The deafening sound of the rain crashing against the tin roof paused the third interview of the day. As we sat in silence, listening to the deafening roar of the passing shower, I had time to reflect on the answers Assani, the young man across from me, had been giving. Three Namikango staff members and I have traveled to the central and northern regions of Malawi to interview candidates interested in enrolling in the first class of Namikango’s Discipleship Training Institute. These candidates have been all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds, but this young man brought enthusiasm to the process.
The Discipleship Training Institute (DTI for short) is Namikango’s newest educational ministry offered to the Church of Christ in Malawi. The curriculum is comprised from Namikango’s other ministries and follows in the rich history of theological education offered through the mission. DTI is an intensive, three-year program that seeks to transform students into disciples of Jesus with the skills to read and interpret the Bible, lead in local churches, and bring community development to local communities.
Only twenty-four years old, Assani is still fresh out of school, and he brings the discipline and sharp answers of a student used to exams. He sits straight in his chair holding a folder of his government documents, ready to produce the necessary qualifications when asked. We have passed through the introductory questions typical of an interview, and have moved into the English oral examination, where we test the candidate’s English skills as well as get a glimpse of their theological stance.
The DTI has been a long-gesting vision of Namikango Mission. First conceived around six years ago, it was born out of the churches’ request for a more rigorous training program, offered in English, on Namikango’s campus. While the Village Bible schools were meeting the demand for easily accessible Bible training for anyone interested in the program, there existed a need for a more rigorous training program aimed at future (or current) church leaders interested in building the Kingdom of God in Malawi. From these requests the seeds of the DTI were planted and have been slowly growing and building to this day, sitting with the first candidates in the small rainy town of Ntchisi.
The rain has momentarily paused Assani’s interview, punctuating and giving gravity to his last answer. Symon had just asked him why he was interested in this program at Namikango. Assani’s eyes had lit up immediately, and as the rains began pattering the tin roof he explained that he had known about Namikango since he was a child, but never expected to have the chance to go train there. When news of this new program reached his village, he couldn’t believe his ears. He knows men who have trained with Namikango through the Village Bible Schools, and has seen their work with the church. His dream has been to step into the same role and help unify the church through good biblical teaching.
Assani, like the other candidates, have a deep desire to build the church in Malawi. Each candidate is asked about problems they see in the church, and each has noted the same issue, a lack of biblical understanding always leads to division. As another candidate, Micah noted, “when no one can understand the Bible, the church divides itself. Namikango is the place where we learn how to read [the Bible] well and unify the church.”
This trip has not only focused on interviewing potential students for DTI, but also serves to maintain relationships with the churches. We have also been meeting with VBS committees across the central and Northern region. These committees have held a vital role with Namikango for decades as collection points for the Village Bible Schools, helping oversee, coordinate and ensure smooth running of the schools, students, and teachers. In our meetings with them, we have heard about their dreams for the VBS, their concerns, and their thoughts for change. In every meeting I am reminded of the words of Assani and the rich heritage of Namikango’s educational programs. Even in these far-flung villages dotting the green landscapes of Malawi’s remote districts, the mission’s name is synonymous with Bible education, a voice for unity, and an encouragement for churches. It is a humbling experience to step into that legacy, to help carry that vision forward with the DTi, and to work with my Malawian brothers and sisters as we build the Kingdom of God here in these maize-laden hills.