For the last 5 years, Matt has taught the youth group at our church. But this year, Matt and Brian switched it up so Brian took the youth, and Matt took over the adult Tuesday evening Bible study. We host it in our home and eat dinner together beforehand, so it’s a full family, full house ministry for us. We have an average of about 12 adults attending, and about 3 kids who watch a What’s in the Bible? video in the next room. Matt is teaching on a biblical view of money, so we’ve had some great times looking at the Bible together and discussing what God wants us to do with our money and possessions. This is an enormous topic that we face and must struggle with every day in (any part of) Africa. Pray for this group when you think of us – we want to be certain that we are obeying what God calls us to in every area of our lives, including how we handle our money and possessions.
For the third year in a row we have THOROUGHLY enjoyed having a team from Faith Bible Church in south Orange County come and run our Church Family Camp over Easter weekend. This is a labor love, and this year we have 8 great people come and love our church: Rachel, Kalei, Jackie, Hannah, John, Stephen, Beth, and Curstin.
This crew was just fantastic. They came early so that they could go to church with us the week before camp, and then they spent the next 4 days doing anything and everything – prison ministry, doing skits for village ministry, painting a dining room for an orphan feeding program – they kept busy! They even…
Helped paint Naomi’s room!
Naomi now sleeps in a jungle of trees, vines, monkeys, and a few other friends like a giraffe, a lion, and a zebra. So cute, and such a sweet extra for us!
But the real reason they came was to help with camp. Pastor John Koh preached a 4-part series on discipleship for us, while the others on the team helped with music and ran a full VBS program for all the kids!
The kids all loved their new teachers! And all the regular teachers enjoyed just getting to listen to the message and fellowship with the rest of the church. It was so wonderful and refreshing to be served by this team!
And just for the record, Abigail loves living in dirty, fun Africa! She pretty much looked like this all through camp. Sometimes she was even sporting a side ponytail as in 2 pictures above. =) You only get to be 3 once in your life!
We got almost everyone in a group photo (there were some who came just for the day on Sunday who aren’t pictured), but the total count this year was 111! What a blessing to have a church body who love spending time together and desire to grow both in the Word and in unity! Praise the Lord!
Yep, these were our 5th Annual IBF Christmas Parties! With a new baby in the house, we weren’t sure if we could host the parties this year, but Rachel’s parents came to help out and we knew we could do it with their help. And we’re so glad we did. We love these parties, and more importantly we’ve seen over the years the importance of these times together as a church body in fellowship, worship, and fun.
We always have a game for the adults as well – this year’s game was 4 on a Couch. The group at Wednesday night’s party was very competitive, with the women finally pulling off a win in something like quadruple overtime. And then at Friday night’s party, the men pulled off a nice, clean win.
Good times of singing some favorite Christmas hymns. “Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, ris’n with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” What amazing truths to sing and celebrate together as a church family!
We’re back in the swing of things! International Bible Fellowship Church kicked off our 9am Family Fellowship Hour (Sunday School) today, and it feels like the year has really begun. Thank you to those of you who read our recent newsletter and have been praying for Sunday School teachers – we have a full set of teachers and assistants! Praise the Lord!
Since Abigail is 3 years old now (!), today was her first day of Sunday School. I was next door in the nursery, so peeked in near the end of class to see if she was doing ok. They were coloring, but she jumped out of her seat and ran to the door. Uh-oh, I thought. Then she said “Shh, Mama,” pushed on my leg, and added quietly “Go now!” Apparently she’s doing just fine with being a big girl now! =)
With the long school break over (“summer vacation,” which is actually winter for us in the southern hemisphere), it was nice to have the church back to full capacity. The picture above misses the whole left section of the church, as well as all the chairs lined up in the back. There were about 200 people at church today. It’s also nice to have Brian Biedebach back in the pulpit after their furlough, and to continue with our study of the book of Ephesians.
During the 10am main service time, we simultaneously run a Children’s Church program for kids ages 0-11. Beatrice, pictured above, has been helping with Children’s Church for some time, and we’re so thankful for her. Today she had 18 kids in her class of 3-6 year olds! I didn’t count, but I did see the 7-11 year olds filing into class as well, and I would guess there were 30-35 in that class. Wow, that’s a lot of kids! Pray for the teachers and leaders of nursery, Sunday School, and Children’s Church, as well as Matt as he gives oversight to all the programs – looks like it’s going to be a busy year!
Ramadan is from July 8 through August 7 this year. If you live in America, you’re probably oblivious to this, but if you live anywhere else in the world, particularly Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia, you’ve probably very aware of this. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this succinct article is very helpful in understanding the basics of Islam, and pointing to resources for ministering to Muslims.
We are more aware of Ramadan this year, because there is a new mosque just a couple blocks up the street from us. Now we can hear the call to prayer several times every day. The mosque pictured above is one of the biggest, located in the heart of “India Town.” In the 4+ years that we’ve been in Malawi, we’ve noticed many other signs of a growing Muslim presence. There are more Muslims immigrating to Malawi, but there are also more Malawians converting to Islam.
