“May those who fear you rejoice when they see me; for I have put my hope in your word.” [Psalm 119:74]
When I left the pastorate, I prayed for three things: That the Lord would provide opportunity for ministry around the world; that He would provide the funds necessary for that ministry; and finally, where ever He would send me I would find people waiting and hungry for His Word. He has graciously answered all three. In my trips to Malawi, I have always found a hunger for the hope-giving truth that is only found in God’s Word. They were willing to get up early in the morning, work in the fields, walk to the market, and then walk miles to one of our seminars. It is very humbling!
That is why I chose Psalm 119:74 as my personal prayer for 2013. I desire that when men and women see me coming they will rejoice because they are so hungry to know Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, I want them to see that I am one who loves God’s Word and have the God-given ability to make His words plain to them so that it comes alive in their souls. Please continue to pray that the Lord will answer that prayer. Pray that His Spirit will give me an ability to break the bread of life into pieces small enough for my Malawian friends to eat and digest- to the glory of God.
We have experienced so much in the last two weeks. It has stretched us and blessed us. The trip from San Diego to Lilongwe really beat us up. Both of us were fighting congestion problems upon arrival. But, we had planned for such a thing and spent three days in the capital regaining our strength. While there, we worked our way through the helter-skelter traffic and managed to find most of the staples we would need to get the house ready for the missions team.
We have now settled into our Ntcheu home. It was hard at first, not having the Burns family here to greet us. The house seemed too quiet. But, with the coming of Sarah Parlee and Holly Moir, our missionary partners, things have livened up. Both young ladies love the Lord and are fearless and boundless in their energy for him. They have already slipped and sludged through rain and mud of the wet season, walking miles off the “tar road” to get to the village feeding programs. Both girls are a great encouragement and inspiration not only to the Malawian people, but also to these old folks.
One of the biggest challenges we face is adjusting to the culture. Getting into the car and finding that someone has stolen the steering wheel and pedals was a shock, but I managed to get to the driver’s side of the car before somebody saw me. Then, there was the embarrassing moment of getting caught in a speed trap. It was embarrassing because my wife and Nelson Reed [Action’s International Director] were in the car with me. Nelson, being the sensitive person that he is, took a picture of the transaction unbeknownst to me. It is now a documented matter of history. My last living aunt, Marge, commented when she heard the news of my ticket: “Shame on you Gary! What would your father think of you?” I confess, even at 69 years of age, that is a question I often ask myself.
The Malawians are a very warm and gracious people. Conversations always begin with, “Muli Bwangi”- “How are you?” and the response, “Didi, Bwino.” “I am good.” “Kaya inu?” “And [how are] You?” Inquiries are also made as to the health of the family and the home. Then, the conversations begin. It is almost always the same. The Malawians insist that you get this greeting down and love it when you try, however wrongly, to speak their native tongue, chechewa.
Of course, there are always funny moments along the way. The other day one of the ladies of the village greeted Sarah with “You are fat. Very fat.” To them it was a compliment. It meant healthy. Husbands, don’t go there! While beginning our sermon last Sunday, I mentioned that Malawi is one of my most favorite places on the earth; [translation] and, Kalanzi was one of my favorite churches on earth [translation]; and then I put my hands on Pastor Chatepa’s shoulder [my interpreter] and said, “Your pastor, Richard Chatepa, is one of my favorite pastors on earth.” Chatepa, hesitated, smiled and looked at me and said, “They don’t know my [first] name.” I laughed and he laughed, and I said, “Then, lets not tell them.” He did anyway.
Later, he explained to me the custom. The first name is never used. So, my pastor friends are known as Abusa Chatepa, Abusa Kololo and Abusa Phiri. I explained to him that in our culture the first name is used usually between good friends. I used it because I considered him a good friend. He said he liked that tradition.
One of the high points of our week is the visit to the feeding programs. The program feeds over one hundred orphans and widows at eleven different sites three times a week for three months. This is a time where the supplies of food dwindle before the time of the new harvest, so the most vulnerable are in danger. This ministry by Action Malawi is designed to give a healthy meal to each participant that is not available even during the harvest times for such as these.
I wish you could visit the village with us and see the excitement and life that is in these precious children. Malawians always have a program. Before the food is distributed the children are given a Bible lesson. Then, they sing and dance, providing us with great joy. It always chokes us up to see children with so little, undernourished, caked with mud, barefooted and wearing rags, with such huge smiles on their faces, singing songs of praise to Jesus. What a privilege it is to be one of those disciples who get to share the love and compassion that Jesus has for them in such a practical way. Please don’t miss what I think is obvious: You are with us. Your prayers and your giving make it possible. I just pray that somehow we can share with you some of the joy that is ours by being here.
In the days ahead we will be planning Bible training seminars for the local leadership. In the past we have had several hundred gather with us around the Word of God. During our last visit we went through the first three chapters of Ephesians. This time we will take them through the very practical last three chapters of this awesome epistle. Please continue to pray for us as we bring the hope of God’s Word to these precious people.
We are committed to keeping you informed of our adventure and how you can pray specifically for us. For those of you who are on Facebook, we have included videos and pictures of the church services for your enjoyment. We will also attempt to get new pictures on our website, www.givemethatbook.com. Check it out when you can.
Before I finish this first edition, let me say with all my heart, “Zikomo Kwambiri.” [Thank you very much!] Your friendship and prayers keep us going with great joy. Be sure of this one thing: “Mulungu ndi wa bwino nthawi zonse” God is good all the time!
May God bless you real good!
Gary and Barb