside a temporary grass-thatched shelter, especially made a day before the youth camp! But, they showed great attitude and did not complain and accepted it as part of the camp experience. Fostance and Chisoni were able to find a vacant house nearby and rent it for the boys to stay in for the rest of the camp. Running a youth camp here in Malawi is by far very different to the ones I have organised back in Sydney. You can only plan so much here and the rest you have to literally leave it in God’s hands! There is no such thing as registration so you cannot be sure of the numbers coming. You just have to go with the flow, and trust God with the outcome!



Besides the Bible talks in the morning, we also had other sessions looking at practical aspects such as:

- Sports outreach

- Discipleship groups

- Understanding HIV/AIDS

- Education and career development

- Question and Answer time (Panel)


The Q&A time gave the youth an opportunity to ask any burning questions that they had. Boy, were there a lot of questions! We, on the Panel Panel knew from the start that we would not have enough time to answer all the questions, and so we selected the questions that we felt were typical of the set and for which we could answer adequately.


Some of the questions ranged from:

- What are the grounds for divorce?

- Can I go out with an unbeliever? 

- Does God send terrible diseases like HIV/AIDS to punish people?

- Can I wear a skirt above my knees? or can girls wear trousers?

- What kind of things should I look for in a future marriage partner?


Each one of these questions are worthy of a blog entry themselvs, but the one that grabbed my attention was on divorce. This came as abit of a surprise to me as I didn’t think divorce would be an issue here in Malawi given the strong emphasis on the family and community orientation in African culture than the Western culture. So if this was the case, why would the youth be asking this considering that many of them would not even be married yet (if any at all)? So I probed abit deeper to find out why this might be the case when I got back from the camp. What I discovered was that my assumption was incorrect and that in Malawi, the divorce rate is in fact increasing! According to one study, estimates of divorce in rural Malawi is as high as between 40-65%. The study also suggests that women use divorce mainly as a strategy to reduce their own risk of HIV infection.  Given that Malawi is one of the African countries hardest hit by the HIV/AID pandemic (with a current prevalence rate at about 11%), I can understand why the women would use divorce as a preventative measure from getting HIV from their infected husbands. So if this was what the youths had in mind when they asked about the grounds for divorce, I can understand why they would ask that. Maybe some of them have parents who have been divorced for that reason? Or maybe for the rural girls it might be a reality that they wilI soon face in the future? I don’t really know for sure, but it has certainly caused me to think more deeply about this issue, and about the social impact of HIV/AIDS especialy on the youth in relation to their families. This is one of many issues facing the youth here, and any ministry to them must not only be solid theologically but must be culturally and socially relevant speaking into their situations, and equipping/empowering them to face these issues.


On lighter note... a Malawian youth camp would be incomplete without singing! This was one of the highlights for me. Each church choir was given opportunity to sing the songs that they have been practicing before youth camp, and they all sang so beautifully during the sessions! They also sang and danced to music pumped through loud speakers late into the night! God has certainly blessed the Malawian youths with the gift of singing!


Another highlight for me was watching the fabulous 'Drama/Talent show' presented by the teams. What I observed that was common in all the skits presented was the prominent role that 'Abusa' (Pastors) played in lives of the people here. The youth were fantastic in their acting and displayed a great sense of humour in the way that they comically 'send-up' their Abusa. They protrayed the Abusa as either the solver of all problems or the cause of them! He is protrayed as the hero who exorcises the 'demons' liberating the youth from their bondage to drunkeness and smoking; or as the counsellor who solves all marriage crises. There is so much one can learn about Malawian youth culture simply by watching the dramas they put on.


I have to admit, Youth camp was hard work! By the end of each day, we were all physically, mentally and emotional exhausted. But it was definitely worth it as it was a really special time for the youth. Youth camps are a great platform for ministry to the youth here. As I look back on my on faith journey, many of my ‘mountain top’ experiences have been at youth camps. I can remember to this day the people I went with, the themes we explored, and the commitments that we made along the way. These in a way are like the spiritual milestones of my own growth, and have shaped me as the person that I am today. I hope that the youth camps here will have the same spiritual effect for the Malawian youth as they have been for me growing up. Please continue to pray for all the youth who went to this youth camp that the Gospel will bear fruit in their lives and that they will 'be' and 'do' as God's people in their communities. 


Come August,  we will be venturing into Njsanje, the heartland of the AEC to run our second youth camp. This time we will be expecting over 800 youth to turn up!


~Pete