Guest Blog Post: Raqel Cherry

Raqel is originally from South Africa, so for her coming with the TMC team to Malawi is almost coming home. She encapsulates here much of what the team has been thinking about and doing while they’re here – wrestling with suffering, considering the role of compassion ministries, and loving the church.

(Raqel Cherry) The pace is a lot slower here in Malawi, in everything from the internet connection to tasks we are trying to get done. I found it really easy to feel right at home here, and not just because the Floreen’s have been the most amazing host missionaries, but also because a lot of the culture is very similar to South Africa and there are a lot more familiar sights like rooibos tea, nutticrust biscuits and green cream soda.

TMC Team Ready to Leave for Mozambique

Our main project here is to help Matt find out what local ministries are around and who is doing them well. Our team has been wrestling through how we can really be helping.  Through team time, conversations with Matt, and a book he’s having us read, I think all of us have a new perspective on many aspects of missions work, and how we can really help without hurting here.  Malawi is a new culture to us, we cannot begin to expect to understand in our short time here.

God is teaching me a lot about His sufficiency, not only for us but for those in great suffering. It is one thing to accept Christ’s love but a grave danger to forget how much we don’t deserve it. The devastating effects of a fallen world became very apparent when you walk into an HIV/AIDS clinic and see the downcast faces of those in true suffering, God’s role as comforter to the broken hearted takes on a whole new depth when you put it in this context. It is incredibly overwhelming to feel helpless in the face of others suffering and so we all feel like we need to make some temporary fix by throwing money or even our time into different ministry efforts. While this may be well and good it can sometimes just be for our own guilt relief and become more selfish than selfless as it may appear.

Raqel in Mozambique

Something I have a deepened respect for since being here is the role of the church and the demand for us to be committed and serving. The church is Christ’s body and the home of the Gospel, which in all reality is what people need more than any life-saving drug or steady supply of food.  It’s hard to say that because even after experiencing salvation from the Gospel and reveling in its depth I still just want to give some kind of relief to anyone I can, but I’ve seen how while this can be a good thing, it isn’t the best thing.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers, we truly appreciate them so much. I pray that God is blessing you, and you are having a joyous summer (or winter in South Africa).

Home

(Rachel) For us, coming back to Malawi last September was coming home. During our summer in the US, we both missed things about Malawi… and were glad to return.

For missionaries, diplomats, and other expatriates, “home” can be hard to define. We make our home in a foreign country that is not our own, but we still have our “home country” where people welcome us every few years.

Which is why the IRS says our home address is Matt’s parent’s house in California. But our water bill goes to Area 47, Sector 5 in Lilongwe.

Making “Area 47” feel like home is something we’ve been working on since even before we moved here in May 2009. Our goal is to help our church grow into a self-sustaining, reproducing group of Christ-loving people – and that doesn’t happen overnight. So we didn’t want to come partially committed, camping out for a couple years or until something else came along. We want to be 100% invested here, with the marathon approach, until we’ve worked ourselves out of a job. To do that, we needed to plan to be in Malawi for a while.

Here’s a few ways we’ve been deliberately making Malawi our home:

1. We call it home. It seems like a small thing, but referring to Malawi as “home” reinforces it in our minds. Our vocabulary need to reflect our values, and it also helps remind us of our values.

Matt Studying at Desk

2. We made our house a place where we actually enjoy living. An experienced missionary advised us to bring our furniture from the States, and we’re glad we listened. (Thanks, Todd!) When you have a hard day and nothing goes the way you planned, sometimes it’s just nice to sit on a comfortable couch while you pray about your attitude. =) And we put pictures up on the walls. We’ve both moved around a lot, and it’s a big thing for us to finally put pictures of our families on the walls and know that they’ll be there for a while. All those things make our home a place where we can truly rest, and where we love inviting people.

3. We’ve made friends. We have people involved in our lives here. We’ve let people see the “real us” and we’ve shared life with them. Similarly, we also work harder to remember people we run into in the course of a day because we’ll likely be seeing them again, for many years to come – the cashier at the grocery store, the guy at the gas station who makes reed baskets, etc.

Ladies in Our Home

4. We make long-term decisions. Given the choice of a quick patch for our water heater or investing in a new one that will last for years to come, we’ll buy a new water heater. Or when we buy plane tickets to the US, they’re round trip flights originating from Malawi. We know that there are no guarantees (especially with water heaters!), but in general, we try to make decisions based on the assumption that we’ll be here for a long time.

