The punch line to that joke is quite literally the entirety of what Africa has been thus far. Let’s just say Jesus has taught me how to do a whole lot of laughing this month.
For months 4, 5 and 6 of the race, my (NEW) team is in the capital city of Lilongwe here in Malawi. We live permanently at Mabuya Camp- a backpacking hostel. Besides serving as a place for weary travelers and passersby to rest their heads and eat a good meal, it’s most popular feature is the bar. No, we world racers are NOT drinking. However, it’s been a neat spot to live, considering we see new faces almost daily. While living at Mabuya, we’ve gotten the choice to not only talk with, encourage and share the gospel with tons of travelers from all over the world, but we’ve also been able to build relationships with the staff- mostly a mix of twenty-somethings from the UK and Malawian locals. And in return they teach us their party tricks, like how to pour shots to the rim with our eyes closed (we use water bottles y’all, but it’s still a party.) It’s a fair trade, honestly. It’s the kind of place that, amidst the never ending activity, streams of people and avid conversation, reminds you that ministry isn’t limited to the hours in a local village, a church, a pastor’s home or an orphanage. Life itself is ministry, and it happens wherever you allow it to.
From the moment we stepped off the plane during our layover in Nairobi, Kenya, I had a feeling that Africa was going to be special. Day one of ministry proved that even more. That day, the African experience that I’ve always pictured came to life instantly. With “Wrappas” (or sheets of fabric) tied around our waists as skirts, our team of six, plus locals & our host pastor, added to a grand total of 25 bodies inside of a 12 passenger van- only to struggle out roughly 10 minutes later and hop onto bicycle taxis (yes, you read correctly. We sat on the backs of bicycles while people pedaled us through the town…)
A quick lesson in Chichewa, the local language of Malawi. A “Mazungu” is a white person, “Azungu” means several white people.
(Get it? Six white people walk into a bar? I think I’m funny, it’s fine…)
As we rode through the village on the back of bicycles to get to our first host church, I couldn’t help but feel like the Queen of England- or at least some one else of similar caliber. No joke- people would turn heads, stare, and run out of their houses, as the word “azungu” seemed to be the only word the entire town could remember.
“Hey look, the white people are in town!” “Look! White people!” The whole nine yards… Not to mention the adorable kids running outside to wave, give high fives, and even follow us door to door throughout the day.
Moments like those remind me of the visions I had in my head of what life would look like when I signed up for the Race. Villages of people excited that we were in town, ready to listen to the Gospel and hear what the Lord has to say. Bunches of kids to play with and teach Bible stories to. But the reality is, Africa hasn’t been filled with that. Because like the rest of the world, Africa is broken. So naturally, life is broken and painful too.
I haven’t written a blog since I got to Africa, because for a while, I didn’t think people wanted to read about the hard stuff. Impressive testimonies of faith, miraculous healing and, well, “the warm heart of Africa”. No-one wanted to read about the time I got Salmonella and E. Coli (yes, at the same time), the time my team was sexually harassed at the Malawi vs China futbol game, about how I broke out into hives, how we were 3 hours from home with intoxicated drivers & had to drive/ navigate a mini bus home on our own (driving on the opposite side of the road), or how ministry was really, really (REALLY) hard.
But recently, I’ve realized that sunshine and rainbows isn’t at all what it’s about. If I’m not mistaken, I think that people want candor more than anything. People genuinely want to know the details of the race- the good and the bad. And the hard truth is, not every moment of the World Race is easy, comfortable and feel-good. Actually, a good chunk of it is HARD. REALLY HARD.
For the past month and a half, I’ve wrestled with purpose- specifically the Lord’s purpose for myself and my team in Malawi at all. We’ve had bad experience after bad experience, life threatening situation after just plain discomfort. Why? Why was this a season of so much pain? Not only have we struggled with these experiences (sickness, etc.) outside of ministry, but our scheduled day to day activities were up to the same, seemingly impossible, par. We’ve partnered with pastors who don’t understand the purpose or process of evangelism. We’ve met folks with a “turn or burn outlook”, and others that believe once you say the right things or pray the right prayers, it doesn’t matter how you live your life, or even if you understand the prayer you’re praying, you’re into heaven just like that. Others, unfortunately, are just plain rude and disrespectful. How, as Christian missionaries, do we go along with these things? How do we feel like we are actually making a difference when the truths that we know and try to speak out are disregarded for a different, and wrong, method of preaching the word of Jesus like we’re called to do?
The answer is- we try. We try to communicate to the best of our abilities. We show love through actions, which we can control, versus words that are so easily lost in translation, neglected, or even just forgotten. We pray. We pray as we head from door to door and we intercede, because sometimes, that’s the best we can do for the broken world we live in.
Back in Nicaragua a few years ago, I was told something that I remind myself daily here in Malawi.
“We Americans can’t change Nicaragua. Nicaraguans have to change Nicaragua.”
We can help, but we’re not the cause of that change. All we can do is come alongside and help facilitate. We teach the men how to fish, we don’t do it for them.
So yeah. Six white girls walked into a bar, and it was only the beginning. But we keep on doing the things, living the life, and praying for hope in a country that desperately needs it.
Love y’all, mean it!! See you real soon!! (4 MONTHS!!!),
Taken from my original blog, haydenschwarting.theworldrace.org