CMC President's Report 2015 - 2019.
Presented at the 4th Session of the Central Malawi Conference,
Nalikule Teachers’ Training College, 01-03 September 2019
Pastor John AG Phiri
Our President, Malawi Union Conference,
Our Executive Secretary, Malawi Union Conference,
Our Chief Finance Officer, Malawi Union,
All esteemed delegates here present,
Our invited guests and visitors,
My brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Today is one of those emotional moments that have the capacity of inducing tears and tremor in the voice of even the strongest and most eloquent man and woman who would be standing where I do and in the shoes I do and bearing a story like ours because it is a day that testifies of our Lord’s faithfulness and gracious care for His little flock; His commitment to guide His church and see us triumph through to our ultimate victory which is our translation to eternity. I would not hesitate to sing Psalm 124 and say:
“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…if it had not been the Lord who was on our side…the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us…” (ESV)
We could not be sitting here this morning if the Lord had not been with us. And so, I want us right on the onset to thank Him for this. To Him be the glory!
It is my pleasure this morning to give you a detailed report of summarizing the high points of our accomplishments and challenges we faced in the last five years you gave us an opportunity to lead this Conference. And I will go first things first.
The first thing my administration did when we assumed office after you entrusted us with the privilege to lead you was to develop a strategic plan (SP). And we don’t take pride in this achievement no matter how critical it has been to the growth and success of this Conference over the last five years because this was not my baby but our baby together. A vision we dreamed together.
I believe, if there is anything at all, that we were only instruments; representatives of your will and not the owners of the will. You said you wanted us to plant more churches in the un-entered areas of Conference. We only obeyed.
You said you wanted us to plant new mission stations at least either in Ntchisi or Dowa, we obeyed your orders.
You said you wanted our land at Thete to be utilized and protected through leasing, we only took your instruction seriously.
You said you wanted to see our schools improve both in the quality of infrastructure and quality of results, we believed that it was God speaking through you.
You said you wanted us to construct our own offices, we only carried out your command.
And you said several other orders that we took you seriously on including maximizing the use of technology to the glory of our God. There was nothing that we did which was not your idea. We only did what you dreamt.
That is why in developing that vision and the ensuing strategic plan that we currently have, we involved everyone of you in one way or another. Our team went around and across the entire Conference holding consultative meetings where our sole interest was to listen to your will and the vision you had for this Conference. As an exhibit and reminder of those old sweet moments we had together, allow me to play an audio clip or two for you so that we can recapture the moment together [clip…].
My belief is that when we say “Conference,” we do not mean only those of us in the administration, pastors and or those of us working in full time service as employees of this organization. When we say, “Conference” to me, it is inclusive. It means all of “Us”—pastors, teachers, literature evangelists, laity—everybody—boy and girl, young and old whom the Lord has called into this church. I believed and I still believe that our God is a God of no partiality (Acts 10:34). He wants everybody to be on board and involved in His agenda regardless of who they are, their education; where they come from and all that!
Guided by this conviction, our first step when we took over office in 2014 fall, we set out to develop plans for the five years we were given. And living my beliefs, it was my aspiration to involve all of you regardless of status or education in the mission of our Lord. Top on my agenda or ambition was tapping on the often-underutilized potential and resource we have as a Church—our men and women who are experts in various fields—our laity! The first thing my team and I did, was to ensure that we tapped on this resource. And I am not ashamed to confess that if there is anything good at all my administration has achieved and contributed to this Conference over the last five years, it was all because of these selfless men and women who were willing to devote their time and skills towards the advancement of God’s agenda. I am a debtor to their willingness to support me and my administration. And I know it was not because of me that they did what they did. It was because of their love for the God who saved them, too. I appreciate their efforts. If I failed, it is because of my own poor choices after they had given me all the available possible alternatives they could imagine in every given situation. I take responsibility for the failures and give all the credit for the successes to these men and women. It is you, who are sitting in front of me right now and the men and women, boys and girls you here represent from all the corners of our Conference who did it. It was all because of you and our God!
If there has been a time in this Conference when laity worked around the clock and sometimes even beyond the clock, this was the time—let this be known to the glory of the Lord! Let me mention a few names:
Doctor John Mataya, Mister Smart Chokotho Aleksandr Kalanda James Ntupanyama, Dan Mbozi, Mrs. Triza Munthali, Professor Kuthemba Mwale, Doctor Geofrey Kananji, Mister Reagan Kaluluma, Mr. Baxton Mpando, Mrs. Eva Mandota, Mister Charles Mataya, Mister Brian Storey, Mister Andrew Kumbatira, Mister Benson Nkhoma, Miss Zeria Banda, Mister Ndalama, Mister Mkwezalamba, Mister Phillip Kamwendo, Mister Gunsaru, Mister G Kamwiyo, Mister Wellington Gondwe, Mister Lutho Zungu, Honorable Thengo Maloya, Mrs. Ivy Mkandawire, Mr. Tenson Beza, Mr. Frazer Kumwenda, Mister Makamu of Dowa, Doctor Dalitso Kabambe, Professor Timothy Gondwe, Pastor Petros Gomani, Pastor Friday Pachanya, Pastor Paul Chibisa, Mr T Makako, Mister Dwight Ngwira, Elder Nelson Msiska and the list goes on. To save ourselves time, may I refer you to the appendix of names of committees that were working this period (appendix 1).
