A Journey in Grace

Danny Shelton, Phoebe Mtambo, and Jim Gilley

Phoebe Mtambo (center) presents beautifully crafted walking sticks from Malawi to 3ABN founder, Danny Shelton (left), and 3ABN president, Jim Gilley (right). (Photo: Nicole Warren.)

One of our great joys is to meet Christians from all over the world—family members we haven’t met before. And when we met Phoebe Mtambo, from Mzuzu, Malawi, her story touched our hearts.

A Grandfather’s Influence

“I was born in Zambia while it was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland,” Phoebe begins. “It consisted of modern Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, but later these countries each declared independence. My parents were separated soon after I was born, so I was raised by my paternal grandparents in the Chitipa district, in northern Malawi.

“When the satellite technician asked if I wanted the religious channels, I said yes—and that’s how I discovered 3ABN!”

“My grandfather received the Lord from the early Pentecostal Holiness Association missionaries who came from Rhode Island. I remember him sitting down with us in the evenings to tell us Bible stories, and that’s how I became a Christian. Later, when I moved away to college, I couldn’t find a Pentecostal Holiness church, so I joined a Baptist church,” she says.

Another Missionary

After college Phoebe worked for nearly six years as a seed technologist at the Bvumbwe Research Station. There she met Dr. Rheeta Stecker, a Seventh-day Adventist missionary doctor from the United States, who shared her beliefs. However, Phoebe says she brushed them off when she discovered the church founders had believed the teachings of William Miller, an American Baptist preacher who claimed the Lord would return in 1844. “Obviously that hadn’t happened,” she says, “and I was also under the impression that Seventh-day Adventists taught salvation by works—and I knew very well that wasn’t true!” Then she quickly adds, “I’m happy to say today that Seventh-day Adventists don’t teach this at all.”

“After watching for some time, I began to see that I’d misunderstood some fundamental biblical truths.“

This Is Important

In time, Phoebe studied in the United States and received her masters at Mississippi State University. Following early retirement, she began to work for an organization based in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), that later moved to Tunisia.

“I used to watch the God Channel,” she says, “but I decided to see what else I could get, so when the satellite technician asked if I wanted the religious channels, I said yes—and that’s how I discovered 3ABN!

“After watching for some time, I began to see that I’d misunderstood some fundamental biblical truths. For example, I believed that according to Colossians 2:13–14, the Ten Commandments had been nailed to the cross, but now I discovered there were two types of commandments: the ceremonial laws which helped move the Israelites through the wilderness, and the Ten Commandments written by God’s own finger and handed down to Moses. Then when I read God’s promises in Isaiah 58:13–14, I became disturbed. It said that if I kept the Sabbath and honored God, He would bless me abundantly. I thought, I’m only worshipping on Sunday, but this is important! In obedience to God’s Word, after being saved by grace, I needed to keep the Sabbath as a remembrance—as a covenant between Him and me.”

Phoebe in her garden

“I couldn’t hide from my conviction, so I went to a friend from Malawi and said, ‘I’ve lost my peace. I go to church on Sunday, but this issue keeps popping up in my head.’ ”

“That’s happened to me, too!” her friend exclaimed. “So I’ve gone to the Seventh-day Adventist Church for the past two Sabbaths!”

“But I saw you in church on Sunday.”

“That’s because I’m going on Sabbath and Sunday!” her friend replied.

“I couldn’t hide from my conviction, so I went to a friend from Malawi and said, ‘I’ve lost my peace. I go to church on Sunday, but this issue keeps popping up in my head.’”

Unique Approach

Phoebe says she felt God had sent her friend to verify her conviction, so the following Sabbath they went to church together.

“When I presented myself in church I was warmly welcomed,” she says. “I told them I’d been studying with 3ABN for about three years, and that I’d looked into every one of their 28 fundamental beliefs to verify what I’d been hearing. Everything was in line, so in February 2008, I became a Seventh-day Adventist.

“It’s all in the approach,” she notes, “and 3ABN’s approach is unique. After I could say, ‘Yes, I receive this,’ they took me to where the Bible says, ‘Don’t eat this.’ They didn’t start out with ‘You’re eating pork, so you will not see Jesus.’ They asked, ‘Do you known this Jesus?’ Then they said, ‘Now Jesus has given us a guide—the Holy Bible.’ So I went through it all, step by step, saying, ‘Yes, that’s true!’ They allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work.

“Some of my friends advised me to keep quiet until I retired because it might harm me socially. ‘You’re so active in your church,’ they’d say, and they worried that church members might think there was something wrong with me.

“ ‘But what if I should die tomorrow?’ I’d ask.”

“Our greatest need is for a church building that can accommodate the 800 or so believers.”

A Journey in Grace

There are a great number of new Christians who have come to worship in her church, and because the existing one is very small, they’ve been forced to meet in an open-air shack instead. Phoebe says their greatest need is for a church building that can accommodate the 800 or so believers.

Since she’s been back to Malawi, she’s also been able to share her faith by volunteering to help a group of women who fetch firewood for a living—just as she did when she was young. “They are organized into two groups of 12 to see if they can start individual small businesses, and we pray before each of our meetings. This is how I participate in my community; it’s my volunteer work—and it’s also a great way to share my faith. I don’t hesitate to talk about the only hope I have—that Jesus died for me! I deserve nothing. But God, who is no respecter of persons, has been good to me. Our God is real. How do I know? Because He died for me!

“I felt a tremendous peace of mind when I began keeping the Sabbath, but from a social point of view, I struggled because I became a Seventh-day Adventist all by myself,” she confides. “My family would ask me, ‘Are you trying to abandon us?’ and I’d say, ‘No, salvation is not by family, salvation is individual. I still love you all very much, but my wish is that you will follow me.’

Open air church

“Then they’d ask ‘What kind of person are you to think you can change when you’re almost 60 years of age?’ And I thought, You know, 60 years is a long time on Earth, but a year can be like a day to God, so I’m not all that old in His eyes.

“I’m still learning. It’s a journey in His grace.”

—From the October 2011 issue of 3ABN World

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