The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), Nkhoma Synod – Malawi

The youth launching their conference in 2020 with the theme: Guard your heart and press on.

The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) originated from Scottish missions, although the Nkhoma Synod of the CCAP was born from the endeavours of pioneer missionaries from the Dutch Reformed Church in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is a rapidly growing church and is one of the biggest churches in the Reformed Church Family in Southern Africa. Apart from the Nkhoma Synod the CCAP also has two other synods in Malawi, namely the Livingstonia Synod in the north and the Blantyre Synod in the south. The CCAP Nkhoma Synod has always retained a distinct missional character, helping to establish and support other sister churches.

The country along Lake Malawi

Malawi, a largely agricultural country, borders on Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania although Lake Malawi, formerly Lake Nyasa, forms most of the country’s eastern border. The country, with more than 18 million inhabitants, is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. The capital is Lilongwe with English as the official language and Chichewa as the recognised national language.

The former British protectorate, called Nyasaland, became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. The first democratic, multiparty elections were held in 1994 after three decades of one-party rule by Pres. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. A new constitution took full effect
in 1995.

The majority of the population, 80%, associate themselves with the Christian faith while 13% associate themselves with Islam, and 4% do not belong to any religion. Approximately 63% of the population is literate.


It was thanks to the Scottish missionary Dr James Stewart from Lovedale in South-Africa that Rev. Andrew Charles Murray from the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) joined Dr Robert Laws of the Free Church of Scotland in Bandawe, Malawi in 1888. Rev. A. C. Murray was the grandson of the first Rev. Andrew Murray who came to South Africa and is the ancestor of many generations of Murrays who would contribute hugely to mission work in Malawi and other Southern African countries. In July 1889 Rev. T. C. B. Vlok joined the missionaries and they obtained permission from the benevolent Chief Chiwere of the Angoni people to work in Central Malawi. Thus, on 28 November 1889, they pitched a tent in the place where the first mission station of the Dutch Reformed Church would be built at the place known today as Mvera.

In 1892 Rev. Robert Blake joined them as a missionary and established Kongwe as the second DRC mission station. The mission action grew rapidly and in 1897 the first group of 19 believers were baptised. Among them were outstanding Christians who would serve the church eagerly, men like Simioni Gora, Dawide Tsirizani, Izake Kapologulani, and Solomon Kambere. There was also a young girl, Sara Lingodzi Nabanda, among the converts and she would act as a midwife at the mission station for many years to come.

The missionaries’ approach was comprehensive and included the proclamation of the Word, that is, evangelism (kerygma) and addressing socio-economic issues such as health and looking after orphans, education, literature classes, and also agricultural and industrial training (diakonia). Translating the Bible into Chichewa also formed part of their approach and the key person here was Dr W. H. Murray. From the beginning of the mission, the Malawian missionaries trained catechists and evangelists who then played a major role in furthering the growth of the church. The first two Malawian ministers were ordained in 1925 and they were Rev. Andreya Namkumba and Rev. Namon Katenza.

The DRC mission in Malawi also initiated three missions outside Malawi’s borders. In 1899 two missionaries and some evangelists were sent to Zambia, to begin with the mission at Magwero. The DRC of the Orange Free State would continue this work and it would lead to the development of the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ). In 1905 a delegation of Malawians who worked as migrant workers in South-Rhodesia (the Zimbabwe of today), requested a pastor for their own congregation in Salisbury (present-day Harare). Thus, in 1912, Rev. Vlok was sent to more or less 5 000 migrant workers in Zimbabwe. This would later constitute the CCAP, Harare Synod.

In 1908 Revs. A. G. Murray and W. H. Murray selected a site in Mozambique, Mphatso, to start with reformed mission work in what was then a Portuguese colony with a strong Roman Catholic influence. This mission would later grow into the Reformed Church in Mozambique or the Igreja Reformada em Moçambique (IRM).

Because of health reasons and other practicalities, the main DRC mission station was moved from Mvera to Nkhoma in 1915. Other mission stations were also gradually established and developed; eventually, there were 14 in total.

In 1924 the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) was founded as a result of the work by two Scottish missions in northern and southern Malawi. These are the current Synods of Livingstonia and Blantyre. When the church that developed from the DRC’s missionary work in the central part of Malawi joined the CCAP in 1926, it became the CCAP Presbytery of Nkhoma (later called the CCAP Nkhoma Synod). In 1956 the Salisbury church in Zimbabwe became part of the CCAP Presbytery of Nkhoma (later called the CCAP Harare Synod).

