***Clarification: Malawi means “Flames of Fire”. So these girls aren’t literally on fire… but they are on fire for Christ and what He is doing in Africa!
Culture Corner: There is a very important distinction that must be learned on your first day in Malawi. There are three words in Chichewa that are so similar that they are easily confused to the untamed ear. The three words are chambo, chamba, and chambe. I bet as you read that, you might have seen the same word three times and had to re-read it to see the distinction. But the distinction is important because these three words have very different meanings. One is a fish (chambo). One is a tea (chambe). And one is marijuana (chamba). Imagine trying to order tea, and instead accidentally ordering an illegal substance… not a mistake we wanted to make in Malawi! So, once again we will review what each means:
Chambo = fish
Chambe = tea
Chamba = marijuana
I would recommend committing this to memory before landing in Malawi. Zikomo!
Sarah: I stood in the bathtub on my last night in Malawi and Africa in general, under an unavailing shower with a bucket of fire-heated water to the right of my feet. I stared at my reflection in the mirror directly in front of me. I did not recognize the girl staring back at me. Her face was nude, not a scratch of makeup on it. Her hair was untamed from the wind that carelessly tangled each strand in its rebellious nature in the hours we spent in cars with no air conditioning. Her skin, red from the equator sunburn that appeared after about five minutes outside. As I stared, I realized something. I took the cup that we fashioned out of a plastic water bottle that Abigail cut in half with a dagger, and I poured the warm water on my head. The water felt like Heaven pouring down onto my head. But that is not what I thought about during this particular bath time. No, I came to the realization that I was different.
Africa had changed me. Malawi… Rwanda… Uganda… Grace, Rutherford, Pearl, Cyprian, Margaret and the many others I had met had changed me. They now owned a little piece of my heart that I would never get back nor did I want back.
I realized that I may look the same on the outside, but my month in Africa had inexplicably had a major impact on my heart. It had changed my perspective of the world and of myself. It had changed my values and even my dreams for my future. Maybe Africa is the wrong thing to blame for this transformation. The more appropriate culprit is God. God took the girl that I was and radically changed her heart. Now it beat, perhaps just by a fraction of a second, more in line with His. It is more aware of His desires for my life. It is more loving, more understanding, and more open to people. And, perhaps the greatest change to ever occur in my life, my heart began to reflect Him and radiate God’s love in a way it never had before.
Bekah: The bumpy dirt road seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. Villages came and went. Houses grew more and more scarce as we traveled farther out into the bush. We crossed dry creek beds, the car dipping down low into places where the road seemed to have forgotten the feel of a car. Finally we turned off the dirt road and stopped next to a small dirt hut. I’m ashamed to admit the church in its entirety would fit in my garage. Yet the size did not stop the believers who called that church home. They greeted us with big smiles and soaring voices, welcoming us in for a Thursday afternoon service they had called specifically that we might experience worship with them. The small church filled quickly as people gathered inside and took their seat. My humility increased even more as we sat on small wooden chairs, then realizing we were some of the few who had the blessing of sitting on a chair. The rest of the congregation sat on tarps or on the dirt floor.
I couldn’t help but think of the uproar that surely would happen if people in Western countries had to sit on the floor every Sunday to hear the word of God preached. Yet as that thought crossed my head, I must admit I was thanking the Lord that I was blessed with a chair. How sinful my own thoughts and desires are.
As the service stretched on, choir after choir stood to raise their voices in worship to our Creator. I couldn’t understand one word of what they were saying, but their joy did not need a translation. Worshipping in Africa is one of my all-time favorite things to do. I don’t always know the words or the songs, but those few moments of unhindered praising gives me a glimpse of what Heaven looks like. I have full confidence that when that day comes I’ll be able to understand what is being said when in Heaven. But the mixture of voices, languages, nations, and people represented will be the same. Oh how I look forward to that day when I am able to be reunited with our brothers and sisters from Malawi and sing alongside of them to worship our Creator and Savior.
Abigail: I’m not sure what it is about Malawi that causes us to wax poetic. It is an unexpectedly beautiful place, as you drive out of the smoke filled city into its vast plains pierced by tall rocky mountains. The pinkest of sunsets fall over the grazing cows and the unusual baobab trees, which look as though they’ve been plucked out of the ground and turned upside down. We entered Malawi not knowing what was in store for us, myself only all too aware of the pain that was had here just a month before our arrival. Rutherford, our missionary, lost his lovely wife, Tsahai, unexpectedly in May. His commitment, energy, and excitement for the ministries they undertook has not wavered. He told us of the 50+ churches that have been planted under his leadership and took us to fellowship with two of them, one in the city and one in the remotest of villages. We were privileged to hear and record a women’s choir, a project started by Tsahai years ago, uniting women from several of the churches. Through the women, with their voices raised and harmonies on point, we saw the beauty of their unity and the heart of what Tsahai started. We stayed at Elizabeth Hope House, where 48 girls have the opportunity to study and live in safety while they are in high school. We witnessed a feeding program that feeds over a hundred children every week and gives them a foundation of scripture interspersed with fun and games. These projects were close to Tsahai’s heart, especially the girls at Elizabeth House – and though deeply bittersweet, her legacy lives on, through the steadfastness of Rutherford, his children, and the many people in Malawi who are picking up the torch and allowing God’s light to shine on.