What was your drive to church like last Sunday, 29 Jan? Myles had a wonderful drive deep into a rural area of Malawi, with the General Secretary of ZEC (Pastor Mtima) and the Regional Superintendent (Pastor Muhiye).
Myles spends a lot of his time in meetings discussing theology, strategy, organisation etc; or in his office writing, writing, writing! Sometimes he can feel very remote from the ‘ordinary’ Christians of Malawi who we came to serve. However, every now and then, he has ‘one of those days’ out in the ‘bush’ of rural Malawi that just help him realise again what it is all about. Last Sunday was one of them.
They set off anticipating a three hour trip to get them to church for a 10am service – two hours on tarmac to Balaka and then an hour on dirt track to Chilipa. In rather typical fashion this turned into a 2 hour dirt track drive on muddy/stony/dirty tracks already cut by the rainy season, with a few stops to ask locals which of the ‘roads’ (which rapidly began to look like footpaths) led to the church which was set well outside of the local trading centre. But eventually – after 11am, thankfully not terribly late by Malawi standards – the faithful old truck crested a rise and the travellers saw the church nestled below a prominent little hill.
Well the ‘azungu’ for one – who had been doing all the driving – arrived hot, tired and sweaty before he had even started preaching under the hot tin roof of the sturdy little church building. Thankfully, his dark mood had begun to improve as the travellers had started to pass through the lovely, hilly, bushland of the district. However, it completely disappeared when they finally arrived to the most wonderful of Malawi welcomes.
And far from being a sparsely filled church, it was full to bursting with the most welcoming and spiritually alive disciples one could hope for; full of vibrant life and music.
Interpreted by the General Secretary, Myles spoke from the book of Luke on the Parable of the Four Soils, and reportedly surprised the locals with his knowledge of Malawian farming methods – it’s amazing what 2 years of observing the guards in action can do! And once again he was awed at the way Christ’s stories, based on everyday life in first century Palestine, resonate so directly with the material experience and spiritual needs of rural 21st century Malawi.
With all the wonderful hospitality they received, it was gone 4pm when the travellers started for home; keen to get to the tarmac before dark fell. Perhaps it was inevitable that they ended up running into a huge thunderstorm and a downpour so heavy it was as if someone in the heavens had just opened a tap. Myles suspects they only got through miles of driving on the newly formed sandy-bottomed river – the river that had formerly been the road – and safely back to Blantyre because of the prayers of the General Secretary and Regional Superintendent who were clearly not completely convinced of Myles’ off-road driving skills!
The day was just what Myles needed: a wonderful time in a packed little church with a group of Christians who had so little materially, but who had such an obvious joy and community spirit – so like the early Christians we read about in Acts.It was a huge privilege and it made worthwhile all the challenges and frustrations of helping the church to make things happen in Malawi. It was made really special when the visitors were told by an old ‘agogo’ in the church that, since its formation in 1945 when the bush was still filled with wild animals, this was the first visit they had ever had from the ‘headquarters’ in Mitsidi; and when a Church Elder explained that this little grass-roots congregation had already listened to the renewed ZEC focus on growing mature disciples, and was actively implementing discipleship groups within its various prayer houses.
Of course – like the church anywhere – the Malawian church has its problems. But we in the West, with seemingly so much, have so much to learn from our Malawian brothers and sisters in general – and Chilipa ZEC in particular – about what truly is important.