Sunday, February 16, 2014

Malawi Adventure: The End is the Beginning

Nine days of discipleship and marriage and parenting instruction and five of those days the classes continued in the evening. The training included three presenters, a lot of small group discussion and individual application time. The staff and volunteers of Fishers, Trainers and Senders (FTS) gave an incredible amount of their time and energy to being trained. In addition, some of the full time staff spent 2-3 hours each day picking up and dropping off volunteers and staff so they could attend the training. Others, took public transport for hours and then were hosted in the homes of staff who live locally. Still others who live closer walked or took public transport every day. Every day, several times a day they gave thanks for the opportunity to attend such training saying that so many other people would love to be able to attend. Volunteers provided lunch and dinner most days. Other volunteers cared for the children of staff and volunteers. The most amazing thing? Unlike in the United States, the attendance did not drop off over the nine days. The final day had the highest attendance of all! One woman who heard about the training took a bus for five hours to attend the final day! These people were very committed and very eager to learn. 

My teaching assignment was primarily discipleship. When I came I told them it was going to be like boot camp. They were actually enthusiastic about being challenged to grow in their faith and ministry capacity. I also told them that I would be learning along with them. I had never been to Malawi or even Africa before. Though I had corresponded with Louise, the Founder and Director of FTS, and been tutored by Sheryl France-Moran and two others who have been to Malawi, I was still significantly lacking in understanding of how life and ministry work here. Throughout the training I had to stop often and ask questions and learn before I could proceed. The illustrations, examples, and even images that I had used in the past simply would not work in this context. And though almost all of those attending spoke English well, there was still considerable need to clarify meaning of words and give them time to translate in their own language to ensure understanding. They were so patient concerning this challenge and in the process I learned some Chichewa. All this handicap in their teacher and they never once showed any sign of frustration or boredom. They were like sponges and continually responded and interacted to the teaching with great intensity. I was humbled and deeply grateful for the privilege of teaching these people.

The only reason this teaching assignment had any potential for fruitfulness is because of God's word. The truths hidden in it are not limited to a particular culture or language. God's word is truth across time--over 4000 years since it was first recorded--and God's truth is applicable to every tribe and nation. The important and difficult task for me was to get down to the very basic meaning of God's word so that these friends in Lilongwe could prayerfully and carefully consider what it meant for their lives and their ministry. I knew that this exercise--getting to the basic meaning of the texts--would be as instructive for me as it would be for those I was teaching. It forced me to re-examine every interpretation to try and eliminate anything that was culturally bound. It was so amazing to see how God's word indeed does speak powerfully to very different cultures. We used the teaching of Jesus as texts and we were often in awe of the penetrating power of these texts for such disparate contexts. 

Equally as amazing was to see how much we have in common as people trying to be disciples even though our cultures are so different. Like us the Malawi believers  are tempted to look disparagingly at people who are on the margins of their society instead of loving them like Jesus did. I was especially surprised to find out that some churches in Malawi are very uncooperative with other churches and reluctant to partner for ministry to the communities they are trying to reach with the Gospel. Like us they get into a mindset of competition rather than cooperation. And we are the same in our tendency to get so absorbed in doing ministry we neglect our own spiritual growth. In this, especially we identified over and over again that we are the same. Being a disciple of Christ requires daily attention to making sure we are not just going through the motions and that we stay attentive to and dependent on the Spirit of God. He does not only want our service. He wants us. In this we are all the same and God's word speaks powerfully no matter the culture or language.

Tomorrow I start the 36 hour journey back to San Clemente. The discipleship training in Malawi has come to an end. But the adventure has just begun. Our closing exercise for boot camp was a prayer of commissioning sending each of us back to the place God has called us to. In discipleship training every end is a new beginning. How grateful to God I am for this Malawi adventure and the training I have received.

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