A letter from Tyler Holm serving in Malawi
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We are often asked to give stories from our work here in Malawi. I think sometimes people imagine being a missionary in Africa must always be like David Livingston or Nate Saint meeting remote villagers who have never met a Christian before. Our work is not at all like that. While there are some foreign Christians who may look like that, today most mission work is focused on rather less glamorous but very necessary work of supporting Christians and non-Christians in a great many ways.
In most instances our global partner workers will be and should be the ones leading churches, schools and other institutions. Capacity-building in community is also a core theme of the three critical global initiatives of Presbyterian World Mission: addressing root causes of global poverty, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world, and engaging more deeply in God’s work of reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own.
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word” (Acts 6:1-4).
Preaching from the pulpit and teaching at public forums will clearly reach many people. Our role as servants, rather, is to use our gifts or training to support the work of our global partners in accomplishing their more public role. This may sound less glamorous, but it is still very rewarding. One recent experience at the University of Livingstonia that exemplifies this was not a big public event or major life-changing experience (at least not obviously so), but rather was simply a staff meeting.
Most of us would say we attend many meetings, and rarely do meetings excite us. But what was so encouraging about this recent faculty and staff meeting at the University of Livingstonia was the emphasis on attention to what we called “teaching issues.” We have been working with our partners here for over two years, but this was the first time that we had devoted a full meeting as a department of the university to teaching issues. Many other recent meetings have been devoted to the financial situation, or where we will house our students, or what the students will eat.
In Acts 6 we see that the early church also struggled with having their priorities in line. Sometimes we fall into the same problems. This is probably easy to do because there is so much that is so important. Luke, the author of Acts, was not trying to diminish the importance of the care of the Hellenist widows. He showed, however, how a community could accomplish all that was needed by sharing the gifts and abilities that each possessed. The “logistics issues” we discuss and decide about at regular staff meetings are important as well. But the staff at the University of Livingstonia were called to teach our students, and when we give too much of our attention to logistical concerns, that call to teach suffers.
That is why a staff meeting can be so exciting—to see my colleagues and me return to the calling that brought us here and the work that we love!
While I was excited to meet to discuss teaching issues, I’ll admit it was not all easy. One challenge is the lack of textbooks. Lecturers have been expected to produce “notes” that read like textbooks to distribute to the students. The “notes” serve more as a reference for years after the class than an aid in the teaching and learning process. The increasing availability of reference textbooks and the strain of keeping up with such writing has led us to emphasize the teaching interaction more. For some, such a paradigm shift is difficult. One colleague suggested we do both; develop good in-class lecture aids and write an exhaustive reference book to give after the course ends. As the world changes, new resources become available, and new expectations are developed, please remember to pray that the University of Livingstonia will adapt. May we all remember that while many things are good, we all have particular responsibilities that should remain first.
Our family will be visiting the States April to July 2015. We are looking forward to opportunities to see many of you when we are back in the States during the coming months. We will make several formal presentations but also hope to spend time with as many of you as we can either one-on-one or in small groups. If you would like to get together, drop us an email so we can be sure to connect (Tyler.Holm@pcusa.org).
We will be speaking on the following dates, and you are welcome to come join us:
April 12 Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church Louisville, Ky.
May 17 West Side Church Richland, Wash.
May 24 Kennewick First Presbyterian Church Kennewick, Wash.
May 27 Collegiate Presbyterian Church Ames, Iowa
May 31 First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk Norfolk, Neb.
June 2 Presbyterian Church of Chestertown Chestertown, Md.
June 14 Meadow Springs Presbyterian Church Richland, Wash.
June 17 First Presbyterian Church of Othello Othello, Wash.
June 28 Trinity Presbyterian Church Woodbury, Minn.
Thank you for your prayers, love, and support for our family and our work in Malawi. Please consider continuing to partner with us in 2015 and supporting our personal financial needs, which enables us to be able to serve the people of Malawi.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 156
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