Around 120 children are squatting on the floor, under the shade of a canopy outside a church. They sit within half-built walls of a room that’s taking shape, and the bricks wobble dangerously. There are no pictures, no chairs, no colouring pens, and just a handful of Bibles.
This is the Manje Assemblies of God Sunday school in Blantyre, Malawi, and the morning session is in full swing. Sunday school teacher, 54-year-old Moses Sonani, is a bundle of energy and movement, leaping about between the children and leading them in lively memory verse chants and actions. It’s heaps of fun – but Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it’s clear the children lack so many things.
“These children have no toys to play with. We have no building; the children sit on the floor and get dusty and dirty,” Moses told us. “We received the box of Bibles from Bible Society last year, and these were the first resources we have ever had. But we need around 200 more Bibles for all the children to have one.”
Just pause here for a moment. Picture your own church Sunday school. Your resources, your crafts, your many, many books. Imagine having 200 children in your church who didn’t even have a Bible.
We’re here to distribute another two boxes of children’s Bibles among the young people. Each Bible costs £5 – an unthinkable amount of money for these villagers, where monthly salaries can be as low as £25 – but they’re provided free, thanks to the generous donations from Bible Society supporters in the UK.
The simple act of providing these books can have a dramatic impact.
Last year, after the church received Bibles, the number of children attending sessions grew from around 80 to 250.
“These Bibles are easier to understand,”
“so children can memorise and retell the stories. The children are growing spiritually, and the Bibles help us to nurture them into good, faithful Christians.”
As boxes of Bibles are brought forward, the children shuffle sideways to create a path, and come up one by one to receive their copy. Joseph Khondowe, from our team in Malawi, hands out the books and encourages each child to read from Scripture every day. The atmosphere is reverent and still. Children who have received Bibles flick through the pages as soon as they’re sitting back down.
Twelve-year-old Gift, who supports Manchester City and wants to be a pilot, said afterwards:
“I want to know God better and more, and I want to be saved. God is the One who created me and helps me, and that’s why I want to know Him through this Bible.”
Around 90 Bibles are distributed in total, but still there are children who go home empty-handed.
Sadly, that’s the picture across Malawi. The Bible Society team hand out around 3,000 children’s Bibles a year, but could provide 10 times that number if they had the funds to do so. They tell us about one occasion when they turned up to a church with 120 Bibles – thinking that would be plenty – only to find 750 children in the Sunday school.
Joseph, who has helped to distribute children’s Bibles since 2015, said: “This project could change Malawi. People will get to know God through these Bibles; there will be more children in churches, and their Bible knowledge will be deeper.
“In the next 10 to 20 years, this generation will have grown up and will follow God – not just in church but in all of their lives. It will change the country. Malawi will not be the same.”
Wanga, aged 14, has been going to church all his life, but he never really understood God’s Word until a delivery of children’s Bibles arrived last year. Now, he says, the simple language and pictures bring the stories to life – and his faith is growing.
Since he received a Bible, Wanga has even preached to the congregation of 400 people at his church in a Malawi township.
“The Bible teaches us to obey our elders and to be honest and active in church,” he added. “Having a better understanding gave me confidence to preach to the whole congregation, and I help lead Sunday school now. I’m inspired that Jesus began teaching when He was just 12.”
Wanga’s dad, Peter, has also noticed the change in his son. He said:
“Wanga’s conduct has improved. He always reminds us to pray at mealtimes. He is learning and changing, and it’s making a difference in our family.”
To find out more about Bible Society’s work in Malawi, or to support this work, please visit biblesociety.org.uk.
Photo credit: Layton Thompson