June 8, 2005
Here in Malawi, Wednesday mornings have been times of reflection for Dan and myself.
Each Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m., the Synod has devotions for all of its employees. Dan says that it is actually a Celebration of Worship, complete with hymns, prayers and a sermon.
The entire worship is conducted in Chichewa, and Dan decided early on that rather than sit there and pretend he was listening to words that he does not understand, he would use the time for spiritual development. He reads his Bible or some other theological text and prays. He says that he really enjoys the serenity of the hour.
At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, I attend a Bible Study for women. I have to tell you that it has been one of the most faith building and inspiring activities that I have experienced here in Malawi. The group is comprised mostly of expatriates who are here as missionaries. Debbie is from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and has served here with her family for 3 years, Carrie has lived here for 12 years with the Apostolic Church of Canada, Maggie is from Great Britain and has also been here for 12 years. Sandra, from Scotland has been here 6 years with the Assemblies of God church. Lee is a Methodist from Korea. The other Americans, Betty, a minister in the Pentecostal Church, and Audrey, a Baptist, have both been here for over 15 years. Others who attend are Malawian, South African, Finnish, and from the DRC (Congo).
The thing that has shocked me the most about this group of women is that we seldom disagree theologically. Most of the year has been spent on Bible Study – we have gone through guides on Corinthians, Psalms and Colossians. Maybe it is because we focus on applying the Biblical truths to our lives, that we don’t have time to split hairs about differences in our denominational theologies. Maybe it is because there are so many problems to be dealt with and tackled here in Malawi, and we are all concentrating our efforts on them. Or maybe it is because we stress what we agree on, and not what our differences are, that we get along so well.
We always have a time of sharing (over tea and treats) prior to beginning our study. One mother will discuss her child’s learning disability, another will share how she has come up with a way to tan goat hides successfully, so the women in remote villages can earn some extra money. Another will tell everyone about a newly discovered nursery where you can get beautiful hybrid flowers for your garden.
Then we begin our time of study. I am amazed at the depth of faith that these women possess. They trust God for everything, and see God at work in every facet of life. I do not want you to get the impression that they are superhuman. They have doubts and fears as we all do. Just this week Maggie told us about a sleepless night that she spent worrying about retirement. She read a magazine article about how most people in the UK have not saved enough, and she thought, “We have not been able to save much at all, on our missionary salary, with five children.” She pictured herself and her husband living out their old age in poverty. But Carrie reminded her about a missionary couple she knows that had absolutely no retirement money, and were given a house to live in when they left the mission field after a lifetime of service. She noted, “They have a car, and a comfortable life now. They trusted the Lord and the Lord provided.” Maggie took some comfort in that, but she also said that she and her husband had started saving more for their retirement.
These women do have incredible intestinal fortitude (guts). They deal with issues day in and day out that most of us never encounter in a lifetime. To say that they are flexible and “roll with the punches,” is an understatement. Sandra told us that the other day she was in one of the grocery stores here in Blantyre, and saw a cat trotting down one of the isles with a rat in its mouth. “At home in Scotland, the place would have been shut down and the Health Department called in. Here, I just thought, ‘Oh, well, this is Africa,’” and went over to the bread counter to see what kind of rolls they had. Another woman told us how upset she and her husband were after they received a letter from one of their churches (which had just been given a large amount of money for a new church building) complaining that another church’s pastor received a motorcycle, but their pastor did not. Daily frustrations are handled with grace by these dedicated women.
Our current Study is on Economic Injustice, which is very interesting. We all are living in the fourth poorest country in the world, but have come from highly developed nations. We are all viewed as being rich. One woman said, “I am afraid that my children will grow up paranoid, because here we are thought of as being very wealthy, but when we go back (to Ireland) they are the poor missionary kids.” It is not easy to see such a great disparity of the distribution of wealth. We continue to discuss the theological implications avidly.
For at least a half hour at the end of our study, we share prayer requests and then pray. Requests are recorded in a notebook which has been used since the early 1980s (it is almost full). Whoever feels like praying (usually it is everyone) then shares their thanksgivings, supplications and thoughts with God.
Wednesday morning Bible Study has been like an oasis for me. I can share my weekly trials and triumphs with them, as they do with me. Our cups are refilled and we are given strength to get through the next week. The fellowship in Christ that I have with these fine Christian women is one of the things that I will miss most about Malawi. I have learned so much from them, and I thank God for the time that we have had together.