Among the many that did wonderful things for the Lord in this period, these men and women did a tremendous job towards the advancement of the agenda for this period. Those of us who are conversant with issues of developing strategic plans, you will agree with me that you need to have lots of monies to engage an expert to take you through the processes of strategic plan development and I must confess to you that we could not afford such a service at the time because we hardly had money in our coffers. But here we are, these men did it all for free! I don’t want us to take this for granted. May the Lord always remember what they did for Him. What does the church say?
My point was: we developed our strategic plan. Perhaps, that is the first and greatest achievement we ever did in this quinquennium. We discovered our purpose, our vision, our direction through this document. The most important thing about this development was the process we used to develop these plans. We took a participatory approach with the aim of giving every one of you an opportunity to insert your voice into our collective vision. This involved a series of strategic plan consultative meetings which we conducted across the conference which finally culminated into the five-year strategic plan document which has guided us in this ending quinquennium. Though we had some hiccups here and there in the process of creating this guiding document, we were able to complete and launch it on May 25, 2016 at the CIVO Stadium. Beyond development and launching of the strategic plan, we shared with all our local churches—at least each church entity had a copy. We believe that was significant for our collective visioning and planning.
The opening paragraph in the Foreword of our strategic plan document in part reads:
“The Bible in Proverbs 29:18 warns that “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). In other words, vision which is another word for “plan” is very pivotal in the success of any living organization. Failure to plan is planning to fail and the planning for the future must be based on assessment of current situation including achievements and shortcomings. Such an approach ensures that an organization is able to build on its achievements and develop strategies that effectively tackle its shortcomings, as well as other emerging issues. ”
And that is what we did in our strategic plan! After analyzing and synthesizing the extant situation and environment we narrowed our focus on 9 Key Result Areas (KRAs) or aspirations or “priority areas” as they are sometimes called, that guided us as follows:
1. Youth evangelism
2. General evangelism,
3. Financial accountability, transparency and sustainability of CMC
4. Development of church infrastructure,
5. Development of human capital
6. Empowerment of laity
7. In consultation with the Malawi Union Conference, Cooperation with other associations, local government,
8. Social development of communities and environment and,
9. Compliance with internal controls.
Guided by the global strategic initiative and thrust of “Reach the World,” which cascaded into “Reach Up to God;” “Reach In with God” and “Reach Out with God,” our specific objectives included the following:
1. To involve Adventist members in daily Bible study
2. To engage all members in doctrinal study, as essential for spiritual maturity,
3. To increase the engagement of church members in Biblically authentic spiritual practices
4. To enhance unity and community among church members
5. To nurture believers in lives of discipleship and to involve them in service
6. To increase the engagement of young people in the life of the church
7. To improve leadership practices in order to enhance the credibility of, and trust in, CMC, its operations and mission initiatives.
8. To enhance Adventist outreach and presence
9. To engage all church members, pastors and leaders in full partnership
10. To increase the involvement of young people in the mission of the church
11. To raise the profile of mission to non-Christian religious and belief systems
12. To strengthen CMC’s resources for mission
13. To optimize communication plans and methodologies so as to empower the work and witness of the church.
Our vision was to make our Conference “A Conference that disciples for all in the Central Region of Malawi, Matthew 28.”
I am all joy this morning to report to you that with God’s help and your support, we have accomplished roughly 60-70% if not 80% of all that we had set out to accomplish. Below is a synopsis of these accomplishments:
Communication/Technology for Christ
I am sure your memories of our Strategic plan launch day are still wet with the placards we zealously brandished as we marched around the CIVO Stadium football pitch. One of those placards read: “Technology for Christ.” That was announcing our vision to utilize technology in fulfilling our mission as a Conference. This was in line with our objective number 10 above, namely, “To optimize communication plans and methodologies so as to empower the work and witness of the church.” We established and launched our own Conference Website and Facebook page. Today the world can visit Central Malawi Conference and you can get some of the information you need from us through our website on www.cmcadventist.org
You may like to appreciate that we were probably the first Conference in Malawi to host a website and the only Conference that can boast a vibrant Church communication team and department.
Due to our massive utilization of modern technology in line with our vision and objectives as shared, our visibility, as a Conference, today is global and colossal. Our influence is felt across the nation and beyond.
