August 22, 2005
Since we have been home several people have said to us, “I don’t think that I could have done what you did. I could not have endured the bugs, the dirt, the five hour worship services, the lack of water and electricity, and everything else that you experienced.” In most cases, that is probably true. A lot of people could not have lived for a year in Malawi. We did, but we are not “real” missionaries.
The real missionaries are people like Dr. Sue Makin, who has dedicated her life to helping women in Africa with health issues. She only sees her family every few years. She spends most of her days doing life changing operations on women at the remote Mulanje Mission Hospital.
Joel and Rebecca Sherbino, newlyweds serving the Presbyterian Church of Canada, are working in Malawi for five years. Joel is the Associate Pastor of St. Columba CCAP and Rebecca works in Development for the Projects Office.
The Soye and Hanson families are sponsored by the Presbyterian Church of Ireland for terms of six years. Their children consider Blantyre home. The Scafsmas are Dutch Reformed missionaries who left their children and grandchildren half a world away to serve with the CCAP. These people and many more like them are what I would consider “real” missionaries. We served for a short term, but they are in missions for the long haul. They serve willingly and joyfully in places and situations that most of us would not be able to handle. Their dedication, perseverance, creativity and faithfulness should be an inspiration to us.
The missionaries that we met know that they are a select few. They have a clear sense of call to do mission work in Malawi. They know that few are chosen for such demanding work, but they will tell us that we are all called by God. Your call may not be to Malawi, or Mexico or Malta, it may be to Meadowbrooke or Meadville or Manhattan. God has chosen each of us to do the Kingdom’s work here on earth. Just because we are not called to work with AIDS orphans in Africa, does not mean that our work is not important.
Each of us has to listen for God’s call. Some of us are fortunate enough to hear the call clearly, others of us have to go through a more intricate process of discernment. Some of us are like Jonah and once we know what God wants to do, we run in the other direction and refuse to obey. God keeps working on us, though, and usually we see the error of our ways at some point. God’s call is hard to disobey.
I was very fortunate because as soon as Dan said, “What would you think of our family spending a year in Malawi?” I knew that God was calling us to go. I was certain that was God’s will for us. Even when it looked like we would not be able to go, I never doubted that we would.
However, I assumed that God would want me to teach in Malawi. After all, that is what I do. So I went laden with text books and lesson plans to Africa. I was not happy at all when it became apparent to me that I was not going to be able to teach in Malawi. I was angry. But God is a teacher too. I began to see people around me who came to Africa with their own agenda. When their expectations were not met or when things did not go exactly as they had worked out, they became frustrated, and sometimes bitter. Often they gave up and went home. I decided that I would not be like them. I decided to model myself after the “real” missionaries.
The real missionaries were flexible. They adapted to changing situations and different conditions. If they could not use their God given gifts in one way, they found a different way to serve. They never stopped working for God. I tried to do that. I have to admit that I never got over my disappointment at not being able to teach, but I realize that if I had been teaching, I never would have had time to write my journals, or entertain such wonderful guests, or do so much work in Ndirande. I had plans for myself, but God had different ones. I was grateful to the real missionaries for helping me figure that out. We were called to Malawi, but what we were called to do once we got there, was a surprise to us. Dan thought he would be the General Secretary’s Assistant. He was shocked when Daniel Gunya, said, “I am leaving for four months, and you will be the General Secretary.” It was not what he had planned, but as General Secretary of Blantyre Synod, he was able to implement some important changes, that made life easier for Rev. Gunya when he returned. You never know what God has in store for you.
Now that we are home, we pray every day for our missionary friends back in Malawi. Sue Makin works in a hospital where the patients’ HIV/AIDS rate is 85%. Joel Sherbino shepherds a flock of 11,000 parishioners. Andrew Soye and Rebecca Sherbino work every day coordinating programs for the destitute and disenfranchised. Alistair McCracken coaches soccer and teaches agriculture and computer to Malawian students. Leewa Scaafsma trains pastors and Weika cares for orphans and the handicapped.
We should emulate them by listening for God’s call in our lives, obeying that call, and being willing to do God’s work no matter what it is, where we are or what obstacles are put in our way. Missionaries sometimes get discouraged and frustrated, but they keep working faithfully with what they have, where God has put them.
We should do the same.