A need to break through hardened hearts

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SIM Malawi is looking for missionaries from the Chinese diaspora to come and reach their fellow countrymen in Malawi. The Chinese community in Malawi has no church or ministry currently with this growing population, a growth triggered by political developments. Fluency in Mandarin is essential for this post.

A group of seven Chinese-Australian Christians, from the Evangelical Free Church of Australia (EFCA) East Lindfield, recently undertook a short-term mission visit to Malawi, to see how God is working in Africa, the better to understand outreach opportunities to the Chinese Diaspora in both Lilongwe and Blantyre.

Lilongwe and Blantyre both have significant Chinese populations, the former having greater numbers than the latter, and it has been a long-held desire of SIM Malawi to reach out to these communities with the Gospel. In October a group of seven Chinese Australians were invited over to Malawi by Pete and Jo Ong to see at first-hand some of the challenges that might be faced in reaching out to both Malawians and the Chinese Diaspora, as Group Leader, Alice Li, explained.

“As a church, EFCA has a partnership with the Ong family. Our old pastor is good friends with Pete and that is how it started,” she said.

The team:  The team from EFCA with their hosts Peter and Jo Ong

“We send a lot of mission teams around the world – to Japan, Thailand, Dubai and East Asia – to partner with and support our long-term missionaries. Stephen Yu, who  is my co-leader but unfortunately couldn’t come at the last moment, is very passionate about mission, mobilising people, encouraging people to see what mission is like first-hand, and challenging them to think about long-term mission.”

One of the things that the group discovered was that many of the Chinese in Malawi are simply here to build a new life and make as much money as possible, and these factors work against any outreach to them. 

“We had mixed reactions to our outreach. We came across some Chinese Buddhists and they were quite closed to the Gospel. They were like “No, no, no,  we believe in Buddha and that is OK.” But others were quite open to hearing about Jesus,” said Alice.

“We also came across a Korean missionary couple working with the Chinese in Lilongwe. They had lived in China for five years, so they had the language and they were specifically here in Malawi to reach the Chinese. Their English wasn’t very good so when we met them, all conversation was in Mandarin – a room full of Australians and Koreans talking in Chinese! The couple has been in Malawi for three years trying to share the gospel, and they have not seen one person convert.

“On numerous occasions, the Korean missionaries have tried to invite them over for dinner; they intentionally rented a house in a more Chinese area of the city, but many people, even though they had invited them, said that they were too busy or hadn’t actually accepted the invitation to the meal.”

Outreach: The team hosted an outreach event in a Chinese restaurant in Lilongwe

Despite the problems that are being faced, both the Australian short-term mission team and the Korean couple are confident that, in God’s timescale, inroads will be made into this hard-to-reach community. The group started in on this process by hosting a meal as an outreach event at a Chinese Restaurant in Lilongwe. While it did not go exactly as hoped, as not many non-Christian Chinese people turned up, it was still a positive outcome for the group to see how God brings His people together.

 “The outreach event came about because Pete knew the restaurant owner and we were wondering: how can we reach out to people?” said Alice.

“We thought: we can do prayer walks and we can reach out to them, but what if we can invite them to an event and share the Gospel with them clearly. We raised funds back in Australia; everyone was very supportive and thought it was a good idea.

“We had a budget of A$500 to work with, so we booked out this restaurant through our relationship with the restaurant owner who was happy to accommodate it, with our budget to have 50 or 60 people come from the community. So we went out inviting people, going to all the Chinese shops, inviting them to this dinner where we could share with them.

“On the night, not many people turned up, but the team was still very encouraged that, even though we were reaching out to non-Christians, God was working quite clearly through Christians, and the local Christians we were able to identify.”

Prayer  points

Please pray:

For the team: that they will be able to process what they have seen and how God has touched their hearts, and for God to make it clear to them what they should do about what has impacted them

For the missionaries in Malawi: continue to pray for them. The work here is hard. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few: to be able effectively to disciple and give the team wisdom as to how to do that. For strength and perseverance, particularly in the face of Spiritual attacks

For the Chinese community in Malawi: for the seeds that have been planted and for the Chinese community here. There is a great need for them to hear the Gospel. Pray that God will raise up worker

One of the positives that the team discovered was a small group of Chinese Christians in Lilongwe who are seeking ways of establishing their own Chinese Church so that they can worship and read the Bible together in their own language.

In addition to the outreach to the Chinese Diaspora, the team was involved in Kids’ Bible Clubs and also had an opportunity to see other parts of Malawi, other than the main two cities. Both of these had an impact on the group.

Alice explained that they were shocked at the numbers, as between 100 and 200 children turned up for the Kids’ Club. She said that was around ten times what they would usually expect for a Sunday School class back home in Sydney!

But it was the difference between the rich and the poor in Malawi which struck the group very hard. This was seen particularly in the visit they made to Sani on the shores of Lake Malawi.

“Coming here I had the African picture of everyone living in mud huts, a lot more dirt roads, and poverty to be really in your face, but coming here I have really been challenged; the difference between the rich and the poor is so vast,” said Alice.

“There are some places in Malawi where I am sitting and this could be America or anywhere in the west. It is so well built up, it is clean, there’s fast food and then there’s the other side, which we saw when we were in Sani. What really hit us was the poverty and the simplicity of living in a village. When you are out in such a rural area, where most people don’t have electricity or running water, then you see that life can be really hard, and they live very basic lives.”

As with any such short-term mission visit, what happens when the team or the individual gets back to their home environment is what matters. What kind of impact has the trip had on them? What is God saying to them about the future? With such a diverse group, the trip will have to be processed on an individual basis, but Alice is certain that it will have had an impact on all of them, as it certainly has  on her.

Kids’ Club: The team leading a Kids’ Club in Blantyre

“Going back to Australia, I think lots of different things could happen,” she said.

“God works in many different ways, and each member of the team has been impacted differently. I think some people may be considering longer-term missions a bit more seriously, particularly in the Chinese Diaspora ministry. We see that there is great need here in Malawi, and some people have been challenged as to whether this is where God is calling them.

“For others, for example myself, I have also seen this short-term mission as a great opportunity to evangelise to my non-Christian friends and colleagues back home. Coming out on short-term mission, you are, to them, giving up two precious weeks of annual leave to volunteer in what they see as ‘mission’ but, going back,  we can say no, we wanted to go to share the love of Christ. We go on mission because it’s important for us that others hear about Jesus.

“Coming here and understanding the ministry, seeing how Pete and Jo operate and have invested in Tiyamike [‘let us give thanks’ in Chichewa] and the Mtengo [‘tree’] youth discipleship programme, having a better understanding of how they do their ministry and how they share their love with Malawians will definitely impact how I go back and share what mission is actually like in Malawi.”

to reach out to them as well, and that those seeds that have been planted will flourish in His timing.