One of the parts of my work which I feel mostly strongly about is mentoring masters students and fourth-year bachelors students as they carry out research and writing projects (and possibly Ph.D. students in the future). The African church has many serious matters to think through, and all of my students are sorting through challenges facing their churches as they do their academic work. Let me share a little about my current research students and the significance of their areas of focus.
Rev. Bannet Muwowo is a Zambian Presbyterian pastor writing a master’s thesis that seeks to describe what the process of mature biblical interpretation should be like and what it should accomplish in Zambia today. Rev. Muwowo believes people’s poverty tends to take control of what they are able to see in the Bible; poverty drives interpretation. Rev. Muwowo suspects that believers’ self-interest might be playing a bigger role in interpretation than the Bible itself. The temptations of self-interest and self-deception need to be faced. Mature interpretation gives priority to God’s will and whatever God wishes to say to readers.
Miss Naele Mawere is dealing with how pastors in the Reformed Church of Zambia (in which she’s preparing for ordination as a fourth-year bachelors student) are being tempted to act like the pastors on Africa’s TVs and billboards, who seem constantly to tout their ability to perform miracles of healing and financial breakthroughs. She is focusing on the purpose of healing miracles in the Gospel of John. It turns out that miracles in John are all signs of Jesus’ identity that inspire faith in him. This understanding can become a way for testing whether or not miracles and ministries are genuine: are people being directed to Jesus, or toward a particular minister’s glory and wealth?
Rev. Agness Nyondo-Nyirenda, a Malawian Presbyterian pastor and fourth-year bachelors student, is writing a research paper on the meaning of “abundant life” (one of African Christianity’s most prominent phrases) in the Gospel of John. She’s thinking through the issue – controversial here – of whether preachers in her denomination should define “abundant life” according to how people in their communities define it, or if they should give first priority to what the context of John’s Gospel itself says about what “life” is. Who gets to define abundant life: African culture, the Bible, or some combination of the two?
Rev. Feston Chilumpha, who has served as a pastor in a mainly Muslim area of Malawi, is my one researcher in missiology (mission and evangelism) instead of New Testament. He is asking the question: What are the best practices for reaching Malawian Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ? He is thinking through how Christians can themselves become an inviting and loving message of good news to the Muslims around them. He hopes his research will lead to new directions for his synod’s mission outreach and that, upon finishing his degree, he can return to minister more effectively in an area with many Muslims.
I have two newer masters students who are still thinking through possible research areas…
Rev. Faresy Sakala, a Presbyterian pastor in Zimbabwe and current masters student, may write her master’s thesis on the theme of submission in 1 Peter. How should Zimbabwean Christian women receive the emphasis on submission in 1 Peter as they deal with the common reality of violence from their husbands and rampant alcoholism in the home? What does the call to submission mean for such women?
Rev. Clever Chifombo is a masters student and Reformed Church of Zimbabwe pastor who may work through the problem of why so many Christians’ marriages in his country are being torn apart by adultery, and with how many Christians act like they are enslaved to sin, even though Scripture says they have died to sin. He may study Romans 6 to understand the idea of becoming slaves to God’s righteousness instead of slaves to sin, and how this may be contextualized in Zimbabwe.
As you can see, our students are thinking seriously through what a faithful Christian life and message should be on the African continent. I’m grateful that Presbyterian World Mission and Justo Mwale University give me the opportunity to be a part of students’ growth and learning.
I look forward to receiving more students who are eager to learn and grow, and to serve the church with their knowledge and skills.