Alright, having recovering from what was probably a mild malaria attack, I would like to write a condensed version of my recent trip to Malawi. Although certain things do make me happy to be back in the US (hamburgers, toilets that flush, a bed, chocolate, etc.), I would go back tomorrow if a trip opportunity and money dropped into my lap!
The trip was amazing. I would not have gotten on the plane to come back except for the small fact that I didn't have much choice. I absolutely fell in love with Africa, and although my role on this trip was teaching, I still firmly believe I learned more from the African church than I could teach them if I was able to stay with them for a year.
Our first flight was from Houston to Washington D.C., where we went to a hotel for our first team meeting and four hours sleep before going back to the airport to meet the last member of the three person group I would spend most of my time with and to catch our 12 hour flight to Ethiopia. In Addis Abbaba, we would get our first taste of Africa, simply walking around the airport for our two hour layover.
|Isaac is a guy I will have to stay in contact with, a rare compliment for me to give.|
After our final flight, a three hour flight to Lelongwe, our team separated, with most of the people going north to the orphanage/training center, while the rest of us went south to Ntcheu for the first pastors conference. Our route to Ntcheu ran along a road that formed the border between Mozambique and Malawi, so five minutes was used to let us Americans jump out and run across the border, just to add Mozambique to the list of countries visited.
After spending the night in national Pastor Howke's home, we were able to go on the next day down into Ntcheu and hold the first conference. None of the three of us were speaking at this conference, so we had the whole day to simply meet pastors, pick up some simple Chichewan phrases, ask questions, and generally soak up Malawian culture. It was certainly helpful when we did have to speak to have had a sampling of the culture.
|The beautiful valley just across the border in Mozambique|
Upon finishing the conference, we drove several hours to Blantyre, Malawi's second largest city. We spent the next several nights at Andy Namalima's home in the suburbs of Blantyre. It was also here that we received our rude awakening as to the severity of African rainy season!
Sunday we were supposed to visit different churches in the area. Because of the washed our roads, however, we were only able to go to a couple. Despite the fact that things did not fall into the order we would have made them go if we were sovereign, it was an amazing experience. The raw love for God and obvious passion for Jesus was something that, as an American used to American intellectual religion, was truly refreshing.
On paper, the three of us were supposed to begin a conference several hours drive away on Sunday evening. However, because of the rain, we decided to put off going until Monday morning (African schedules are loose like that). However, the rains started on Monday night in earnest, and by Monday morning, the bridge over the river was in full flood, with water rushing over the bridge, to the point where you wouldn't even realize a bridge was there.
Because of that, we were not able to get to our conference location until Monday night. Due to somewhat poor communication from tired people to tired people, we had not realized that we three were on our own. Our driver and guide dropped us off at Paul Ketchumbirri's (complete guess as to the spelling of that) house, and left us sitting there in his living room with our backpacks, looking no doubt like lost Americans, which incidentally we were.
This should give you an idea of the devotion of these pastors to come hear God's Word. Not only was the conference 36 hours late starting, but we would find out the next morning that the roof of the church had blown off on Sunday night. These pastors had simply spread a tarp over their heads, and stayed for another 24 hours waiting for us to come preach to them! That's devotion!
This conference was one of the most amazing things I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. It lasted all told probably six hours, with all three of us together preaching six times. It truly was sweet fellowship with these men, and it was an opportunity to see God moving in an overseas church. It was also the first time in my life I've ever had the Holy Spirit hijack my preparations to have me speak something other than what I'd planned, changing my plans five minutes before I was supposed to speak!
Talk about a feeling of helpless reliance like I'd never experienced, or come to think of it, I'd never had to experience it before because I'd never put myself in the position to need that sort of reliance. I've never been one to try to speak without preparation, and to get up to speak with about three sentences scribbled on a piece of paper was a true test of my reliance on God for me.
However, these pastors were an amazing audience, paying rapt attention and answering questions like no audience I'd ever seen. They put up with the three inexperienced Americans in front of them 10 times better than I could have dreamed possible, and succeeded in putting my awkward self at ease to speak with more freedom to these men than I could to any American audience.
Writing about the first week would not be complete without at least a quick reference to the other two guys who were with me throughout the whole week and conference. I could not have asked for better comraderie or friendship than what I experienced with these two guys. I have never had the kind of fellowship in which the name of Christ came up so frequently or comfortably as with these guys. Both Johnny and Isaac had true hearts for God, and it was a true pleasure to work along side these guys. They were awesome.
|Cattle have right of way on the roads in Malawi. I'm not arguing with one of those big guys!|
From Limbe/Blantyre area, we traveled north to the training center/orphanage to rejoin the rest of the team, who had been doing various child evangelism outreaches in the area around the orphanage. After an evening of excitedly trying to talk over each other with each new story of opportunities and experiences, we went to bed to prepare for the second week of experiencing Africa.
