Students Contemplate Faithful Christian Life

A letter from Dustin Ellington serving in Zambia

June 2017

Write to Dustin Ellington
Write to Sherri Ellington

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Dear Friends,

One of the parts of my work that I (Dustin) feel mostly strongly about is mentoring master’s students and fourth-year bachelor’s students as they carry out research and writing projects. The young African church has many serious matters to think through, and all of my students are sorting through challenges facing their churches as they do their academic work. Let me share a little about my current research students and the significance of their areas of focus.

Rev. Bannet Muwowo is a Zambian Presbyterian pastor writing a master’s thesis that seeks to describe what the process of mature biblical interpretation should be like and what it should accomplish in Zambia today. Rev. Muwowo believes people’s poverty tends to take control of what they are able to see in the Bible; poverty drives interpretation. People may think, for instance, that whenever the Bible uses the word “blessing” it is talking about material well-being. Rev. Muwowo suspects that believers’ self-interest might be playing a bigger role in interpretation than the Bible itself. The temptations of self-interest and self-deception need to be faced. Mature interpretation gives priority to God’s will and whatever God wishes to say to readers.

Miss Naele Mawere is dealing with how pastors in the Reformed Church of Zambia (in which she’s preparing for ordination as a fourth-year bachelor’s student) are being tempted to act like the pastors on Africa’s TVs and billboards, who seem constantly to tout their ability to perform miracles of healing and financial breakthroughs. She is focusing on the purpose of healing miracles in the Gospel of John. It turns out that miracles in John are all signs of Jesus’ identity that inspire faith in him. This understanding can become a way for testing whether or not miracles and ministries are genuine: are people being directed to Jesus, or toward a particular minister’s glory and wealth?

Rev. Agness Nyondo-Nyirenda, a Malawian Presbyterian pastor and fourth-year bachelor’s student, is writing a research paper on the meaning of “abundant life” (one of African Christianity’s most prominent phrases) in the Gospel of John. She’s thinking through the issue—controversial here—of whether preachers in her denomination should define “abundant life” according to how people in their communities define it, or if they should give first priority to what the context of John’s Gospel itself says about what that “life” is. Who gets to define abundant? African culture, the Bible, or some combination of the two?

Rev. Feston Chilumpha, who has served as a pastor in a mainly Muslim area of Malawi, is my one researcher in missiology (mission and evangelism) instead of New Testament. He is asking the question, “What are the best practices for reaching Malawian Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ?” He is thinking through how Christians can themselves become an inviting and loving message of good news to the Muslims around them. He hopes his research will lead to new directions for his synod’s mission outreach and that, upon finishing his degree, he can return to minister more effectively in an area with many Muslims.

Rev. Faresy Sakala, a Presbyterian pastor in Zimbabwe and current master’s student, hopes to write her master’s thesis on the theme of submission in 1 Peter. She wants to think through how Zimbabwean Christian women should receive the emphasis on submission in 1 Peter as they deal with the common reality of violence from their husbands and rampant alcoholism in the home. What does the call to submission mean for such women?

Rev. Clever Chifombo is a master’s student and Reformed Church of Zimbabwe pastor wrestling with the problems of why so many Christians’ marriages in his country are being torn apart by adultery and how Christians act like they are enslaved to sin even though Scripture says they have died to sin. He is studying Romans 6 to understand the idea of becoming slaves to God’s righteousness instead of slaves to sin and how this may be contextualized in Zimbabwe.

As you can see, our students are thinking seriously through what the faithful Christian life and message should be on the African continent. I’m so grateful that Presbyterian World Mission and all of our supporters give me the opportunity to be a little part of my students’ growth and learning.

For prayer and thanksgiving:

1. Please pray that I will be a wise advisor to the students named above.
2. This is an important year to pray for Justo Mwale University as it experiences a turnover in leadership. The term of Dr. Zulu, the head of our school, ends in December. The other top two positions’ terms end in 2018, which may mean a complete turnover of the whole top leadership team. Those chosen to lead may have a big effect on whether or not the school continues to be focused on training people for Christian ministry and whether or not its Christian identity is affirmed and deepened. Please pray for the hiring process.
3. Thank God with us that Sherri’s Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) seem a little more refreshed and seem to be taking in stride their intense cross-cultural experiences. Please pray for them to “end well,” with meaningful closure to their 11 months of living and serving and forming relationships in Zambia. They leave July 25.
4. Thank God with us for the recent gathering of PC(USA) mission co-workers in Rwanda. Sherri and I, and the YAVs, really enjoyed our fellow missionaries in that beautiful country. We were also touched and inspired by testimonies of recovery and healing from the genocide of 1994, and we brought such stories back to Zambian Christians. They’ve been touched and inspired by Rwandan testimonies of open confession, forgiveness, and inner healing.

Sherri and I are so grateful to all of you who encourage us, pray for us, and give toward our ministry. Please consider a gift and encourage your congregation to include us in its mission budget. Also feel free to be in contact if you might like to contribute to scholarships for bachelor’s or master’s students at Justo Mwale University. A heartfelt thanks to all of you who are behind us and who make our life and ministry possible here in Zambia!

Yours in Christ,

Dustin and Sherri Ellington

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