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A letter from Nancy Collins in Zambia

December 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

The white flatbed truck, piled high with household goods, bounced slowly down the dirt track and out the gate of Justo Mwale Theological University College (JMTUC). The truck, carrying all the worldly possessions of the Rev. Lazarus Chilenje, newest pastor of the Church of Central Africa–Presbyterian (CCAP) Synod of Zambia, was headed for the Kabwata congregation in downtown Lusaka.

Photo of a man, who is kneeling; another man stands behind him and puts an academic hood him.

Lazarus Chilenje receives bachelor's hood from JMTUC Board Chair.

Chilenje, garbed in the distinctive gray-and-maroon gown of Justo Mwale, graduated from the theological college during the ceremony held on campus two days earlier. He was one of 13 in the JMTUC bachelor’s program who went forward to shake hands with Dr. Edwin Zulu, college rector, to receive the envelope with his bachelor’s diploma and transcript, then to kneel as a smiling Rev. J.C. Juma, chairperson of the JMTUC Board of Directors, placed the bachelor’s hood over his shoulders.

Chilenje’s classmates included two from the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, two from the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe, eight from the Reformed Church of Zambia, and one from the Anglican Church in Zambia. The 13 graduates were warmly congratulated by family, friends and heads of churches. In this part of the world, where pastors are in short supply, each new pastor is joyfully and gratefully welcomed by the church. Not so surprising, then, that Chilenje graduated on Saturday, was officially licensed on Sunday, and installed in his congregation on Monday!!

The situation for pastors in East Central Africa is startlingly different from the United States, where newly ordained ministers struggle to find a call with PC(USA) congregations, some of which are in decline. PC(USA) international partner churches—whether CCAP and Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa (UPCSA) in Zambia, CCAP in Malawi, Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) in Kenya, or the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda (EPR)—are all working hard to educate sufficient pastors to serve their burgeoning congregations. The statistics tell the story:

Church

# congregations

# pastors

Membership

Members per pastor

CCAP Zambia

67 with 270 prayer houses

52

65,000

1,250:1

UPCSA Zambia

36 with 25 prayer houses

21

9,500

452:1

CCAP Livingstonia Malawi

211 with 1000 prayer houses

132

800,000

6060:1

CCAP Nkhoma Malawi

141 with 800 prayer houses

139

1,200,000

8633:1

CCAP Blantyre Malawi

500 with many prayer houses

187

1,600,000

8556:1

PCEA Kenya

1000

450

1,000,000+

2222:1

EPR Rwanda

93 with many chapels

81

250,000

3086:1

Photo of a man in clerical attire handing papers to a man in a suit; it appears they about to shake hands.

Lazarus Chilenje receives certificate of license during worship at CCAP Matero congregation.

Poverty, of course, is also an issue in sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of church members throughout East Central Africa are struggling to make ends meet. Food, education for children, and clothing take up almost all of the income families manage to make. Yet contributions to the church are important. Elders play a huge role in the ongoing work of the church—educating, preaching, visiting—but financial contributions are necessarily small. So it is nearly impossible for churches to find $15,000 or $20,000 per student for theological education. The No. 1 priority of all PC(USA) church partners in the region—Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda—is scholarships for theological candidates. General secretaries of all the churches have identified it as the single most important concern.

Despite the serious hardships of ministry in sub-Saharan Africa, all of the churches have many candidates standing in line waiting to serve their God.

PC(USA) church partners in East Central Africa send their students to a variety of theological institutions: Zomba and University of Livingstonia in Malawi, Justo Mwale in Zambia, Presbyterian University of East Africa in Kenya, Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Science (PIASS) in Rwanda. Everywhere the story is the same: Churches are growing but scholarships—and thus enrollment at theological institutions—are declining.

Photo of women, men and children sitting and standing; green material is draped around the room at window-top height.

Worship at Kanombe Congregation in Kigali, Rwanda.

In the past the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and The Outreach Foundation (TOF) provided annual scholarships for 17 students at Justo Mwale Theological University College. Today the number has declined to 11. The 11 scholarships are divided among the 5 CCAP Synods—Zambia, Livingstonia, Nkhoma, Blantyre and Harare—as well as the UPCSA in Zimbabwe and Zambia and the Presbyterian Church of Mozambique (IPM). Scholarships for students attending Zomba Theological College in Malawi have been completely cut. At PIASS the number of students being sent annually has dropped from 15 to 2 or 3 today. During my visit to Rwanda in October, EPR President Rev. Dr. Elisee Musemakweli indicated the reason for the decline is they are unable to find scholarships for the students who have been called by God to ministry.

Please join me in holding this issue up in prayer. “The harvest is plentiful; the laborers are few.” Pray that PC(USA) congregations may be moved to give an opportunity to one of the many who desire to serve God in the ministry of Word and sacrament in East Central Africa.

For more information, please contact me at collins.nj@gmail.com .

Photo of people in a room with exposed rafters; in the front of the room people appear to be singing and clapping with raised arms.

Praising God at Nkhozi congregation in rural Malawi.

On a more personal note, the three American families living at Justo Mwale gathered at my house for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. We were 14 altogether. We had roast chicken rather than turkey, but with cranberry sauce. Neighbor Cynthia Moeller made the pumpkin pies (from bluish-green Zambian pumpkins), Sherri Ellington made the apple pies, and Samantha Luizhi brought a green bean casserole. My contributions included mashed potatoes, Zambian sweet potatoes, gravy, and cornbread-and-sausage dressing. It was a joyous feast and we all thanked God for how we are blessed by our lives in Zambia.

Son Charles will arrive for a Christmas visit on Dec 20 — flying from Tulsa to Chicago to Dulles to Addis Ababa and then on to Lusaka. Please pray that his trip is uneventful and that he makes all his connections. He is looking forward to seeing the Ellingtons, our friends from Cairo now here in Lusaka. He is also hoping to meet some young people his age while here. I am working on that!

May the peace and joy of Jesus Christ be with you during this Advent and Christmas season. May God bless you richly as you spend time with family and friends. May you be ever mindful of those who are without family or friends or food or shelter.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Nancy

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 66

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