As you would expect, we are constantly adjusting to life in the midst of Africa. Sleeping under a mosquito net, having our water for baths and the toilets delivered to us on the heads of the locals, eating the Malawian cuisine, learning the language and the customs are a daily challenge. Everyday we experience something new. Every day we face new challenges. Everyday we become more Malawian.
The people here are very warm and hospitable. They have set ways of greeting and they delight when we attempt to speak in their language, even though we often mess up. I love watching Barbara go through the congregation greeting the ladies with “Muli Bwanji.” [“How are you?”]The ladies faces light up as they respond, “Didi Bwino. Kaya inu?” [“I am fine, and you?”] She responds, “Didi Bwino. Zikomo Kwambili.” [I am fine. Thank you very much.”] It just seems so much more meaningful than, “Hey, how you doing, Dude?” “Can’t complain.”
It is also not surprising to find that their church services are quite different than ours, with innovations that I don’t think the American church would adjust to easily. A few months ago, a team from Canada built a double outhouse for the people of one of our village churches. Well, what does a church do when they have been given so needed and generous of a gift? After the service the whole congregation gathers around the toilets and dedicate them to the Lord. And, if you think about it, that is biblical. Paul does give this command: “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” [1 Corinthians 10:31] Holy crappers? Yup.
The services consist of lively singing, often with dancing and bodily movements that illustrate what they are singing about. If they are combatting the devil, they pick him up and throw him over their shoulders [See my Facebook page for a delightful video showing the church at war]. If they are affirming that Jesus is everywhere they go, they illustrate that by bending down to show he is there, reaching up with their arms to show he is there, and then turning around to show he is behind them too.
The service will also be blessed with several “specials.” These come from every quarter of the church. The youth stand up when it is their time and start some kind of beat and then they all dance to the front where they do two or three numbers. There will also be a more mature choir made up of the older ladies, who, like in America, dress alike; something equivalent to our “traditional” choir robes I imagine. But, unlike most of our choirs, they sing and dance before the Lord. You are also likely to see a men’s group and a young ladies ensemble take their turn. It is organized I am sure, but it sure looks and feels spontaneous.
There is always a lot of smiles and enthusiasm. Unlike many Americans, Sunday worship is the high point of their week. They work hard and long hours, going to the field or the market at the break of day. They struggle just to have enough food for the next day. Sunday is their day of rest. And church is their one place of hope. They deal with situations we Westerners could never imagine. So, in church they get to celebrate the One who has promised to provide their next day’s meal; One who has promised to never leave them nor forsake them, even though they are the poorest of the poor. They gobble up the teaching of the Word like they gobble up their precious nsima. The Scriptures are more precious to them than gold; sweeter than honey from the comb. [Psalm 19:1-11] The Word is their life! [Deuteronomy 32:47] The preaching of the Word delights and nourishes their souls in the same way as the nsima delights and nourishes their bodies.
Last Sunday, we traveled an hour out into the bush to the village called Sanjani. The Abusa [Pastor] is named Joshua Kololo. He reminds me a lot of my dad. He is big. He is always on the move. He loves people. They love him back. He loves Jesus. He loves his Word. He is a man of deep faith. He is not afraid to take risks, and like my dad, he would call that faith. Also, like my Pop, he is a planter of churches.
The church we visited, was planted by Kololo [first names are not used here] on December 12, 2012. Already he has sixty in attendance; has picked out three men to disciple and has chosen two of them to lead in two other “church plants” in those areas.
He went into this village knowing no one. When he told his wife that he believed God wanted him to start a church there, she responded like you would expect any wife and mother. Where will they live? Where will they get the food to survive on? Fair questions and sounding like a legitimate effort at counting the cost.
Well, Kololo went to the village and sought out the village headman [the chief]. He would need his approval to do anything in the village. Kololo shared the Gospel, led the chief and his wife to the Lord. Not only did the chief give his approval to begin a church there, he offered one of his houses for Abusa Kololo to live. It is tiny [we had our lunch in it Sunday], and the bedrooms are so small that Kololo can’t spread out to sleep at night, but the Abusa is at rest. In his words, “My heart is so happy for I get to put the Word of God on my lips and share it with my people.”
The building was basically a lean-to made out of grass and poles. One side was completely open, which provided a steady supply of fresh air and nasty flies. There were three small benches and most of the congregation sat on mats spread out on the dirt. When it rains, which it does a lot of in this place and time of the year, the water comes in. So, the Pastor told us, the people have to stand to hear the message for the floor is mud. Now, that is hunger for the Word!
During the service, Kololo asked us to pray that they would have the money to build a church of their own, which is a not so subtle plea for the American to send money. I didn’t mind. This is one ministry and one man I would not mind making an investment. Maybe the Lord is speaking to somebody out there about being the one who will help this Abusa bring the Gospel to this area. If you are, I will do all I can to see that your gift helps build this church.
I spoke from Matthew 6 and Philippians 4 on the subject of worry. I explained the difference between fear and worry. Fear has an immediate object. Worry is less specific and deals with the future. Fear may or not be good. Worry is always sin. In the middle of the sermon, we were presented with an illustration. A lizard slid into church through the side at the feet of Holly, one of our ladies from America. I had just talked about the great fear among the Malawians, black mambas. At first she thought it was a snake and she did what you normally do when you see a snake. We had a little object lesson before our eyes.
I confess I felt a little uneasy speaking on worry when these people have so many struggles just to stay alive. But, I didn’t need to be reminded that I am not the decisive factor in preaching of a sermon. Christ and his faithfulness to his Word is all that matters. He would see to it, that in ways I could not imagine, his Word would not return to him empty but would create hope in the lives of his people. After a long day of ministry we made it home, tired and ready for a nap. We also felt honored and refreshed in spirit to see the Lord build his Church in such a needy and poor place.
Please continue to pray for us as we prepare for over twenty seminar sessions which we will be providing for the leadership of the surrounding villages of Ntcheu, Malawi. You are our partners. So, with the apostle Paul we ask you to pray, “that whenever I open my mouth, words will be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…” [Ephesians 6:19]
We are grateful for your partnering with us in the ministry to these precious people. I hope this letter helps you to enjoy some of the fruits of your support and prayers on behalf of this mission.
Gary and Barb