As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
The trip to Malawi was a pleasant and awesome surprise. We learned of Chet and Leanne Burns’ invitation to minister in Malawi after we arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. We were told that there was a great need for solid biblical teaching there. We were also informed that Malawi was more rural and dependent upon farming than her Zambian neighbor. Her people had not been forced to gather in the big city in search of work and food. They were content to stay in their local villages and live off the rich farmlands that blessed the Malawi landscape. Consequently, Malawians are not as influenced by the ways of the West as the Zambians. As we prepared ourselves for the trip, I personally wondered if their lack of education and our ignorance of their culture might be too great of an obstacle for our teaching to be understood and applied.
What I failed to consider was the awesome power of God’s Word to accomplish what He desires, regardless of the cultural or communication barriers it encounters. We simply had to sow the seed. He would take that seed and grow it. He would break it into life-giving pieces of bread that these men and women could chew on and digest, to the satisfaction of their souls and the praise of His name.
Certainly, sin and its consequences are not restricted to any one culture. It deceives, divides and destroys in every nation. So, when I began to share God’s principles concerning forgiveness, they looked like they were with me. It may be a simple and traditional lifestyle, but the ravages of evil and abuse have brought great pain upon these people, just as surely as it has in the great cities on this earth.
We began by explaining that forgiveness is commanded by God. Paul wrote, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” [Eph 4:32] I explained that forgiveness means giving our enemy what he needs, not what he deserves. That is what Jesus did for us. [Romans 5:6-10]. I tried to show them that no matter what someone has done to us, to fail to forgive is to be ungrateful. We become like the wicked servant, who after being forgiven a debt so large that he could not pay it, goes out and demands payment from one who owes a pittance by comparison. [Mathew 18:21-35]
How would these Malawians respond to such a radical teaching? At the end of our session, one of the wives stood up, and with tears in her eyes, shared with us what God had said to her through his Word. She said that she realized that she had forgiven her husband for his affair with another woman. [Infidelity is common. The men are expected to be unfaithful.] But, now, God was telling her she must forgive the other woman as well. Wow! She got it! The Word of God did not return empty.
Then, we began to teach on marriage. You have got to know that in Malawi, the men pretty much rule. The women have little to say. That is the way tradition works. I began to show from Genesis and Ephesians, that both the wife and the husband are made in the image of God, with equal value. More than that, marriage was designed by God to be a witness of Christ’s love for the church. Although men are designed by God to be the spiritual head of their families, he is to lead with loving service. The most important thing a man does is to love his wife as Christ did the church.
I tried to show them that the husband, as head, is to be the primary provider and protector of his wife. In other words, he is to do all he can to see her grow in beauty and delight. Then I received an interesting question. I was asked what he should do if he tries to help his wife and the wife rejects his actions and considers him weak. Now, you have to understand, the women do most of the work in Malawi. They are the ones carrying the burdens and they are the ones working in the fields. So, I decided to play dumb. I said, “I am new here. I don’t know your culture. I was told that the women do most of the work here. Is that right?” I wish you could have seen the men slump in their seats, with little guilty smiles on their faces. The women said, in one unanimous voice: “Yes.” “Well,” I continued, “do you women need to work to maintain your identity. Is working in the fields important to you?” Again I wish you were there to hear the women in unison say a resounding, “No!”
There are some who would accuse me of messing around with a culture, of bringing western ideas and forcing them on a native culture. But, this was not a cultural issue. We were dealing with trans-cultural truth. I went on to show them that God’s plan is not cultural. It goes way back to Genesis. It is sin and its consequences that lead to a competition in marriage [Genesis 3:16]. Jesus came to reverse the curse of sin. Just as Jesus died for the joy of seeing His Bride radiant, without spot or blemish, husbands are given the opportunity of gaining that same joy from loving their wives as Christ loved the Church. They listened and seemed to understand.
Did they go against their tradition? Did the men go home and love their wives like they should? I don’t know. But, one of the Pastors did tell me that he was going home and and sitting down with his wife to ask her how he had failed to love her. That is just not done in that culture. He got it!
I have to believe that there were many more just like this man and woman. Yes, making changes that go against such strong traditions would be hard. Ridicule and persecution would very likely accompany such radical changes in these close knit communities. But God’s Word, has the power to open minds and soften hearts no matter the place or people. He is the One who is the Ultimate Communicator. His ways are not our ways but His ways always bring joy. Jesus speaks through his Word and we are able to not only know his ways, but we want his ways. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Whenever we go to new cultures, we are very aware of our liabilities. In the end, it is not the fact that we are Americans, or have degrees, or are culturally sensitive that are the deciding influences. The determining issue is whether we are faithfully and carefully communicating the Word of God. God has promised that His Word will not return to him without accomplishing His intended purpose. [Isaiah 55:11] It is that promise, and the assurance that he will be with us to the ends of the earth [Matthew 28:18-20], that gives us the audacity and the joy of going to the ends of the earth with the words of Jesus Christ.
Dr. James Boice, one of the great advocates of the power of the Bible to change the hearts of men, wrote this before he passed away a few years ago: “When God from heaven gave the Word, His Word was all-sufficient. It needs no words I may have heard to add to or be in it. So, I will take God’s Book and read, to learn what God desires. The Bible gives the strength I need to do what God requires.”
During our last seminar in Malawi, we gave time for questions and comments from the participants. One pastor stood up and said, “Dear Doctor, we will build you a house if you will stay here in Malawi.” I was told by our host that he was only half kidding. I thanked him and told him it was not the Doctor but the Word that would cause such a generous offer. But his comment did reflect the joy that these men experienced as they devoured the God-glorifying, soul-satisfying Word of God. It also captures the reason we go to places like this. There is no higher privilege than to be able to preach to the Malawians and the Zambians “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” [Ephesians 3:8]
Thank you for partnering with us in this mission. I pray that you will share with us the joy of what God did through this trip to Africa. You should. With your prayers and your giving, you were there with us. God bless you for your heart for the world and your joy in seeing Jesus glorified.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Dr. Gary Rieben. © Give Me That Book. Email: Grieben@aol.com. Website: www.GiveMeThatBook.org. Postal: GMTB | P.O. Box 1045| La Quinta, CA 92247 USA | 619.829.2390
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