As many of you already know, I recently returned from spending three and a half months in Lilongwe, Malawi. Naturally people ask me lots of ill conceived questions. For example, “How was Malawi?” Hot. Malawi was hot. It still is, by the way. Thanks for asking. Oh, you meant how my time in Malawi was? Why didn’t you say so in the first place? Others may ask, “What was the most interesting thing you learned in Malawi?” Which is an interesting question, but it’s hard for anyone to really say, “This, THIS, is what I learned over the past four months that is absolutely important.” So I prefer the rephrase, “What did you learn in Malawi?” But this post isn’t about that question. This post is about the question, “What did you enjoy about going to Malawi?”
For a number of years now I have realized that I grew up with far more theological exposure than is common anywhere in the world. I always went to churches that preached doctrine. I spent most of my years at a church that shared a campus with a seminary. Many of my Sunday school teachers and youth leaders were seminary students. One time, in fourth grade small group, our leader took a ten minute aside to explain the dispensational understanding of the storyline of national Israel from the past into the future. Many of my friends’ dads were seminary students. My own parents have a library of several hundred Christian books including biographies, commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, lexicons, and systematic theologies. As a homeschooled student I’d write papers about Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon.
Probably because of being at a church with a seminary, I grew up thinking the world was densely filled with pastors and missionaries. I thought most people, or at least most Americans, had the resources and Christian exposure that I did. And if you asked me, “Well, what about these people at this far flung corner of the world?” I’d reply, “Well, if there isn’t a missionary there already I’m sure there will be one there soon.” All this started to change after the first time I went on a short term ministry trip. I started to see the vast disparity between the spiritual riches I enjoyed and the spiritual poverty of most of the world, particularly the nation of Malawi I was visiting.
Now humanly speaking, I believe there are two reactions to seeing a vast disparity in the distribution of a commodity. Consider the example of a stereotypical family dinner. Little Johnny complains about the brussel sprouts and refuses to eat them. His mother then replies, “There are starving children in Africa who would love that food, deary. Please eat your brussel sprouts right now!” I’m sure we’ve all heard this expression before. And we can all sympathize with the sentiment. Unlike so many others in the world, we are provided for. We have food that we know will be on the table every day. Why should we complain about
barely perfectly edible food when other people have none? But we all know what little Johnny will say now. “Send my brussel sprouts to the little African kids then, Mommy!” The two responses to a disparity in a commodity distribution are either, “Well, let’s not complain about what we have because we have so much,” or, “Let’s try to fix the distribution!” They’re not mutually exclusive, but they are distinct responses.
When we see a disparity of spiritual wealth, we often respond by trying to maximize what we’re getting out of our spiritual resources. We stop taking our churches and pastors for granted. We read the books we have on our bookshelves. We start serving in Bible studies and on Sundays. We start evangelizing in our neighborhoods and schools. A lot changes in our lives. But something about this response has never really satisfied me. Perhaps Luke 12:41-48 helps to explain.
Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
I’ve recognized that I have a sort of spiritual heritage passed down to me. I recognize this as a trust to be stewarded. Christ here speaks predominantly of the trust of knowing the gospel and responding by accepting it. But I think sharing it, and working towards gospel ministry, is a similarly appropriate response reflecting the readiness Jesus commends here.
What I enjoyed about my time in Malawi was working to help build and solidify a ministry in Malawi that directly impacts gospel ministry in the Malawian church. I may have been doing data entry on spreadsheets and setup for websites and running errands, but it was to help establish a school to train pastors. If you don’t know much about that school, go here. I strongly recommend you read about the stories of those Malawian pastors. I got to help share some of the spiritual wealth with people who literally had none before. That’s really, really fun for me. And I can’t think of a better, or at least a more direct, way for me to pursue trying to be faithful with what I have been given in the future.