Showered in Smiles
The Journey to Africa took us over 30 hours. On the way, we engaged with a variety of people in many interesting conversations. Mark and Tina were probably one of the most memorable. They have been involved with Saruni, a missionary organization, for over ten years. The couple is based in Kenya and we met them on one of our layovers. Their helpful information made us feel that God ordained our contact with one another. As I gazed at them my mind drifted in thought, wondering if that would be my wife and I ten10 years in the future.
Two of our bags did not arrive with us, yet both were vital. Clothing, medicines, and a variety of gifts for the orphans were missing. Many people joined us in prayer for a safe recovery of the two suitcases. After taking a much-needed rest, we returned to the airport quite early in the morning. Two hours later, we were able to receive our bags that had arrived on a different flight the night before. Praise Jesus for the return of our bags and the ability to continue on as planned!
Since it took us extra time to retrieve our bags, we were delayed in our departure to the conference that we were invited to. In addition to that, the Toyota Corolla that we rented was terribly ill-suited for the road conditions we encountered. A military Hummer would have done the job with finesse, but most other 4x4 vehicles would have found it to be challenging. I am sure you can imagine the difficulty for the little Toyota! Navigating the large rocks and boulders was like tiptoeing through a minefield, and we were often startled with the screech of rocks scraping the metal underneath. The engine took on a distinctive sound as the exhaust pipe was being battered by the relentless rock-strewn roads. For the most part, the last several miles were typically traveled on foot or by small motorcycles. I believe God endowed the little Toyota with supernatural powers, because it was so surefooted on the mountainside. We even coined the name “Billy Goat” for our tiny but trusty Toyota.
I do not know if it was eagerness to spend time with my African brothers and sisters, but whatever it was, we somehow got through to the designated area. We experienced something that we never had before. The last mile or so, an increasing number of children began to follow our vehicle while singing and smiling all the way. Joy bubbled from their faces in celebration of our arrival. We felt like the Pied Piper leading the children. It was a very moving experience and we captured it on this video to share. We instantly knew that something very special was about to happen. There was no question in our minds that God had ordained this encounter.
Immediately after exiting the vehicle, we felt an unmistakable connection with the people of Malawi. The children were especially endearing with their huge smiles and eager embraces. When we made eye contact with them, we knew the Holy Spirit was bringing us toward them. Probably 75-100 children and a few adults accompanied us down to the church singing and clapping their hands. We felt as if we were having our own tickertape parade; African style. Instead of throwing confetti on us, they showered us in smiles.
We entered the little church that was jam-packed full of people. The measurements were roughly 24 ft. wide by 48 ft. long. It had a grass roof and miniscule 8 inch high clay benches. The day was already quite warm. Not knowing what to expect with indoor temperatures, we were pleasantly surprised with the slight breeze floating through the building. I would estimate there were 120 people packed inside like sardines, and just as many stood around the church outside. Six new plastic chairs sat at the front of the church. I am sure they purchased them to offer us comfort, and this was one of many humbling events for us. They were more than happy to sit on the muddy dirt floor with squatty clay benches for hours at a time. I was sobered to see how people with nothing can worship the Lord in spirit and truth far greater than we do in America. The majority of mega churches and multimillion-dollar buildings have only created a deficiency in our commitment to God and worship of Him.
The gladness that these people demonstrated during praise and worship was amazing. They took turns singing unique songs with different leaders for each one. After listening to several songs and a few different prayers, it was time for Josh to begin to speak. I was hoping that he was feeling a sense of relief from what we had just witnessed.
Before we traveled to the conference, we needed to return to the airport to pick up our bags. On the way there, I noticed through the rear-view mirror that Josh didn’t look too good. He instructed me that it might be best to pull over to the side of the road. After a half a dozen episodes of regurgitation we were once again on our way. After adding 2 hours of extremely bumpy roads to that, I was concerned. But, like a trooper, he went on the stage (a dirt floor) and proceeded to teach.
It was the first time that Josh had ever preached with the aid of an interpreter. Right away, it became quite evident that a different approach would be necessary. Having any type of flow or rhythm to the delivery was impossible to achieve. I could tell that he was struggling, but he continued. He read many scriptures right out of the Bible, and then he would explain their meaning. About a half hour into it he turned to me and expressed his uneasiness with how it was going. I assured him he was doing fine, and that the message was more significant to the listeners than the choppy rhythm of his presentation.
As he kept sharing, he began to gain a sense for what the crowd responded to. He had someone stand up and do a little demonstration with them. The crowd was amused and seemed to enjoy Josh’s antics. Clearly, doing activities that involved the congregation was most impactful. Soon the morning session was complete, and it was time for lunch. Everyone departed the church and went into the small village area. The methods that they used for food preparation dated back thousands of years.
