I must say that, perhaps unlike many British churches, our home churches of Mickfield Evangelical Church and Blakenham Baptist Church know how to mix fellowship and food. But here in Malawi food, fellowship and hospitality is a fine art. The Christians here are hospitable until it hurts!
For example, last week I (Myles) visited a small church in the middle of nowhere and after interviews and presentations I was ready to jump back in my car for the long rough dirt track journey home. No way. My friend and I were ushered into a local house, invited to sit in the only chairs at the only table, and provided with bottled ‘soda’ and biscuits. For my western audience that may not sound much but in a small subsistance-farming Malawi community that is a significant outlay of cash and a long round trip for someone on a bicycle to the nearest shop.
Or there was the impromptu visit to a Malawi friend’s parent’s house where I was greeted with such warm and genuine care, and honoured with the gift of a live chicken, legs bound and stuck in a bag in the boot; a real costly gift in a country where for some a chicken meal is a Christmas treat.
Or there was my moving visit with a pastor living far along a dirt road, deep in the bush; a humble and meek man who exuded a sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence. During our long discussions he unselfconsciously explained how he had been unequivocaly called to follow God wherever he sent him as pastor, how he had joyfully given up the secondary school teacher job and all the status that brought in this culture, for a role where sometimes he would receive no pay for months on end.
And after our discussions he and his wife – a strong partner in their joint ministry – sacrificially provided my friend and I with a simple but delicious meal of fried chicken, nsima and greens in the most eloquent statement of hospitality.
Tim Chester is a gifted practcal theologian and in his blog titled Make a Meal of It he essentially sets out a practical theology for hospitality and eating! Never have I experienced the reality of that more than here in Malawi. Never have I understood quite so well the practical, tangible, centrality to our faith of the shared meal, the broken bread and shared cup!
Over the last few months, through my Malawi brothers and sisters God has taught me a lesson that is difficult for proud wealthy westerners to accept: how to humbly and thankfully receive generous gifts that are sacrificially given. But isn’t that just the lesson our proud human hearts need to embrace every time we experience the hospitality of the Lord’s Table, and embrace His sacrificial gift on the cross?