As we got off the plane at Blantyre airport last Thursday and were met by our Malawi Director we were quickly reminded of the basic life challenges that so many face here in Malawi.
As we drove to the city we remarked at how dry the small fields were compared to our visit last Easter, and we found that even the relatively well-appointed mission house we were staying in had taps that ran dry.
We found out that the seasonal rains were many weeks late and there was no rain expected within the forecast horizon. Those who had planted in anticipation of rain risked their crops dying, while those who had waited risked a poor crop from the compressed growing season. In a country still overwhelmingly dependent on subsistence farming, and where many walk many many miles to unreliable wells, this is a potential tragedy. There was even talk of a season like 1948 when no rains fell and many died.
Most of us in the West are rarely truly thirsty, and take the rain that waters our crops for granted. I well remember taking my two elder sons on a three day backpack across the high Perthshire hills, running out of water on the scorching last day, and ‘hallucinating’ about an ice cold diet coke! But such desperate thirst is rare for us.
Arriving in a waterless mission house – hot, sticky and thirsty after over 20 hours of travel – suddenly brought home to us two Westerners in a very real way how critical water is to life, and to life in all its fulness.
Perhaps Jesus felt something similar as he arrived hot and dusty under the midday sun at a well and asked a marginalised Samaritan woman to draw water for him (John 4). No matter how refreshing and revitalising that cool well water might have been to Christ, his promise to the woman, to every Malawian, to all of us, is infinitely greater. He promises the “gift” of “living water” that – if genuinely asked for – will be given; a gift through which we will never thirst again.
It is the true tragedy of mankind to know the deepest of spiritual thirsts but to stubbornly look for our own ways of quenching that thirst rather than ask Jesus for the gift of new life and of the thirst quenching Holy Spirit. Our ways always leave us thirsting for more, but Christ’s way leads to a true life full to overflowing.
The people of Malawi are praying for rain with a desperation that comes from real necessity. We all need to recognise our similar desperate need for Christ’s living water and turn to Him.