I am sure many of you will testify that today as I speak to you, if you have ever seen any news article talking about the Adventist church in Malawi, 99.9% of those times, you saw an article contributed by Central Malawi Conference. It is not a secret that Central Malawi Conference, through its media contribution via our website and Facebook page has even attracted the interest of Southern Africa Indian Ocean Division (SID) who had to come and ask for our videos and stories after watching quality documentaries posted on our Website. This is in part all testimony to the claim we can all humbly boast about that Central Malawi Conference is today probably the most visible and known Conference in Malawi if it is not in SID. We receive communications from all over the world through our website and Facebook page.
The reality is too good for your ears and eyes, let alone for me to break the news that when it comes to church communication Central Malawi Conference is the leader in the Union. The presence of the men in blue aprons right here in this hall should testify to my claims. You will all agree that you have never had this at any time in the history of our Church in Malawi. If you want to mark this as another “first” that we can tuck into our “humble pride,” I will let you do so.
You may also like to know that we employed our own full time IT Manager, Mister Anthony Banda. Previously, we had to outsource IT related services from the Union. Considering the vision we had in the area of technology, we felt it necessary to recruit our own.
Infrastructure development: Churches, Houses, Offices, and Schools
In KRA 4 we expressed our desire to develop our church (by which term we included not just congregations but schools), infrastructure. When we came to office in 2014, while there were some developments going on across the Conference, particularly in connection with renovations and or construction of pastors’ houses, as you saw in the video clip I shared earlier, we noted that there was still need to do more both in the renovations and constructions of new pastors’ houses. The pace was less intentional and more reactive and sporadic. We lacked intentionality backed up by a clear vision and strategic plan.
We found our schools in dilapidated conditions though efforts were there to improve the situation but they were too insignificant to be noticed. Among many other actions we took upon analyzing the situation, we took an action to standardize all our pastors’ houses and ensure that we construct at least a minimum of one house annually. We came up with a plan for pastors’ houses in the cities and other urban areas and another for our rural districts. By God’s grace we have managed to construct 8 houses since 2015 to date. Besides construction new houses, we have also bought 4 houses. We have assisted 28 churches with iron sheets and or in purchasing land for church constructions.
We also observed that as a Conference we did not have conducive facilities that could be used for conferences and or camps or any church functions in general. And there was no known plan to go into that direction. To address this challenge, our administration also took an action to buy as much land as we could and devote some of this land to the development of infrastructure that could meet the needs of the Conference either for immediate needs or future.
I am pleased to inform this house that following this passion, we have bought a total of 20 pieces of land of various sizes. This includes land we bought for low income congregations which needed financial support. You may get details of the same through our development office.
We have bought 8 acres of land at Ngodzi along Lake Malawi in Salima. We propose that the place be used for Conference facilities and camping site along the lake which the Conference and its churches could use and or let out for business as an income generating source for the support of the gospel. We have also bought 4.921 hectares or 12.16 acres of land at Kuduoko village, TA Kabudula area (some 17 kilometers on the outskirts of Area 25 to the North West from Central Malawi Conference offices). We are proposing to build an Adventist International Conference Centre (AICC) where we will have lodges/hostels for guests, a Conference Hall(s); Cafeteria; clinic and camp site. We have already worked out the master plan for the land as you can see in appendix 2 for your appreciation.
And let me use this moment to also share with you also that we decided to assign the responsibility of overseeing all development work to a full time employee or staff as opposed to what it used to be the practice where this responsibility was attached to elected directors or officers. We are of the view that having a permanent person responsible for development activities will ensure continuity and easy trace of records and plans for the Conference.
Relocating of our office to Area 49
Another major achievement we can report to you is our relocation from Area 14 premises to the current premises. We constructed and relocated our offices from Area 14 to our Area 49 plot where we are currently operating from.
I must mention that our predecessors had already identified the plot and had made initial payments towards the acquisition of the same. They had also worked on the plan for the proposed new offices. We adopted and adapted or revised the plans and implemented them. We now have our office (though, ultimately what we now are calling “office” will be used as a guest house when the main office is erected in the near future). It costed us MK78,944,500.00 to finish the building. It is fairly furnished and secured with a CCTV system.
Besides, “the main office” we have also upgraded what was initially a site office for the contractor and turned it into an office which is now serving the offices of Human Resource Officer, VOP department (the Principal, Deputy Principal and Secretary); Personal Ministries; Women/ Communication and Children Ministries; Health, Publishing, Stores Clerk and Transport. We spent MK13,716,037.19 on the project.
