[ ] The Rainy Season has given way to the Dry Season with absolutely no rain for weeks. Maize in the fields is being harvested and the stalks rustle in the breeze like fields corn in the U.S. in October. Nevertheless, still plenty of flowers and flowering trees. And, no rain has translated into virtually non-stop electricity the past month!
[ ] One week until many of our friends from The Netherlands leave for home; they have been like extended family (younger than our sons). We’ve shared wonderful hikes, meals, and fellowship. And we will be stopping to see them on our way home in October!
[ ] Two weeks until the end of the semester! So much reading, so much learning, so much connection with my six students, so much inspiration from God’s self-revelation in Old and New Testaments.
[ ] Many former and a couple new donors helped us raise $1500 for Frank’s Carpentry Business Ministry! Thank you! Thank you!
[ ] BIG Summer Plans Ahead…in upcoming post…
[ ] Scroll down for pics from this past weekend. Blessings.
On the top of Nkhoma Mountain this past Thursday (see pics below), a 4th-year degree student said “Kuzuna-o-Kukoma.” I asked what it meant and was told “Sweetology.” As the sun shined down, and the breeze refreshed after the steep ascent, and we ate peanut butter sandwiches, we looked out over Nkhoma Village and miles beyond to the smaller remote villages, and nodded, “Sweetology.”
The same student theologian then gave a brief prayer and sermon about the passage in Mark where Jesus quotes the two Great Commandments–loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and loving neighbors as we love ourselves.
Just so happened I was preaching in the Seminary Chapel service the next morning at 7am. I had spent a week preparing one sermon, but I was moved to build off of the sermon on Nkhoma Mt and use the Markan passage as well the very next morning; here is its gist:
After the student’s thoughtful sermon on Nkhoma mount, I, the dutiful Instructor, asked him a couple questions. Question 1: “Can we love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength without loving our neighbor as we love ourselves?” The other six seminary students thought a minute and answered, “No.” The two Great Commandments go hand and hand and cannot be separated. To fully love God necessarily means striving to love our neighbor as intended and demonstrated by Jesus.
Question 2: “We know we are to love our neighbor (Jesus says so very clearly even as he referred to Leviticus 19 where God tells the Hebrew people to love their neighbor as themselves), but what does it mean to love our neighbor? What does it look like? What does it involve?”
With 24 pastoral students graduating in two weeks–the future leaders of the church in this CCAP Synod of Nkhoma–my sermon explored loving our neighbor in WORD (in our loving speech and verbal witness to God’s grace in Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit moving within us and through us), and in DEED (in literal actions of loving service). We didn’t have all day in the brief Chapel service, so I condensed it down to the following faithful loving actions: not judging others by seeing the speck of dust in their eye before removing the plank in our own eye; forgiving others 70 X 7 (Deb is surely above the first equation of 490 times of forgiveness across our 33 years of marriage); helping the orphan, widow, handicapped, hungry; including where Jesus says in Matthew 25 that when we do not feed those without food, do not give drink to those who are thirsty, give clothing to those without clothing, do not visit those who are sick and in prison, we are not doing these things to Jesus, himself, who lives within our neighbors in need.
My ending paragraph to the future leaders of the church here in Malawi: “Please, my prayer and my plea: help your churches, the body of Christ, to be generous, giving at least 10% of tithes and offerings back out the door of your churches to those neighbors in need surrounding your churches.”
Kuzuna-o-Kukoma! Jesus’ call to sweet, yet strikingly demanding, theology-in-action.
How to begin, I don’t know. We have been through a lot. May God, who has begun a good work, keep us faithful until the end.
There is the hardship and oppression of poverty, and the lack of resources that surrounds us wherever we are and wherever we go. There is the lack of resources in the hospital, and precious children of God are suffering. There is a lack of outrage and compassion by the Christians here that is expressed in the lack of joy and sadness and action to what is going on around them. Yet, there are Christians who pray without ceasing, who understand that the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit changes everything!
The carpenter that was helped by your prayers and donations has continuous praise to God, sees the work and grace of the Almighty in all things. The carpenter is ever thankful for the tools he was able to purchase. He is thankful to God to continue his carpentry and his mentoring and discipleship of his workers. He is committed to sharing Christ with them and to the growth of their carpentry skills; committed to God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He is thankful for how God has worked through you. Thank you for your generous help.
