A few months ago our pastor at home in Bedfordshire was preaching about encouragement, and used the example of the different kinds of encouragement received by those who run in a marathon. Marathon runners get encouragement from their friends who have wished them well and sponsored them. Then they get encouragement from those who turn up on the day and line the streets to cheer them on. Then just occasionally a fellow marathon runner stops to help someone who is struggling, by running alongside them and helping them reach the finish line.
This picture has been in my mind as I have been preparing for my trip to Malawi. It is over two years since we have been able to visit Malawi, and during that time all of us at Zambesi Mission have been those encouragers who have been giving support from afar, by email or WhatsApp, keeping a prayerful interest in all that is going on with our brothers and sisters in Malawi. It was great news when at long last Malawi was removed from the “Red list”, so that we can be those encouragers who turn up in person to cheer them along, and do a little bit of running alongside by working with them for a short time.
It seems I will be doing a bit of both while I’m here. My visit to Mlambuzi ZEC was intended to cheer Matthews along as he pastors his rural church. But in a sense I was also there to “run alongside” him by working with him. He had asked me to speak to the different groups in the church – the leadership, the Chiyanjano (women’s fellowship), the children, and the whole church gathered on Sunday morning – and was quite specific about the topics he wanted me to talk about, to add an extra voice to his own.
And it was hugely encouraging for me to have Matthews “run alongside” me as I taught the children. He translated with even more animation than I could muster in the heat, and the children were totally focussed on our double act! Matthews had been involved with the creation of new biblical Chichewa songs for children when I was working on Ananu Ziimbani back in 2016, and his powerful singing voice was a huge help in teaching one of these songs to the children.
There will be more of this in the week ahead, as I meet and cheer on many more of those whom I partnered with from 2014-2017, and as I work alongside Children for Christ Ministry for a day or two. (I understood I would be teaching at a Bible Club on Wednesday – I have just had a message to say that in fact it will be three Bible Clubs one after the other, so to be sure to bring a bottle of water with me!)