The village has no electricity or running water. In fact, they did not own any modern conveniences. The food preparation area consisted of three open fires, and a pile of firewood nearby provided the fuel. They cooked a corn mush that ended up having a consistency similar to cottage cheese. They also had cooked a cow’s liver for the special event. Except for some colorful clothing they were wearing, and some modern pots and pans, it could’ve been a scene from a few thousand years ago. I marveled at the looks on their faces and the smiles they gave us considering the circumstances they were living in. Every American needs to experience this type of existence. Then maybe we would stop acting like it was the end of the world when somebody accidentally put pickles on our cheeseburger, instead of onions.
They stirred these large vats that were placed over the open fire. When they determined it was cooked sufficiently, they transferred it to smaller serving bowls. The pastors and the guest speakers were served first. They had no utensils, so eating with our fingers was the common practice. Have you seen those TV commercials about starving children? The impact that it has on someone when witnessing it in person is staggering. Their little popped out bellies and bare feet were very common. The most amazing thing was their continual smiles, worth far more than gold and jewels.
While Josh tried the local cuisine, I spent time with the children. I was surrounded by 30 or 40 of them. They were beaming up at me as though I was Santa Claus with a bag of gifts. They did not understand a word I said, but there was a supernatural love flowing between us. When we would look at each other, it was as if we were grafted into each other’s family. At first, I was not sure what I should do. Then I believe God inspired me to play some games with them. I first showed them how to play patty cake, and later we moved on to limbo with a stick that I found nearby. From there we played Simon Says, which was hilarious! I also threw in a few other games I remembered from my childhood, but I hoped for a deeper connection than just games.
I decided to walk from child to child, placing my hand on each of their dear heads, and they received my touch as though it were a special gift. Droves of children came up to me throughout the rest of the day wanting me to place my hand on their head. Even during the remainder of the conference, children would come up to the little opening in the wall and reach their hand in so I could touch it. The gift I received from these little ones was priceless. They had nothing, not even the bare necessities, but they cherished human contact and the love between us.
If there ever was a question in my mind about whether or not God was moving in this situation, it has been completely erased. My daughter loves children and acquiring new languages, so I know she will probably be learning an African language now. The first time my family accompanies me here, I am sure they will experience the unbelievable. I have no doubt that we will learn far more from them than they will from us.
Josh seemed more relaxed after lunch and began to develop a cadence with the interpreter. He provided sound biblical teaching in an understandable way. It was interesting from my perspective to sit back and watch how the people reacted. The short stories Josh told that related to their environment seemed to make a quick connection with them. He is definitely gifted in teaching the Word. As the daily discussions were about to come to an end, it was my opportunity to speak. I had asked Josh to do the talking since he is more suited. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit had already given me what I was supposed to talk about.
The first thing I asked of them was to say “Praise Jesus!” as loud as they could three times. On the third time, I told them that we want to make sure Jesus hears them in heaven. So they did not disappoint us with their highly elevated voices praising Jesus. Playing Simon Says with the children was the only inspiration the Holy Spirit had given me thus far, so I engaged the whole congregation in the game and, when they failed to obey the rules, they had to sit down. After about half of the congregation was sitting, I went on to tell them the rest of the story.
Imagine for a moment that the game was called “Jesus Says.” Then I said, “You do not want to be sitting down at the end of the game because you did not do what Jesus says.” I explained to them that the Bible gives us instructions of how we shall live. We must use those instructions so that at the end, we are not sitting down (not entering into heaven.) They seemed to enjoy the activity of Simon Says, and I hope they consider what Jesus Says. We had a prayer time and exchanged hugs and handshakes before our departure.
We discovered some intriguing facts about driving on the mountainside as we left. When going downhill, it’s difficult to judge the amount of horsepower and traction needed to get up the next hill, so the little Toyota needed human assistance to scale several hills. Josh wished that going from a construction job to a desk job had not been such a dramatic attack on his physical condition. He was a real trooper along with Pastor Felix and Pastor Duncan.
It’s been exciting to get to know these two men. Pastor Felix is very quiet, but when he is in front of the congregation, the Spirit ignites his fire for the Lord. Unfortunately, he has not learned many English words yet. Pastor Duncan is well-informed and knowledgeable about all types of activities in Malawi. He will be instrumental in further involvement of Echo Africa. As the story unfolds, we will be talking in much greater detail about these two gentlemen. The blessings that we have received already from our encounters made the 30 + hours time on the plane worth it. I will continue sharing throughout the trip, and I hope that the Holy Spirit moves you as it has for me while experiencing the love of these people. Earnestly pray for them.