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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Connections: Lazarus Chakwera

Looking Into the Mirror

After OneHope conducted its “Spiritual State of the World’s Children” research project in 2007 in Malawi, the country’s Christian leaders were shocked to see how secularized the worldview of the next generation in their nation really was. Rob Hoskins, president of OneHope, talked with Pastor Lazarus Chakwera (Assemblies of God Malawi general superintendent, president of Africa Assemblies of God, and president of the Evangelical Alliance of Malawi) at the 2010 Lausanne Conference to discover how the church reacted and what is being done to reach out to the children and youth.

evangel: You were surprised by the research findings that showed the next generation in Malawi has a limited understanding of Christianity. Why was this so shocking?
Malawi has had Christianity for 150 years. We trace Christianity in our country back to the arrival of David Livingstone. Yet when our boys and girls answered questions about their faith, the answers were, quite frankly, uninformed, incorrect and contradictory. If you had asked any pastor in Malawi about the issue of homosexuality, for instance, they would have said it is not even an issue — everyone in Malawi understands that homosexual acts are sinful. Yet the research showed that 30 percent of Malawi’s young people approve same-sex marriage. We never saw this coming.

evangel: What were the other most shocking results?
CHAKWERA: Well, 92 percent of the respondents said that a close relationship with God is important to their future, but at the same time, 90 percent said they don’t believe God exists. And 92 percent said they believed in the virgin birth of Christ, but at the same time, 83 percent said Jesus was not a real person. Additionally, 84 percent said forgiveness of sins is only possible through faith in Christ, while at the same time, 75 percent said all religions pray to the same God — and 42 percent said other religious practices are helpful.

evangel: How did you find out about the results?
The results were revealed in a meeting of Assemblies of God pastors and other pastors and church leaders. None of us had dreamed that our nation’s children were that out of touch with the foundations of the faith. How could we, as the spiritual leaders of the nation, not be shocked by the fact our children apparently believe in so many mutually exclusive premises? It can’t be true that Christ is the only way to salvation and that all religions pray to the same God, but the majority of our students believe both statements. The research showed how in many ways we in the church were simply out of touch with what our nation’s children think, feel and experience.

evangel: What was the response among the pastors and church leaders?
CHAKWERA: In my country, we have a story about a man lost in the jungle with no real idea which way is north or south, east or west. He goes around in circles for days; the foliage is so thick he doesn’t even know which way the sun is coming up until it has appeared over the treetops.

As he thrashes blindly on, he finds on the ground a little looking glass, a mirror, and he holds it up to look into it. His beard is outgrown. His face is haggard. His eyes, bloodshot. Disgusted by what he sees, he flings the mirror on the ground and stomps on it. But the mirror wasn’t the problem; the problem was the man the mirror reflected.

When the pastors and church leaders of Malawi examined the results of OneHope’s research on our next generation, we were looking into the mirror, and we didn’t like what we saw. We were distressed by the ugliness we saw in the mirror, but determined to fix the problem rather than break the mirror. Thank God, OneHope was there to help.

evangel: Tell us how OneHope has helped.
CHAKWERA: Because of the rich history of Christianity in Africa, Malawi has a significant infrastructure to present the Word of God to children and youth in the schools. Scripture Union, for instance, is a venerable ministry to children in the schools. The problem is a lack of available resources to place in the children’s hands, to help disciple and build a biblical worldview within their hearts.

But OneHope conducted the research and proceeded with the development of Scripture-engagement tools that can be given to children and youth. These are relevant resources that appeal to the heartfelt needs of the young people and clearly convey the truth of the Scriptures and their application to real life.

By God’s grace, the collaboration between OneHope, the local church, and ministries like Scripture Union is impacting Malawi’s next generation in remarkable ways. The research has helped show where the disconnect is between the church and the children and how we can address it in an effective way, with God’s Word.

evangel: How do you and other Christian leaders plan to engage the next generation with the truth of Scripture?
CHAKWERA: I believe as we continue using the Book of Hope, The GodMan film and other Scripture-engagement tools that target the important biblical messages our young people desperately need, we can change the direction and destiny of our nation by transforming the beliefs, attitudes and actions of our children.

In Malawi, as in every nation, parents and siblings are the ones who primarily shape a child’s moral and spiritual beliefs, which in turn form the child’s actions. Sadly, AIDS has left too many children with no parents, and extended family structure is overtaxed and failing to meet the needs.

This is the moment for churches and ministries to take up the slack, to build that biblical worldview in the children. I truly believe Malawi’s hope for a better future lies in engaging children at younger and younger ages with the Bible, which is something OneHope enables us to do.


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