Josh and I decided to take a trip to Lake Malawi, and it was the first recreation outing of our journey. We were still intentional with everyone we talked to. All conversations would lead to Jesus. The response to our questioning about a person’s faith has always been received with joy and acceptance here. It is almost as if they feel honored that we care about them enough to ask. It is quite the contrast to what I have experienced in the states. There is no question that God is sending workers to make this nation flourish.
I believe we were the only guests in the hotel. There is a visa cost for everyone that enters the country, so tourism has been substantially reduced. The small amount of money they raise from fees does not even compare to the money they could have made within the tourism industry. We walked down to the beach area and were swarmed with people pursuing us. They could make shorts or dresses for you right on the spot. Personalized wood keychains within an hour. Various necklaces with shapes of African animals and crosses. Paintings and a variety of other things too numerous to keep track of. People were struggling for any sale that they could get. They needed to buy food just to survive another day.
This circumstance was very troubling. I wanted to hand money to each of them. I cried out to God, what do you want me to do? I would have gladly walked away penniless from there and been glad for it. This is where the big dilemma comes in. Years of handouts and acts of kindness by others with good intentions has had adverse effects. The problem with a guilt offering or even a sincere one is that nothing is resolved, only postponed suffering by a few days at most. The residual effect is in essence begging. I will say some were offering goods, but I noticed a trend; visitors were charged considerably more. Simple necklaces which were 1,000 kwacha ($1.38) were offered to us nearly 10 times that price.
I pray that the Lord will give us wisdom to help these people in a massive way. We are beginning to identify skilled people to help train the villagers. Sewing, wood carving, painting, pottery and even jewelry making are just a few of the areas of training. There are several African nations that enjoy a tariff-free entry into many countries. The U.S. happens to be one of them. One of our goals would be to mount a large-scale village-produced product line. We would be able to export them to the U.S. without any additional tax connected. In the future, sponsoring an orphan would include learning a skill that could make them self-supporting. I think there are a number of well thought-out ways that could change the direction of their existence, but these are no quick fixes.
There was a group of young boys that had homemade instruments. I told them that if they could perform a song for us, their efforts would be rewarded. The sincere desperation that these people had was heartbreaking. The few dollars we gave them would briefly influence their lives. “That is just not good enough,” I thought to myself. Our Lord and Savior wants us to do far better.
Josh and I got to enjoy lake Malawi for about an hour and a half. Groups of colorful fish hovered around our boat. We snorkeled for a bit, but Josh became slightly uneasy. He would strain his neck above the water like a prairie dog out of the den. He would quickly turn from side to side with a nervous twitch. He was plagued by fear that in any moment crocodile jaws would clamp down on him. He had asked the tour guides several times, “No crocodiles right?” To ease his attention, he thought he would grab my leg when I swam by. I told him “Those chubby little fingers were a poor example of a crocodile…”
Probably the highlight of our water outing was throwing dead fish into the water and watching the Eagles swoop down to get them. Laser guided vision enabled them to hone in on their target. They had an effective strike and retrieval first time, every time.
The next morning, we left at 5:09 AM. We had to catch our flight mid-afternoon, and we still had to pack everything up. Occasionally, there would be a speed limit sign around the village trading centers. For the most part, there was no limit on the open roads. We saw one police vehicle the entire time that looked like it may be in good enough condition to take on a pursuit. Not much to worry about with the little Toyota. It might barely hit 90 miles an hour, then it would be wheezing like someone in the middle of an asthma attack. The $27 a day we paid for extra insurance, did not mean we had extra insurance. I was whacked with a $2,200 additional charge for damage caused to the vehicle when we were parked and a truck backed into us. Where is Judge Judy when you need her? Had I known that “insurance” did not really mean “insurance,” I would not have spent the extra $540.
We arrived at the airport with enthusiasm to go home to our loved ones. To my shock, I had been bumped off the flight. Being a true friend, Josh offered to stay and fly the following day with me. I told him that I was a big boy and could handle myself. Plus, he missed his wife and children dearly. I wish I could say that I was getting tired of him anyway, but that was not the case. Josh is a delightful young man with a heart for the Lord. Several others had been bumped off the flight, so the poor gal behind the counter was stressed out. I gave her one of the bills folded up like a cross and asked her if she knew Jesus. She replied, “Yes, and He sits beside me all day, which is the only way I can handle the stress.” There was no question that she was the right person for the job. She maintained her composure no matter how high-strung people would become.
She gave me my paperwork and said that a shuttle would transport me to the hotel. The minute that I heard I was bumped, thoughts raced through my mind concerning my stay. I had said to my wife, Rick, and some other friends that if God wanted me to stay, I would. So in my mind, I said, “God if there is one more delay for any reason the following day, I will stay.” That evening, I tried to get a hold of Tony and tell him what was going on, but I was unsuccessful. The following morning I did contact him with a very poor connection. The next thing I knew, he was in the hotel lobby with his cousin William. We walked around and Tony remarked several times that he was glad that I was there. He felt that it was God’s will for me to stay longer, with a litany of reasons why.
Together, we could set up the EchoAfrica bank account, but only after we had registered EchoAfrica as a partner with established churches in Malawi. Also, we could identify the proper channels to get the best price on Bibles. He went on to explain how meetings could be set up with the village chiefs to form alliances. Clearly, God has led us to Tony and His will was being demonstrated. As we walked back to the hotel, I lagged behind, praying, “God, if you want me to stay longer please tell me.” Then I was reminded in my mind how slow I was at reacting to the red flags that I received with Duncan. It was in that moment that I surrendered again to His will. When I did, I was struck with a longing for my family and home, yet anticipation for how God would work in and through me. When I left for this trip, I had committed in my heart to do what I was asked. Tony at the hotel was the second confirmation why I should stay. So now, I will be out in a remote village celebrating Christmas with children that have never received a gift. God is so good.