A lot has also happened at our Mission at M’bwatalika where we have about 24 acres or 17 hectares of land. We leased our land and developed a master plan for M’bwatalika mission. (see appendix 3) We have proposed to construct a modern secondary school with international standard at M’bwatalika and we ultimately suggest to turn it into GCE level school. Beyond the development of the master plan, work has already started. We cut new roads on the campus and with support from Creative Global Relief, a non-profit organization, we have begun construction. As I speak, we have completed four building blocks with two rooms each—making a total of eight new rooms—which are meant to be used as laboratories, classrooms and library. We have also constructed a new girls’ hostel with the capacity of 80 with modern facilities like flush toilets and running water and showers in it. At the moment work is in progress, we are constructing a similar hostel for boys. Ideally, we want to increase the intake of our boarding students at the secondary school.
I am grateful to the tireless efforts of the dedicated men and women who comprise M’bwatalika Development Committee. These are Dr. John Mataya (Chairperson), Mr. Geoffrey Ntata, Peter Phiri, Mr. Nkhalamba (Secretary), Aleksandr Kalanda, Blair Khonje, Dan Mbozi, Mrs. Triza Munthali, Martin Mandula and of course, Smart Chokhoto.
May I also take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to our friends at Creative Global Relief for the enormous support they are giving us at M’bwatalika. If it pleases this house, I would propose that we take a motion to take a vote of thanks to CGR for the wonderful contribution they are making towards the advancement of mission in this Conference through M’bwatalika projects. I so move…: Do I have any one seconding the motion? All in favor show by the raising of your hand!
Just as we did with several other projects, we also formed and commissioned a development committee for the development of our Mission at Thete. The back story is that currently we have a school running at Dedza but it is in a dilapidated condition. Besides, we observed that the space we have at Dedza is comparatively too small for expansion and good development of a modern school. The location itself poses many challenges for the provision of a conducive learning environment for a student.
We therefore proposed in our strategic plan to relocate Dedza Adventist Secondary school to Thete where we have an already available relatively larger patch of land spanning 24 acres or about 18 hectares. At the same time, we proposed to upgrade the school and construct at Thete instead a high school of international quality that would cater the needs of our middle to high level profile members besides those on the lower side.
Following this move, we leased the land at Thete which for many years lied unleased and dormant, as a result of which it suffered loss through encroachment by the locals. We also developed the master plan for the same and I am pleased to inform this house that every document we needed to draft in preparation for the project is now done. We are embarking on fund raising campaigns so that work should start by early 2020. The project may take us 3 to 5 years to complete depending on the availability of resources.
The team working on this project is right here with us and it is my pleasure to introduce it to you. The Chairman for this committee is Professor Joseph Kuthemba Mwale, and the members include: Mister Andrew Kumbatira, Doctor Geofrey Kananji; Reagan Kaluluma; Brian Storey, Baxton Mpando, Eva Mandota, Robert Egolet, Charles Mataya, Mr Ndalama of Thete, Mr. Mkwezalamba of Thete, Zeria Banda (she moved to the USA now), Benson Nkhoma (he also moved to South Africa now). And then as usual we have CMC officers as ex-officials
We have constructed two new instruction blocks at Lakeview to enhance our intake of students at the secondary school. The classes are neat at all the time and of standard. Besides, we have also built a staff room for our teachers which was not there all along. We have also drilled a bole hole to curb the challenges of water shortages during some parts of the year. Finally, we have also done several renovations to ensure that our school does not descend into dilapidation.
We still have a long way to go in improving the boarding facilities especially hostels for boys. And we need to add more for girls as well.
Our schools have also improved in performance during this period. We have been able to send our students to both public and private Universities. Lakeview secondary school alone, for instance has sent 33 students in these five years to various public and private Universities. M’bwatalika has also managed to send about 2 students to the University of Malawi breaking the records that were never broken for years! Today, M’bwatalika in never the same again!
In general, the attitude of our teachers has improved towards positive ends.
We bought 3 vehicles over this period—one twin cab (a Toyota Hilux) at 6, 200, 000.00 Malawi Kwachas; one saloon car (Toyota Axio) at 4,500,000.00 Malawi Kwacha. Most importantly, we also bought a 7-tonner, Nissan UD lory which we use for transfers and transportation of various items across the Conference. We bought is at 23,700,000.00 Malawi Kwachas. Since its arrival it has eased the burden we had regarding transportation. While this is so, we still think that the Conference deserve a better fleet of vehicles that could match the times and needs on the ground. For instance, it will be good for the Conference to consider purchasing a four by four vehicle and motorcycles to support the mobile clinic initiative in Dowa and the new Mission being established there.
One of our expected outputs under KRA4: “Development of Church Infrastructure,” was to “Establish a mission station in Dowa or Ntchisi District.” Mandated by this expectation, my administration established and commissioned a task group or committee that was assigned to spearhead the implementation of this vision. The committee was tagged New Missions Development Committee. The Chairperson for this wonderful committee is Mr. Phillip Kamwendo, with Mrs. Grace Hiwa, as Secretary, Mr. Gunsalu, Deputy Chairperson, Frazer Kumwenda, Doctor Dalitso Kabambe, Mr. Makulumiza, Mr. Makamo, Mr. Lutho Zungu, Mr. Wellington Gondwe, Mr. Kamwiyo, Mrs. Ivy Mkandawire, Mr. T Makako and Professor Timothy Gondwe among others as members.