The other challenges for me are more internal and spiritual in nature — questions, the struggle of how to live in fellowship of the Spirit in the midst of ……… The challenge of what Matthew 6:10 means for us: “May God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What does this really mean? How does this affect the way I live? The challenge of being a light, of being salt. Many Christians in the past and present live with daily persecution and pain and the consequences of their decision to follow Christ. I don’t like pain, I am a big baby when it comes to pain. These are some of the questions Chuck and I, and our bible study with a Christian couple from the seminary, are wrestling with.
Yet, Even though we are a continent away, and in every continent, there is the pain of broken relationships, of greed, of illness, of inadequacies, of self-centeredness, of sin and …… All the above things are still there, yet by the grace of God, God is working. What a blessing when, from time to time, the peace that passes all understanding has occasionally sparked my imagination and effort to give back to God in ways made possible by God’s grace and gift-giving in our lives. God is working in our lives.
I find it very stressful and hard to go anywhere without being surrounded by 2-3 children or more begging for money. We don’t have a car (and don’t need one), so we walk, and we I walk, there are always children saying the same three words: “Give me money.” If it isn’t children asking, there are adults asking for money both on the street and privately in our little apartment. It makes me think that this is nothing compared to what other Christians experience — beatings, being jailed unjustly for their faith, or kicked out of their home or…..
I have become bolder in my witness. Depending on the situation, if the children are begging I will ask them if they know Jesus. For the adults, I have been able to speak a prayer of blessing over them. This week I was walking with two friends to go up a small mountain to pray. On the way there were 5 children followed us continually asking for money making it difficult for the three of us to converse. To our surprise, the kids followed us all the way up the mountain!!
I told my friends that they should go to a quiet place on the mountain and that I would talk to the children. I talked with the children; I also told them why I was on the mountain. I was there to pray and asked them if I could pray for them. They said yes. So I prayed! After I was done praying, I said that I was going over to pray with my friends. I said that I would appreciate if they would be quiet and let us pray. However, I said that if they would like to pray some more with me that they could quietly come over to where we were and we could pray more. I went over to my friend; I had not finished telling my friend the whole story when I looked back. There were the 5 children quietly standing wanting to pray more!! Can you imagine?! So, allowing my friend space, the children and I separated ourselves and sang together. I taught them the only song I know that would be easy to teach children whose second language is English. The song was my God is so Big. We prayed. Then the children went home. God is working. God is working in me.
This has been an emotional week for me because of the above, but also our dear friends and nursing students who have been with us for the last 4 months have left. We arrived at the Guest House about the same time in January and have shared a lot. They were exceptional Christian young people and I will miss them.
This week we also had an intruder in our house. Chuck and I were in bed. I was waking up and heard a noise in the apartment. Then, I saw a shadow of a person on the wall just outside our bedroom. Now, most of you know Chuck has restless leg syndrome which forces him to get up and down during the night to get rid of the pain in his legs. I quickly looked to see if Chuck was next to me and He Was!! So, I saw the shadow of a person on the wall. Then I saw him look into our bedroom, then continue past our doorway into the kitchen area!! I started to yell. The yelling woke up Chuck, who started to yell. Giving the person enough time to leave, I got out of bed to see if could see him as he was leaving the complex. I did not see him. He was so silent, coming and going, leaving the front door open as he fled. Thankfully we were not harmed and nothing was stolen, even though he walked right by our lap top in the living room. We have no idea how God is working and upholding us through your prayers but we are thankful. Please continue to pray for us.
So, we have been here 4 1/2 months with 4 and half months more to go. On the lighter side, I have learned to make bread and rolls. I have become known for my desserts with the ex-pats. Chuck and I have more to learn and more to share. There is an old hymn that is my/our prayer, Spirit of the Living God. May God continue the work God has begun, keeping us faithful until the end, molding us, and making us into God’s image.
Thank you for you love and prayers,
(THINK OF PAUL HARVEY’S “PAGE TWO”)
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way…” Isaiah 43:19
It is with a deep breath and an expectant spirit that I begin the second phase of my service here in Malawi. Days as a Guest Lecturer at the seminary officially end with the Graduation Ceremony this Saturday. (I was going to teach during the upcoming Fall Semester, but, due to complications with and the costs of extending our Visas until December, we will be concluding our time of service in Malawi on October 11th!)
