Sharing Malawi's Stories with the Church in Senegal
By the end of summer, the lives of William "Bill" Gibson and his wife, Gwendolyn Gibson, will be changed forever.
Members of Emmanuel UMC in Appleton, Wisconsin, the retired couple were commissioned as missionaries at General Conference this spring and will begin a new life in Senegal's United Methodist Missionary Conference. Bill will work with local leaders to build the church in this predominately Muslim West African nation, while Gwendolyn, who has a master's in child development, will help start a day care center teaching English to Senegalese children and working with existing programs.
To prepare for this work, Gibson spent three weeks in Malawi, learning from local church leaders about The United Methodist Church's phenomenal growth and planning to share that story with Senegalese United Methodists.
"Malawi is an interesting story in Methodism," Gibson said. "It currently has 150 United Methodist churches and three ordained pastors. [Another two] will be ordained at their conference. One of the things we were interested in doing in Senegal was to duplicate that picture by engaging laity more in leadership."
The church is growing in Malawi because lay people are taking the lead and are not dependent on the greater church for support, Gibson said. "The big challenge is identifying the people who are able to lead and help grow the structure, starting with a single Christian in a village and growing to a preaching point and a local church."
That's how the church in Malawi grew, he said. "It starts with one person, then perhaps that person's family and it grows from there. When people join the church, usually the whole family joins."
Gibson, who traveled a few of Malawi's 23 circuits, visiting churches and meeting places in Blantyre, Zomba, and Lilongwe, and riding out on dirt roads through the country to preaching points, such as the Kings' Tree. With the Rev. Collings Kaunda, pastor of Galilea UMC in Mpenya, he created a PowerPoint presentation on the structure of the church, self-sufficiency, growth, and local leadership development. He plans to review it with Senegal Superintendent Joe Bleeck to learn what could be adapted for use in the Malawi Mission, "not so much to say, If they can do it, you can do it, but to say, This is what they're doing."
Each Global Ministries Mission is as unique as the country it serves, and each shares its "best practices" with others. Gibson hopes to share the practices used by the Malawi Conference in Senegal but knows that there are major differences between the two nations. One of the biggest differences is that Malawi is 80 percent Christian while Senegal is 95 percent Muslim.
"Witnessing in a community where you are accepted is probably a lot easier than witnessing in a community where you might not be accepted, and where they might be dangers," he said. "So far, the tolerance has been admirable."
"What I hope to achieve is what the mission wants to achieve--to make disciples for Jesus Christ," he said. "I don't know how you do that yet--it's all new to me. I am excited and at the same time kind of scared. We got the call, felt the call, and now we have to do something. It's going to be interesting to see what challenges lie ahead and whether our training and background will allow us to perform the tasks and do good by the people of Senegal."
He said he looks forward to meeting with and working with In Mission Together partner churches in the United States and plans to set up church partner meetings through online video calls.
"The church in Malawi is growing, person by person, through the development of relationships. IMT partnership are a way to grow spiritually in faith journeys by developing relationships with people whose experiences are different."
He hopes developing those types of relationships will bear fruit in Senegal.
Learn more about IMT Partnerships and the Senegal Missionary Initiative, or follow the work of the church in Senegal by connecting through its IMT Senegal Facebook page or the Malawi Conference Facebook page.
(Top) The Mangulama, Malawi group meets for Bible Study and to discuss the future of the growing church on the porch of the Lay Leader’s home.
(Bottom) "King's Tree" Sunuzi Local Church is born. People meet under the King’s Tree, a preaching point in the Malawi church located about an hour’s drive into the bush near Jali about 30 minutes from Zomba. At the meeting, the church was named and accepted new members, and the congregation elected officers. By the end of the meeting, the Sunuzi UM church was born.
Credits: Courtesy of Patrick Friday