SIM Malawi @ 120

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:We continue our celebration of SIM Malawi @ 120 with a Question and Answer with Mike Hammond

SIM Malawi Director, Mike Hammond, shares his thoughts on where we have come from and where we are going in the immediate future

 

The TeamThe SIM Malawi team, and facilitators, at the 2019 Spiritual Life Conference

As SIM Malawi celebrates its 120th Anniversary, how do you consider its health today?

Firstly, I would want to say that the 120th anniversary dates back to the time when SAGM (South African General Mission) entered the region now known as Malawi, at Chididi and Lulwe in Nsanje district. SAGM then became AEF (Africa Evangelical Fellowship) which merged into SIM International in 1998. SIM Malawi was officially registered as a trust in Malawi in 2002.

SIM had begun work separately in Malawi in Mangochi district in 1986 under the auspices of BACOMA (Baptist Convention of Malawi). In Malawi, the acronym SIM stands for Society for International Ministries.

So, in thinking of the question above, I want to acknowledge that SIM Malawi is undoubtedly in a place of transition. The number of missionaries has dropped in recent years, and many ministries now have Malawian leaders, which is very healthy. Some are employed with oversight from SIM, but some are completely independent. We now also have a Malawian missionary on team as a fully self-supported member for the first time.

We have a wide range of ministries, from traditional work such as church planting and theological education, medical work and relief & development, to newer ministries such as vocational training, diaspora ministry and working among those with HIV & AIDS. We do a lot more of what we would call capacity building and support ministry, especially with our partner church, AEC (Africa Evangelical Church), rather than having missionaries doing the ministry at the ‘coalface’. There are many many local Malawians who are better equipped to do that than someone from outside, though that too can sometimes be helpful.

We are also working closely with different churches, to mobilise and send people both within and outside of Malawi as missionaries, either independently or with SIM – that is healthy because mission is at the heart of the Gospel, and churches throughout the world need to take their place in mission, not simply accepting missionaries from outside.

Country DirectorMike Hammond  in the SIM Malawi office in Blantyre iMozambique

I don’t want to paint a picture that everything is smooth sailing. There is more that we can do to really integrate ministries well within the local church. Partnership takes time, as it involves a lot of discussion to understand one another. We have differences of opinions, and sometimes differing objectives. No doubt each party thinks their ways of doing things are better, so it is important not to impose our own vision, ideas and plans, but to learn from each other, and understand where our objectives co-incide, and where they actually potentially collide. Most importantly, we must pray and work through the issues together, listening to God’s voice for his direction and vision. So we really want to be a partner in the widest possible sense, not just a donor, and work with and alongside the church to jointly develop strategies to grow God’s kingdom together under His direction, and we need to continue to work hard at that.

What do you think have been some of the major developments in SIM Malawi in the last five to ten years?

God has blessed us with some wonderful new ministries over that time, and I want to thank my predecessors and other team members for their vision that kick-started most of these ministries which are flourishing today.

Without doubt, partnering with EAM (Evangelical Association of Malawi) to run the Pastors’ Book set conferences which started in 2008 and have continued in various forms to this day, has raised the profile of SIM Malawi ministries, and has enabled us to work alongside many different organisations, including the establishment of a new partner ministry, Mthenga Wabwino with Dutch mission GZB for mobilising Malawian churches to reach out into the Muslim community of Malawi.

Hope on hand: Agricultural extension worker giving meds as part of the HOPE for Life goats project

The profile of children’s ministry has been raised, firstly

within the AEC and then more widely in Malawi churches, through STUM (Sunday School Teachers United Movement of Malawi) and now with the Today for Tomorrow discipleship & HIV prevention programme being used in many churches and schools.

Engaging the Churches, especially AEC, in ministering to those affected by HIV and AIDS, to vulnerable women and girls, and using sports as a platform for reaching the youth of Malawi is being achieved in a much more strategic and structured way.

People have come in to the team from a widely diversified background – India, Singapore, Ethiopia & Malawi – has enriched the team and also generated new challenges. In a multi-cultural team, you are forced to examine the way you do things and make sure you are not just importing your own culture, but looking to develop a distinctively Christ-centred culture.

What do you think have been some of the major achievements of SIM Malawi over its history?

I don’t like to think of it in terms of SIM’s achievements, but rather what God has brought about through us and our partners. Some sow the seed, others water it, but it is God who gives the growth, and he does it in his perfect timeframe. The ministry amongst the Yao is a good example of how many seeds were planted over many years – Bible translation was done but there seemed to be a blockage that prevented the plans for a radio station or the Gospel really taking root until suddenly a number of things just ‘fell into place’ and marked the next stage of growth in ministry. So maybe one of our ‘achievements’ as SAGM/AEF/SIM Malawi has actually been just to be faithful for the long haul and persevere and wait on God for what He will do next!

Creative Teaching:  SIM Malawi missionary, and EBCoM lecturer, Stephanie Darling uses creative methods to share the story of the Last Supper from John 12

I think the major legacy is the lasting impact that God has made on people’s lives through SAGM/AEF/SIM.

