by Dennis & Sheila Eaton
Dennis and Sheila are mission workers serving in Malawi in partnership with nationals.
‘The witch doctor is my only hope.’ A despairing mother held her newborn twins outside her mud hut. Her husband had deserted her. A voice interjected: ‘Don’t go! I used to visit the witch doctor – it cost me many chickens. But now I’m trusting in Jesus.’ With earnestness, the man shared his story of his encounter with the God of all hope.
It was such a joy for us and our two Malawian co-workers to hear this man speak. For years he was feared by the community; a man with a vicious temper – not a man to be crossed, nor to be met in the dark with a machete in his hand! A few months earlier, he heard God’s Word, came under conviction of sin and God wonderfully saved him. The evidence of his new life was clear to everyone. He was a changed man and keen to tell his own people, eager to now come with us on a pastoral visit. Green shoots were turning into spiritual fruit!
Some 20 years ago we met a young Malawian couple, a God-appointment for the four of us. Over the next few years, through email at 5,000 miles’ distance, it was an opportunity to disciple them from the Scriptures. Our hearts became knit together for the sake of the gospel, to reach the people of their remote poverty-stricken community for Christ. And so, 15 years ago, began a ‘working-together partnership’ with national believers, Syford and Elizabeth, when we joined them in Malawi.
Partnership Together, Oneness in Christ
The phrase ‘partnership in the gospel’ in Philippians 1:5 has an emphasis on ‘hearty cooperation in the work of the gospel’, an active participation is involved. The word ‘koinonia’ used here encompasses the two meanings of partnership and fellowship. This fellowship, of course, is foundational upon our fellowship being ‘with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ’ (1 Jn 1:3). Thus,
in any working together for the gospel, there must be fellowship of faith, love, unity and purpose for the glory of God. This foundation God had already prepared as we started in ministry together. Our learning in the school of partnership with nationals had begun.
Partnership in Servanthood
On the face of it, putting two contrasting cultures, differing social expectations and more into the mix could present huge problems. Yes, there can be dangers, so earnestly seeking God’s will, guidance and wisdom is essential. From the outset, the four of us, being convinced of God’s unique leading in bringing us together, knew that, as God’s servants, we were to be servants together for Him; each learning, sharing, caring for and encouraging each other in Christ, with the common aim to reach people for Christ and disciple them. It was through a journey of making mistakes, asking questions, making ourselves vulnerable, taking the path of humility, bearing and forbearing, that God was shaping, teaching and equipping us. Mindful that memories of colonial days linger on, we saw ourselves as servants to our national friends – ‘a servant to all’ (1 Cor. 9:19).
Partnership in Faith & Love
Without fear or suspicion, the latter being such a barrier to real Christian partnership, a mutual love for His Word, praying together, the joy of sharing Jesus with folk who have no understanding of the gospel are fundamental to being ‘co-workers for the Kingdom of God’ (Col. 4:11). Together, God led us through experiences to challenge our faith, to teach us the wonder of who He is, that we might have a faith that would not doubt Him in the things ahead.
Travelling across the bush one day, suddenly there was a loud bang, the temperature gauge shot up and steam billowed out. The fan-belt had broken and there was no spare! Some lads appeared and kindly got water from a borehole, but what then? An abandoned vehicle would be cannibalised! You can’t drive a vehicle without a fan-belt, or can you? We asked the Lord to take us home. The ignition was started. And after travelling up and down hills in the hot African sun, we arrived home with no sign of any steam, nor the gauge anywhere near the red and no fan-belt! Who can doubt such an amazing God? Together we were learning the reality of faith.
Partnership in Cultural Exchange
As we lived with our friends among the people in our village, we learned cultural differences from each other, the good and the not-so-good. It was vital that we became one with the people in understanding their thinking, their beliefs, their world view, their fears, hopes and expectations or lack of them. With the villagers watching our every move, the questions came, ‘Why do you walk side by side with your wife through the village? Has she bewitched you?’ But the day arrived when the village chief said, ‘You are one of us – you are Malawian.’
…the day arrived when the village chief said, ‘You are one of us – you are Malawian.’
Partnership in Sharing the Gospel
God, in His sovereign plan, by partnering Syford and Elizabeth with ourselves, opened up an acceptance across the bush community. Although remote groups were intrigued by us mzungus (white people), God provided the entrance into areas where people were asking, ‘Who is Jesus, we haven’t heard of Him?’ and thus granting many opportunities to share the gospel. This did away with the usual lengthy periods that mission workers can struggle with in getting to know a community and gaining acceptance.
Partnership in Blessings
Following the devastating cyclone of 2019, a destitute couple arrived in our village, their house and belongings washed away. Although we provided accommodation and food, they started stealing from us, getting drunk and causing problems. We prayed. The Lord made it clear we were to keep showing them God’s love. They came to our Bible studies and heard the gospel at our Sunday services. It was wonderful to see the transformation as God convicted them by His Holy Spirit. The stealing and the drinking stopped. Four months later, the husband testified, ‘My past life is gone…I’ve finished with that…I’m now trusting in Jesus as my Saviour.’
Partnership in Diversity
Over the years, hundreds of children have attended our weekly Children’s club, where Bible stories are told and memory verses learned, one girl reciting 40 verses straight off. The sown seed of God’s Word is bearing fruit. Some young people are now teaching the Word of God and doing pastoral visitation. Through our two preschools, currently with 115 orphans and vulnerable children, a foundation of love, food, education and Bible input has been established. The people of a remote community are now able to feed their families by producing crops and have access to clean water, as we have established farming with irrigation powered by solar pumps and a borehole for the community. The bottom- line being, always, to reach people for Christ.
Partnership in Grace
Prayer, that grace-gift, knows no cultural or physical boundaries. Our fellowship in prayer is continual, with not only people praying across the world for the work in Malawi, but also Malawians now praying, with tears, for us in the UK – so humbling! Also, through the grace-gift of generosity, God’s people have provided a resource of good Bible commentaries, giving our colleagues access to a deeper understanding of God’s Word. Learning together is partnership in action.
Partnership in All Life’s Seasons
Whether to sit beside a corpse with the sound of cultural wailing, to preach Christ to hundreds of villagers at a funeral, to comfort our colleague at the burial of his young sister, to face the threat of being stoned after challenging witchcraft practices, or have the privilege of naming our colleagues’ baby son, in it all, we partner together in Christ. Through our short, regular periods in Malawi, our partnership evidences that the ministry, under God is: Malawian-led; encourages total dependency on the Lord, not on us; enables up-to-date envisioning of believers back home; and provides regular face-to-face engagement with and encouragement to valued prayer supporters.
Partnership God’s Way?
God’s Word is clear: Jesus sent them out in twos (Lk. 10:1); Paul partnered with Barnabas and Silas. We talk of the oneness we have in Christ (Gal. 3:28), but with nationals? When queried about non-UK workers joining CIM, Hudson Taylor replied, ‘the Holy Spirit is equal even to that!’ God is not bound, not confined to strategies or well-used methods. He works in many ways. Today the need for the gospel is great. Are you open to however God might be leading you – even into unexpected ways? Our experience has brought us into blessings we never envisaged, a deeper understanding of God’s greatness, lessons that we and our national friends have learned together. We’re still learning, deepening our faith, being exposed to the wonder-working power of our miracle-working God, seeing people being born again of the Spirit of God and growing in Him. The work continues. To God be the glory.