“Jesus replied, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 9:62)
It is such a privilege for me to be here in Malawi. Sure, I miss the water running all the time, the electricity being on all the time and the internet working all the time. I miss the football games and the basketball games and Rubios and Wendy’s and even MacDonalds, in my weaker moments. I miss ice cream and pizza and tacos and mosquito-free-nights, mud-free roads and allergy free days. I miss my family and my friends and my church and my California size bed. But, I don’t miss any of those things enough- to miss this!
Yesterday I visited one of our feeding programs. I arrived just before the food was distributed. The leader took me out to where the children had gathered under a tree. First, they sang a song for me. That is always a delight. Then, they quoted their memory verses for me. That was even a bigger delight. One little girl, I would guess to be about 8 or 9, raised her hand and stood. She quoted Psalm 119:105. The leader said to me, “She is blind, but she can still memorize Scripture.” Ah, the greatest delight!
When it came time to eat, the children went back into the church building. The blind child stood and waited. One of the children went over to her, took her hand, and led her into the church. That was repeated over and over. When she received her food, she took the plate and waited patiently until somebody would lead her. As I watched her, I thought about the kind of life she lived, what was going on in her head, what it meant to be cut off from light, always waiting to be led. But, she seemed fine with it. It was what her life was. She seemed very contented and happy. When she quoted her Scripture she had a big smile on her face. I said a prayer for her and I marveled at the grace of God and the privilege I had to be there to see this little miracle.
In the back of the sanctuary sat about ten widows. I would guess they were in their 70s and 80s, but they looked older. They were being taught a Bible lesson before being fed. I thought they were a little intimidated to see the big azungu walking toward them. So, I just sat down and listened for a while to the lesson I could not understand. It was in Chichewa.
Suddenly, one of the agogos (grandmas) struggled to get up. She carefully inched her way past the other ladies and came before me. She bowed her head, slowly kneeled down on the cement floor, looked up and took me by the hand, and with a smile, welcomed me into her village. How special and humbling is that? What a privilege!
When it came time for them to be fed, they made their way up the aisle and out the door to the feeding place. I watched them move. Each small step was thought out and planned so that they would not fall. I wondered why their food was not brought to them. Then I thought, “They don’t even think about that. Their life is hard, unbelievably hard to us, but it is their life. They just do what they have to do without complaint.” What a privilege!
I moved over to stand by the door. I watched them graciously receive their food and then make they way back to the door of the church. When one very feeble lady reached the door, she hesitated. She knew she could not make the step up into the building while holding her plate. So she put the plate down, took hold of the sides of the door and hoisted herself up. As she raised herself she looked up at me with a smile. It was almost as if she was apologizing for her inadequacy. She pointed to her legs and explained that they were too weak. Again, there was no complaint. “This is her life.” I thought, “How precious. We have everything. She has nothing. But, what a peaceful and grateful spirit.” What a privilege!
Now, hear my confession. Sometimes I feel homesick. Sometimes I look back. In the black of night I have sometimes pondered our decision to make Africa our home. Not all of those thoughts have been faith-filled. I am no super hero. I am a normal American who is used to a self-centered, risk-free, comfortable and affluent lifestyle. I don’t like snakes or spiders or dirt. I love air-conditioning and quilt-top beds. I don’t like the thought that I could contract malaria or typhoid or hepatitis. I am reminded daily that I am an old man and my days are short. Time is precious. Laugh if you will, but I have even had moments when I had tinges of fear at the thought of dying in Africa.
But, in those moments, I have learned that what I need is to hear a sermon. I do what the psalmist did in Psalm 42:5. I preach to myself.
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
The modern day application of that sermon goes like this:
“Gary, get a grip! There is something you should fear far more than dying in the bush in Malawi. You should be scared spit-less about the possibility of dying on a golf course in California! Why would you want to spend your last days on earth playing golf when you can follow your Savior to the ends of the earth? Why would you settle for a safe and secure retirement in America when you can participate in the greatest and most rewarding adventure known to man, in Africa? Why would you settle for lowering your handicap on the golf course, when you can rejoice lifting up those that are struggling with handicaps in the villages?”
Every time I go to the village; every time I visit a feeding program; every time I hear the children sing; every time I see the children fed; every time I hear the children quote Scripture; every time I see the blind girl helped; every time I see the widows smile; I rejoice at the sheer privilege that is mine. I don’t have to be here. I get to. I have the greatest privilege in the world. I get to be used by Jesus. I get to share his love with some of the most needy people on the planet. For my strength I get to hope in God. And, in the those moments, when I get to see his grace is so evident upon these precious lives, I get to “praise him, my Savior and my God.” Why would I look back? What a privilege!