The following interview with my father was published in the Reformation Zambia magazine, January - April 2008 issue, and clearly portrays the work going on in Zomba, Malawi at this time. Enjoy!
CHURCH PLANTING IN MALAWI An Interview with Frank Maxson
RZ: Frank Maxson, welcome to Reformation Zambia. First of all, what are you doing in Malawi?
Frank: Presently we are planting/establishing Grace Baptist Church in the former capital city ofZomba. And it is our desire to see many other Reformed Baptist churches established throughout the country.
RZ: How have you gone about accomplishing this challenging task so far?
Frank: We (Frank Maxson and family) began in Zomba without any contacts with the indigenous people, but we quickly made friends as we talked with people. We spent some months trying to learn the Chichewa language. Even though English is taught in the schools beginning at about Standard Five, most of the people prefer to use Chichewa, and a large number of people cannot understand English very well.
Next, we started a home-based, evangelistic Bible study. Over time we developed some relationships, but we did not yet see any significant fruit in conversions.
Then, we started meeting publicly in a private school classroom. We invited many people to attend and we publicly advertised the first service. We had nearly thirty Malawians in the first service. We started out preaching evangelistically every service. Our approach to worship through hymn singing, without the culturally relevant practice of beating drums and dancing, turned away some. Others were not interested because I as the church planter could not yet speak Chichewa. So, I felt it imperative to minister exclusively in the English language. Another handicap we faced was our totally non-Pentecostal approach and presentation in a context where Pentecostalism is viewed as biblical Christianity. And I was preaching expository messages on the reformed doctrines of grace with a special emphasis on human total depravity. Is it not a miracle of sovereign grace that out of that effort emerged a group of believers and seekers who are now baptized and covenanted as a church? We praise and glorify our Almighty God for doing such a wonderful and marvelous work against seemingly insurmountable odds.
RZ: Since there are great multitudes of churches in Malawi, and Zomba town is no exception. So, why are you seeking to plant churches in Malawi - and in Zomba particularly?
Frank: It is true that there is no lack of congregations calling themselves by many names and affiliating with many denominations, but we have discovered through much interaction with the people that there are precious few true believers. And even where there seem to be believers, there is much doctrinal error, and there is great resistance to change. In brief, we are planting this church in Zomba because all of the churches in Zomba have departed from sound biblical doctrine or practice in major areas of fundamental importance.
We are involved in church planting because that is clearly the work our Lord wants all of His churches to be involved in. His Great Commission is a command which, in light of apostolic example and teaching, cannot be accomplished without consolidating the fruit of gospel preaching into organized churches.
Zomba is a town of significant size and influence. It is conveniently located for outreach to the rest of Malawi, and it is the location of one of the country's major universities. It was the practice of Paul the Apostle to go to the major cities and hubs of cultural and social activity to establish churches. He did not begin in the remote, rural areas. That is the strategy we believe the Lord has led us to adopt, and we believe it will ultimately be the best strategy for reformed Baptist churches to be established throughout all areas of the country.
RZ: How did Pastor Percy Chisenga from Chipata Calvary Baptist Church in Zambia join the missionary team?
Frank: My backwardness in learning the Chichcwa language and my felt need for help in the work, as well as a desire to involve the Zambian Reformed Baptists led me to approach Chipata Calvary Baptist Church to help us. I visited Chipata and presented to the leading men of the church my request that they would come over into Malawi and help us. They took my request seriously although it took them a number of months to actually respond.
They eventually sent Percy Chisenga and Prosperous Mutimushi to teach and preach in our midst. That visit led to further meetings with Percy Chisenga, and it was agreed all around that the Chisengas would come and take the lead in the work. They arrived in October 2006. We had our first baptism in November 2006, and we covenanted together as a church in December 2006. Pastor Chisenga also began his debut as the church's first Nyanja speaker, and we launched out from being an exclusively English speaking church to a mixture of English and Nyanja/Chichewa in most of the services.
It is the joy of my heart to see this fruit of God's work in Zambian soil transplanted into Malawian soil. May the Lord of the harvest raise up and prepare more godly Zambian men to labour in Malawi and other surrounding countries.
RZ: How do you look at the future of the work, and what plans do you have for the future?
Frank: It is our prayer that God will establish Grace Baptist Church of Zomba with indigenous leadership from our midst, and that other Reformed Baptist churches will be established throughout the major cities of the country. Blantyre is the major industrial centre of Malawi, and to our knowledge there are not any Reformed Baptist churches in that large city. The capital city, Lilongwe, needs someone to begin the first such church in that huge city also. Mzuzu, up north, needs its first Reformed Baptist church. And there are many towns and villages throughout the country where churches are needed. The population of Malawi is close to that of Zambia, but the effort to plant Reformed Baptist churches here has just begun.
A gift has been received to start the work of building a structure for a meeting place in Zomba, and we have been offered a choice plot of land on the major highway in town by the city planners. We are excited to begin this building project as soon as some details are sorted out.
RZ: Finally, what are some of your prayer needs, which you would like to share with readers of this magazine so that they conjoin you in your struggles out there in Malawi?
Frank: Let me list them down for you:
1. The blessing of God on our evangelistic efforts.
2. An outpouring of the Holy Spirit to give radical conversions.
3. The raising up of indigenous church leaders.
4. Open doors for effective regular ministry at the local university, Chancellor College.
5. Resources for the construction of a church building.