by Mission News
In August 2023 a group of 10 travelled to Malawi to provide support to the churches there. 2 were regulars, 3 had been before and 5 were there for the first time. This is a journal of what we saw and some impressions of the country.
Malawi is one of the most impoverished nations on earth, there are a few larger cities but the majority of the country is villages given over to agriculture, no power and no running water. The cost of living could be set at about $50 US dollars per month. This would be regarded as the breadline, anything lower would be enormously difficult. Teachers earn around $80 US dollars a month. It is a landlocked country with the world’s second largest lake running the length of most of the country.
The church’s main centre is Blantyre, the second largest city in Malawi and that is where we begin our trip. The hall is in amongst an area called the Chirimba market, rough dirt roads lined with people selling their wares from a mat on the ground to a makeshift table or a permanent stall. This is not for tourists – this is the main “shopping centre” for the locals where they buy sweet potato, charcoal or clothes and everything else they need from the vendors.
We arrive at the hall, a substantial solid building. There is the sound of loud, harmonious singing inside. We leave the van and enter the hall to this singing. Are we late? Should we tiptoe in. No, this singing is a welcome for us and it really works. The meeting was great, a mixture of singing, testimonies and items, everything done in a two part dance of delivery and translation. During the meeting people are attentive and responsive, they’re very interested in what’s going on. The style of the meeting is very different; no amplification, often no seating, no chorus books, very few bibles.
Our days consist of travelling to remote communities and attending around three meetings a day. We would arrive at a collection of buildings and pull over to the sound of singing. There is always a horde of kids, wide eyed and curious to greet us. Often singers meet us at the road, some distance from the hall. They walk with us, all around the van, or as we walk with them, singing a song of welcome – it is incredibly beautiful.
At each meeting we would be seated while they sang, there would be a couple of testimonies from the church we were attending and maybe one from us. One or two of us would give a brief talk and there is an altar call. Everything is done in tandem with an interpreter so there is a rhythm to it all, a call and response. The interpreters constantly switch the direction of their translation – Chichewa to English for the local testimonies and vice versa when we speak. At times they need to change on the fly as Gilbert or Noel change their language in their address to the people or one of us try out our fledgling Chichewa.
The altar call is simple but straightforward, “Come forward if you want to receive the Spirit.” The tone is different from home, at one meeting no one was stepping forward as no one wants to be first. Pastor Nelson said, “If you don’t step forward now I’m closing the meeting.” Immediately a number of people stepped forward. This is is our cue to step up and choose a person. We either have someone with us or wait for an interpreter to become available. This is where Ruth, Grace and Doreen shine. They stand beside us, get a brief idea of what’s needed – Holy Spirit, healing or both – and just facilitate whatever happens without getting in the way. They encourage the praying person – open your mouth more, that’s it keep going” – and tell us if and when they receive the Spirit. They are watching constantly – many women step up with a baby strapped to their back, during the prayer the baby might get restive or the mother is overcome and begins to stagger. They unstrap the baby and pass it off to waiting hands. At every meeting we attended people received the Holy Spirit, it varied from 5 to 35.
We headed north again to our next meeting, 3 hours later we pulled over for fuel at a service station. 2 vendors came over selling beads, carvings and paintings. 10 minutes I take stock of the group; on one side of the bus Mike L is earnestly talking to one vendor about the Lord, on the other side of the bus Phil and Steve are seeking with the other vendor while over near the pumps Mike D is head down with someone else. This is why it takes so long to get anywhere in Malawi. I bought a painting of one vendor to commemorate the occasion.
We arrive at the meeting in Dwangwa. The church here was started by a woman who received the Holy Spirit but was the only one in her community. She witnessed to everyone for many months by herself, a number of women responded and she tried to get some men along so they could have a pastor. She was successful and this whole community is largely because of her. The hall is solid and well built, last year it had no roof or windows, now it is fully covered with a great platform. The people were vibrant and happy but low in number as many were attending the funeral of the mother of this woman who started the church. We were sorry to not see her but it was great to see what she had achieved.
One of the most striking things about the regional villages is the lack of resources. A used coke bottle is a valuable commodity as it is a sealable container that can be used for liquids or almost anything. The villages are very dirty but there is nothing of value left on the ground, instead you see straps on bags made out of discarded plastic bags, window coverings made out of absolutely anything that’s big enough, wire is used in a thousand creative ways to hold together a bike or reinforce a box.
There are always people walking along the road carrying piles of sticks and these are always available for sale at any road stop or market. This resource is the equivalent of our gas and electricity, it would be required daily for cooking and used sparingly. In this context, consider the impact of receiving a bible as a gift from Australia. The bible represents a highly valuable asset, either as a book in an environment where books are incredibly scarce or an excellent resource for starting the cooking fire. The fact that the bibles are not sold on is a measure of their dedication to the Lord.
We have come to Malawi to support the church. The nature of the church is different from what we are used to, bibles are scarce so in-depth knowledge of the bible is rare. Our preaching is generally geared to the milk of the word, the salvation message, the building blocks of walking in the Spirit and yet in many ways these people are demonstrating the meat, they rely on God, they look to him constantly, the severity of their lives require that they do so. It makes us consider the concepts of milk and meat, having the knowledge and relying on God. It is this difference that enables us to learn so much from each other – they are hungry for our knowledge and understanding and we gain so much from seeing their faith in action, their daily devotion to God in spite of circumstances. And that’s a wrap. The Malawi trip is like an orange, the plane flights there and back are like the rind of the orange, bitter and hard. The flesh however, once tasted, is sweet, very sweet.
November 21, 2023
November 10, 2023
October 24, 2023