I am glad again to report that through the efforts of this committee, we started the implementation of this new mission dream. In fact, one of the agenda items in this session will be to endorse the name for this new baby mission in Dowa.
So far, we bought about 66 acres or 41.3 hectares of land at Guma village, TA Msakambewa in Dowa district where we proposed to establish this new mission that could be used a launch pad for missions to the notoriously un-entered areas of Dowa, Ntchisi, Salima and part of Lilongwe rural. We have started the leasing process of the land. We have also developed a master plan for the same (see appendix 4). We propose to plant a church there, a school and in the future, a vocational school as well; animal farm and a few more other things that could support our missionary efforts into the target areas.
So far, we have conducted about 3 or 4 evangelistic campaigns in the area and we have opened a branch just close to the mission site with a membership of 63 people. We have a Global Mission/Bible worker planted there to nurture the little flock. Through our health department we have been going out and reaching the area with mobile clinic services on given Sabbaths. We have managed to bring Adventist awareness and secure interest of the people into Adventism. We hope the next administration will build on the same. We have already drafted plans for the small clinic and staff houses for the same which we would like to start with as part of implementing the vision. A development proposal focusing on agriculture, entrepreneurship and adult literacy has also been developed.
One KRA we focused on was Evangelism both general and Youth Evangelism as outlined in our SP document. We employed multiple approaches in implementing this vision. This included, though not limited to targeting identified least or un-entered communities in our Conference. Under this thrust we had such programs like “Go 150” which targeted six specific districts which we identified as least entered vis: Dowa, Kasungu, Ntchisi, Lilongwe Rural, Nkhotakota and Mchinji. We also had Adventist Mission Pioneers and Bible workers programs, Youth Community Impacts initiatives like the one we had at Kalonga in Lilongwe and Kanzimbe in Salima—all these complemented the traditional general approach of evangelizing our communities.
In summary, because of these efforts, over the last five years we conducted an aggregate of 1,646 evangelistic campaigns or “crusades” as we fondly call them. Out of this number 923 were done by laity while 216, by pastors and 120 were conducted by other workers. We have baptized 57, 564 people as a result of all these efforts and we have since opened 151 new churches across the Conference at the average rate of 30.2 churches annually. The good news is that most of these branches are planted in typical non-Adventist areas. We have also organized 132 companies into churches. As we stand now, we have a total of 336 organized churches and 590 companies. In total we have 926 congregations in the Conference. We have grown by 175 churches representing 23.5 % church growth.
Our membership has since moved from 68,369 as reported at our last Session in September 2014 to 98, 905 in September 2019. We have increased by 30,822 members; an average of 6,164.4 members annually. While this may not be something spectacular to the eye considering that it is accumulative of five years, you may wish to appreciate that in the past, between 2011 and 2014 the Conference grew from 57,424 members to 68, 369 members only, that is, it grew with only 10,659 members, representing 19% growth over a period of 3 years. Which means the church in the previous period grew at the rate of 3,553 members annually.
By extension, this would mean that if the church would continue to grow at the rate that it was growing on in the previous tenure, in five years’ time, this Conference was going to grow only by 17,765 members.
Either way, in comparison to what this quinquennium has accomplished church growth wise, you may like to appreciate that we have done far better by doubling the rate and increased our membership by 40.76 %. Numerically, we have surpassed our projected goal of increasing the membership by 30,000 members in five years which we set in our SP. We had aspired to bring our membership to, or slightly, over a hundred thousand members.
Of course, this is obviously an under-report. We must admit that reporting and record keeping is still a challenge in most of our churches. The truth is that our membership is actually about 106,049! This is logically so when we consider the number of people we baptized over the period vis-à-vis the number we started with. Our Personal Ministries (PM) records (these are records of the evangelistic campaigns conducted and the baptisms done throughout the Conference as reported to the PM office by churches through their pastors) reveal that we baptized about 57,564 people over the five-year period.
Simple math should justify this claim. If we had 68,369 members in 2014 June/September, and in 5 years we have added 57,564 members, that should bring us to 125,647 members. But we also lost 19,598 members at the same time, it means numerically that we have 106,049 members left [ (68,369+57,564)-19,598 =106,049, (see appendix 5 for verification)]. Nevertheless, for our official records we use what is recorded in our Secretariat. And this is what I have shared with you as our current membership. However, we now have 209,159 total adherents as of September 2019.
