A letter from Dustin and Sherri Ellington in Zambia
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’—Matthew 9:36-38
I can’t say that I have personally experienced people in Zambia’s neighbor country, Malawi, as harassed and helpless. I have only been there once—last Christmas vacation—and Dustin went another time to attend a conference with colleagues. I experienced it as a beautiful country, with a large, deep lake running north to south—a lake so big it feels like an ocean, complete with tropical fish and, in some places, waves. Malawi did seem more crowded than Zambia, with very little vacant land, and almost every rolling hill well used, divided into small farm plots and villages. But this morning, as I read the above passage, Malawi came to my mind and my heart.
The reason is a student named George Jankens. George, one of seven students from Malawi currently at Justo Mwale Theological University College, is finishing his studies this year. He has written his 50+ page senior thesis, and I have had the privilege of editing the English for him. I finished working through it last night, then opened up the Bible this morning and was struck by the similarity between what Matthew and Jesus describe and the situation George describes in Malawi.
As in many of the countries our seminary trains pastors for, the church in George’s region of southern Malawi has experienced astounding growth in recent decades. I don’t even know the growth statistics, but it has been so rapid that in his synod—Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian—there are currently over 1.2 million Presbyterian Christians (some say 1.6 million!), and only 185 pastors. This is a ratio of over 6,400 members to each pastor.
George’s paper was about the deep-felt need for Christian nurture and discipleship in Blantyre Synod. You can imagine! His concern is twofold: (1) That the limited number of pastors do not have the time, energy, and transportation to lead Christians in this area toward maturity in Christ. With thousands of sheep to shepherd, they are just spread too thin. And (2) That some of the trained pastors who do exist in his area may neglect people in the rural areas to focus their energies in cities and towns, where they can reach more church members more quickly, where there are amenities like electricity and a bus system, and where churches can offer better financial support to a pastor and his or her family.
George is particularly concerned for people in the rural areas who have never heard the gospel message, and who may not hear it anytime soon because there are not enough workers to take it to them. This is what Jesus speaks of, too, in the passage above. He notices that there are many “sheep” without a shepherd. Jesus sees the crowds, and he has compassion on them.
I feel George’s compassion for his own people. George’s thesis is like a modern-day extrapolation of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 9:37-38. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” describes the situation in George’s area of Malawi to a “T.” George’s conclusions, as he gives 13 suggestions to church leaders in his part of Malawi, are strategy recommendations toward filling out the rest of Jesus’ words: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Will you join with George and with us in asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field in Blantyre Synod of Malawi, as well as in the other areas our students come from in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa?
Soon George himself will join the ranks of the harvesters in Blantyre Synod of Malawi. We learned this past week that he has received his call: beginning in November or December, he will pastor five churches, and he does not know how many thousands of people are in these congregations. (We just know that the average congregation in that part of Malawi has over 2,600 members.) Please pray for George, and for others like him who are workers in a harvest that is plentiful. Pray for their strength, and for their ability to shepherd their flocks, with wisdom and energy, into the full depth and maturity of Christian life.
Our own family has begun to settle into Louisville, Kentucky, for a one-year Stateside Interpretation Assignment. It is the boys’ first full school year in America since Clayton was in kindergarten. They are adjusting to their middle and high schools (Clayton is in 10th grade and Christopher is in 6th), and we are all coping with various levels of reverse culture shock. This is probably a good thing to experience from time to time, so we will ultimately feel comfortable in our own country long-term.
Dustin and I—especially Dustin—are getting a chance to visit and share with some of our supporting churches and individuals, and that has been a blessing. There is something about thinking through and sharing the highlights of and the purpose behind our ministry that renews us personally in realizing just how important this work is. Part of that is training people like George Jankens to meet needs like those he describes in his part of Malawi.
Thank you for your support of us through prayers, finances, and friendship. If you have not yet engaged in God’s mission in Zambia, please consider coming alongside us. We appreciate your partnership so much. It is by your support and God’s grace that our mission continues.
With love in Christ,
Sherri and Dustin Ellington
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