Institutions or specific projects come and go, and play their part, but the transformation of people’s lives lasts for eternity.

It is a joy to see the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ take root in the lives of individuals, who then go on to have their own impact in their communities.

In terms of institutions, SAGM/AEF/SIM has been instrumental in the following …

Planting and establishing our partner church AEC (Africa Evangelical Church) which now has congregations in all regions of Malawi

Formation of EAM

Formation and development of EBCoM (Evangelical Bible College of Malawi)

Birth of Partners in Hope Medical centre in Lilongwe

Mobilising the Churches into mission sending

What do you think some of the major challenges will be that will affect SIM Malawi over the next five to ten years?

Well, right now the big challenge is the potential lasting impacts of the Coronavirus. Will it adversely impact ministry, or will it spur people on to see the urgency of reaching those without the Gospel?

I think a major challenge, humanly speaking, will be resourcing those who are genuinely called by God from Malawi into cross-cultural mission work – though, as one of our missionaries regularly reminds me, “ministry done in God’s way and in his timing will never lack His resources!”. God is still on His throne.

Globalisation will continue to impact Malawian communities to a greater and greater extent, including into the more rural areas. This will create a clash of cultures – global v indigenous Malawian, youth v older generation, technical knowhow v traditional culture, potentially resulting in social issues like addiction, family breakdown and abuse.

Malawi is primarily a young country, as a result of the effects of poverty, and HIV-AIDS. 70% of the population is under 30 years of age. While this may be a help at this time of coronavirus, it poses a huge challenge for the Churches, where leadership and decision-making is traditionally in the hands of the senior elders. The youth want to be included and, if not, will drift away from the Church or be seduced by messages of prosperity gospel. The youth also need to be employed. Idle hands lead to unhealthy behaviours.

In-depth joy: Students on the first Mthenga Wabwino In-Depth Course celebrate at their Graduation

Islam continues to grow in Malawian communities from the north to the south. Mosques are being built across the country, funded by the wealthier middle-eastern nations. This presents a tremendous challenge to the Church, where many people don’t necessarily see the difference between Yahweh and Allah, that only Yahweh is the one true God, and that Jesus, not Mohammed, is the only way, truth and life. People need to know their Bibles and be discipled into maturity of faith in order to counter the false messages proclaimed by Islam. This needs to begin at home within families so that children are nurtured into a strong faith, and it needs to be consolidated through the ministries of the Church, and reinforced through good Biblical training of current and future pastors.

Despite these challenges, how do you think SIM Malawi will develop over that time frame?

SIM’s vision is: “Convinced that no-one should live and die without hearing God’s good news, we believe God has called us to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in communities where He is least known.”

So, I expect SIM Malawi to develop along those lines, as we pursue the unreached, build the Church, reach out to youth and children who make up the largest portion of Malawi’s population, as we continue to impact the lives of people in the context of HIV & AIDS, and as we advance the cause of mission.

We recently held a review of all our ministries which affirmed those in which we are working and further emphasised the need to continue to engage with communities in Malawi who do not know Christ, and also to help the Churches tackle the issue of nominalism within itself, so that the Church will be better equipped and prepared to take the Gospel to those who do not know Christ. It is not possible to be a disciple-maker unless you are a true disciple yourself.

What do you think the original SAGM Missionaries – Kidd, Rainey and Faithful – would think about how the work they started has developed over the 120 years?

That is a very difficult question – the world is a very different place from 120 years ago. Could they have imagined such huge changes? Yet God is the same. I think they would be excited to know that the Gospel has permeated almost all parts of Malawi, and that Churches have sprung up to continue that mission.

But I think they would lament the extent to which nominalism exists in the Churches today. It is a lament that I also have, that after all this missionary endeavour, traditional African religion still has such a hold on many people, and that globalisation is increasingly taking over Christianity as a driving influence in Malawi. What comes from the West is certainly not best, and not necessarily even better. What comes from God is best, and people all over Malawi (as is the case all over the world) have taken their eyes off God.

May he have mercy on us.

On the AgendaTimothy Olonade addresses some of the Pastors’ Book Set Conference 2013 delegates, who had expressed an interest in finding out more about mission. This PBS led to the formation of the Malawi Mission Initiative

What would you like people to pray about for the development of SIM Malawi over the next few years?

Again, it is not about SIM Malawi but about God’s kingdom.

Pray that God would have mercy on the peoples of Malawi, especially in the ongoing context of poverty and impact of HIV-AIDS, and now with Coronavirus, and bring about a revival of faith and genuine behaviour-change across the nation.

Pray that more people would come to work alongside the Church and be raised from within, in strengthening leadership and maturity of faith.

Pray that the youth will be engaged by, and well discipled in, the Church through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Pray that the communities where Christ is least known would hear the Gospel and have their lives, leaders, and communities transformed.

Pray that Malawian Churches and para-church ministries would become more locally sustainable, not because of large donations or income-generating activities, but because people’s lives are transformed, and they want to give back generously to God’s ministry in this place.

Pray that SIM Malawi will play its God-anointed part in all of that.

 

May the Lord of all creation bless his work.