One thing that we should not forget to mention in this Session is Saturation 2017. I don’t need to say much about Saturation 2017. You are all witnesses. Of course, I am aware that if there was a time that costed our reputations so much and attracted every sneer and painful innuendos the Church can ever conceive—a time our motives were questioned, misunderstood and misinterpreted—but a time that was at the same time the sweetest and climax of our ambition to reach out to the souls for our Lord—it was in the year 2016-2017. I don’t want to talk about it because you already know more than I do. The most I will say for this purpose, is “thank You Lord” you have brought us to the finishing line still breathing! And if I will add anything to that it is this: the Church in the Central Region and if this is not an exaggeration, the church in Malawi will never ever be the same again—thanks to Saturation 2017!
One undeniable fruit of Saturation 2017 and our efforts in this area was that our visibility soared so exponentially within no time so much so that there are very few pockets now in the Region who don’t know the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist church. In fact, many people are still joining the church today following the sacrifice that was offered during that period. It will be underappreciating the leviathan impact of the effort to tell you how many people were won to Christ because of Saturation 2017. Of course, we have a recorded total of about 10,000 people who were officially baptized during that time. A few more others were baptized in regions beyond our jurisdiction. If you think soul winning is a great success—then you are telling me that during this quinquennium we registered spectacular success to the glory of the Lord!
Stewardship and Finances
Space and time may not allow me to enumerate everything that we were privileged to accomplish over this period. The question of whether we succeeded or not is up to you to judge. But we can testify that we did the best we could though we agree that there is always room for improvement in every best you can afford. Our stewardship director will furnish you with our detailed report in this regard. Our giving percentage has improved though not much. We are still lingering in the 20-25% lane of faithfulness.
I must mention here that the low base of financial support we have is negatively affecting our growth as a Conference. It is my hope that this Session will take time to seriously discus this challenge. If our giving reflects our relationship with our God, then I am afraid to suspect that most of us do not have a healthy relationship with our God. We are either failing to adequately address the spiritual problems we have or we are surrounded by some serious social-economic factors we had better started intervening in as a church or forget about improving our giving percentages in the church. If salvation was to be determined by our giving of the tithes and offerings, it is scaring to admit that we have a church that is unsaved. There is more work to be done.
I will leave details regarding our financial status to my Chief Finance Officer. Nevertheless, allow me to acknowledge that from the report we received at our previous session at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School in September 2014, this Conference had no debt. But you may wish to know that this was not factually correct because there were other responsibilities which were not factored into the financial statements at the time. This Conference owes the government huge sums of monies which we were and are still expected to pay to the National Insurance Company (NICO) as arrears following the parliamentary law passed in 2011 or thereabout regulating the pension schemes of all employees in Malawi. This was not respected for the obvious reason that the Conference did not have money to satisfy the demand and there was generally a feeling of overwhelm following such a sudden expectation. However, our General Conference Auditors have recommended that it be reflected in our statements as of 2018 to date.
You will therefore notice that our accounts payables have exponentially grown by a million times compared to what it was in 2014. We have MK359,888,753.00 in accounts liabilities.
Besides, we spent some significant amounts of money to cater for our Saturation 2017 project. We had not included the budgets for this event in our regular budgeting to show how we were supporting it. We had planned that we would support it directly from the contributions the churches and other well-wishers would donate to us. However, most of our churches and or members did not meet their obligation. This necessitated us to pay off all outstanding bills and or fill the gaps as it were. This meant that we needed to show this in our accounts since we were now paying directly from the money that was already budgeted for. Our auditors advised us to include this, too. This will explain some unusual expenses you will notice in the report when the CFO gives us the same.
I am hopeful that you will all understand and appreciate our situation. There are times decisions must be made and they were. At the same time, it is not always that what we plan turns out to be as perfect as we planned. We look at this as part of the cost of mission. Pa Chichewa amatati, pagona tonde pamanunkha! If you cannot show off scars, probably you are not a hunter. I hope we will understand.
Human Resource Development
On the human resource aspect of our mission, we have a total of 151 employees now whereas we had 134 in 2014 and increase of 17 or 12.9%. We have recruited several new staff in various categories. Some of these are teachers we recruited on contract.
At the same time, on a sad note, we have also lost several of our staff either through death, resignation, moral fall and or termination of services. Painful and still fresh in our memories is the demise of one of our pastors, pastor Evance Jumbe who until the day of his death was district pastor for Dwangwa who died on October 1, 2016 and Messrs. Rukshana Kunkanga—another brave and wonderful dedicated woman who died in July 2016.
The greatest achievement we made was the establishment of the Human Resource office. We now have a stand-alone full time Human Resource Officer. In the old system, the duties of Human Resource were all carried out by the Executive Secretary. While this arrangement has its own unique goodness, we observed that it unnecessarily placed too much responsibility over the Executive Secretary which many times compromised our expected standards in handling staff. You may wish to put it on record again that in this development we could be the first ecclesiastical (i.e., church) institution in Malawi Union Conference to have a full time stand-alone Human Resource officer.