5. We accept difficulties as challenges. We make a conscious determination that we won’t complain about the place that we live, as it’s our home now. It can be a struggle to find the best way to deal with corrupt government officials, what happens if one of our neighbors has a funeral, and how to live in a country that has malaria. But those are real issues our Malawian friends struggle with too, and we embrace those challenges as part of life here.

A World Lit Only by Fire

We temper all these things with the knowledge that this world is not our home and everything about life here could be taken from us at any moment. Africa has a way of reminding you of the uncertainty of this life. Our friends the Pretoriuses help us remember this. They were farmers in Zimbabwe and they had their farm taken from them by the government. They were given mere hours to gather up personal belongings and leave the property where they had invested everything. And this happened to them twice. Today, they have a farm an hour outside of town, with a cosy house and a beautiful garden. One day I asked Rene how she feels about investing time in the garden when she knows that it could be gone in an instant. She said that she can’t live in fear of being deported. Instead, she’ll do what she can to make their home a place where they can comfortably host people until they move, by their choice or the choice of another. Like the Pretoriuses, we hold this concept of home in an open hand.

We do plan to be in Malawi for as long as we can be useful here. And the end goal is not our comfort, but to be better servants. We long for our eternal home, the better city, where all things are made new and we see our Savior face to face. And yet, those eternal desires manifest themselves in earthly ways – like buying a big dinner table and a 4×4. We’re so thankful for the house, neighborhood, and friends the Lord has given us as a platform from which to serve. It’s good to be home.

Living Deliberately

We were having dinner with Beck and Marley Evans the other night, and Beck said something that helped solidify my thoughts on living in Malawi. He used the word “deliberately,” and it made me think about all of our experiences here in Malawi to this point, and what people had told us to expect over the coming weeks and months. Grocery shopping, driving across town, building a relationship, having my personal time of Bible study… all of these things are slower than we experienced them in the US, and they take more intentional thought and planning. You have to be deliberate about them, and I like that.

I have never wanted to be someone who just does the next thing without thinking about it. There is a depth and richness to living deliberately, particularly for the Christian. Rather than being caught up in materialism, self-centeredness, or peer-presure, the Christian has the responsibility to live in deliberate obedience to Christ, who has made life rich with meaning and purpose. Living deliberately as a Christian makes me stop and see God at work around me, and makes me carefully consider my walk before Him and my testimony before others.

So I’m thankful for this slow, deliberate life in Africa. It makes me stop and consider my obedience to Christ, as well as the wonderful meaning and purpose Christ has given my life.

praying mantis

Rest and Plans

As we hit the end-of-the-year holiday season, we find ourselves – along with everyone we know – very busy. It’s a good sort of busy – people, parties, gifts… and plans for Malawi. We’re both quitting our jobs at the end of this month, so between now and then, we’re training replacements and trying to tie up projects. And then there are moving plans. We’re shipping some things, so we’re looking for a good shipping company and trying to estimate when we need to get that in process. We’re also catching up on things like dentist appointments. Last month we both visited the dentist – Matt got away with just a teeth cleaning, and I had two small cavities filled and a crown. Not only that, but I get to go back this coming Thursday to have 2 wisdom teeth pulled. After that, I’m not going back for at least 2 years… maybe 4 years.

Dentist 1

In the midst of all this, we had a great conversation with some new friends, Aren and Trina. We met this couple for dinner just before Thanksgiving and had such an encouraging time with them. Among many other things, we talked about rest. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had in light of that conversation and other conversations Matt and I have had:

  • We’re really looking forward to a slower pace of life in Africa!
  • Frequently (at least for us), rest comes when we are humble. If we think it all depends on us, we don’t ever rest.
  • Rest doesn’t mean doing nothing.
  • Rest is essential, for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.
  • Matt needs more sleep than I do.
  • I need more sleep than I think I do.
  • We can do things to help one another rest.
  • Rest is a gift of grace.

As we go through these busy times, we’re also trying to rest. We know we have more busy days to come, but God has given us the opportunity to function within the framework of time, and with bodies that need rest. As we try to steward this rest now, I do have to say that I’m looking forward to the day when time is no more and our bodies don’t need rest! But until then, we’ll run hard and sleep well.

Dentist 3

Church Members

Certainly the highlight of our trip to Malawi last month was the opportunity to connect with people. Over the course of the week that we were there, we were able to go to church twice, to attend a mid-week Bible study, to have lunch with a couple different families, to hang out with the church youth one night, to go to a community potluck dinner, and I got to go to 2 women’s Bible studies. We were soaking it all in as we went, so tried to interact as much as possible without being awkward and overly talkative. =)

Church members 1
Kondi and Patricia. Kondi has been a friend of Matt’s since 2001. Matt even went to take pictures of their wedding last December.

