Here goes numero uno.
More times than I can count, I've been asked, "How was your trip?" Most often, I have feebly replied, "Amazing!" As if one word could possibly describe the experience. So, here let me offer a few more:
Life-changing, humbling, awe-inspiring, fascinating, intense, incomparable, incredible, remarkable, mind-blowing, world-rocking, stunning, surprising, unbelievable, awesome, unbelievably awesome...Get the picture?
Speaking of pictures (for the three or four of you that read my blog), you should know by now about my love for photography. Well, Malawi is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities. Every photograph has the potential to be something you might see in National Geographic. I shot more than 1,700 photographs. So, it goes without saying that I will be using photography to help tell the story.
The Y-Malawi team, from six different churches in California and Florida, traveled to the Nkhoma/Chilenge region of Malawi, Africa, from July 30th to August 15th, to serve with its six ministry partners who are there on the ground working tirelessly to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the least, the last, and the lost.
The writing on this building says it all. A few years ago, when members of Trinity UMC sponsored more than 300 children through World Vision and were assigned children who live in Nkhoma/Chilenge, an unlikely partnership with Y-Malawi was born.
I will highlight our work with each of the six Y-Malawi partners in future blogposts but for this entry I'm simply going to share with you some of my first impressions from our first day.
We arrived in Nkhoma late Saturday evening, so the first thing on our agenda Sunday morning was to worship. It was arranged for us to go to a small church attended by some of our friends in Fishers, Trainers, Senders (a Y-Malawi ministry partner). On the way to the church, I was speaking with an FTS counselor, Lamech, and he surprised me when he asked me to pray for the church in Malawi; specifically, that they would learn to "get beyond their gatherings and go out into the world to spread the name of Jesus." I think I surprised him when I shared that the American church needs the same prayer, and while I would pray for them I hoped he would also pray for us.
After a short ride, we arrived in the village where we were going to worship. I must confess that when we arrived, I was not prepared for the warmth of the greeting we received from the villagers. In fact, that was something I never really got over the entire time I was in Malawi. The hospitality of the Malawi people is unparalleled and demonstrates why Malawi is known as the "warm heart of Africa."
The children, in particular, were always excited to see us. Whenever we would pull up, they raised cries of "Mzungu! Mzungu!" (Mzungu = white person) They especially loved our cameras and iPhones. It was great fun to take their picture and then show it to them in the display. Their laughter upon seeing themselves was precious and something I won't forget. As it turns out, one of my most favorite photographs was one I took on that first morning.
After spending a little time with the villagers, we made our way to the church where they had already begun a Bible study about the Holy Spirit. The passage they were discussing was from Romans.
"The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children." - Romans 8:16 (CEB)The depth of their discussion was astounding and two moments stood out to me. The first, knowing their context, was the discussion about the difference between the Holy Spirit and the "spirits." The Holy Spirit leads to righteousness whereas the "spirits" are of darkness (witchcraft, etc.). The second was when a young man stood up and offered a correction to the conversation - that the proper question is not "What is the Holy Spirit?" but "Who is the Holy Spirit?" I felt so blessed to have witnessed their discussion.
From the Bible study, we moved into a time of worship. Let me say this - when I thought of traveling to Malawi, I never expected to encounter the living God as tangibly and powerfully as I did during worship. To quote one of my friends from the trip, I am convinced that in heaven the people of Malawi will be leading worship. Their singing is some of the most beautiful I have ever heard. It cannot possibly convey to you what it was like to actually be there, but here is a short clip of the church's pastor and his family singing an offering together to help give you an idea.
Shortly after this, the pastor invited me to share a word with his congregation. This was a sign of respect, so as much as I wanted to hear a word from him, I knew I had to graciously accept his invitation. I don't think I have ever been more nervous to preach in my life. Thankfully, having my words translated from English into Chichewa gave me sufficient time to think about what to say next. (This was the first of three times I preached in Malawi. By the third time, I was more confident and really enjoyed the experience.) I shared a word about Acts 2:42-44 and how grateful I was to be in their community - to be one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry together.
The most moving moment for me happened during the time of prayer. The entire congregation was on their feet, crying out to God. At first, I thought they were praying in tongues. Then, I realized they were voicing aloud their prayers to God and all together at once. It was something to see.
Mulungu akhale nanu (God be with you),