A Passover unlike any other in Lilongwe

Thursday, March 29, 2018
Lilongwe, Central Region, Malawi
Brennan and Michala came over this morning and we had breakfast together at the Mafuma Hotel where we are staying.  The restaurant area is so pleasant, especially the outdoor part where we had a private and quiet place to talk.  It’s quiet except for the sound of the birds—that varies from cute little twitters to sounds not unlike a car alarm going off.
I’m really impressed with the Hilgens' desire to initiate and figure out intuitively what needs to be done for the people.  More and more their work is becoming ministerial. While they came here as “project managers,” it is becoming more and more apparent that Brennan is being looked at as the church leader.  And, what does the church do?  He organizes the activities and speaking in church.  He guides the spiritual direction of the congregation. 
Michala is right with Brennan in this work. She has to be.  This is not a convenient assignment being so far from home in a country whose infrastructure is in a state of decay and getting worse.  The roads are in disrepair. People move slowly.   As far as getting things done, it’s experiencing a country in slow-motion. Answers to queries are s-l-o-w in coming. Power is out for hours on end with no assurance of the situation getting better. We have tried to hedge this with investing in solar power in both Blantyre and Lilongwe.  And this is the environment that Brennan and Michala live in, yet they take it in stride without complaining or showing inconsolable frustration. They have adapted to it. 
Let me just tell you briefly about the shower experience at our hotel. This place seems to be nice overall, but the shower experience is just that—an experience.  It is a shower, not a bath.  There are three places from which the water comes.  A big overhead sunlamp-like shower-head.  Had no idea how it worked. The other smaller one didn't seem to be hooked up to anything.  Finally a tube laying on the ground.  Turning another set of knobs caused the sound of water.  I didn't know where it was coming from the first time I used it. I wasn't feeling any water on me.   But, lo and behold!  I see look outside the shower stall and see water spraying on the bathroom door and creating a puddle on the floor.  Water EVERYWHERE, except on me.  Today, I just carefully adjusted the tube on me.  The water temperature is the same no matter what knobs you turn how much.  Fortunately, it is a comfortable temperature. 
 I know that this entire experience of living here in Malawi is a life-changing experience for them, but more so, their lives are going to be life-changers for the church here.  They have the sacrificing, selfless spirit of service, that if one reaches that point, finds the greatest joys in life.  I really admire them and want those reading this to know that.
We are still defining all their duties, but what is becoming apparent is that they are doing ministerial work.  Lewis VanAusdle, who with his wife Lena, worked here for one year, is still the pastor of this church more than 8300 miles away and Brennan reports to him.  
I have asked Brennan to assist me in conducting the Passover service which will be here tonight.   A young man here has already approached me to talk about baptism so that he could be baptized while I, as a minister, could do this. Brennan will be with me as we talk to him and as I talk to others, as well.
Brennan will need more training in counseling people on a variety of issues that are on their mind.  But, one thing to bear in mind is that 80% of counseling is listening, caring and focusing on the one who comes for advice.  Then, the next step is to carefully consider what options there are and help the person themselves to come to see what the best course of action is.  The counselor does not need to be a walking encyclopedia; he needs to be a portal to find the help needed.  It could be with the counselor, other references etc.  The counselor needs to hold out hope, and find a biblical foundation for solutions.  
One big thing we discussed was trying to find a way to train more leaders in Africa by bringing instructors from the US, such as Darris McNeely, Steve Myers, Gary Petty, Scott Ashley... to conduct training in ministerial duties as well as overall service duties and making disciples.   Brennan is quite keen to work and organize a kind of an ABC program here.  It will take someone on the ground here to move the process forward. 
After a few hours of talk, we went to the church hall and business center. There I connected with Joseph Mughogho, our reliable business manager for LifeNets. He is an amazing man with his integrity and overall knowledge of Malawi life.  He is also one to get us answers quickly.  He is manning the Internet café today as Juliana has gone home to Mzuzu to be with her parents for the Passover.  She will be back on Sunday night.  It’s a long bus ride up to Mzuzu, about five or six hours or so.  She said her parents may come down to visit here while we’re still here.
I went over to the grocery and talked to Chememwe Kalima.  She is a pleasant young lady who manages the grocery and sells items through the window. I did a podcast with her and talked about her work, the church and her family.  Her father died about four years ago of tuberculosis.  Bev and I had gone out to their home to visit them in 2008.   I remember the visit well because her Dad gave us a live chicken as a gift as we were leaving their home.
Then I met more people who were around, notably Wiza Temwani Mkorongo. He is a sharp young man eager to help out with church work.  We got acquainted.  Also, I spoke more with Emmanuel Rashid.  And, then Wilfred Chitseme.  He came in for the weekend of the Passover and the First Day of Unleavened Bread.  He retired 20 years ago from government work in the agricultural sector.  He was responsible for working with farmers to help sustain crop prices. He is 200 miles away and came by bus that took four hours.  But, before that, he walked SIX hours to the bus stop.  Amazing dedication.  He has been in the church since 1976… more than 40 years, and is a living example of focus, dedication and faithfulness. 
