A few weeks ago my Auntie Reine came to visit us for a week. She was in South Africa at the Cape Town 2010 conference for world evangelization. A perk of her trip was that she'd also be able to visit us in Malawi after the conference. The Sunday school classes that she works with at Evergreen Baptist Church (where her husband/my Uncle Cory pastors) have been collecting offerings over the past few years to send to the kids at Bright Vision. So while she was here, her biggest desire was to head out to Bright Vision for an overnight stay. We would attend the feeding program in the morning, then hang around BVOC for the afternoon and evening. In the morning we would be attending Ngala CCAP church (Church of Central Africa- Presbyterian).
A few weeks before, we had attended Ngala with Ian Nagata (worship pastor from Evergreen), and as the visiting pastor from the USA he was asked to preach the sermon that morning. He did a great job, and seemed totally unfazed by having to stop after each phrase for the head elder to translate into Chichewa. So, for this visit it was my turn to fill the pulpit.
The church service starts at 10am-ish. The -ish means that it starts at about 10:30, or whenever the people have gathered, the visitors have arrived, and the elders actually walk into the room (a small primary school assembly hall). There is a side for women and a side for men, and the women's side is obviously more packed than the men's side. The pulpit up front is decorated with a hand-sewn piece of fabric and some funny-looking purple flower things in cups. The church elders sit up front along with the guests (us).
For this Sunday, since they knew that visitors were coming, there were two different choirs who performed during the service. The first was a choir of children, from ages 8-16 who sang one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in Malawi. When we get back to the States this Christmas, I'm going to try and upload it on here so you can listen to it. A young girl of about 10 led the song with a piercing, high-pitched (in the best way) voice that left us floored. The women's choir was also very good, and added lots of movement and modest dancing to their songs. I think that all of us would agree that the most special time of the service was the singing from these choirs. It was tough to get up and preach after these brothers and sisters had sung so richly.
So I preached on Ephesians 2:1-10, a passage that I have been going back to over and over again for the last several months. I've used it in a devotional talk with the Northstar kids on our retreat back in May, and taught through it a few weeks ago with our youth Sunday school class at church. Besides presenting it, just thinking about it a lot. If you can, grab a Bible and take a look at the passage. It's one of the best "Gospel in 10 verses" that I've found in scripture. It draws such a stark and appropriate contrast between 1) what we deserve as a result of our sinfulness, VS. 2)the undeserved love and grace that God lavishes on us through Jesus. The Lord led me to the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 to try and express the concepts of mercy and grace portrayed in Ephesians. God witholds judgment in his mercy (Chifundo in Chichewa). But he then, also, expresses his grace (Chisomo) by making us sons and daughters who have eternal life through faith in Christ.
Please, take some time to read and reflect on this passage from Ephesians.
We hope to visit with the people of Ngala CCAP church every couple months, and maybe I'll be preaching again. It is a privilege to share fellowship with Malawian Christians in such a small, rural setting. It must have been an especially profound for my Auntie. She had just spent the last two weeks in Cape Town with over 4,000 Christians from every part of the world with some of the biggest names in evangelical Christianity attending. The last Sunday of the conference, the entire congregation took communion together, the culmination of a week of preaching, worshiping, conversation and networking that will hopefully spur on evangelization of the world for the next few decades. A week later, my Auntie Reine stepped into a crowded primary school assembly hall with about 120 villagers in rural Malawi who don't have running water or electricity in their mud-brick homes. God's kingdom extends from Cape Town to Chamadenga village and His presence is as real here as it is anywhere else.
Praise God, He is Truly Glorious.