Thursday, July 16, 2009

Life's Events

One of the advantages of being a long-term missionary in the same country for a number of years is that you get to share in the lives of people, see them change and grow and participate in their major life events. A couple of weeks ago, I got to participate in the ordination of one of the younger leaders in the Africa Evangelical Church (AEC).

As I sat with the other pastors who had come for the event, my mind wandered back to my first hearing of the name Kondwani. I remember one of my missionaries talking about one of the youth in his church that had a lot of potential. He was encouraging him to go to Bible College. I remember not long after seeing his application for a scholarship. I remember the letter of recommendation from his local church and his track record of getting involved with his church. I remember various conversations with him in his last year of school as he talked about what he thought the church in Malawi should look and act like. I remember his graduation. I remember conversations about him possibly helping our Hope for AIDS program and when he first started working in it. I remember his wedding and Heidi and I being asked to lead in the procession to the reception. Faith was a flower girl. I remember receiving the news that Kondwani and Madalitso had a child. Now he was being ordained as a pastor. Cool.

The ceremony was like a regular Sunday service (hymns, prayers, sermon), but with some extra pieces. There was a formal time when the General Secretary of the AEC followed a program from a book that has outlines and wordings for such special occasions. Then there was the laying on of hands by the pastors that had gathered for the occasion (about ten) and prayer. A few of the pastors were asked to give words of advice. My two words were to remain humble and to be approachable (two problems areas that I see among some of the pastors I know). At the end Kondwani was given a white collar. The roots of the AEC are inter-tangled with the large Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) which uses white collars as well. The collars are used on special occasions like weddings and funerals.

After the service, food was served. I was taking advantage of all the people gathered to catch up with various people I don’t see often. It made me late to arrive for the food. As I approached the pastors’ table I found the last plate of food. I was happy to find a chicken leg and ate the rice and accompanying sauce. Most of the pastors were finishing and began to disperse. Then it arrived, the special plate; liver and goat lung. The pastor nearest me apologized that I had found the last plate and insisted that I be the first to help myself to the special pieces. I smiled and accepted a small piece of liver. He began to insist I take more, but the thought was quickly overtaken as spoons appeared from all around as the dispersed pastors quickly assembled again to take part.

While goat organs may not be my favorite food, the opportunity to participate in someone else’s life like this is well worth it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Seeing the world through another's eyes

Our view of life or our perspective has a huge impact on how we feel about life. It affects whether we are happy, satisfied, content or unsatisfied and anxious or worried. It is easy to get so focused and wrapped up in our own circumstances that we only see things from our point of view. Every once in a while we need a good reality check. Seeing life through someone else’s eyes can help put our perspective in check as we recognize that our worries and concerns look quite trivial when compared to others.

A couple of weeks ago I met Jameston. He is one of the students benefitting from a secondary school scholarship program that is part of our orphan care program in Nathenje. As we unpacked his story I became unsettled. I was reminded of the very basic problems that many Malawian struggle with daily and the impact that even a small amount of assistance can make. I know the tough realities of life here, especially life in the village, but each time it is personalized as I stare someone in the face telling me about their life I find myself trying to crawl into their shoes to see the world as they do. I am not sure if I would have the same positive perspective on life as Jameston if I was forced into similar circumstances.

Jameston’s father passed away in 2004. Since that time, he has been the main bread winner in his family. He tries to provide for his mom, and four other siblings as well as go to school. He works odd jobs such as helping others prepare their fields for planting, weeding, digging as well as harvesting. This seasonal work only helps for part of the year. The government assists one of his brothers with school fees, but an over stretched government is only able to help one child per family. In January of this year Jameston had to drop out of school because he could not find money enough to both assist the family and pay school fees. This is where our program came in. Jameston was happy as he told us that now that his school fees are covered and he has a uniform, shoes and notebooks his worries are much less. He just has to look for money to help the family eat.

It is humbling to talk to someone whose primary concerns are so basic and they are grateful for the difference a bit of assistance is making. I wonder if I would see the world as full of potential. When asked what he wants to do after school, Jameston responded, “I want to be a lawyer.”