Better, better, better, better, better by far!

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The headline is taken from a New Zealand advertising jingle used for Bourne-vita drinking chocolate! Kingsley Morris, who taught us the tune, decided that this was a good way to sum up SIM Malawi’s Spiritual Life Conference (SLC) 2019 which had been looking at ‘The Supremacy and Sufficiency of Christ’ from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

For the second year, SIM Malawi’s Spiritual Life Conference was held at the Kara O’Mula conference centre under the shadow of the Mulanje Massif. It is a place which allows you to bask in some of the spectacular beauty of God’s creation while enjoying Bible teaching, fellowship and fun for a few days away from the rigours of mission life.

This year Bob Setor opened the Letter to the Colossians to us under the title ‘The Supremacy and Sufficiency of Christ’. Bob, and his wife Grace, who sadly could not join him on this trip, were SIM Malawi missionaries for nine years before he took up his current post as SIM USA’s Rocky Mountain Regional Director.

The Team: SIM Malawi at SLC2019 (Insets: left Shannon Brink and right Naomi Brink)

When he was in Malawi, he served as a lecturer at, and later as Principal of, the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi (EBCoM), and his Bible College background was much in evidence as he led us through this key letter to a church which Paul never visited but encouraged with his words.

After an overview on the first evening, Bob took us through four key elements of the Letter:

· the Colossian heresy (adding legalism, mysticism and asceticism to the work of Christ on the cross on our behalf)

SLC leader: Bob Setor, SIM USA’s Rocky Mountain Area Director

· the right doctrine (Christ as the Image of the invisible God, the Creator, the Ruler, the Saviour, the Sustainer of all things and the Head of the Church)

· our identity in Christ (reconciled, joint heirs, complete and at peace)

· Finally, what all of the above demands from us (compassion, kindness, humility, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, both within the Christian community and outside it)

Each session was interactive, with people being encouraged to interrupt or share insights and questions as the morning unfolded. Each talk also ended with small groups being set up to look at, and feed back on, key questions which Bob posed to underpin what he had spoken about.

But where does the headline come into all of this? Our final session was a communion service led by SIM Malawi missionary Kingsley Morris. Kingsley introduced us to the idea of ‘Better, better, better, better, better by far!’ noting that Jesus was indeed all of this and that He was truly Supreme and Sufficient.

He also talked about how Jesus calls people who would seemingly not naturally fit together to form teams, especially seen in His disciples, which have the ability to transform lives and nations. Kingsley spoke about the disparity between Simon the Zealot, a member of a group whose aim was to overthrow the Roman authorities of the day, and Matthew, a tax collector and ‘collaborator’ with the Romans.

Hebrews 12:1:  The children unveil their ‘Perseverance’ banner - a ‘Ten-dollar word’ - at SLC2019

Both of these men were not just part of Jesus’ ‘team’ but sat around the table with Him at the Last Supper; an interesting concept to take on board in conjunction with Bob’s talks.

While the adults were sitting under Bob’s tutelage, the children and young people had their own teaching and, judging by the presentation they made on Saturday, it was an amazing week. Led by Laurette Hoagland, Children and Family Pastor, from Greeley in Colorado, and Diana Nkhoma, Blantyre Director for Young Life Malawi, they majored on Hebrews 12:1 – ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’ ‘Perseverance’ was one of Laurette’s ‘ten-dollar words’, and the banner the children unfurled and the song they taught the adults helped everyone to learn and understand the verse and its meaning.

Team challenge: Trying to work out the SIM vision statement on Team Night

One of the great benefits of SLC is the opportunity to meet with people and to chill out for a few days away from the busy-ness of life on the mission field. It is also an opportunity to reconnect with friends from distant parts of the country whom we may not be able to meet with as often as we would like.

Two evening highlights, as ever, were the Team Meeting, at which Country Director Mike Hammond used games to get across serious matters, and the ever popular ‘Talent Night’.

And as SIM’s catchline, “By Prayer”, says, SLC2019 was underpinned with prayer for everyone on the field, those on Home Assignment and those who are coming to Malawi, hopefully before SLC 2020.

Just as Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, so SIM Malawi members came down the side of Mount Mulanje to get back into demands of everyday mission life with the joys and problems that this can throw up.

This year, as we returned to our work, we took with us the knowledge that Jesus is Supreme in all things and He is Sufficient to meet all our needs. Thanks to the children, we were also exhorted to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out before us’.

Our thanks go to Bob, Laurette and Diana for giving up their time to lead SLC2019, and here’s to SLC2020 and what God will teach SIM Malawi through that gathering!

Discussion groups: Small groups working through key questions was an important part of the mornings at SLC2019