I am living in the Washington D.C. of Malawi. I knew that Lilongwe was the capital city of the country and had been told that members of my church and neighborhood would be former politicians and international diplomats, but I had no idea what that really meant. I assumed it would mean I would meet people that had been to my home country and that I might see a lot of foreigners that work with various NGOs and/or political offices (which has been true). But—and I know this is terrible logic—I guess I never figured I would have to actually TALK with such people.
Hailey and I attended a fundraiser dinner last weekend. We figured it would be a casual event so I wore a pink dress shirt and brown slacks. We were given a ride by a friend and told her we hoped to leave a little early. She laughed and suggested that we might be guests of honor. We said, “no way, why? We don’t even know these people.” She was right. We walked in, were greeted by a man in a tux and were ushered to the head table. Great, underdressed and at the head table. Fifteen minutes later another man walked up and sat next to me, also in a tux—the real guest of honor, the Secretary General of the Department of Justice. He sat next to me, we started talking and within 5 minutes my knowledge of Malawian politics was exhausted. Hours earlier he had arrived from Beijing, so he asked me to make sure he didn’t fall asleep while others were speaking. Eventually we got to talking about Malawi and its relationship with its neighboring countries. I don’t think I could have had a better teacher.
During my first trip to Malawi, in 2007, I remember driving along the main highway and having the Malawi/Mozambique border pointed out to me. It was nothing like the U.S./Mexico border that I grew up next to. I wouldn’t have even known it was there had it not been pointed out. There wasn’t even a line in the sand, let alone a boundary marker or a wall. The Secretary told me that by the end of the civil war in Mozambique (1992), over a million refugees found safety in Malawi. There was no system that they had to apply through or paper work that had to be filed—they were simply welcomed by their sympathetic neighbors, their extended families. I was told that, today, it is common for a person to live in Malawi and farm in Mozambique or visa versa.
A week ago we were invited to a function with The High Commissioner of Zambia to Malawi to celebrate the independence of Zambia. It was a humbling afternoon and evening, ending with a dinner in the backyard of His Excellency (what do I gotta do to get a title like that!). The day was laden with comments about the relationships between Malawians and Zambians. One speaker got up and told the story of a friend whose kids sleep in Zambia while he sleeps in Malawi. Their house is literally right on the border. Again, no official boundary. The day emphasized the oneness of the people. There are Bandas and Phiris in both countries. The first President of Zambia was actually born in Malawi. On and on they went.
It is refreshing to see neighboring countries celebrate and support one another in a mutually beneficial relationship. Maybe it is because none of the countries I have mentioned are world powers or are dominate over the other (or maybe it is simply the “African” way?), either way its new to me. I have always been proud to be an American citizen. I am appreciative of the opportunities I have been blessed with, but often wonder if I take my citizenship too seriously. I believe I have a lot to learn from my African brothers and sisters about where my loyalties should lie.
In Philippians 3:12 we read that, as followers of Christ, our citizenship should not be found in an earthly kingdom. We are to aspire to be “like Christ” and in doing so are to press on toward a heavenly prize, placing our allegiance above all else to His Kingdom. But what does that look like for Christians living in the 21st century? I really don’t know.
I do know that Americans, in both parties, grow tired of the Church aligning itself with one politic or another. Some say it is not the place of the church. I would suggest that these people take another look at who Jesus was and the political nature of His message. The followers of Christ claimed that He, not Caesar, was Lord. That’s political. There is a reason theologians have written books like John Howard Yoder’s, The Politics of Jesus, and denominations are forced to take (sometimes unpopular) stands on controversial political issues like abortion, the recent Arizona laws and the continual wars in Palestine. I am not suggesting that Yoder gets it perfectly or that the decisions made by governing bodies of the church are always 100% correct (far from it—we are all flawed human beings trying our best with what we have been given). I am however suggesting that, as Christians, we need to learn to tactfully be citizens of another Kingdom while living in a world full of boundaries and limitations.
Hauerwas and Willimon, two of the aforementioned ‘political’ theologians, write “The Church exists today as an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief…” And thus our political task is, “…the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.” May God give us the strength to be this colony.