A peep into life in Africa, through the eyes of an African Reformed Baptist pastor.

Water, water, water, everywhere. What else do you expect? I am a Baptist, and I live in the land of the mighty Victoria Falls!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

An African in the Diaspora making a difference back home

I have returned from a week's preaching trip to Malawi. This was at the invitation of Fletcher Matandika, the president of Joy to the World International Ministries. Although Fletcher asked me as far back as 2010, this was the earliest I could fit this trip into my schedule. I am glad I went. I preached at two events--The Chosen Generation Missions Conferences at the Kamuzu Academy in Kisungu, central Malawi, and at Nthemba Presbyterian Church in Blantyre, southern Malawi. During the long journey between these two conferences, we visited the Joy to the World International Ministries work in Dzuwa village where I was delighted to find a very impressive work (see photos). I also used the time to find out a little more about Fletcher's conversion, call to the ministry, and involvement in Joy to the World. I have reduced this into the form of an interview to make it easier for you to follow.

Fletcher preaching at the Chosen Generation Missions Conference in Blantyre
Conrad: Fletcher, how did you become a Christian?

Fletcher: I got converted when I was very young. I must have become a Christian when I was nine years old. I was brought up in a Christian home. My dad was and is still a pastor. I came across a tract in the home. It was the famous Four Spiritual Laws. I understood that I was a sinner who needed to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. It had a prayer at the end. I memorised it, closed my eyes, and prayed from my heart. As young as I was, I'm sure that was when the Lord saved me.

Conrad: How did you find yourself training for the ministry?

Fletcher: Due to my new found love for the Saviour, I began to preach immediately to my friends and went on doing this right through high school. Being a preacher's kid people were not too surprised about this and designated me as such. Upon completing high school I failed to go to university due to the high competition that was there then because we had very few places in university in Malawi in those days. I began a small business selling groceries. The business sank when a friend borrowed my money and failed to repay.

My dad, being a poor rural pastor, could not sponsor my tertiary studies. I felt stuck. It was a very low point in my life. I decided to leave home and go to Lilongwe. My mother was concerned and followed after me. She caught up with me in a town along the way to Lilongwe and took me to a pastor's house in that town to seek to dissuade me. This man pastored a large church and talked to me, but I was not convinced and so I still proceeded to Lilongwe. While in Lilongwe, I listened to the African Bible College (ABC) radio station. They were inviting people to apply to the Bible college. I applied and began to study there.

Speakers at the Chosen Generation Missions Conference at Kamuzu Academy
David Reiner, Julius Twongyeirwe, Conrad Mbewe and George Macaskill
Conrad: You are very passionate about missions. How did you develop this passion?

Fletcher: While studying at ABC, my desire for ministry slowly changed and missions became a burning desire. The call to do missions work grew as I interacted with the lecturers. I particularly remember a short-term missions trip we undertook as students to Mozambique in my first year. As I saw people converted through my preaching, my desire to reach out to people in this way really grew and I determined to find a way after college to go into missions.

Conrad: I hear you have been used by the Lord to start a ministry called The Ministry of Hope. How did that come about?

Fletcher: In my second year at ABC in 1999, I visited my father who was in a new village and there I came across many orphaned children. It was what I saw there that caused me to start The Ministry of Hope. I wanted to help these children. I remember seeing a baby die from malnutrition and my heart bled. I also remember a family that brought firewood to my dad's home to trade with food. This really broke my heart and I determined to do something about it. That was how I began The Ministry of Hope programme, which has since grown and now regularly feeds and supports over 4,000 children all over the country. Government officials were very interested in this and so we partnered with them in due season.

Two semi-detached teachers houses being built. The head teachers house
is almost complete. In the far right top corner of the photo can be seen the
roof of the administration block and the classrooms.
Conrad: How did you branch off from all this and get back to your original missions vision?

Fletcher: Well, with time my spiritual life began to suffer because of the busyness of this ministry. I felt that I needed to resign from this work and finally did so at the end of 2003. I wanted to get back into missions. There were a number of options such as Brazil and Turkey that were on my mind. I attended an Urbana Missions Conference in the USA and was greatly challenged to go to such places. However, the Lord had other plans and instead sent me for further studies. A couple in California offered to sponsor me to study at Westminster Seminary and so I commenced studies there in 2004.

Conrad: That was quite a detour. How did you finally get into the work that you are currently doing?

Fletcher: In my second year at Westminster Seminary, I was invited to stand in for a pastor in Canada. I, however, visited Malawi first and while home I changed my mind about going to stand in for this pastor in Canada. However, at a conference back in the USA, I met American missionaries serving in Canada who spoke of the need for missionaries there. I wished I had not turned down the previous opportunity. The following year, I asked that Canadian church if they were still interested in my service but they turned me down.

