Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Malawi Adventure: Reflections in Flight
From Lilongwe to Blantyr, Blantyr to Addis Ababa, Addis Ababa, to Rome, Rome to Washington DC, and now on the last leg of the return home from two weeks in Africa I will have had 35 hours (give or take a few from sleeping lightly a couple of times) to reflect on my time with Louise Laubscher and the FTS staff and volunteers. It will take a very long time to process all that I saw and did and learned while with them. But there are four things that were pretty immediately striking in my experience when I first arrived in Malawi and these things were not at all diminished over the time I was there.
First, their enthusiasm and commitment for spiritual growth. Many of these people grew up in Christian homes and have been taught and studied the bible for a very long time and now are teaching the bible. Yet, day after day, night after night they sat on the edge of their seats, faces intent on receiving some new word from the Lord. The stories of Jesus and the stories Jesus told that we studied captivated them. I will never forget the face of Aubrey, one of the field workers for FTS. What a delight to teach! He was always leaning forward in his chair with his face lit up like a neon sign and a smile even brighter. And as I mentioned in a earlier blog, their attendance never wained. Nine days and five nights and the attendance held up the whole time and actually increased. These are disciples of Christ who really hunger for more of the master.
Second, they were immediately willing and eager to talk about how these biblical principles applied to their personal and their ministry life. I was a stranger to them. They knew very little about me. And yet there was virtually no waiting time to get warmed up for serious discussion. They dove right in! They were definitely not content to just gain more knowledge about the bible or about Christ. From the very first day with great humility and vulnerability they spoke in the large group and in small groups about the challenges they face in being faithful to Christ and his teachings.
Third, their praise in song is outstanding. Without any instruments, without any hymnals or song books, or projection screen they sang song after song after song. Every song in more than four part harmony. Every song responsively with one person leading the others. Every song sung with robust enthusiasm. It was as if everyone of them were trained in choral music. And the icing on the cake? They move and dance to the music, their faces filled with the joy of the Lord. It was as if they really were caught up in singing praises to a King they love and adore. I wanted to teach them a song in English. Two things prevented me. My voice is not a song-leading voice! And even though I was willing to give it a try, I realized that all the songs I knew well enough to try and teach them required significant instrumental support! Except for two songs I sing to my granddaughter and grandson when I am putting them to sleep at night I could not sing a single song acapella!
And, finally, they pray almost as enthusiastically and energetically as they sing. They pray together out loud and I found myself caught up in it. Though you cannot really hear any one person praying or hear what they are praying, you can hear the wide range of emotion that accompanies their prayers--some laments, some praise, some petitions--but all together the praying ebbs and flows until it slowly quiets down and one person closes. It is as if everyone of them were trained in choral praying! The icing on the cake in this? Every time before I stood up to teach they prayed for me. And they prayed that they would hear God's word to them through me. Their prayers helped me overcome my feelings of inadequacy and gave me confidence in God's ability to use whatever I offered.
Their eagerness to learn and grow, they humility and vulnerability, their singing and their praying touched me deeply. I have been challenged to the core to follow their example as disciples of Jesus. In March at San Clemente Presbyterian Church we will be launching "Being Grounded," Phase 2 of our discipleship initiative called "Plugged In." Starting with 18-24 people, the goal of the experience called "Groundings" will be to equip every member and friend at SCPC in being disciples who live like Jesus at home, at work, in school, and wherever they go. My preparation to lead this has been significantly shaped by my time in Malawi. I have a desire to know and serve Christ and his kingdom more than ever before. I can only hope and pray to inspire others who will be participating in the new discipleship experience with me as deeply as the brothers and sisters in Malawi have inspired me.