A Letter from Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch, serving in Malawi
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I met Chaplain Chimwemwe Chimbatata at Daeyang Luke Hospital. A recent graduate of African Bible College, he is relatively new. We had just begun talking. By this point, most chaplains have offered to take me around to show me their facilities and what they are doing. Instead, Chimwemwe said, “I was really glad you agreed to meet with me, because I have a lot of questions.”
I listened to his questions and realized that he was floundering, lacking much of an idea of how to do patient visits, how to meet the needs of his patients, or even what his role as hospital chaplain should involve. I ended up spending over an hour with him talking about the importance of listening, and of remembering that the Holy Spirit is present with our patients both before and after we meet them. As chaplains, our time in their lives is small, and we need to remember Who is with them the most.
Chaplain Chimbatata called me because I had met with Dr. Sue Makin, a former PC(USA) mission co-worker who works at Daeyang Luke Hospital, a few days prior, and she asked if I would have time to see him. I was having dinner with Dr. Sue Makin because some members of New Castle Presbytery were wrapping up a visit to their partner church in Malawi and wanted to see us before they left. Before I met Chaplain Chimbatata, we had also had dinner with Jack Mtui, a representative of the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBS). He was surprised to hear I was meeting with the chaplain on Monday, because he too had a meeting planned at Daeyang Luke Hospital. He informed me that they were planning to send the chaplain to Kenya for some training.
All of these connections happened quickly, and unexpectedly. And the results were a wonderful meeting and a new relationship with a fellow chaplain. It is encouraging to know that even though access to training for chaplains can be difficult, there are some who see their ministry as vital and work to support them. This is just one example of what my past few months have looked like. The past few months have been a reminder that even though we have been working with the CCAP in Malawi for almost four years now, I am still new. Most of my time until recently was spent at home, being a parent, trying to manage the household, learning how life works in Malawi, and so on. I did make connections with chaplains in the CCAP, and I learned about some of the things happening with them. But it was not my focus. Now that I am working full-time as the facilitator for the CCAP Chaplain Training Program, it is my focus. I have been discovering just how many connections I still need to make.
In addition to exploring training opportunities for chaplains in Malawi, recently I have been looking at existing models for training lay leaders in CCAP congregations. As I have shared in previous letters, I believe that in order to properly equip the CCAP to do impactful chaplain ministries, we need to train not only chaplains but also lay leaders in congregations to work alongside them. Rather than inventing the whole process from scratch, I hope that some of the existing programs may be helpful.
One such program is Veritas College International (veritascollege.org/countries/malawi-new/introduction). This is an interdenominational organization that has been working with Nkhoma Synod congregations for nearly twenty years, training ordained pastors and lay ministers in exegesis, preaching, and leading Bible studies. They perceived a similar problem to what I have seen: there are not enough pastors to do effective holistic ministry in all of the CCAP congregations. So in order to make sure that congregations are being taught biblical truths with solid preaching and study, Veritas saw that it would not be enough to enhance only the existing training of ordained pastors. Since the bulk of preaching on any given Sunday is done by lay ministers, those are the ones who need to be taught and trained. So Veritas runs programs within congregations, teaching and training the members. As people go through the program, many of them are selected by pastors and congregations to get additional training from Veritas. They become trainers themselves, and congregations can then train their own members without worrying about the availability of Veritas employees.
There are many elements here that are attractive to me, including the idea that the training programs can become self-sustaining in congregations, and that the passion for the ministry needs to belong to the congregations themselves, not just to the lead pastor.
I was once again invited to speak at the annual Nkhoma Synod Prison chaplain workshop. This annual gathering is an opportunity for chaplains to get some additional training, as well as to review the accomplishments of the previous year and their goals for the future. Last year, 40 people were in attendance from various congregations, mostly from Lilongwe. This year there were close to 70 people, representing 28 of the congregations involved in prison ministry in the Nkhoma Synod. They were from various backgrounds and had gotten involved in the ministry for various reasons, sometimes because they were told to by the church! But all of them have seen its value, and have a passion for it. Sessions included the general purpose and reason behind prison ministry, understanding the role of the prison warders in the spiritual care of inmates, and ways that the congregational prison ministry committees and the Office of the Nkhoma Synod Prison Chaplain can support one another. It was once again very encouraging to attend.
This month, I have had a formal chaplain gathering in each of the three Malawi synods. At these gatherings, my goals were to make sure I met as many of the CCAP chaplains as possible and to move on to brainstorming what the needs of chaplains are and ideas on how to meet those needs. From these meetings, I hope to put together a chaplain advisory committee. I am happy to give credit to Luta for that one. Her experiences with CHE and working in health and development have been very beneficial to me! I have also continued to learn about non-CCAP chaplains working in private hospitals. I look forward to making connections with them to understand more about chaplaincy outside the CCAP.
As you may already know from other communications, we will be in the USA on interpretation assignment (IA) in June and July. This is a time for us to connect with churches, other supporters and our families. Luta has been working hard to book our time, and it is getting full fast! If you would like to see us and have us speak at your congregation or in some other setting, please contact her as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are extremely grateful for your continued support through your relationships with us, your prayers, and your gifts. As 2018 gets into full swing, please consider ways you can continue to give and support the ministry of the PC(USA) and the CCAP in Malawi.
In Christ’s Service,
Jeremy (for the Garbat-Welches)
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