Wilfred lost his cell phone sometime back and has lost a lot of contact with the church as a result. We went out and bought him a new one with ample airtime.  Bev and I did a podcast with Wilfred as well.  This is the third podcast I did on this trip on a cell phone.   They surprisingly sound good when I listened to them. 
Then, before the Passover service we went back to the hotel to get changed.  We brought Wilfred with us as he had not had anything to eat all day and it didn’t look he would eat the rest of the day.  He and Bev went to the restaurant for a meal and I got my service together. 
Brennan and Michala came by to pick us up for church.  Traffic was fierce.  One wonders why is there so much congestion when so few can afford vehicles?  Lilongwe is a city of about a million and a half.  But, there are basically two trunk traffic routes… one is east-west and the other is north-south and most traffic follows these routes that are badly overstretched.  This is true in Blantyre, too. Brennan quickly saw that we would be really stuck in traffic and took alternative routes which are just a little better.
We got to within half a mile of the church hall and the clutch went out on the Bongo!  Brennan tried to put it into first gear the last half mile, but to no avail. The street is bustling with hundreds of people milling around.   There is no place to pull the van off because there is a drainage ditch dropping just off the road.  We all got out.  Since were on an incline Brennan backed the van as close as he could to the edge of the road and we left it there.  Then we carried all of our Passover supplies the half mile to the hall.  I carried a stack of wash basins.  Michala carried the Passover glasses and the wine.  It was five of us, Hilgens, Wilfred, and us.  We walked to the hall and then needed to set up the table.  It was already past the announced starting time.  Sunset here is 5:49 p.m. today.
But, Michala and Bev got it together.  Cephas Chapamba and Haiton Thungula were there to help.  The people were all seated quietly as the sun was setting. 
Then Brennan and I started the service.  Cephas translated into Chewa. I explained the foot-washing and the meaning of the bread following.  Brennan explained the wine and prayed over it.  I am so happy about Brennan stepping up to these duties! 
We decided to have Cephas do the John 13-17 readings be done only in Chewa to keep the continuity.   All the people know Chewa. It was only a few of us Americans who knew only English and just read it ourselves in our Bibles. 
During the service the power repeatedly went out. The solar would kick in, but because there was so much demand on solar through the day, we exhausted the batteries and were in total darkness.  People used their cell phones as flashlights. I had never seen such an armada of cell phones to the rescue as they followed along in their Bibles. 
Wiza led the singing of the last hymn which was “By this you shall know… if you have love for one another.”  I had never heard this sung for the Passover before, but it was so right for this occasion. The singing began with lights and the sound system playing the choral version of the song. But, the power went out during the last verse and the service with us singing acapella in darkness. 
What about the van?  All of us men headed down the road for the van.  We got down there and were happy to see that it was still there!  One of the men said we should have had someone watch it.   But who?  And how? 
Haiton tried to get under the van to see what the problem might be. He took his shirt off and crawled in under what looked so dangerous.  There was not enough clearance to do anything, so we all pushed the Bongo up the incline for the half mile to the hall… pushing it over the speed bumps. Brennan steered.  Just before we got to the building, the steering locked up.  But, somehow it started steering again.  We put the Bongo inside the church property.  Haiton found that a bolt holding the connection from the clutch to whatever, fell out and this disabled the clutch. The clutch itself is fine.  I call this event the presidential post-Passover push.  Haiton was the hero crawling dangerously under the car and persisting to find the problem. 
During this time I spoke with a few more people and then Cephas took us home in his ambulance. His ambulance was in repair for half a year because of some insurance issues and he has been using the other church vehicle, the Prado.
We housed Wilfred in one of the offices at the church hall.   The other room was taken by Nester Phiri. 
One VERY BRIGHT SPOT here is the fact that we have built two church buildings—one each for the Lilongwe and Blantyre congregations.  They have been invaluable as a meeting place, place of identity, both publicity and securely.  We have people staying here.  We are able to conduct all the meetings we need to here:  Church, Passover, Night to be Remembered, Youth activities, council meetings and much much more.  We needed to store our broken down vehicle here and found a safe spot.  The buildings were in large part financed by LifeNets which looks upon them as an outreach service to the community.  
Bev and I got back to the hotel. I had not eaten since breakfast. We both went to the restaurant and I got a bowl of mushroom soup as Bev and I reminisced the happenings of this most notable day!
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Comments

Dwight Stewart
2018-03-30

Thank you so much for sharing - it's exciting to see how our Father is working with His offspring around the world.

Charlie Reeder
2018-03-30

I can't believe we whine and murmur if we loose power or water. What experiences you guys have and the sacrifice you make to help so many people around the world. God is surely smiling. Thank you for sharing so we can learn so much. You are in our prayers always.

gayle_hoefker
2018-03-30

We have nothing to complain about! Keep chugging!

Ailsa Braun
2018-03-30

Wow, this is an incredible account of overcoming hardships. My prayers are with you, and with our brethren in Malawi and other parts of the world.

Greg Hilgen
2018-03-31

THX for sharing and the details. Our prayers are with you all! Please say hello and HUGS to Brennan & Michala!!

2018-06-25