For a nation that is considered to be 85% Christian, this may be surprising. However, what we’ve learned is that while there have been many generations of Christian missionaries in this part of the world, the focus of outreach here has been heavy on evangelism, and light on discipleship. The vast majority of professing Christians only understand the very basics of the gospel, and they are rarely taught how to practice what truth they do know. As you might expect, a shallow understanding of the Bible leads to a grave lack of discernment. Poor teaching has left many Malawian “Christians” vulnerable to deception and falsehood from all quarters.
Our goal is not just to produce statistical Christians, but people who are “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28) and who “observe all that He commanded” (Matt. 28:20). We concentrate heavily on discipleship at our church, calling professing Christians to become practicing Christians, and endeavoring to help people grow in their understanding and practice of God’s truth. By God’s grace, we are able to participate in His work of transforming His people and strengthening His church. That’s why we’re here.
And Ramadan is just one more reminder – with every call to prayer – of what an important goal this is.
It’s always fun to see our friends become members at church. We’ve had a couple groups of new members lately, and Ezra, Maya, Jim, and Bethany are the most recent.
The church isn’t all about numbers, but we’re excited to see these friends and many more expressing their commitment to International Bible Fellowship Church. Pray that we as a church can encourage and strengthen them in their walks with the Lord, and that they would find areas where they can serve the church and use the gifts and talents God has given them to also encourage and strengthen others.
There’s always more ministry than there is time. Especially here in Malawi. We try to stay intentionally focused on church ministry, because we realized a long time ago that if you try to do everything, you won’t do a good job at anything. One of the great things about church ministry is that the church is involved in different ministries, and members of our church head up different outreaches and projects throughout the Lilongwe area. We’ve mentioned the prison ministry before, but another one that Matt got to visit recently is a children’s ministry in the village of Chinsapo.
Two dear ladies from our church, Grace and Mirjam, hold a kids’ program in this nearby village every Thursday afternoon. They have about 150 in the younger kids’ program (up to 10 years), and about 100 in the older kids’ program (11-18).
The ladies include Bible stories, skits, songs, and coloring or activity time in their programs. This all sounds fairly normal until you remember they they hold these programs under a few large trees in the middle of a village, with very few resources but an abundance of creativity and love. Sometimes the ladies bring something special for the kids. Right now our church is collecting warm clothes and blankets for the kids as we approach the winter months.
Grace actually lives in this village, so has great opportunities to build relationships and shine the light of the gospel in her every day life. Both Grace and Mirjam are active in the church as well as the Ladies’ Bible Study, so we’ve gotten to know them well. Neither of them would claim or aspire to hero status for what they do every Thursday afternoon; rather, they have put to use the gifts, talents, time, and opportunities God has given them for this ministry. We’re thankful for them, and glad to come alongside them as a church to help and support them in this work.
Please pray for these ladies when you think of them. I know they would appreciate it! And if you’d like to hear more of what they do, you can check out Mirjam’s blog.
We love church camp! Granted, this is only our 2nd annual church camp, but we looked forward to it all year long!
We love the way everyone pitches in and makes camp “home” for a few days.
We had great times of worship and teaching in the Word brought to us by a team of 7 from Faith Bible Church in Ladera Ranch, CA – who also put on a kids’ program at the same time.
We had hours of fellowship around food, around campfires, around campsites, and all around the game reserve. It was so nice to just stop and spend the better part of 4 days together with these people we love and always want to see more of. We can’t think of a better way to spend Easter weekend than with our church family! (You can click on the group photo above to see a large version.)
The Christmas parties were GREAT! We had about 35 people the first night, and about 50 people the second night.
We had food, fellowship, a kids’ Christmas movie, Christmas pictionary, carols, and a devotional to go with the reading of Luke chapter two. We also had the photo booth again this year. Here are a few of the great faces we captured there.
We are so blessed to spend the Christmas season with these people, our friends and our family in Christ. To all of you, friends and family, far and near, much love and a very Merry Christmas!
If there is one man God has used to encourage our hearts in ministry in Malawi, it is Kwacha Simwaka. Matt and Kwacha met over 10 years ago in Mozambique where they were both doing missions, and have stayed in touch over the years – even being roommates in South Africa for all of 2005.
Kwacha is finishing up his Theological Masters degree at The Master’s Seminary and planning to graduate this coming May, after which he will return to Malawi and join us in ministry in his home country. We are so looking forward to this day! God has blessed Kwacha with wisdom, diligence, and a heart burdened for his country. Those are just a few of the things we love about him, and a few of the ways that he encourages us. In fact, he’s so loved around here, that as Abi is learning her alphabet, she has declared that “K” is for Uncle Kwacha. =)
Kwacha is back in Malawi right now for a few weeks to extend his visa to America so that he can continue with his studies through May. We’ve loved the chance to spend time with him! Please pray for him as he prepares to return to Malawi in the not too distant future, and that he can finish his thesis and the master’s program with excellence!