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Malawi

Twenty Years of Partnership in Malawi

By eVitabu, Farming, Malawi, Training

2021 is APF’s 40th Anniversary year! In celebration, some of our longest standing partners have shared memories of partnering with APF. This time, Revd Lloyd Chizenga describes some of the ways APF has supported the ministry of New Life Christian Church in Malawi for more than two decades.

I joined the Fellowship in 2000 when Revd Ralph Hanger was APF Director. Since then, APF has been instrumental in my life and family and the ministry of New Life Christian Church here in southern Malawi. APF to us is family so we are celebrating 40 years with you.

Over the years, APF has been a true partner in the gospel of Jesus Christ. When our house was attacked by robbers in the night, APF helped us relocate to a safer part of Blantyre and build a new home.

When our church network was very young and had no trained leaders, APF helped new pastors get vital basic training. Each person got a certificate of attendance.

APF provided goats to poor church leader families. When a goat gave birth to twins, one young goat was given to another family as a way out of household poverty.

Income generation projects have been an important part of APF’s support here in Malawi. Working with pastors’ wives to set up micro-businesses has made a huge difference. Many children were able to go to secondary school and pay school fees because of the profits pastors’ wives made from these small enterprises.

More recently, APF has equipped our leadership team with eVitabu. eVitabu is like a library that grows and grows. I was one of the first pastors to use eVitabu.

I travelled to Uganda in 2018 and was given a tablet to use eVitabu on. There are so many resources on eVitabu that are good for pastors here in Malawi to read.

Covid-19 continues to be a huge challenge here. Many businesses are bankrupt and hospitals are struggling. In Blantyre, city health authorities have launched emergency activities to deal with a big increase in the number of patients. At Christmas, workers returning from South Africa brought that new Covid-19 variant with them which is more easily caught. Malawi is not likely to get any vaccines soon, but we are grateful to APF for the grant which helped us buy washing buckets, soap, masks and sanitiser.

The most significant partnership between APF and New Life Christian Church however has been the Growing Greener project. We have been running this for about five years now and it is truly a life changer for poor farming households. We train communities in village churches on farming techniques like no-till soil management, composting, mulching, agroforestry and on-farm micro-business.

Rural communities are always suspicious of change. Even when a change is shown to make a positive difference, witchcraft is blamed. But because the Growing Greener project is led by us and comes through the local Malawi church, not from outsiders, people trust it, follow the teachings and it is working. So far, this project has reached many thousands of households.

All this would have been impossible without APF’s standing alongside us. By working in partnership with the local African church, APF taps into the resources already there in the church and in the community. It is this approach that is really make a difference.

So, to all our friends who support APF back in the UK, thank you!

Revd Lloyd Chizenga is ‘Bishop’ of New Life Christian Church (NLCC). NLCC is an independent network of churches based in Blantyre. The majority of NLCC congregations are in rural communities in Malawi and Mozambique.

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Forty Years a Trustee

By Malawi

Revd Dave Howard has served APF as a trustee since the outset. Here, he reflects with gratitude and looks forward with optimism.

“APF was born out of a vision which God gave Derek and Jill Blundell in 1981. In those days there were two sorts of Christian overseas agencies: overtly mission societies who went out to convert, and relief organisations that provided aid. The genius of APF’s vision was realising that supporting the indigenous church could be more effective in spreading the gospel. Amazingly, no-one was doing that!

“My own involvement in APF was by accident. I became vicar of the parish in which APF founders Derek and Jill were active members. My commitment to APF was cemented when I travelled to Malawi sometime later with their successors, Ralph (pictured above) and Jane Hanger. A pastor told us he had walked “40 miles” (meaning a very long way) to attend some training. Ralph noticed that he had not brought his Bible and the pastor explained that as there was only one Bible for his entire church congregation it was better to leave it behind for their use than to bring it with him. This struck me deeply. Resourcing marginalised but dedicated church leaders like this man remains a driving force for my involvement as a trustee.

APF has changed over the years but meeting the needs of the local church in Africa has always remained the focus. As the world has changed, some of those needs have changed, but APF has adapted to meet them. In the early days, APF sent books and sewing machines to pastors and their wives, provided training courses and, of course, the thing with which APF became synonymous: bicycles. APF was the first to see that such basic help could transform the lives and ministry of pastors.

“The aim remains the same – to equip pastors to be the best they can be in their ministries under God. Now that many pastors in Africa have access to the same mobile internet technology we enjoy in the West, APF is responding with exciting new projects like eVitabu, whilst continuing to provide basics like bikes, local language Bibles and solar power. It is sobering to think that when APF was founded, mobile phones were still several years away in the UK! APF members can be proud that once again, under God’s guiding and providing hand, we are pioneering ways of enabling African pastors to fulfil their Christian ministries.

“Please join with us in giving thanks to God that, 40 years on, APF is still fulfilling its God given vision. We are grateful to the various directors who, over the years, have brought their differing gifts to bear on the work; to supporters without whose generous donations and prayer support the work could not have flourished, and to our dedicated African partners who give so much of themselves to their ministries.

“And above all, we thank our gracious heavenly Father who has been faithful to this work even when times have been tough. We join with St Paul in his words of thanksgiving: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’.”

Please pray

Give thanks for APF’s extensive network of partners in Africa who often work with few resources and little access to training or materials.

Pray that as APF continues to serve these dedicated but marginalised leaders, we would help them fulfil God’s call upon their lives.

Pray for the current APF Board of Trustees: Revd Richard Suffern (Chair), John Chambers (Treasurer), Revd Dave Howard, Revd Andrew North, Andrew Richardson, Revd Richard Tucker and our newest trustee, Anne Lyttle.

