In the fifteenth episode of Inspiring Stewards, Nathan Jones speaks with John Msowoya from Malawi. John talks about his childhood and how it led him to focus on ministry with children. He shares how God has called him to co-found STUM (Sunday School Teachers United Movement), which spreads a vision known widely as Palmful of Maize (POM) that teaches the children in Malawi to have a mindset change, to shift from receiving to giving God what they have. He celebrates the collaboration between STUM, GTP, and GenerousChurch, who together aim to take POM to the rest of Malawi, throughout Africa, and to the whole world. He concludes with a challenge for everyone to grow children who serve God and bless their church and community.
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The music is Concerto a’ 4 Violini No 2 by Telemann played on classical guitar by Jon Sayles. Published by Exzel Music Publishing.
Many of you have had the chance to see the recently released video highlighting the impact of Palmful of Maize. Well, today we are blessed to bring you an interview with Reverend Bishop John Msowoya, the country director of Palmful of Maize in Malawi, Africa. I know you will be inspired by the time I was blessed to share with this dear brother.
Once again, my name is Nathan Jones and I want to thank you for joining me on this episode 15 of the Inspiring Stewards podcast.
Well, John, thank you, again for taking time to be with me. I am so glad to jump into your story and hear about all the work that you are involved in. But give us some background on your life. Where are you from? Tell us about your family growing up.
I’m John Msowoya. I can say that I’m the first-born son of Dr. Simon Msowoya, who is the founder of the church called Christian Love. He is also the president of the church itself. We are originally from Karonga, part of north of Malawi. Born in Karonga, yes, but grown up in the city of Mzuzu, the only city in the northern region that we have here in Malawi.
I have grown up there, became the leader of STUM, a co-founder with a co-founder, Jim Young who was a missionary in Malawi from 2003 up to 2017-18. He stayed here for 17 years, then he went back to New Zealand. He left me back home, doing the work, continuing doing the work up to today.
So, that’s my background. Originally from Malawi, grown up in a Christianity community because of my daddy being a pastor, pastoring churches, leading the ministry with that passion of doing the work of God.
How, in that growing up in a home with a pastor for a father, how did you come to a personal relationship with Jesus?
It was something that on my childhood growing up, it was something that was somehow not so hard. It became hard because it was like, I started staying with my dad when I was around 12, if not 13. It’s like, I’ve been with my grandma, my grandfather in my childhood. Been raised up with my grandmothers because it was like I was born when they were at school. So, I had a chance to be brought up with my grandmothers.
So, when the time came that I got born again and started the ministry, I joined the family. But it was so tough because it’s like, I was also growing up with the late stepmother, such kind of a life. It didn’t go well with me when I reached some teenage years. I was like so involved, I joined bad company.
Then, around 20-21, it’s when I got born again. By then, I remember properly and I made my decision. It was in 2001. I said, “No, I can’t go on with this thing.” Somebody who already knows the word of God, grown up in a Christian family – to make that decision, it wasn’t hard. I was in a conference, youth conference, where I heard somebody preaching. Right away there, I made a decision: no, I can’t continue living the way I’m living.
From there, I have been somebody who has been in the church, helping here and there, supporting my dad until the time when I became a pastor myself, pastoring a church. I remember my first experience of having a church, planting a church in the district called Kasungu. That’s where I got a lot of experience on how to go on with the church planting. That’s a bit of how I have gone through with my growing up.
Wow. So that was a critical time in your life. What a powerful story. So, that changed the trajectory of your life. What impact did that have in your life at that critical age in your early twenties? What did you start to notice about your life?
It helped me that I should know what is real life, of what I’ve gone through in my childhood, and also on my youth time when I turned to Christ. It was so good that I experienced some of the stuff that the youth they go through. Then later on, it helped me when I became a born again that I can also approach and assist my fellow youths who have indulged themselves into malpractices that I’ve been practicing. It really helped me. You know, experience helps a lot. When you have experience on something, you handle issues, you handle people in a good manner.
So, with my growing up in my father’s family being a pastor, I was like somebody who had the Word of God with me. But it was an issue that maybe now it became a time that maybe I can utilize what I’ve been taught when I was growing up as young person in the family, which is a Christian family. So, my father being pastor, it has really helped me. He has contributed to my life.
Also, at the same time, my lifestyle, the way it has been, it has also contributed for me to penetrate properly. But the other thing which I have learnt also – myself being somebody who has grown up with stepmothers – it has taught me. And my spirit and mission has been so committed onto children’s work. Because I look onto some children who are going through such kind of a time that I went through: stepmother, step grandmothers, all such kind of stuff that I’ve gone through. They have taught me that I have to put a heart on the children who are really struggling in life. That’s why the whole life of mine, although I am a pastor, but I have committed myself into children’s work.
