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When conflicts arise, call Jean

We take a dirt road from the main road and drive towards a steep descent with a narrow bridge. The sight is nostalgic – there are small houses lined up along the gravel road and some can be seen scattered orderly on some distant hills. The blue cloudless skies add beauty to this serene morning scenery. We pass a number of livestock – mostly goats and cows grazing quietly on pastures of deep green grass growing neatly on both sides of the road. A couple of herd boys lie lazily, chatting quietly while cautiously watching the animals. They cheerfully wave at us and loudly whistle at our car as we rush past them. The gesture makes us feel already welcome in this community which lies approximately 80 Kilometres from the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe.

After a few minutes’ drive we finally arrive at our destination. We park the car close to a large baobab tree and we are immediately surrounded by several joyful children who pop out of nowhere. Some rush forward to shake our hands. After what seemed like an endless round of handshakes, the kids leave us and we approach a house with a tidy front porch.

We are here to see Jean Singo Kwachera. She recently finished her studies at our Bible school which is under our Leadership Development programme. She is a full-time pastor at one of the recently planted church in the area. Jean is also one of the few women pastors in the community – something that, she later tells us, she feels honoured about. Jean welcome us inside and a few minutes later, our conversation kicks in.

“I have been serving my church in different areas such as the women’s ministry, for a long time but I felt a huge gap inside me.” Jean explains “I believed that I was handling my responsibilities without proper guidance and something kept pushing me to join a Bible school.” At that time Jean was also a pastor, albeit not full time, at a small church in the area.

What exactly was that gap that she felt inside her?

Jean discloses that she realized that she was not fully ready to lead a church, although she was already in the position of leadership. Her main concern was that since she had no proper training, she feared that instead of building the church, she might have ended up misleading her congregation.

“Even a businessperson who is ignorant on how to handle his business risks making big losses.” Jean says, further adding that there were many areas that she thought she was doing right when actually she was not. “running a church is a huge task.” she says.

In 2016, motivated by the burning desire to fix the gaps she felt in her duty as a church minister, Jean joined our Bible school. This would later turn out to her as “one of the most beautiful things that has ever happened”. As Jean puts it, the first class she took during her first day at school opened her eyes to the realization that she had a lot to learn in her work as a pastor.

“I could now clearly see where I was failing. It was like I had abruptly woken up from a deep slumber.” she says. There is quite a lot of important areas that Jean learned from the Bible school. For instance, she discloses, she has now become some sort of an “expert counsellor”. At first, she totally had no clue on how counselling works. The majority of people in most Malawian villages depend on church leaders for advice on issues that affect their daily lives. Usually, that involves intensive counselling of the individuals. Spiritual leaders usually handle the bulk of the problems faced by people in their community. These problems may range from cases of domestic abuse or violence, business disputes and marriage crises. It is very important that church leaders understand how to manage such issues otherwise they risk escalating the problems.

“As church leaders, we do not simply focus on church affairs alone, we are also directly involved in managing the affairs of our communities like providing marriage advice, resolving conflicts or acting as psychiatrists when need be.” Jeans mentions that her training gave her the needed abilities to provide psychosocial counselling to not only people from her church but also outside the church. She tells us that many people come to her to seek advice.

Even when conflicts – minor or major – break out among church members or even outside her church, Jean ably manages such quandaries, a skill she attributes to the school.

“I can ably act as an arbitrator which in essence means that I am one of the community leaders responsible for maintaining peaceful coexistence among community members.” Jean explains.

Jean tells us that the best part about the training she attained is that it did not encompass only biblical studies but it also incorporated general topics that deals with the physical aspect of a person. This, she says, is really vital since it builds church leaders to be fully conversant with every area that affects people. As a matter of fact, Jean singles out business management as one of such crucial topics that are helping her. She observes that there is a misconception among some pastors that they have to fully depend on their church for just about everything, from financial support and others.

“We cannot deny the fact that sometimes the church has to take care of its pastors but relying on the congregation alone at times puts too much pressure on the church members.” Jean argues, “what I learned from my training is that we, as pastors, need to find alternative ways of making money through small businesses. That way, we do not become a burden to the people we serve.” Jean then tells us that she runs a small business of making sofa and chair mats. She has a steady customer base and although it is not a giant business, Jean is making enough to support her daily needs.

“You see, I’m a self-contained pastor,” she jokes. As we end our chat some hours later and head back home, we cannot help but reminisce the interesting conversation we had with Jean.

Jean is another good example of how our Bible school is creating fully fledged church leaders.

We are thankful to God’s Economy (GE) and Hilfe fur Bruder (HfB) International who are doing wonderful work by sponsoring our Bible School. The value of their funding to the school cannot be overemphasized. We are graduating exemplary and well-trained church leaders because of HfB and GE’s support.