Economic and theological empowerment for migrants from Malawi

A previous post described the beginnings of BUILD training for pastors of African initiated churches in townships around Cape Town. It pointed to the potential for training to spread through networks of migrants due to, rather than despite, the economic realities they face. This entry describes how locally sustainable, self-propagating BUILD training can reach leaders and churches that other forms of training cannot reach.

Despite New Testament models of mission and church development, here in the West our default vision of the church remains one in which full-time leaders who have received full-time training spearhead growth. While that model is true in some contexts on the African continent, for the most part a very different set of realities exists, in which church leadership and training for such leadership is a spare-time or part-time occupation. In this context, economic migration – a concept that is often portrayed in negative terms, not least in the media and by political leaders – has the potential to play a key role in driving and sustaining training.

This potential is evidenced by stories of Chancy, Bonex and William, Malawian migrants and non-formal BUILD trainees in Cape Town. As Mareka Nolo, a BUILD trainer in Cape Town, recently reported: “Chancy is one of the ministers at a Rivers of Life church in Vrygrond, Cape Town. He is also one of the many economic migrants from Malawi. Chancy first came to South Africa four years ago, leaving behind his wife and two daughters with the hope of finding greener pastures so he can best care for his family.”

When asked about his reasons for being in South Africa, Chancy explained: “It was not my initial plan to come to South Africa, and I never thought I would leave my family behind, but due to our weak economy many of us struggled to find a job and we were unable to feed our families. South Africa was the only option I had in the end and I took a chance to come down here. I now work as a gardener here in Cape Town and I am able to provide for my family back home. My plan is to go back to Malawi one day when I have saved up enough money and buy a piece of land so I can grow and sell vegetables to care for my family.”

Quite apart from blurring the distinction between ‘forced’ and ‘economic’ migrant, his story gives insight into the lives of thousands of families in southern Africa, and the economy of remittances that support them. But Chancy is also hoping to train church leaders when he gets back home, something that Bonex’s story also underlines.

Bonex is also from Malawi and is working as a gardener. He, too, is serving as a local church leader in Vrygrond and has not seen his wife and children for almost three years: “I cannot afford to go and see my family in Malawi because I have to support them and send tuition fees for my daughter at college. My dream is to return home and start a fishing business; I want to save up for a small fishing boat. I also want to pass on what I have learnt from BUILD, as I believe many pastors in Malawi need such training.”

William has taken this a step further. William was a pastor in Vrygrond for two years, but returned to Malawi late last year to start BUILD training in Chikwana, in the south of Malawi. William has been running workshops almost every week training local church leaders, and has a farm where he grows rice and sweet potatoes to support himself and his family. He writes, “Most of the churches here need training, and I have been reaching out to a couple of them and training their pastors. For those who are far I often borrow my friend’s motorbike to reach them and do some training with them, and other local churches have asked me to come and preach on Sundays.”

These stories bring together into one space insight into the fundamental economic realities facing migrants, the realities of church life and leadership at the grassroots, and the need for basic training for those who want to lead churches. But they also point to the need for a very different approach to training – one that is rooted in local realities, and therefore one that can be delivered and can spread organically. BUILD is doing just this: it is ensuring that migrants, if well mentored by BUILD leaders like Mareka, can be empowered theologically to create and then sustain simple training networks.