That’s wonderful. Let’s jump ahead to today. Tell us about how the Lord has you involved in specifically this work of Palmful of Maize. So, many of those listening have seen the video. Some have not. So, give us an overview of that vision and your leadership in Malawi.
The Palmful of Maize, we call it a vision. Others they say project, but to us, we call it a vison because a vision is something which is stays until, until. But a project has got a limited time of running. So, because of that, it’s something – which to me when I look on the ground, how things are happening back in Malawi, as somebody who has been doing the children work with the Sunday School Teachers United Movement (STUM), with the structure which we have on the ground, with the connection that we have is everything, with the Sunday school teachers and children, churches, traditional authorities that we were involved in in our country – it was something that when it came…
I was debating with Gary, I remember that day. It was looking so tough that this thing can’t be implemented. Because one challenge which was there was that, will really people give? Because it is like, people that are more into receiving than giving. So, when we were debating with Gary that we should go, we should start this thing, we should start this initiative, it was somehow debatable in my head because I could see challenges on the ground. I don’t think people can give because they are waiting for us to give to them.
Later on, I said, “God, let’s keep a trial onto this thing.” Because I was looking onto mindset change of people. That if people they can start giving, it means the mindset change is done. Then later on, we had to push for it. I called for my district coordinators in the central region and in the northern region. I met them for the first meeting. I challenged Gary that I have to meet these people and challenge them. I saw a good welcome onto it. Some challenges were there a bit, but mostly I saw people say, “With our structure of STUM, we can do it. Tell GTP, tell Gary that this thing is possible.” That gave me courage.
I said, the first thing now is to engage ourselves into a movement of training people into the Palmful of Maize but teaching them on mindset change. Then, Gary gave me some clip from India. After that clip, he said we can come in with some training. When he came with the trainers, I said, the training is good. If we take this material done, I think this will add something on it. After having a training with GTP and GenerousChurch, after that having that one, we tried in Salima. The people received with that joy, and they were so excited that this thing is possible.
So, people were like, “Only a palm? We can manage it. It’s possible.” So, we did some training. But I was so like so touched when I saw that children, they were saying that it is possible. They were contributing. They have been contributing this year. I saw Sunday teachers doing the same. I saw even traditional authorities. You know, this is Africa. People respect the traditional authorities. If you are doing something and traditional authorities they are into it, it means you have made an impact. It is not an easy thing. So, the Palmful of Maize is something which we are committed to only into 12 districts. But it has been something that is so motivating, and people, they are looking onto it, that we can do better than the way we have done this year.
So, as you’ve observed this rolling out across the country and as you mentioned in India was part of the inspiration, what transformation has to happen in somebody’s heart to move from being receiving-focused to being giving-focused?
The first thing there, I can talk about mindset change. If somebody turned from receiving into giving, it means that person has really understand. There is a transformation that has taken place in his heart. After receiving some teaching that we have taught them, after hearing some stories that we have done in other districts, you could see somebody testifying himself that, “No, I am changed person.”
Even traditional authorities themselves, pastors themselves saying, “No, this is not only helping children. It is also helping us. I was doing so, so, so. I was not a good giver but now I am somebody who I’m geared to give more than what I can give. Because it’s like not about giving a lot, but it’s about giving what I have.”
We have seen that churches, they are testifying that the children and some parents who are involved into this, they are into giving now. It means their spirituality is really dealt in a different way in terms of giving. We have touched the part of giving onto them.
Some, they have joined some churches. We have those testimonies. Some have joined churches after seeing their children, even themselves, giving towards the church. Learning those lessons, they say, “No, I have to start penetrating, doing the church’s work.”
And the other thing that it has brought a thinking of mindset change of bringing people together, that they can do things together. They can also do without maybe donation from overseas. This is what I always say. The Palmful of Maize is a vision, which we want to set a model of other countries or other NGOs. We can implement such kind of a vision, which other countries and other organizations can see that we can manage to do a project with a vision within our country and have some resources and fund itself within the nation locally than depending from overseas.
You see that people, they are eager to say that, “We can do this without depending from somewhere. We can do ourselves by contributing what we have. We can do some other things, like maybe we set up a good example of saying that help supporting the government hospitals. They are struggling in terms of beds, mattress, food stuff. You see, we have a number of maize.”
I heard another district was saying that, “Our maize that we have over fifty something bags, we are going to donate to the government hospital because they are struggling with food that side.” Such kind of things. You see that the community, not only the individual, but the community is becoming knowing that they have got responsibilities to support government in terms of development. They’ve got responsibility to do something that the government is doing to support in another angle. So, it’s not only about Christian perspective but this is the holistic way, the way we have done it.
What a beautiful picture of how the church can bless a community as living out that abundant view of God and asking themselves, “What do we have that we can steward?” So, thinking of that idea of stewardship… you know, it’s obvious with Palmful of Maize the role that stewardship plays, but what – given that this is the Inspiring Stewards podcast – John, what additional thoughts would you share on how this concept of stewardship is informing your life and what you’re seeing?