We will pick up where we left off…

By Farming, Malawi

One of APF’s projects that has been paused due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions on gatherings is the Growing Greener agriculture project run by New Life Christian Church in Malawi. Revd Lloyd Chizenga reports on how the church network was responding.

“What is happening in Malawi with Covid-19? As a church we are currently on a sensitisation tour, teaching the communities on how people can get the virus and how to avoid getting the virus. There is a lot of misinformation about, especially in the remote areas, and the government is being supported by NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] and churches like ours to keep people informed. We are busy bringing awareness messages to rural communities about Covid-19.

“Apparently, about 80 people have been found positive in Malawi. Twenty-four have recovered and three patients have died. The government tried to impose a national lockdown, but it did not work well because most of the people are poor. We live hand-to-mouth and there were no plans to help people financially so they could stay at home without starving. As you may be aware, around 85% of the population lives in the rural areas so they must continue farming, buying and selling food.

“Besides the impact of Covid-19 on our livelihoods, it has also affected us morally, physically and spiritually. We have a sense that some of our cultural tendencies have to be stopped. This includes having to follow social distancing guidelines and keeping at least a meter apart from others. We have been told we must avoid hand shaking and instead hand wash frequently with soap or sanitiser. There is also a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. All these are new things in the Malawian setting. We are used to meeting in our hundreds even in rural communities. Our government has been less strict than many others in Africa but they are now saying we should wear a mask.

“In terms of the ‘Growing Greener’ sustainable agriculture project we have been running with support from APF and Operation Agri, Covid-19 has had an impact. Since we can only meet with 50 people and not more than that, we have had to pause meetings and training sessions with project beneficiaries. Our community groups normally have around 120 people in them so training must be reduced.

“We will pick up where we left off as soon as we are able. One thing we can do is to divide the community groups into more but smaller groups to follow the guidance. In the long term, Covid-19 has not affected the operations of the project so much, it has just slowed it down this year.

“One of the tasks I have been doing is to provide hand washing buckets, soap, sanitiser, and face masks to over 35 communities in the Chikwawa area. This is so important to stop Covid-19 spreading through our communities. We have been supported by APF donors in the UK to do this but we need more assistance so we can purchase more.”

Please pray

Giving thanks for the long-standing partnership APF has with Revd Lloyd Chizenga and his team

Giving thanks for Lloyd’s faith and optimism about picking up where we left off with Growing Greener

That some training has been able to continue albeit with reduced numbers

For any negative unintended consequences of social distancing on cultural habits to be minimal but that soap, water and facemasks being provided by Lloyd have maximum impact, maintaining public health and protection from coronavirus in Chikwawa region

African Christianity and the Environment

By Environment, Malawi, Uganda

APF’s Project Coordinator, Geoff Holder, describes some of the finding of his research project which formed part of an MSc in Sustainable Development at SOAS, London. The university has suggested publishing the finding.

Most charities, mission agencies and international development organisations now recognise that it is essential to account for environmental factors when designing projects and initiatives in Africa. At APF, we’re led by our African partners, aiming to strengthen and support the good things they are already doing. But what do grassroots African Christians believe about the world around them? What value do they place on ecosystems? Could charities and mission organisations like ours achieve more by working in partnership with the African church when it comes to environmental resources?

African Christian theologians describe a unique and distinctive approach to creation. By combining Christian biblical theology and traditional African cultural understandings, African theologians like Lauenti Magesa see a spiritual connectedness within creation. Obaji Agbiji views the African community as a “bondedness with each other and with nature”. For B. Bujo, the foundation of African ecological ethics is the “cosmic community” which includes all beings.

Diane Stinton describes how many African Christians view life as functioning through “participation with God within a hierarchy of belonging”. Because God is the source of life, water and soils, everything is viewed as intrinsically sacred. Kalemba Mwambazambi goes further to see God manifest in trees, rivers, mountains and animals. He equates separation from nature with separation from God. “The forest is as important as the skin of a human which, if removed, results in death,” he writes.

While these writers provide a fascinating and perceptive insight into how African theologians conceptualise the world around them, I was interested in exploring how widespread this sort of environmental theology was outside of academia. What do ‘normal’ African Christians believe, and what might this mean for mission and development organisations like APF?

To find out, I sent African church leaders from across the continent a questionnaire and held group interviews with Christians from rural communities in Uganda and Malawi. Their responses were revealing.

Firstly, it was clear that environmental concerns feature highly in the lives of African Christians. But issues like deforestation, drought and extinction are understood primarily through the lens of their faith. The Bible, for example, guides opinions around burning environmental issues like population pressure.

Droughts and floods are seen as signs of God’s displeasure in human behaviour. Healthy soils and reliable rainfall on the other hand are blessings direct from God. Secondly, by undermining traditional cultural practices that used to help protect the environment, the growth of Christianity has been a cause of environmental degradation in Africa.

Mountains, forests, rivers and trees were once believed to be sacred, the home of spirits and ancestors. As the wild places were no longer feared, they were no longer protected. One pastor explained: “Our ancestors believed that because there was a spirit there, they would keep the trees. Because we Christians do not believe there is a spirit there, we cut down the trees.”

Despite this, Christian faith is the most powerful motivator of environmental action in Africa. African Christians frequently view themselves as stewards of God’s creation, tasked to care for what God has made. “God gave us a mandate,” one pastor told me. “He took us and put us in a garden. Now, we have left our responsibility to take care of the garden.”

This helps to explain why so many African Christians are interested in environmental action like tree planting. It also explains why you might read so much about environmental issues in Impetus. Creation care is simply very important to the African church and environmental concern a direct consequence of Christian faith in action.

So, from camels helping pastoralists adapt to climate change in Kenya, to solar power in Tanzania and Rwanda; from sustainable agriculture in Malawi to tree planting in Uganda, exciting opportunities exist for those, like APF, who work alongside the African church.