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A Week in the Life of Viyele CCAP Congregation Malawi

A letter from Tyler Holm, serving in Malawi

March 2018

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My daughter’s Sunday School class is led by Amama Rose, a retired primary school teacher who is full of love and energy. Although my students, the student ministers, and the pastor don’t have much opportunity to be physically present with the kids on a Sunday morning, their energy can often be lovingly heard from the church. On a typical Sunday morning, about 200 to 300 children attend our Sunday School program.

Most other churches, both within the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP) and other denominations in Malawi, do not have such programs for the youth. Much of the credit for this program goes to the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, which has supported children’s programs in Malawi for many years. In other congregations, children often run unsupervised in the parking lot or go to the “big church,” which at two hours (or more), seems a bit long for a toddler or preschool-aged child, in my opinion. Instead, our children’s Sunday School is very interactive and uses song and movement as it helps to share the love of Christ with our kids.

A few of the young children at Sunday School

The Sunday School program is run by volunteers from the congregation, with a Sunday School chair overseeing the general program. A marked difference between many churches in the USA and here in Malawi is that while many (but certainly not all) American congregations have multiple pastors serving as staff, churches in Malawi invariably have just one. Not only are there no other ordained colleagues, but it is very unusual to have support staff. The church secretary, office administrator, music and worship personnel, directors of ministries, and financial and custodial staff — all of these visible and often invisible staff members in American churches are very foreign in Malawi. Our congregations are instead active with different volunteers, and there is a richness that comes from these volunteers’ service of love for the church. Of course, volunteers are active in many American churches as well. As churches in Malawi have only one full-time staff member, however, volunteers are essential. In America, many mainline churches, including denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), are struggling with a declining membership. From what I see, our CCAP congregations are continuing to grow.

Student ministers at the University of Livingstonia Faculty of Theology spend time during all four years of their study working in different church congregations of the CCAP. In the United States, this might be called an internship. Here, it is usually referred to as “practical work” and involves the student minister working under an experienced minister of the Synod of Livingstonia. This experience intends to expose them to the many sorts of activities and responsibilities they will assume on their own after graduation and ordination.

The Sunday School choir preparing to sing

While some Sundays I am out at other congregations where my students are serving in “practical work,” it is always good to be at our church home community as a family. And it really is very close to home, just a five-minute walk. While more Americans are either driving long distances to their own congregation or purposefully “rediscovering” neighborhood churches, the parish model of neighborhood churches has always been the norm here in Malawi. We are very thankful that we just happen to live next to such a vibrant congregation. The fact that we live across the street from the government university, Mzuzu University, where Rochelle works, means that we have many college students and highly educated lecturers in the congregation. Since moving here in 2012, we have had two wonderful pastors at Viyele CCAP, Rev. Chipofyia and Rev. Mwakasungula. Our congregation has four church services on Sunday (6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. in English and 10:00 and 1:00 in the local language of Chitumbuka), each one filled to the brim. The total membership is somewhere in the ballpark of 1000 adults. We are very blessed to be part of such a community.

Daily life in Malawi is not really that different from life elsewhere; community is always very important. We are honored, however, to be sent by you and to be a part of what God is doing to train up ministers and lay leaders in Malawi. We are especially thankful now. At the end of 2017, we had a large gap in funding, but in December the many supporters of the work being done in Malawi brought us over to complete support. Thank you very much! We ask and are assured that you will continue in your prayer and financial support for our ministry here and for all our brothers and sisters in Malawi and the CCAP.

Tyler Holm

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