Note: The last members of the west coast side of the Y-Malawi team arrived home last night. We are tired from the extra travel delays, but grateful for the deeper friendships that we formed and the opportunities to see some more of the land. Today I will start a series on my reflections. It would probably be helpful to peruse the photo albums that I added and updated today to go with this post. And if any of my team members would like to comment, I would welcome their perspectives--or corrections.
I expected it to be a much more barren place. I was expecting it to be brown and arid, flat and dry. But the fields were green, the clay red and the sky so blue. The night sky literally a milky galaxy of blazing lights, a million pin-prick glimpses of heaven’s glory.
Yes, we had come right after the rains. Although this year the rainfall was dangerously little, a drought year that will lead to dry streams in just a few weeks, desperate hunger within a few months. They assured me that the green fields of corn would all be quite faded by August. And we could see the corn crop that hadn’t quite come in, an ominous harbinger.
But it was still so beautiful. Malawi is hilly with rocky outcroppings that jut up unexpectedly. We drove windy, bumpy roads to visit villages nestled into expansive valleys. The streams trickle by, the rivers are where people gather to draw water, to clean clothes, to bathe. The sun not only shines, but sears. The breezes (when they come) are welcome cool breaths, rippling through the vegetation.
Cross over into Zambia and the land gets flatter but even more verdant. Drive into South Luangwa National Park and immediately a host of creatures greet you. Crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, impala by the hundreds, Piku, wart hogs, baboons like court jesters entertaining in masse, elephants, wild dogs, giraffes, elusive leopards, awe-inspiring lions.
And the people are even more beautiful. Beaming smiles, waving children, warm hearted welcomes wherever you go. In every village we were greeted with “God bless you for coming. You are most welcome here. Be free.”
It would be easy to see this place as idyllic. No wonder the explorer and missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) thought of part of his God-given charge as to “explore the undiscovered secrets” of this great land (which is really something when you consider that his other two charges were to evangelize and rid the world of the scourge of slavery.)
But, the rivers are filled with diseases, the sky holds mosquitoes carrying malaria, poverty is so oppressively widespread that it’s like a boot on the neck of any attempting to do more than survive, let alone thrive. Now HIV/AIDS has become epidemic. While there are literally hordes of smiling children, there are disturbingly few adults to raise them. Women describe their families in term of both their “children” and their “dependents.” Every village we visited spoke routinely of needing to care for orphans. And while their was a genuine spiritual hunger, all the pastors noted soberly that there is so little depth of biblical knowledge, a desperate need for life-transforming discipleship.
Throughout the trip as I considered the work that we are attempting in our newly formed “Y-Malawi Partnership” (which I will describe in another post), I kept thinking of a simple charge: How can we, in the name of Jesus, help these children of God have a life as beautiful as their land?
Livingstone’s tombstone in Westminster Abbey is engraved with these reputed “last words”: “All I can add in my solitude, is, may heaven’s rich blessing come down on everyone, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world.”
An open sore, yes, but on a most beautiful body.