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A New Call

A Letter from Cheryl Barnes, serving as education facilitator for the Church of Central Africa, serving in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

July 2019

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Dear Christian Friends,

It comes as no surprise to any child of God that God’s call upon one’s life will most likely combine a variety of personal gifts and passions that merge with a lifetime of experiences, and for Presbyterians, we know that God’s call is always confirmed in community.

How often I have prayed the prayer of Jabez, “‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!’ And God granted what he asked.” 1 Chronicles 4:10

We serve a prayer-answering God. Often, when we dare to look at our lives through a wider margin, we grow spiritually. We also grow in other ways: our boundaries become enlarged, allowing us to accept new challenges, and our worldview is expanded as we connect with new communities.

I have accepted a new call as education facilitator to 3 synods in the country of Malawi, one synod in Zambia, and one in Zimbabwe. I will be working in partnership with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) to improve the quality of education for nearly 1200 schools under the CCAP umbrella. This position was created to address some critical areas that affect the children who live in these synods:

· Malawian schools are chronically understaffed and overcrowded.
· The student-teacher ratio can be as high as 100:1.
· Basic literacy and numeracy skills are the lowest in the region.
· The primary school dropout rate is 40%.
· Children with special needs often do not have access to classroom education.

Another challenge that this position will address is the education of girls. Girl children are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and the lack of access to education. In many instances, girls are kept at home to assist in the care of their younger or orphaned siblings. They often have to walk many miles to the nearest school, which leaves them exposed to violence. Girls have the additional burden of needing to find ways to address their personal monthly needs, which often means they miss days of school.

This position will provide opportunities to bring together parents, students, community leaders and stakeholders as partners working to improve the quality of education and advocating for access to education for all children.

This new ministry call came while I was serving as pastor of Sardis Presbyterian Church in Jefferson, Georgia. The Sardis congregation was founded in 1888, and in 2012, I was ordained as the first female pastor. The Sardis church family is an intergenerational worshipping community filled with people who faithfully endeavor to live out the truth of God’s written Word. While Sardis witnessed small spurts of incremental growth in previous years, in 2017 we focused on bridging the gap between the churched and unchurched with a program that highlighted outreach and evangelism by each member. With this new focus, we experienced a surge in church growth, welcoming 35 new members and baptizing 21. This growth was just one of the highlights of my pastoral call as the community witnessed the faithfulness of God and as souls were added to the kingdom.

One evening as I was preparing to teach my weekly Bible study, I was working at my computer and opened a new email about a mission co-worker position with a strong focus on education. I noticed that the email was from a name I did not recognize, and that I was the only recipient listed. As I read the job description, my interest grew because it was as though the position had been written specifically for me. Prior to serving in ordained ministry, I was a special needs educator, a preschool administrator, and a small business owner. Each of these prior jobs seemed to be the perfect foundation for this position.

The email described a call that appeared to be a perfect fit, until I saw the service location … It was in Malawi, Africa. So, I closed the lid on my computer and went to church, determined to forget all about the opportunity.

But the Lord began to confirm the call in mysterious ways. On my way to church, I received an unexpected call from my daughter, Mielan, who at the time was serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Peru. She said, “Mom, I had a dream last night.” I assumed she would be telling me a dream about herself, but she began to describe a dream that was all about me: “I dreamed that you were in a foreign country, standing in a large room. You were speaking another language, and you were teaching a group of girls.” I could feel my heart beating loudly in my ears, and I thought to myself, “How could this be?” Immediately I began to question Mielan on whether she had received the same email, or if by some chance she had any prior knowledge of this opportunity. She assured me repeatedly that she had not.

What a divine confirmation! I shared the information on the email with my daughter, and she urged me to apply in order to see where God was leading me.

I continued to church that evening with my daughter’s words on my mind. The text for the evening came from Genesis 12:1: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’” I knew that God was surely speaking to me! Like Abraham, I was being called from my familiar surroundings to enter another country. After a time of discernment, and numerous confirmations from within my community, I answered the call. I am unsure of the difficulties, inconveniences, and uncertainties that await me, but my faith ensures me that I am not alone. I am reminded of another quote, “The will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not keep you.”

In preparing for my new call, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a language course at the Center for Intercultural Training (CIT) in Union Mills, NC. This course has prepared me to begin learning the Chichewa language, the native language of many Malawians. Being able to honor the Malawians by speaking a small portion of their language will allow me to gain the trust of the parents and children with whom I will be working.

Since announcing my acceptance of the position of education facilitator, I have visited congregations and attended the New Wilmington Mission and the Malawi Mission Network Conferences to share my call story. I have received numerous emails, texts, and telephone calls expressing support and prayers encouraging me in this new call. The support from colleagues, friends, and the body of Christ has meant so much to me.

This position requires not only prayers, but also your financial support. Any gift, regardless of the amount, would be appreciated. Our hands and hearts must work together so that God’s will is done on earth.

I look forward to forming new relationships within the new community to which I am called. I will be departing to begin this exciting work in October.

I am grateful that God is “enlarging my borders,” and I am blessed to be able to go to fulfill God’s plans for my life. My prayer is that you will partner with me with your prayers, your support, and your financial gifts. Together we can make a difference for the children beyond the borders of our land.

Cheryl Barnes

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