House Loans for Pastors
In line with development and motivation of human resource we also introduced small house loans for our pastors. Though the amount was too little to enable one to construct a retirement home let alone buy one, we still felt that this was important as a starting point because it enabled many of our pastor who are nearing retirement over this period to buy some land where they can construct their retirement homes. We would encourage the next administration to both continue it and scale up the amounts offered.
Bill Gates is credited with the following words: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” While John Quincy Adams contended that “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” In other words, for him, leadership is about inspiring others do that which they are supposed to do or be doing or become that which they are supposed to be. If this honorable house and Conference would subscribe to these definitions about leadership, and indeed, if leadership is about modeling and shaping others, then perhaps this is another important area our administration has accomplished over the period I was privileged to lead this Conference.
With the introduction and emphasis of the need to have strategic plans in our churches, we have not only inspired a number of local churches and or institutions under our jurisdiction and encouraged them to emulate but even those beyond have adopted and developed their own strategic plans and we have seen developments taking place in those entities. Some sister institutions have in fact asked for copies of our strategic plan so that they could learn from us.
That aside, many of our local churches assimilated and implemented most of our plans. For instance, Lingadzi in Lilongwe adopted and implemented the adult literacy program in their territory. Nkhotakota, too adopted and implemented a similar program, just to mention a few.
I am confident that the humble contribution the Lord helped us accomplish will continue to make a difference in this Conference for years to the success and glory of the Lord.
Esteemed delegates, guests and visitors, I already mentioned the enhanced visibility that our efforts over the last five years have brought this Conference. Following our embrace of technology under the banner “Technology for Christ,” our visibility in the region and the entire world, as a Conference is now higher than at any other time in our history thanks to the services of Technology and Saturation 2017 initiatives.
Involvement of Laity
I am yet to know any time in this Conference when the laity was tapped on and involved both in planning and executing of the Conference business more than in this quinquennium. I sadly recall that we were at times even perceived as divergent and noncompliant to the global family by some stakeholders and were thought to have misunderstood the concept of Total Member Involvement as stipulated by the Global or Divisional church but we stood our ground because we believed and we still believe that Total Member Involvement does not necessarily mean uniformity of strategy but participation of every member in some form of ministry in the church.
If what Benjamin Franklin said is anything sensible when he blurted and said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn,” then esteemed delegates, guests and special visitors here present, you can be assured that our administration did not only “tell,” “teach,” and “involve,” but most importantly, we gave room for all to participate and in the process, helped many of our members “learn” more about their beloved church and its operations. I want to take advantage of this meeting today to publicly and explicitly express my sincere and deep gratitude and praise to the Lord for the devotion of these men and women—our youth and children included— who labored with us when we took the mantel of leadership in this Conference.
Besides these individuals and or committees, I must also acknowledge the special contribution that Central Church has done over these years. Besides helping in evangelistic campaigns and planting churches, Central Church has also constructed churches for several congregations they helped in founding. We would like to thank the LORD for such collective dedication of this church.
With your indulgence, I will at this moment pause to recognize a sample of these selfless, God-loving, dedicated humble church members we have in this Conference. They gave me and my team tremendous support and often beyond our expectations. I am witness to the sacrifice they made. If this does not violate the theology of this Church and the norms of a Session, and if this may not be my last sin in this office, I would like to symbolically express this appreciation to these humble saints by conferring on them a special medal of honor which we have prepared specially for them. Due to financial constraints, we were unable to give these medals to every individual. We therefore give a symbolic-representative- group medal which will in symbol be conferred to all who actively participated through voice or other means towards the vision we had and by extension, this is our appreciation to the entire church that you here represent. We want you to know that we are grateful for the support you gave us through this quinquennium. It is my prayer that you will also do the same to our successors in the next administration. It is my honor, therefore, at this point, to invite to the platform the Chairpersons of these respective committees that have worked tirelessly over the quinquennium…[calling…]
Loss of some employees through death or termination was the greatest “thorn in the flesh” what we suffered. Unfortunately, many tragic events hit us real hard.
We lost our team mate—a dedicated, humble, and supportive man we ever had on our team—our former Executive Secretary—at the very onset of the quinquennium. The experience took us through hard moments as we were yet to recover from the shock and challenge of working without an Executive Secretary. As if this was not enough, when we filled the vacant office with the current Executive Secretary, the enemy again was on our back—Doctor Gumbala had to undergo surgery and he has not recovered yet and as I am speaking, he is lying in pain in hospital right now. All this meant that the load was too much on the administration because often than not I was compelled to shoulder more responsibilities than I could bear.
Service Interruptions due to On-going Studies
Besides, several of our departmental directors are studying with Adventist University of Africa or other institutions. They regularly had to leave duty for class work. It all had its toll on our delivery of our vision and agenda. And there were few many more challenges.
