Today was the first day that we did not leave the hotel for the entire day, so Josh and I had a chance to lay out the basics of our plan. One of the very first steps in establishing a sturdy base in Malawi is securing the right team members. On that front, we were able to interact more with Tony at the hotel, who continues to surprise us with his depth of understanding and wisdom for 23 years old, indicating God’s presence in his life. Josh and I agree that Bible distribution, teaching, ministering, and discipleship are all a must for EchoAfrica’s future here. Spiritual growth needs to always be the first category. However, we would also like to continue restoring wells to operational status as much as possible. We believe that these two objectives could be achieved together. A Malawian partner could visit the churches and village chiefs to set up interactions. After the appropriate coordination is completed, we could return at a later date to execute our mission.
A vehicle will also be needed, with significant suspension-travel, a toolbox, a roof rack, and a storage locker for Bibles. Another crucial need for us will be to have someone on the ground fulltime to identify churches with interest and dilapidated wells. Identifying the right individuals for this is a must. Tony is a great candidate, but he currently wants to finish his college education in South Africa. However, if it is God’s will for him to work with the EchoAfrica team, I sense that he will be obedient to the Holy Spirit. In our further discussions with him, he revealed that he knows others who may also be suitable to assist in the project.
Josh and I feel confident that we can continue moving forward with Felix. He needs training, discipleship, and a good solid mentor, but he already has the key trait—a heart committed to serving the Lord. A system of checks and balances will be put in place, so at least three individuals will decide how to spend God’s provision and sign on the checks. We have discovered for ourselves how critical the spiritual and physical needs of the Malawi people are. Months of evaluation, speculation, and planning could have been detrimental (especially for eternal matters), so we are glad we started in Malawi when we did instead of waiting.
When we traveled into Blantyre to pick up a few items, we found this shantytown of small structures connected by a complex maze of tunnels and passageways. Literally hundreds of small shops are tacked together into a cluster of a fire inspector’s nightmare. Long narrow passageways stretch nearly a quarter mile. Occasional sunlight shone through the mismatched ceiling structure. A sort of strobe effect occurred as pinholes of light danced through the roofs. We encountered more smells during our exploration than I probably have in most of my life. It was like something that you may have envisioned out of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
As you may remember from our previous blog, today’s meeting with Nazeer had an interesting beginning at a layover in Nairobi, where we had met his wife Nusrat and daughter Aisha. Looking back, Josh and I had a very friendly and warm conversation with them while we all waited for our flight. It was one of those encounters that resulted in a far greater impact than we could imagine. Earlier, I mentioned that we had met with Nazeer at his dealership. Josh, Duncan, and myself were in search of a vehicle or motorcycle for Felix. He was kind enough to spend a considerable amount of time with us that day. He is a wealth of information in many areas.
We met in Nazeer’s office and had another wonderful conversation with his father, Abdul Rashid Osman SC. He is such a stately man, with a friendly and warm countenance. Nazeer openly shared tremendous struggles that he has encountered with certain government officials, mostly in taxation. After years of harassment (disguised as investigation), he was cleared of all charges. The level of corruption that exists in Malawi is far-reaching. Placing incentives in the hands of the wrong individual can cause great heartache and anguish.
Nazeer’s fortitude and drive would not let him succumb to wrongful charges. It was a long, hard battle that he had to fight, but he was entirely innocent. He continued to inform us of areas that could be helpful for the EchoAfrica team in Malawi. We were surprised when his wife Nusrat entered through the office door and greeted Josh and I, but I wished she had brought little Aisha. However, my frown turned upside down when we were invited to their home.
We followed them to their house, which is only a couple of miles from where we were staying. The home was lovely, and much of it had been designed by Nazeer’s father. We were met at the doorway by a smiling bundle of energy—Aisha. She said matter-of-factly that she remembered us from the airport. After entering the house, we were introduced to a variety of different toys that Aisha liked to play with. You could tell that she was being raised in an invigorating environment. Her language skills and communication ability was far beyond her years.
Everyone was gracious as they served a tea/milk combo and finger food. We also got to meet Nazeer’s mother Menchu, a kind hearted and gentle woman. The conversation was easy-going and funny at times, then more serious and deliberate. Josh said on the way to the house that he was not going to bring up sensitive subjects while we were there. I suggested that maybe as the relationship developed, there would be a time and place for them.
So when Josh asked, “What is the motivation that would cause some Muslims to commit suicide bombings?” I was a bit surprised. I wished I could hit the rewind button and apply a strip of duct tape! However, the way that they answered the question with respect and courtesy spoke volumes. Their answers were well thought out and revealed things that we may not have been aware of. They also drew our attention that suicide bombings had no basis in religion or culture, but were more to do political manipulation of people. Josh even mentioned later that there was a bit of role reversal. Typically, I had been the one asking tough questions, and many times Josh would cringe at them. At the time that he asked the question, I felt like it was inappropriate, but reflecting back on the situation, I now feel differently. Had he not asked the question, we would have not gotten the opportunity to experience the manner in which they answered it.
There’s no question that Christians and Muslims have different beliefs, although there are similarities. I believe having the ability to share our faith with one another in a respectable and tactful way is critical. The primary way to have a better understanding is to describe it from a position of love. Without that, failure has already occurred. Our conversation was informative for all of us. They were gracious, respectful, and thoughtful. Never once did I hear anyone talk over one another or interrupt.
Another consideration that Nazeer offered was the possibility of getting Bibles at a reasonable cost. He knows a gentleman that’s involved in a Christian organization called Claim. From the beginning, I felt there would be a long-term friendship here. Later, I checked out the website of the organization and, sure enough, it was just as he said, and it’s based in Blantyre.
After leaving the Osman residence, Josh commented, “They were nicer than many Christians I have met!” I’m not sure if prior to this meeting, Josh could have seen the opportunity for a long-term friendship. The hospitality and graciousness they extended to us was wonderful. Dealing tactfully with the differences in personal beliefs allows us to continue in an ongoing relationship, and it is what God wants for us.