|A typical house with maize growing around it.|
After the non-stop action in the south, our week at the orphanage felt very slow. In stark contrast to the rougher conditions in the south (a hole in the ground outside for bathroom needs, a chicken in the bedroom, holes in the roof over your head in the rain: compared to toilets inside, semi-American food like fried chicken and spaghetti, dry mattresses), it was an adjustment. To be honest, the rough conditions and non-stop action were something I really enjoyed, and the week at the orphanage was kind of a "what am I doing here" experience at first.
|A typical fishing canoe. I still have no idea how they keep they're balance.|
During the next week, we were able to go to two different schools to present the gospel (speaking to probably 350 kids) and a child evangelism outreach in a village to about 50 kids, and I had the pleasure of going door-to-door witnessing in a small village on Lake Malawi. It wasn't as much non-stop action as in the south, but just as fun. Just a different kind of fun.
|This is the outreach in Tambalika.|
Much of my time the last week was spent at the orphanage and at the orphans school, helping some of the kids learn to read English and playing soccer (a game they absolutely decimated me at, including the little 6-7 year olds). It was great getting to know the little guys even if I didn't speak their language. There is something about having kids running to be held and calling your name that just gets your heart going!
Our last day was spent doing another school outreach and saying our goodbye's to men and women I will never forget. We all said it, and I for one meant it 100%, but if I had had any choice at all, I would have stayed. I absolutely loved my time spent witnessing, preaching, and just hanging out with the orphans.
The day we left, we flew from Lelongwe to Blantyre, then up to Addis Abbaba. We then once again completed our long 12 hour flight back to Washington D.C., where we enjoyed our first American meal in two weeks. Thank you, Chipotle, for putting one of your restaurants in the D.C. airport! Our final flight to Houston really was the sight of mixed feelings: happy to see family but genuine sadness that the trip was over.
Now, as is known by anyone reading this blog consistently, I promptly got sick (probably a mild malaria attack) as soon as I had been home a couple days, but before I finish this sketch of my time in Africa, I'm going to give just a brief minute to answering a few of the questions I've been asked.
|Typical Central Malawian landscape|
Food: food there consists of rice, beans occasionally, relish (an onion and pepper mixture), and en sema (maize flour mixed with water). We were often served chicken since we were considered guests and honored as such, and were occasionally served goat or chicken livers, both of which were excellent. I lucked out since neither of my teammates liked the idea of eating chicken livers, thus leaving any we were served for me!
Accomodations: Accomodations varied. The first week was pretty much what you would picture in Africa. Any water we drank came either from a five-gallon container we brought with us or was boiled and made into tea, a drink I have now accustomed my taste buds to. Sleeping arrangements were always interesting, especially for the guys who slept nearby me, since I apparently I kick in my sleep. I was the only one who brought a sleeping bag, so while most of my nights were dry, Isaac and Johnny spent a couple of damp nights having dirt and water falling from the roof onto their heads all night.
The second week was much more comfortable, since we stayed at an American built house built with the intention of holding Americans. It was dry, with toilets inside, and a readily available well outside.
As a side note, Malawi during rainy season is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It had its disadvantages (several muddy days of pushing minibuses out of mud with rain drumming steadily down on your head), but the lush green of the country because of all the rain probably made up for it in my mind! It was also complete with awesome sunsets!
I know I mentioned that I learned a lot. However, I didn't mention what I learned. Just briefly, one of the things that came through so clearly was reliance on God. I'm not a preacher. This was my first experience preaching, and I could clearly feel my own incompetence, my own inexperience, and my own emptiness of anything meaningful. I clearly remember kneeling in some bushes after one of my speaking sessions at a youth conference I forgot to mention above, and pouring out my heart to God, saying "I'm completely empty. I don't know what I'm saying."
However, with my own emptiness, the Holy Spirit came very sweetly and noticeably. I've heard a lot of people talk about feeling God, and I've had my share of doubts about the maudlin sentimentality of many of these experiences. However, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I could feel God comforting me and filling me with himself and the strength to continue.
Especially meaningful throughout my whole time there was Ps. 139. Even in Africa, surrounded by people of a different race who spoke a different language with a different culture, God was there. He was next to me, in me, and going before me.
Secondly, the verse (I don't even know where it is) from Paul where he states, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" was incredibly meaningful. I was plagued the whole time by kind of a thought in the back of my head that said, "what are you, an inexperienced teenager doing in Africa? Let some more experienced guy do it!" I quoted that verse to myself constantly, over and over, whenever the doubts that I could really do anything for God as a teenager came into my head.
See the awesome thing? I don't have to accomplish anything for God! All I have to do is give my part, myself, my 16 year old, inexperienced, weak, stuttering self to God. What he chooses to do with my gift is up to Him. But once I've committed to denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Christ, my part is simple. Follow Him, and leave the results in His hands. Duties are ours; events are God's.
I will probably post more pics another day this week, but I wanted to finally get a cursory briefing of the trip out here for those who have been asking for one. I'll be happy to answer any questions you leave in the comments.