Coming Home From Malawi

Hello friends!

Ten days ago, a team of seven students and seven adults left on the trip of a lifetime. We traveled from Pittsburgh to a city called Zomba in Malawi. We had been planning this trip for well over three years, and fundraising for the last couple of months. Our teens did amazing work leading up to the trip, and it came as no shock to anyone that they did great work in Africa itself!

I've spent the morning trying to post everything that we learned from this trip, but I'm coming up severely short in all of my drafts. So while a play by play review of the trip will likely be coming sometime in the future, I thought I'd share a couple of initial thoughts now that we're back in the States to pass the time. What I'm about to do is kind of like trying to fit the ocean in a Dixie cup, but we'll see where it takes us.

1. Don't underestimate youth. 

This has been a staple thought of my ministry from day one, but it was on loud and proud display in Malawi. Too often in our culture, teenagers are looked at as less than capable people, folks who should not be trusted with the hard stuff of life. I think (hope) it comes from a place of care for the youth, that we don't want to over-whelm their already busy plates. But the truth is, at least with the students I work with, they are capable of every challenge that life hands them. Why would we expect anything less of them?

Our kids were amazing on this trip. We told them this about ten gazillion times, but I don't know if our words were capable of expressing what we as adults and leaders were feeling. From big things like sharing testimonies and forming a choir (who knew?) for a church service to small things like not complaining when plans changed and keeping it together when the whole crew was taken over by a food poisoning episode, our kids were up to the challenges Malawi handed them. Frankly, they handled themselves much better than some adults I know would have in the same situations.

We also had the opportunity to meet some amazing students from Zomba CCAP. Culturally, their youth group looks a lot different from ours (you're basically in the youth group until you get married, so there were people as old as 30s and 40s in it), but their ability to rise to the occasion was no less impressive. One of the ministries of Zomba CCAP is their Street Kids Program, which provides lunch and spiritual education to countless homeless children in Zomba. The whole thing is now being run by their youth, and they do it with grace and poise, as if they were made for such a task (spoiler alert: they were). It was a tremendously beautiful thing to see.

So the take home here is that our youth can be trusted with the big things. We can lay upon them the challenges that they're already facing, because for as much as we try to shelter them from the world, they're already a part of it. And truthfully, when you're in the front row watching a group of students rise to the occasion, it may well be the most beautiful thing you'll ever see.

2. 90% of anything is just showing up. 

One of the questions we were asked the most (and the one we had the hardest time answering) was "What are you going to do in Malawi?" It was a fair question before we left, because we had absolutely no idea!

When people think mission trips, they usually think about the kind of hammer and nails building that goes on in a lot of the state-side trips. Either that, or they envision street preaching, passing out tracts and trying to win people to Christ. We knew from the start that this trip wasn't going to be either of those things. So what were our goals? 

Our goals were to broaden our faith and the faith of the folks we met by simply showing up and sharing. This sounds painfully simple, and that's because it is! But the truth is, it's also downright biblical. Acts 2 was lived out in a profound way, as a group from Westminster and a youth group from Zomba CCAP literally shared all things in common. We spent time together. We ate together. We prayed together. We sang together (we did this one a lot). We literally climbed mountains together. And through it all, we grew together. We learned what a dynamic faith in Jesus Christ can look like across cultures and across oceans. And, like watching the kids rise to the challenges put before them, it was an awe-inspiring thing. 

How much of our lives are spent looking for something "big" to do? How often do we feel like we need to write the next book or sing the next song or build the next house to make a difference in someone's life? What if, to truly make a difference, all that's required of us is to show up and let God do his work among us? What if sharing life together would be all we needed? 

3. Always keep a sense of awe.

How could you spend all that time traveling to Africa and not stop along the way to see the awesome animals?

(A better question to ask me would be, how could you know you were going to see the animals and forget to charge your camera battery that day?)

We spent a whole day on Safari in Liwonde national park, and saw all the animals you typically see at the zoo sans cages. We spent the night in an area where you would be kept awake by the snorts and shuffling of hippos (easily the most terrifying part of the trip for me). Crocodiles swam alarmingly close to our boat. And all I could think the entire time was "What an awesome God."

He created the whole world for us, and everything that's in it. I think God takes extreme delight when a group of people hop in a bus, drive around his creation taking pictures and excitedly exclaiming to each other "look at that!" Surely it brings a smile to the Creator's face!

But I wonder if we shouldn't have the same sense of awe when we're driving around Upper Saint Clair as we do when we are lucky enough to find ourselves in the jungle? I wonder if a smile shouldn't be enough to fill us with wonder and amazing me as an elephant's tusks? What would the world look like if we all carried that sense of awe into everything we experienced in God's good world? I'm not sure, but I think it would be a drastically better place.

So those are some initial thoughts. I'll be sharing more, including a bunch of pictures pretty soon. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement on the trip!