Up today, I am somebody who thinks that I haven’t done much yet on the stewardship. Because when I look onto the challenges that the world is going through, the failure maybe on the body of Christ to reach, totally reach the children in terms of like a holistically biblical approach transformation, most of the Christian set up or maybe the kingdom of God in our churches whatsoever, we are not into children’s work. We are not so serious into children’s work.
Because my understanding is that, when the Israelites were going to Canaan, it was an issue that God was dealing with a generation. When you read from Genesis going up, you see that God was so focused onto generations. It’s like, if you want to change, our thinking has to be that principle of the Bible that we have to look focused and look onto young generation. If we look on the generation and transform the generation, things will change.
But this world nowadays is so serious onto youth, is so serious onto women. So, the most focused area where I look on to, that we can focus onto so seriously and commit ourselves so seriously, that I desire to commit myself so seriously onto it on stewardship and whatsoever, is onto children’s work. Because I really feel that the world, myself, the church has not committed itself so seriously onto children’s focus. But if you compare with the youth and the women or elderly people, you see that the Christian values are not really given properly to our children. So, that’s how I look onto it.
That’s amazing to think about our stewardship of the next generation. I think about my own children and how we are trying to encourage and inspire and teach them about living for something other than themselves and how critical that is.
So, John, as we are getting towards the end of our time, I’d love to hear you just share how you’re seeing God at work. Obviously, there are some very tangible ways that you’ve shared but anything else you would add about how you’re seeing God at work in the world around you?
I would start by saying that God called me and commissioned me through STUM to change the world with His Word. And I am confident that children are the only hope that can bring change in the world whether locally, whether worldwide. I believe, as somebody who has been to children’s work, that children can bring change into the world. If we can invest, concentrate, put much effort onto children’s work, the world will change whether in a church set up, whether in a community set up.
Somebody said, to raise up a child, it takes family, community, church. These are the main, key player parts that really contribute to the growth of a child. That child is behaving well, you check on these three angles, whether family or church or community where he has grown up.
If we have people who are failing to handle themselves properly, whether in the offices, whether the issue of corruption, people have got wars, fighting in different countries whatsoever, you need a background. In most things, you look on the community, the church, or maybe the family where that person is coming from. That also matters most when we are looking onto how the world can change or how we can change our community. The real focus has to be on children.
What a great observation and hopeful perspective on the future. John, as we wrap up, any final thoughts you would leave us with today?
First of all, I want to appreciate the heart and the trust that GTP has entrusted STUM and myself as I’m leading STUM. That we can do together as STUM and Global Trust Partners in collaboration and implement this thing on the ground. Because the issue is, according to the Palmful of Maize, we are not looking only on Malawi. We are also looking into neighboring countries.
Our main target is that 80% of the maize has to stay in particular district, help the needy. Also at the same time, the same 80% has to help maybe in government development. Children should learn to contribute toward the development of the government, at the same time, learn to help others who are in need.
But the 20%, our focus is into two because that one is divided into two. The 10% is focused onto missions. We want to see other African countries doing what we are doing in Malawi. Because if it is possible in Malawi, it will be possible also in other countries because Africa countries, we are so similar in the ways things are, culture, and other things, the way we do things. The 10% is totally kept for mission that we can go into other countries. The local money found from Malawi going to the other countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe to support them so that they should start this initiative, this vison in their countries.
The other 10% will go maybe as part of our administration because we are also looking onto that, that this vision being added on. To roll on a vision, it can take maybe like a year to 5 years or 7 years for it to be well established. So, you’ll see that our focus is something that we really want to see this thing impacting the whole world, also impacting our local community within Malawi.
But for us to reach where we are, for us to do what we are talking about, that’s where now our appreciation comes in. I see the commitment of GTP and GenerousChurch with STUM together, we are forging ahead. We are doing something that really tomorrow we’ll say that we have done something in the body of Christ.
I have also learnt that, with several projects and vision that we have been doing in our organization, the challenge comes on when it comes on the implementer and somebody who gives you a hand. Because an implementer is like STUM here, as we are talking on the Palmful of Maize. GTP and GenerousChurch, they are coming and giving a hand towards what STUM is implementing on the ground. If these two key players they understand each other, they do a lot in the kingdom of God. And the fruits of what they are doing, they are circulating to the community and the world because of such kind of complimenting each other.
Usually, this here, that’s where the people fail to establish or implement things on the ground. So, with GTP, GeneousChurch, and STUM, the way things are going, we really see Palmful of Maize really being accomplished properly in all parts of Malawi, easily going to other countries where the Palmful of Maize has to go.
That’s tremendous. What a wonderful thing to be able to tap into that network, which was another thing that you have that you’re able to just hold with an open hand and steward for this vision.
So, what a wonderful conversation, John. Thank you again for your time and being with us today.
Thanks a lot.