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Confex Makhalira preaching in Malawi

Coming Home: Malawian Missionaries Cast a New Mold for MTW's Work in Africa

Before Confex and Mwai Makhalira moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they already knew they wanted to return home to Malawi. While they were sharing their desire to see the true gospel preached in their home country, a friend mentioned Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and gave them two warnings about Michigan: First, it takes over 24 hours to get there from Malawi; and second, it’s cold—very cold.

They took the plunge. “The education was worth it,” says Confex, who felt called to ministry after coming back to faith in high school. Because his father passed away when Confex was very young, he grew up with his grandfather, who taught him the Bible throughout his childhood.

“He was a very godly man,” Confex recalled. “When I grew up a little bit, he bought the Westminster Shorter Confession and encouraged me to memorize it, so I grew up knowing the Word of God and appreciating the Confession as a summary of faith.”

Makhalira Family

After turning away from the Lord during high school, Confex vividly remembers hearing the gospel again at a church youth camp. The sermon was on Acts 2, where the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to preach the gospel in over a dozen languages. The message not only convicted Confex, but gave him an immediate desire to see the gospel preached faithfully in Malawi. Finishing high school, he attended African Bible College, where he met his wife, Mwai, and started pursuing ministry as a Bible teacher.

“During that time, the Lord started placing on my heart to do more than teach the Bible,” he said. “My heart was burdened by the Church in Malawi and I wanted to serve as a pastor, so the Lord had me pray about pastoral ministry and He opened the door."

A Vision Shared

Confex received a scholarship to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and graduated in 2016. He first learned about Mission to the World after sharing his desire to return to Malawi with a professor who knew about MTW’s passion for church planting. Around the same time, 

MTW had targeted Malawi as a strategic place to partner with national churches in the ministry of discipleship, mentoring, and ultimately church planting. 

“Confex has a vision that we obviously share in,” said Tim Galage, MTW’s regional director for Southern Africa. “He would like to see a Reformed Presbyterian denomination built on the continent and, through his church-planting internship, hopes to see 10 churches planted in the next 10 years. He is uniquely gifted and we are so excited to come alongside him; we’re trying to keep up with him.”

MTW’s international director for sub-Saharan Africa and native Zimbabwean, Victor Nakah, agrees. “The reason there is a lot of excitement about Confex is because there are fewer and fewer missionaries coming to Africa,” Victor said. “Part of the solution is to increase the number of Confexes coming back home.”

Tim and Victor attribute the decline in missionaries coming to Africa in recent years largely to the misinterpretation of the growth of the African Church, currently one of the fastest growing hubs for Christianity in the world.

“The numbers are ridiculous,” Victor said, quoting something like 3,000 churches planted every day. “It’s very easy for the American Church to assume we don’t need missionaries anymore. But there is also a confusion that emanates from the African Church because they don’t want just any missionary right now. The days are gone when you just show up and find something to do.

A Sustainable Strategy

Instead, the recent growth means MTW needs to be strategic about who comes to Africa. Both Victor and Tim want to see the African Church become a sending Church, coming alongside national partners and churches to play a strategic role in discipleship and helping them allocate resources as they grow. As a result, they see Confex and Mwai’s ministry as an opportunity to introduce MTW’s network to Malawi in the most sustainable way possible.

“We are starting there the way we should have started all along,” said Victor. “Not to pioneer but to support the pioneers who have been there all along.” 

This is part of why the Makhaliras had considerable leeway in deciding where to establish their ministry upon returning to Malawi. Rather than impose an internal agenda, MTW wanted the couple to educate themselves on what was already happening in Malawi and to leverage their existing network.

They chose the city of Blantyre, in part for its economic influence on the rest of the country, and also for its multitude of academic institutions. 

“We wanted to start our work here because of the large population of students,” said Confex. “We have been looking to the future, and if we can get hold of these young men and women and help them be grounded in God’s Word, they can have an impact in the coming years.”

For Confex, getting to know the young men in the student ministry has been one of the great joys of the work thus far. He shares the story of one student, Auswell, whom he met through his campus evangelism. A few months after Confex shared the gospel with him, Auswell texted asking for prayer. They started meeting regularly and Confex began discipling him. “It has been a joy seeing him come to a better understanding of who Christ is,” Confex said.

Of course, the past year also brought pandemic-induced challenges to the student ministry, and to the ministry in general. Confex and Mwai had only arrived in Blantyre about six months before the pandemic began, and it seemed at first that lockdowns and restrictions would halt the progress they had made. Moving Bible studies to Zoom was difficult because the internet is expensive in Malawi. But God was not deterred: The work not only continued but multiplied as new opportunities to minister to the community arose because of the pandemic.

“We were discouraged at first because we were thinking it was back to square one,” said Confex. “The Lord has been faithful even in the midst of that, allowing us to use funds from MTW to help meet the needs of people with food items and groceries.”

Included in the packages were gospel tracts, which attracted more people to their Bible study. When they resumed meeting in person in September, they had a good turnout. Deciding to start public worship on November 1, they welcomed about 60 people to a rented office space in downtown Blantyre for their first service. After a brief return to lockdowns in March, they were able to resume in-person worship and even move forward with their first membership class in June.

“Most people in Malawi hear the prosperity gospel: Give to the Lord and the Lord will give to you,” Confex said. “Through ministry and acts of kindness, COVID allowed us to show people the love of Christ in action and teach them the true gospel.”

He hopes that work will only continue as they add new members to their church community, especially through family ministry. Discipleship starts in the home, he says, so teaching fathers to lead their families and ground them in God’s Word will have a ripple effect in the community. Likewise, discipling students at local universities will in turn train them to shine the love of Christ wherever they go after college.

Mthunzi-Baptism

Serving with MTW has provided not only guidance to carry out these visions, but also support to keep planning and praying for the future. “We have an MTW couple who checks on us regularly,” said Mwai. “They ask us how we are doing individually and as a couple, and if we are resting, which is an encouragement.”

“We have these brothers praying for us,” Confex added. “We are not on our own laboring here.”

We are praying for God to send 86 new missionaries to Africa in the next 10 years. How could you serve? mtw.org/join

Hannah J. Phillips, Malawi Nov 30, 2021
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