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Spiritual Lay Leaders

A Letter from Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch, serving in Malawi

Spring 2021

Write: Jeremy Garbat-Welch
Write: Luta Garbat-Welch

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Dear friends,

Defining a “chaplain” can be difficult, particularly when asked, what do chaplains do? Some things are easy: chaplains minister to people during times of need in settings outside the four walls of the church building. But getting specific is difficult because chaplains serve in such a wide variety of settings. It is common, usually even required, for chaplains to be ordained ministers. Usually, this means that first, a person has to go through the training and experience required to be ordained, and then they need to do the additional work required to become a chaplain. This long process can be a hindrance to people as the path to chaplaincy can seem unnecessarily long or be made unavailable to certain people (for example, women belonging to a religious group that will not ordain them).

In Malawi, Chaplain Harros Safuli is an exception to the ordination rule. As a layperson, he received Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training and wanted to become a CPE supervisor himself. The local congregations in Lilongwe appointed him to be a chaplain at Kamuzu Central Hospital, where the CPE program is located. He pursued the rest of the training he needed and has been a CPE supervisor there for some time. People do assume that this means he is an ordained pastor, which can be awkward at times. But he has the gifts and experience necessary to be a chaplain and to train pastors and chaplains.

Because of his own experience, he also has a passion for including laypeople in pastoral care ministries. As a chaplain and CPE supervisor, he has an ecumenical focus. Like most hospital chaplains, he serves anyone with a spiritual need, regardless of their religious affiliation. As a CCAP member, he wants to see the CCAP expand its pastoral care to local members in hospitals. For years Chaplain Safuli has seen that ordained ministers alone cannot meet the pastoral care needs of everyone in the hospitals. He has put forward the proposal to train one CCAP layperson in each district to be a chaplain to their local district hospital. Malawi is divided into three regions, and each of those is divided into smaller districts. (Similar to states in the U.S. being divided into counties.) Each district boasts a governmental district hospital. Because of the size of the CCAP, there are always congregations nearby.

Having a chaplain ministering at each district hospital would be a huge step in pastoral care coverage in Malawi. Hopefully, it would be just the beginning. There are, of course, other health care centers and hospitals in the districts that would benefit from the presence of a chaplain. Chaplain Safuli told me about this plan when we first arrived in Malawi and how he had been suggesting it to the local CCAP leadership for some time. There was a general sense of acceptance and approval but no financial backing to make it happen.

More recently, he has been working with Chaplain Rev. Gamaliel Kalebe, who serves as the Head Chaplain at Nkhoma Hospital. They have been working to make the proposal more detailed so that they can press the synod leadership for the funds needed to get it off the ground. I was excited to hear recently that they are far enough along in the process that they have begun recruiting CCAP members to be a part of the program. They are beginning with the Central Region, where they live, but hoping that if the program goes well, they will be able to get the other Synods to join in and do similar trainings.

There are logistical hurdles that still need to be sorted through. Despite the challenges in coming up with cost-effective programs for a large geographic area while also managing to impart the necessary skills, they are faithfully moving forward. Please pray for Chaplain Safuli, Chaplain Kalebe, and the others involved in expanding the role and training of chaplains as they creatively and prayerfully work to overcome the remaining obstacles.

The news that they are recruiting people for the training program is exciting. It is encouraging to hear how God’s work continues to grow and move even during these stressful times. We thank you for your continued support of us and the ministries we work with.

In Christ’s Service,

Jeremy (for the Garbat-Welch’s)

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