August 31, 2005
I have been listening to my husband Dan preach for almost three decades. When he was in seminary and at his first church, I would critique each sermon. (I teach Public Speaking, so it’s an automatic reflex.) I would say things like, “Watch grammatical mistakes,” and “you should reiterate your main points at the end.” But for many years now, I have not needed to offer suggestions. The Lord led him to the ministry because he has a gift for powerful preaching.
But during our last week in Malawi, I heard him preach the most inspirational sermon I have ever heard. Our missionary friend, Alistair McCracken, called it his “WOW” sermon.
The sermon was based on the parable of the feeding of the 5000, as recorded in Luke. Dan explained how the disciples followed Jesus despite the fact that they were skeptical about his instructions. When they used their meager resources and trusted their Lord, the results were miraculous. Five thousand men and probably twice that number of women and children were fed until they could eat no more, and the surplus was collected.
Dan has been traveling to Malawi for 15 years. During that time, despite the fact that aid organizations, foreign governments, churches and humanitarian groups have poured millions and millions of dollars into efforts to help the people and the country of Malawi, conditions have deteriorated. The problems are gigantic. The AIDS pandemic is wiping out an entire generation. Other diseases, such as malaria, TB and cholera are causing thousands of deaths. The average lifespan is 36 years, and one in four children under a the age of five dies.
Schools are understaffed and under funded and education is not valued by much of the population. Literacy rates are falling. Only 15% of the people ever make it to college.
There is a lack of infrastructure. The paved roads are full of potholes and ruts. Many of the dirt roads become impassable during rainy season. There is a lack of adequate public transportation. Sixty percent of the price of all goods is due to transportation costs. Less than 15% of the population has access to clean drinking water. Even less have electricity. Those who do have water and power are used to frequent, prolonged outages.
Businesses are struggling. The unemployment rate is 85%.
Most Malawians survive by tending “gardens” to grow food to feed their families, but the land has been ravaged by drought. Malnutrition is a growing problem. Orphans are particularly at risk.
Poverty is visible everywhere. The situation is difficult and there are no easy answers. Efforts are being made by many to solve the massive problems, but they have not been enough.
During his sermon, Dan challenged the members of St. Columba (which is the most affluent and biggest church in the Synod) and other congregations by saying, “The only people who are going to change Malawi are Malawians.” He challenged them to do what the disciples did – follow Jesus, use what they have been given, and work hard to help others and themselves. If they do they will be amazed at the results (that’s the WOW factor).
The problems are so massive that the only way begin to tackle them is with God’s help and guidance. Dan’s inspiring message challenged the CCAP members to work hard to help their neighbors, friends and country.
No one is naïve enough to believe that this will be an easy process, but I know that Dan inspired many people to work with dedication and diligence to move Malawi forward.