The answer was surprising.
At first… only at first.
I had asked a rather straightforward question of some of the pastors in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) in Malawi. I had been requested to teach a course on Evangelism so I figured that it would be good to first find out what evangelism was currently being done in our geographically small, but extremely populated country. So my question?
“What evangelism program do you currently carry out?”
That word: “program.” Do you like it? Mind it? Or cringe a bit when you hear it? I don’t know, maybe it’s not the best word to use. I suppose it can sound like we are talking about something merely mechanical or canned. Maybe it sounds too much like a staged performance or show, a theatrical technique.
I don’t mean it in that way at all. Would another word be better?
We know that the Lord Himself gave us the “Great Commission” at the end of the Gospel of Matthew.1 We see Jesus himself engaged in evangelism throughout his life. As Luke wraps up the story about Jesus bringing salvation to tree-climbing, branch-clinging Zacchaeus, he includes Jesus’ own words to that short man: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” 2
Jesus reached out with the gospel message to needy people, but he wasn’t the only one. So did his disciples. We find them on various occasions talking, sharing, telling, and inviting.
“Come and see!”3
It wasn’t so much about a program but a person. And that person is Jesus.
When you think about your own congregation, how would YOU answer that same question? Whatever word you prefer to use, how are you personally and and as a congregation reaching out to the lost?
Knocking on doors?
Travel canvass witness teams?
TV? Radio? Websites?
Chats over Coffee and doughnuts?
Breakfast meetings? Luncheons?
The answer every Malawian pastor gave me was none of the above, but each said the same thing. Their answer?
Funerals? Yep, funerals.
Was that even one of your top answers for your congregational gospel outreach? Had funerals even crossed your mind?
A surprising answer, but only at first.
Attend just one funeral in Malawi and you will understand. You see, everyone attends the funeral. EVERYONE.
It’s not just family and friends and congregation members who come to the funeral. So do people in the work place. The neighborhood. The whole village. The entire community. Even those who didn’t even know the person well, or even at all, will come to the funeral to show respect. It’s just an unwritten rule inscribed in every Malawian heart: you just don’t NOT attend.
Recently I did attend a funeral in May. The dear wife of retired Pastor Akim Daile was called to eternal glory. Jean had had a long and fierce battle with cancer and finally, the Lord said, “enough.” To say there was a “crowd” at Mrs. Daile’s funeral is an understatement. Pockets of people were everywhere. The funeral house was jam packed. Hundreds gathered around the coffin, viewed the body, followed in procession and sat at the gravesite.
Wreathes were laid.
My, oh my, were there people! Everyone was there – including our pastors. Each one knew what it meant… among the hundreds and hundreds of people, there in the crooks of the trees are perched the Zacchaeus’ of our world. They are people with a great need, and that great need is Jesus – the One who walked out of his own tomb. The pastor takes his place in the center of the crowd. He stands near the coffin and offers a silent prayer; he opens his Bible and reads the text. He begins to share the Word of Life.
That’s what evangelism looks like in Malawi.
By: Missionary John Holtz, Malawi, Africa
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