Fake news and Deep State
The modern world is cursed with two new diseases called “fake news” and “Deep-state.” Popularized by American President Donald Trump, fake news is the syndrome where ill-minded individuals or groups spread lies about their perceived enemies of competitors by creating false stories intended to tarnish the image of their targets. “Deep-state” on the other hand is defined as “a government body that functions autonomously and competes with the government proper for power.” While the Political dictionary claims that Deep State is “a clandestine network entrenched inside the government, bureaucracy, intelligence agencies, and other governmental entities. The Deep State supposedly controls state policy behind the scenes, while the democratically-elected process and elected officials are merely figureheads.” The two when combined, have the lethal effect of undermining and destroying the efforts and or visions of organizations and leadership.
Unfortunately, this was perhaps the greatest challenge we encountered and, in some huge way it affected our delivery. It is sad that the two realities sometimes, have in some way, soiled the church and left it scathed and unclean for the holy service it is called upon to do.
Joseph Conrad made this spectacular observation; he said, “He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.” And he was right. Many people, most of us, judge others based not on “the power of sense” but on “the power of sound”—the things we have heard about them—the rumours—fake news! And we were not spared of this weapon from the enemy.
There were days and weeks when false rumours were spread against some of us in office during this quinquennium with the malicious intentions of damaging the reputation and integrity of our administration and discouraging our efforts. Sometimes there were threats of physical attack or other malign means aiming at intimidating and psychologically influencing our decisions. The ghost of fear and mistrust often haunted our committees. Apparently, their negative effects at some point in the journey could not be denied.
However, we thank the Lord that the tools of the enemy did not prevail. God kept us safe and has seen us to the finishing line. We can only give Him the credit and glory.
Lack of Adequate Support from Some Stakeholders.
While we appreciate the enormous support that we received from most of our members, there were some key stakeholders who took upon themselves the role of Tobiah and Sanbalat in the old Biblical narrative who mocked Nehemiah and those Jews who decided to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Others apparently assumed the role of the Biblical Shimei who taunted David all the way as he ran from his son, Absalom. There were times when our motives were questioned, our steps watched with suspicions, our words misquoted and misreported; our efforts undermined and “Sanballatted” or mocked. It was a period of great testing for any leader. A period when it was hard to trust anyone even those you should have because our enemy had infiltrated the ranks. We thank the Lord that all in all we triumphed by His grace. The scars we came out with are merely a testimony to the fact.
I personally have no regrets and no ill feeling about the experience we encountered. The scars we bear tells you how stronger we have grown. As I said, it was an educative experience. Tough as it was, it helped us to remain trustful and dependent on the Lord. However, I would not downplay the negative effects of such negative environments upon one’s delivery. Probably this was a result of the previous challenge I observed.
Calls for Constitutional Review
To add tinder to the fire, midway our tenure there were calls for review of the constitution to short-cut the quinquennium when it was observed that this Conference purportedly erred at its 3rd Session in 2014 by opting for a five-year tenure for its administrative mandates. Around this period when these rumours were circulating, some who misheard the matter, misinterpreted it. As a result of the false information that was in circulation in some circles, we experienced some time of uncertainty which had the effect of lessening some level of support we expected from some quarters. Though we recovered from this, it still left some negative impacts in our strategic vision.
One of the agenda items and questions which this session must decide on is the question of tenure. How long should our terms for those in elected offices for this Conference be? In one of my favorite stories from history,
“Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, French bishop and seventeenth century court preacher to Louis XIV, is apropos. Louis was a great lover of the theater, and often had command performances in his court. Bossuet, on the other hand, was widely known to oppose the theater as being inimical to the development of Christian character and as being an instrument of evil.
One day, as the story goes, during a lull in the proceedings of court, Louis looked around and, seeing Bossuet on the periphery, called loudly in his direction, "My bishop, what do you think of the theater?"
Courtiers gasped, for they knew the views of both men. They also knew the peril of rendering a verdict contrary to the royal opinion. At the very least, the offender might be banished from court (a fate, for these sycophants, almost worse than death); at the very worst, he might be sent to his death.
Everyone waited breathlessly for Bossuet's response, wondering whether he would take the expedient way out of the dilemma (on the theory that it is better to be a live coward than a dead hero), or whether he would risk all to speak the conviction of his heart.
Bossuet gravely made his way into the immediate presence of the Sun King, genuflected, and said with great dignity, "Sire, you have asked what I think of the theater. I will tell you, Sire, what I think. There are some great persons in favor of it…. and there are some great reasons against it!"
How long should our terms be? That is the question we need to answer in this session. Well, if I were Bossuet, I would say, “I will tell you, Saints, what I think. There are some great persons in favor of it…and there are some great reasons against it!" The only thing I would remind ourselves at this point though, is that one of the privileges of a Conference is the right to decide for themselves regarding what is for their best interest as an entity. The exercise of such rights is called upon at times like this.