At the end of my studies in 2008 that same Canadian church sent out an appeal to the final year students at the seminary asking for someone to go and help them because they were a very small congregation desperately in need of a pastor. I wrote to them telling them everything I had gone through. They called me for ten days and I met with the elders there. They invited me to be with them for one year. They then asked me to be with them for a second year. After that they asked me to stay permanently as an ordained minister of the Associated Presbyterian Church. That was in 2010. I have been there ever since.

The administration block under construction with one classroom block
that has already been roofed
Conrad: How did you begin this wonderful ministry of Joy to the World?

Fletcher: I began Joy to the World International Ministries in 2006. I took a semester off from my studies because I was failing to concentrate on my studies. I was feeling as if my own people back home were feeling abandoned by my being away in the USA. I decided to go back to Malawi and work under my father as a pastoral intern in the village. Dad assigned me responsibilities to preach in different villages, one month per village. In Dzuwa village, my heart was strangely warmed. I held a crusade in the midst of this village that was gripped by witchcraft. I felt a connection with the people there in their spiritual darkness and misery. I would go up in the hills to pray, and my burden grew, until one day the vision of Joy to the World became a reality.

I went to see the village chief. I asked him for 50 acres of land where I could fulfill this project that was developing on my heart. He called the chiefs under him and in my presence he asked them to consider giving me some land for this project. Each one of them agreed. After that they excused me and remained to agree on how much land and where the land would be. When I was called back, I was taken and shown the 171 acres that they had agreed to give me. I was overwhelmed because I did not have a single coin to use to develop the massive land they had given me.

I returned to Westminster Seminary after God gave me two brethren, Elliot and Ulemu, who were willing to move to Dzuwa village to oversee the start of this project. Later, MacDonald joined them. While in the USA I would send them some basic support to keep them going month by month. We sank thirty-one boreholes across the village and thus provided clean water to the people. Deaths from waterborne diseases immediately reduced to the barest minimum. We helped to refurbish the primary school in the village, which at that time had two teachers and three hundred pupils. Now the school has ten teachers and two thousand pupils. By 2008, we started building a clinic in the village to meet the medical needs of the community.  We  have since hired a medical officer (Jordan) and a registered nurse to run the clinic. People travel long distances to to come and receive treatment in this clinic.  We are now building a classical secondary school, which we hope to open in September, the Lord willing.

The Clinic that has been built in the village and is run by Joy to the World
Conrad: I am here to preach at the sixth missions conference being sponsored by Joy to the World International Ministires. How did all this begin?

Fletcher: We started these conferences in 2008. I had spoken at a missions conference in the USA and wished a similar conference could also be held in Malawi. Hence, the goal was to mobilise young people from all over the country for missions work. I was not aware of any missions conferences in Malawi though there were individuals who were passionate about missions. What I wanted was not simply to inspire people to go out in missions but to give them doctrinal moorings. The missions conference was aimed at adding the doctrinal element to the call to missions.

One night, while thinking about it, 1 Peter 2:9 came to mind, hence the name "Chosen Generation Missions Conference". In fact, the first conference had "Chosen to Proclaim" as its theme. From my exposure at Westminster, I wanted consecutive expository preaching at this conference. Thus I began taking the conference through the Lord's Prayer. By the way, it was during the very first missions conference that I met my lovely wife, Angella. She was studying at university and had heard that there was going to be this missions conference. She came. We met. And the rest is history.

A group photo. Standing next to Fletcher in clerical garb is Fletcher's dad
and standing behind me is Michael, the board chairman of Joy to the World
Conrad: I must admit that I am very impressed by what I have seen here in Dzuwa village. As the work here grows and your pastoral ministry also grows, how are you hoping to combine your pastoral ministry in Canada and your burden for your own people back home?

Fletcher: My goal is to continue teaching and preaching to my congregation and at the same time continue to get involved in a global ministry. I look forward to the day when I will remain in Canada ministering at my church while my church members travel to Africa and elsewhere in the world to do what I am currently doing. I want this to be an outworking of their growing vision and passion for missions in response to the Lord's work in their lives. I am truly hoping that this will grow through my preaching ministry among them to the glory of God. If this is achieved, I trust that it will be a blessing to God's people among the nations through Jesus Christ.


2 comments:

  1. This is an amazing account indeed, sounds very simple and yet shows what determination can do. That is why they say, in order to get off day dreaming, you must wake up and do what you are dreaming.

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  2. What an amazing and powerful God we serve! This story has uplifted my heart...to see the Lord at work through faithful servants who hold true to His unfailing Word is a wonderful thing indeed. In a world of false teachers, false gospels and false conversions, it is comforting to see true shepherds guarding the Lord's flock. May you both continue to be blessed and be a blessing to others.

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