Kenya - We have only one life that we can live for him!
Walter and Christel Gschwandtner have been in Africa with DMG for 40 years. They have helped to build "Life Challenge" in the south and east of the continent, an initiative that has been training thousands of African Christians for mission among Muslims since 1976.
How did you discover your calling?
Christel realized during her theological training that God wanted her in the Islamic world. A missionary challenged the young women: "If you knew how deplorably oppressed women are in Yemen, you wouldn't be able to stand it here anymore--you would go there!" Christel was so impressed by his lecture that two years later she rejected my proposal of marriage. She assumed that I wanted to go to "savages" in New Guinea. Fortunately this was not true. After experiencing a mission assignment in North Africa, I was convinced for myself: Muslims need the Gospel! Their religion seemed to me to be like a straitjacket that constantly drives them to do good works in order to persuade God to be merciful, in the vague hope that they might make it to paradise after all.
How did your path become reality?
At that time, we were enthusiastically working in a team at the city mission in St. Gallen (Switzerland). Many young people came to faith and already after one year we sent our first missionary couple to Africa. We were moved by the situation of the Muslims. It seemed only logical to us to go to where most of these people who are trapped in this religious system live. Pakistan was especially close to our hearts, so we applied to the DMG. In 1981, after waiting in vain for Pakistan, we landed on the southern tip of Africa instead. Many things there were tailor-made for us. The day after our arrival, I was already going from door to door with local coworkers to meet Muslims. We joined an experienced team of missionaries and were able to invest ourselves in literature and training. Sometimes we almost felt guilty about living in such a beautiful place!
You trained African Christians?
The training of staff for evangelism among Muslims was already in full swing. Eight weeks after our arrival, I taught for the first time in a congregation about the view of many Muslims that the Bible was falsified. I remember how excited I was to be speaking to the people in Silvertown. When I came to the car afterwards, however, and saw that the windshield had been smashed and valuable things had been stolen, my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat.
How did your move to East Africa come about?
We had both reached the age of 40 and our three children were at an age where they could accept changes. When my mentor Gerhard Nehls asked us if we wanted to make a new start in East Africa with our partner mission SIM, we did not hesitate for a moment. In 1991 we moved to Kenya.
What was your main role there?
Again, we trained Christians how to talk to Muslims about faith in Jesus. We had an unforgettable one-week seminar in Western Kenya with a hundred participants. I was the only teacher from eight to four in the afternoon; sometimes I was so exhausted that even eating lunch required too much energy. A five-week seminar in the Kibera slum, Nairobi's largest slum, was also unforgettable: the Pastor insisted that I continue the seminar for one and a half hours on Sundays after the three-hour service. Surprisingly, it worked. Many participants visited Muslim neighbors in their mud huts in the weeks that followed. This resulted in the Chronological Bible Story Program, with which Christel reached 20 to 40 Muslim women every week for years. This in turn initiated our embroidery and sewing project, which enabled the women to keep their families afloat.
In which countries did you hold courses?
The first seminar in northern Uganda was attended by 50 members of the Anglican Church. Many of them understood for the first time that there is something more important than just faithfully going to church - namely to start following Jesus. Barnabas and Mophart are still working in the field today as leaders of a national Mission. Invitations followed to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Malawi, later West Africa, Sudan, Djibouti and recently even to the island of Madagascar. The Christians who invite us organize these seminars themselves. Missionary societies asked us to encourage their staff and provide answers to apologetic and strategic questions.
What did your training courses accomplish?
One day in our office in Nairobi I was visited by a resolute Indian who had read one of our books, "Christians Answer Muslims". He invited me to teach young theologians from all over India for three weeks in 2001 at the hottest time of the year in New Delhi. It was a very intense time. Eleven years later one of those students greeted Christel and me at Siliguri station with the words: "At first I didn't want to go to that seminar, but God called me to work among Muslims at that time". We are confident that many participants of our seminars in Africa and Asia will reach Muslims today to win them for a life with Jesus. Some of the young Christians with whom we were involved in missionary work in Cape Town are now active as missionaries themselves have learned difficult languages and serve Jesus under extreme conditions. It is worth it!
What was your most interesting literature project?
The former deputy Director of the DMG, Dr. Johannes Grüber, awakened my passion for books in 1980. He took me to a print shop for the first time, which absolutely fascinated me. Gerhard Nehls and other talented authors from all over the world wrote most of our books. My contribution was mainly in the revision, design and distribution. Once a mission asked us to distribute 200,000 eighty-page training books throughout East Africa to Madagascar through a network of partners to churches and active Christians. We could never have done this alone with our limited resources. God is truly great in bringing us together as His servants.
What were special moments in your ministry?
There were highs and lows. Particularly painful was the loss of valuable coworkers who were close to us. For example, the death of our desired successor, Henrik Niehausmeier (DMG), whom God called to Himself at the age of 39; or the painful farewell of a long-time coworker who allowed himself to be drawn in by God's adversary for his purposes. On the other hand, we are thrilled when people find freedom in Christ from the compulsion of Islam and then courageously get involved in the work themselves. When employees understand the vision, take responsibility and instruct and train others so that the network continues to expand. Christel has the unique chance to shape a whole generation of pupils and families with the Gospel through her work in the Ark School in the Kariobangi Slum - three quarters of the young people come from Muslim parents.
Are you still looking for people from Europe for "Life Challenge"?
We see no reason to disconnect Christians in Africa from the missionary heartbeat of God in Europe or America. Both Africans and Europeans have unique talents that God wants to use. Literature and media work is certainly something with which Christians from the country of the craft of printing can get involved in in Africa. Europeans are good at logistics and technology, which is also valuable. A new missionary does not have to be a hero or a superhuman because God has promised that his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). This also applies to us in retirement age: the weaker we are, the more Jesus can unfold his power through us. Simply by being there where he can play us as his instrument.
What do you wish for your possible successors?
A love for the people, for books and for our African staff.
And the DMG?
That it will stand even more resolutely behind the work of Life Challenge - even if we should no longer be there - and strengthen the hands and hearts of new missionaries and African colleagues.
A word for young Christians in Europe?
Have a vision for the world. Immerse yourself in other cultures, languages and worldviews and do short assignments in non-European countries. Ask consciously what Jesus intends with your life. We have only ONE life. Invest it in values that last. "He who knows God risks his dreams, puts his own plans at risk..."
Please pray for "Life Challenge" in Africa
Walter and Christel Gschwandtner retire soon and need suitable successor for their work in Kenya. Please pray for "Life Challenge" and its new leader.
Project number for donation: P10195 Walter and Christel Gschwandtner