The Sherbinos in Malawi

Posted on Posted in Alumni, Features

From Joel Sherbino:

This past year I was given a year leave of absence from my congregation in Paris, Ontario to serve as overseas staff with the Presbyterian Church in Canada (International Ministries) partner Church in Malawi. This is our second time to live and work in Malawi as we previously served from 2004 to 2007.

This time around my main responsibilities are to work as the Associate Pastor at Kachere CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian), and as the Associate Prison Chaplain for Blantyre Synod.

Here are two ‘stories’ from some of the ongoing ministry…

At the church…

After a long 3 hours of church on Sunday morning beginning at 6am, it would be fair to say that we were less than excited about having yet another mini church service on Sunday afternoon. However, the church told us that they were coming as part of their ‘program’ and so we prepared for people. In typical fashion, the details were vague: the time was approximate, the numbers of people completely unknown and expectations of us were unclear!

So, we ramped ourselves up for the incoming Manse (pronounced manse-y) visit.  

sherbino malawi cottage 2Kachere, the church where I serve as an Associate Pastor, is divided into 9 districts (geographical locations).  Each Sunday afternoon these districts or ‘cottages’ as they are often referred to, meet for afternoon prayers.  Sort of like ‘small groups’ just with larger numbers of people.  They spend time singing, praying, and basically holding a mini church service, complete with teaching and formalities.  Once a month, one of these cottages holds their ‘afternoon prayers’ at the minister’s house.  Along with the prayer service, the cottage brings some food to help provide for the minister (the level of generosity of the congregation is amazing – on this visit they brought, 25 kgs of rice, 40 eggs, and 80 bottles of coke — Isaac’s eyes lit up until I told him ‘relax, they weren’t all for him!’. ) At the end of our service together we ate snacks, drank pop (we drink TONS of pop here), and spent time getting to know one another.  They had many questions: asking us what Canada is like, what church life is like – the differences and similarities, and what we think about Malawi.   

By the time they left, we had worshiped God together, learned some new things, ate snacks and had lots of laughs. We were grateful for the visit, and their efforts to encourage and meet with us, even if it wasn’t in our preferred (informal Canadian) style.

As they were leaving, I was reminded of the words in Hebrews ‘let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.’  (Heb 10:25)

To build community, it takes effort and takes time, but it is so worth it.

At the prison…

My main responsibility in working with the prisons is to provide Bible study for the inmates.  Each week I visit 4 different prisons where we (I’m joined by 2-3 volunteers as part of a ministry called ‘friends of prisons’) conduct Bible Study, one-on-one counselling, and prayer for the various needs of the inmates.  One of the obstacles for this ministry is the lack of Bibles.  Due to the generosity of Presbyterians in Canada, this past month we were able to purchase 540 Bibles,  480 Hymnals and 500 Mlozos (a Chichewa daily Bible study guide), and distribute them among 11 Prisons.

A highlight for me occurred when we decided to head out to a few more rural prisons in Malawi to see if there was a need for Bibles.  We were told that they would likely have no Bible studies in place but we figured we’d give it a try. 

Much to our amazement, when we met with the prison chaplain at Mikuyu Prison (Chaplains are government appointed guards to oversee the spiritual needs of the inmates – and some take this responsibility more seriously than others) we were ‘blown away’.  This chaplain had received previous training and had started running ‘ALPHA’ program (an evangelistic course which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions. It is described by its organisers as “an opportunity to explore the meaning of life”.) with 150 inmates involved.  Their greatest need??? Bibles! They only had 8!!! 

sherbino malawi Bible distributionWe were more than happy to help out.  We left 50 Bibles, 50 Hymnals and 50 Mlozo.  But wait, it gets better!  The chaplain told us of the neighboring prison where he had trained the chaplain so they too had started a Bible study…so off we went.

This day was yet another reminder of how God is working in the prisons and I was  thankful to have been given a glimpse.

Joel (PC Grad 2003) is joined by his wife Rebecca and their three kids Isaac, Masika and Canaan. Rebecca is partnered with the Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D) – funded work in Malawi. She supports Malawian staff already on the ground with capacity building, reporting and proposal development. Her projects include the Tidzalerana ‘Handicapped’ Club, an HIV/AIDS initiative and an all-girls Secondary School in Neno.

To follow along in some more of our adventures you can check out our blog