Autonomy and identity

The ideal for most DRC missions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was to plant indigenous and autonomous churches that are, churches that could govern and support themselves and that would expand on their own. With the establishment of a congregational council in 1903 and a presbytery in 1926 and finally a synod in 1956 (when the presbyteries of Nkhoma, Blantyre, and Livingstonia became regional synods of the General Synod of the CCAP), this ideal was also pursued in Malawi. The autonomy was taken further when the DRC transferred supervision and control of all church work as well as all church property to the Nkhoma Synod.

The CCAP today and its impact on communities

The church now consists of 25 presbyteries, 210 congregations, and 3,514 prayer houses. The church has more than a million members and about 200,000 catechumens that are served by more than 200 pastors.

CCAP outreaches: The CCAP congregations have a strong missional aim both within and outside their own communities. As early as in 1932 the Presbytery of Nkhoma got involved in Mozambique to follow up on DRC mission work that had to be stopped because it was banned by the Portuguese government. Over the years, contact was kept up and eventually the Igreja Reformada em Moçambique was established in 1973 from this and other missionary endeavours. Congregations like Kaning’a, Msonkhamanja, Lilongwe, and so on started sending evangelists to the Tête Province in the north-west of Mozambique and many small congregations were established. In this way, they helped to build the IRM, Mphatso Synod. More recently, church leaders from Malawi have begun supporting young teachers from IRM synods in Mozambique through a mentoring programme. The CCAP is also reaching out to Chichewa-speaking migrants in South Africa and several congregations have already been established. They also reach out to their Muslim neighbours through their Missions Department.

Medical Care: The health department of the CCAP, Nkhoma Synod consists of the Nkhoma Hospital, ten health centres, the Nkhoma Nursing College and several preventative healthcare community projects. The Nkhoma Hospital, founded in 1915 with just a few huts, is today a 220-bed general district hospital and they celebrated a hundred years’ of existence in October 2015.

Under the dedicated guidance of their previous medical director, Dr Reynier Ter Haar, significant progress has been made in terms of combatting malaria and reducing mother and child mortality.

The well-known cataract surgery that is done in the Eye Department whereby sight is restored to more than 3 000 patients per year has been started in the 1930s by Dr Renaldo Retief and later expanded by Dr Chris Blignaut.

Education: The impact of missions and the church on education in Malawi over the past one and a quarter centuries can hardly be overstated. With 1 200 outposts, many primary schools, three secondary schools and the more recent establishment of the Nkhoma University, education is high on the priority list. Early childhood development has also received attention recently and a partnership between KIX (Children in Christ) at Malingunde and the Nkhoma Synod has been established in 2010.

Agriculture: Mr Hennie Smit (now retired) played a very important role by introducing farmers to the Farming God’s Way project. A highlight was when a regional chief requested training for all his people. This method is increasingly followed by the farmers.

The strong points/unique features of this church

The CCAP Nkhoma Synod is Bible-centred and strong in church discipline. Local church members own their churches, and the majority of church members are young people. They also print most of their books and stationary they use, themselves.

 Their biggest challenges 

Leadership is the biggest challenge; failing to lead and manage congregations. There is also too much fighting for leadership. Finances, especially at the central office, is an ongoing challenge, as well as nominalism among members – some have dual membership – , and little or no attention is given to youth and children ministry by church leadership. There is also still disagreements on the role of women in church leadership.

Challenges regarding identity: Like most of the other sister churches in the Reformed Church Family in the Southern African region, the CCAP, Nkhoma Synod is also struggling to redefine and assert its (Dutch) Reformed heritage in the face of growing neo-Pentecostal and charismatic churches and even churches that preach a prosperity gospel. In the CCAP, much emphasis is placed on the spiritual training of laypersons and the mentoring of ministers.


Today there is a strong association between the CCAP, Nkhoma Synod and the rest of the DRC family, especially the DRC Family in the Cape Region. The 1962 Memorandum of Agreement was eventually replaced by the Partnership Agreement of 2003. The Witness Ministry (DRC Family Cape Region) facilitates this partnership. Through means of the agreement, staff is made available in certain key positions and other support is provided where necessary.

There is also a strong link between individual URCSA and DRC Western Cape congregations on the one hand and CCAP, Nkhoma Synod congregations on the other hand, as well as between individual church leaders. The DRC Kenridge congregation (in Bellville, Cape Town) has, for example, been working with the Josophat Mwale Theological Institute at Nkhoma for several years. They also played a supportive role when Dr Davidson Chifungo and Dr Phoebe Chifungo, his wife, completed their masters and doctoral degrees at Stellenbosch University. Many ministers from Nkhoma Synod have, in fact, been helped to complete postgraduate studies by means of the Witness Ministry (DRC Family Cape Region).

The CCAP is a shining light for the gospel in the warm heart of Africa!


Rev. Vasco Kachipapa (General Secretary: CCAP Nkhoma Synod) /