Now, I’m guessing most of you may not be surprised to learn that Phase Two this summer will include training for and venturing out on what is likely to be my last bicycle fundraising effort — this one stretching from the Northern tip to the Southern tip of Malawi. (I’ll wait a moment while you pull up a detailed map of Malawi or Map Quest.) The starting point will be Kaporo, July 16th, which is at the Northwestern corner of Lake Malawi. Biking along as much of the lake as possible (the roads are absolutely atrocious throughout Malawi; there isn’t even a surfaced road that extends along the entire length of the lake), we will pass through Mzuzu and also Blantyre, before concluding the 600-mile trek on July 25thin the little town of Marka, on the border with Mozambique. In need of bikes—a 2nd-year student, Hamilton, will be biking with me, wouldn’t you know each graduating seminary student is given a new geared mountain bike with which to begin their ministries in remote villages – God works new things out! and we will be renting the bikes from the new pastors.
Without admitting to the seemingly insurmountable logistics (e.g. the language barrier; overnight accommodations; safety, safety—did I mention safety; and the massive hurdle of raising donations within a nation in which people have virtually no discretionary funds and corporations don’t give to non-profit organizations), that must be overcome during waking hours between now and July 14th, when we begin the drive North to Kaporo…let me focus on the ultimately hopeful objective of the bike trip. There are four exceedingly worthwhile entities, each with their own distinct needs, constituencies, and potential donors:
1) The Josophat Mwale Theological Institute (JMTI), where I taught this past semester, has virtually no source of revenue with which to maintain and grow its faculty, programs and basic maintenance. BUT, one enormously promising source of significant revenue is completing a 9-room Hostel (the foundation and walls were constructed 5+ years ago before funds ran out), just behind the seminary that would serve as living-quarters for Church Pastors and Elders attending weekend and week-long Continuing Education and In-Service Training. (A 34-year-old 2nd-year student is going to bicycle with me on a first such experience in his life.) Cost to complete the Hostel: $50,000. (It’s what dreams are all about, plus, with God, all things are possible.)
2) Alinafe Communities of Hope is a non-profit Christian Ministry that serves an incredible 1800 elderly and disabled people in 18 villages surrounding Nkhoma Mission. This group of people are especially vulnerable as not only are they unable to make a living in Malawi, they are often targets of neglect to the point of death. Alinafe provides emergency food, plastic tarps for their tiny huts’ porous thatch roofs, help with growing maize and gardens, and the nourishment of Christian fellowship and community-building through the reading of Scripture, prayer and singing. Alinafe does more than any service organization in the region on a budget of just $28,000 a year; they need 2X or 3X this amount if they are going to provide more of faith’s and life’s necessities.
3) The Synod of Blantyre, in the Southern region of Malawi, is going to use the Bike Trip to raise additional donations, that have long-since, dried up, for the victims and families of those whose lands and homes were destroyed by Cyclone Freddy.
4) The Synod of Livingstonia, in the Northern region of Malawi, is going to use the Bike Trip to raise donations for the hospitals and remote Health Centers that are woefully underfunded.
So, let the new phase begin! And may God use it to raise desperately needed funds for the people and organizations mentioned above.
Just went on first bike ride since August 1, 2021, when I rode with a small team from NJ into NYC, including Dan, who met up with us for the last day of the x-country trip. Went just 25km today to see how it would feel. Hoped to do 50km but, ye ‘ol flat tire tradition from 2021 returned. Finished with a flat the last day of that trip and started with one today (grrrrr).
But as Deb is coaching me, “Let’s try something new. Let’s try expecting flats, misdirections, wrong turns, and see if this might lighten the path and the spirits.” To which I say two things — “hummph” and “Okayyy, I’ll give this new outlook a try.”
So, tomorrow, I’ll have a goal of 50km (and one or two flats since my biking partner, Hamilton, a 34-year old father of two, who is going into his second year at the Seminary, is going to not just train with me but bike the country with me in July).
There is something else I am going to expect — when I go to Lilongwe this coming Monday for media interviews, I am going to search diligently for a GEL seat!
So, we’re off to the races, and I am encouraged by how good it felt to get back on a bike after two years, and in such a beautiful country, and with both kids and adults yelling, “Hey, mzungu!” (“Hey, white guy!) A month until we head North to get to Kaporo, at the Northwest corner of Lake Malawi, to begin biking South!
Here’s to expecting flats!