The variety of forums in which we got to interact with all the people – in International Bible Fellowship and in the community – reminded us of why it is so important for us to join the ministry there as soon as possible. While we were there, Brian preached in church, preached in chapel at African Bible College, taught 2 college classes on homiletics, led youth group, led the mid-week Bible study, spent time preparing for all these, and spent good and intentional time with his family. I was tired just watching him! But he loves it. He loves to preach and to teach. Matt and I are so excited to jump in and help with some of the practical, administrative, and discipleship aspects of this ministry, and to spend our time encouraging and training others in the church to be active in the ministry.

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Brian preaching on Sunday morning

And it’s all about people – the church is all about people loving Jesus more and more each day, spurring one another on to love and good deeds, learning to serve and minister to one another, and doing it in the context of biblical community. We got to meet these people! We got to see their love for the Lord and their desire to learn of Him and grow in their understanding of Him and commitment to Him.

Church members 2
This pic I swiped from the Biedebach’s blog. =) Click on the pic to see their blog.

I was speaking with one sweet lady, and she is just in the beginning of this journey. She was telling us that she has learned so much in the 3 months she’s been at the church, and that the Bible has the answers! God tells us things in the Bible! And we can read it – it’s right here! Her enthusiasm warmed my heart, made me want to love her and help her in any way the Lord would allow, and at the same time, made me want to cling to the truths that she had stated. This is ministry, being able to walk with people like this.

I am excited about many things about Malawi, but the people I met there are at the top of the list. I’ve been praying that the Lord would stir my heart to love them more each day, to pray for them, and that He would prepare me for whatever role He would have me play in their lives – whether that’s speaking the truth of God’s Word into their lives or encouraging their heart with a note on a heavy day. God is the orchestrator of all these things. I just want to be available and ready to go with whatever He has planned.

Africa: More Than Just Flannelgraphs

We’re moving to Malawi! It’s a small country in Africa, but to many of us, Africa is one big country. Everybody has their own zebra, and they live in small huts on the edge of a vast desert. I’m quickly learning that this is not true. I think my perceptions of Africa are largely based on VBS missionary stories that were told with large colorful flannelgraph pictures. I figured I wasn’t going there, so I didn’t need to spend a lot of time making sure my mental image of Africa was accurate.

And here we are. We have plans to move to Malawi in the spring, and we’re going to visit – my first time to Africa! – in about 2 1/2 weeks. I’ll tell you a few things I know – or I think I know – about Malawi.

It’s green! That’s what I hear, and what I’ve seen in Matt’s pictures. Trees, fields, crops… it looks beautiful! Lake Malawi boarders most of the eastern edge of the country, which would explain the green.

Matt posted a lot of pictures of Malawi on his site – click on the picture below to see more.
malawi-022-2
It’s not always green, but they do have a rainy season and the lake, so it’s a lot more green than I thought it would be. There’s plenty of browns and reds too, especially in the bricks of the mud huts.

It is poor. I was just looking online to make sure I had the right info. Matt and I had been telling everyone that we had heard it was the 4th poorest country in the world, so I figured I’d check the stats before making any declarations in writing. I found several sites that said that Malawi was the poorest country. And then several commentators who said that those sites were all wrong. One thing they agree on: at a GDP of $800 per person, Malawi is definitely in the bottom ten.

The people of Malawi are happy. Happiness has nothing to do with money. The country is stable, they are able to survive from day to day.
malawi-242-2
Matt was so struck by this that he took a series of pictures of the people of Malawi that he entitled African Joy. It’s a separate set of pictures from the ones we linked above, so click on this picture to see even more of Malawi!

The last thing I’ve learned about Malawi that I’ll mention here is that a lot of people have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, but there has been little training in what to do with the gospel – how to teach the Word of God to others, how to apply the gospel to their lives as growing and learning Christians. That is what pierces my heart. I want to go. I want to give my life and my energies to helping them learn what this precious gift of the gospel is, how it can give them true life, hope, and joy.

The gospel is there. This reminds me that we are stepping into a great heritage of those who love the gospel and love Africa. Our desire is to be good stewards of this gospel, to encourage the church in Malawi, and to be a faithful brother and sister to the believers there who desire to learn and grow in truth.

Thanks for reading through the first blog post. We’re excited to have you join us as we start out on this journey. The next six months will be full of getting things ready to go, and I hope to share with you the funny stories and the random deep thoughts that fill our days.

“I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages – villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world.”
– Robert Moffat, Scottish missionary to South Africa, son-in-law of David Livingstone