family Ministry preaching Theology

Life in the Middle: Grandma’s Memorial Service

old photo of g-ma used in memorial service bulletin

I was honored when my dad asked me to preach at his mom’s memorial service. Then it hit me…I’d actually have to keep it together long enough to get through a sermon. I couldn’t be the somewhat level-headed support to the grieving family that I have normally been during memorials and funerals. I was the grieving family.

Preparing for my grandma’s service was difficult. I put it off for a week and then fought through two days of tears before writing anything at all. I don’t always manuscript my entire sermon, but figured that if I got choked up and couldn’t get through the whole service someone would be able to step in and finish.

Writing is always thereputic for me. It helped me to grieve. It allowed me to miss grandma. But it also gave me perspective. Here is the script:

Pastoral Words of Hope

I have many memories of grandma. We all do. And I hope, as we mourn our loss, we’re able to continue to share them with one another. The pastor in me knows to say that the best way we can celebrate Ella’s life is by telling and re-telling these stories. The grandson in me wants to shutdown, close my eyes and move on to what’s next. Deep down, I know the reason that the pastor tells families to share memories is for their own healing.

And I guess…that is what today is all about. As a family, we need to mourn. We need to hurt. We need to cry. But we also need to laugh. We need to smile. We need to know that, as the earth melts and moves away—as our lives shake and look different, and as we figure out how to function without grandma—that there is a God calling us to His side; to wipe away our tears, to not simply get us through the mourning, but to help us grow closer to Him and to one another in the middle of it all… But that doesn’t mean it should be easy.

There are a few images of grandma that will be forever burned into the place in my brain where memories rest, occasionally coming to life when a person, place or story is remembered. I don’t know the scientific name for this place, but I know it exists. It was in her old age and illness that Grandma taught me that this place never deteriorates.

Even in the end of her memory loss and struggle—she knew that Elizabeth was her granddaughter—even if she got her confused with great grand-daughter Lindsay. She knew that my mom was “that girl” that my dad brought around. She even had memories of “Jimmy,” her own father-in-law. And I have to believe, even if she didn’t always express it, she also knew that she was loved and cherished by her son Brian.

The last time I saw grandma, Hailey and I went with my dad to help her finish moving out of one of her rooms and into a new one. We hadn’t been back from Malawi for more than a month. She was eating lunch. I walked in and said, “Hi grandma. I’m David your grandson, and this is my wife Hailey.” I didn’t expect her to remember me at all. She was happy that day. And she looked up and said, “Oh, I know. And you just got back from a trip.” I couldn’t believe it.

I felt horrible for not saying bye to grandma before we left a year earlier. Dad told me that she wouldn’t know me anyway, so I shouldn’t have worried about it.

But Dad, you were wrong. I’m sure she didn’t always remember who each of us was, but deep down…somewhere…she knew.

I’m grateful to have that last memory of her. But there are many more in that bank of frozen images as well.

I see the family sitting around grandma and grandpa’s dinner table learning the card game “hand and foot.” And I see the art that she had painted hanging on the wall and sitting on an easel in the laundry room. I taste the soup and sandwiches that she served Liz and me for dinner at 4 pm when we’d spend the night. I hear her scolding her favorite golfer on tv for missing a putt. And I hear the old electric organ that she let us pound on when we were bored at their house.

I actually have many vivid memories of grandma and grandpa’s mobile home. They had this corkboard on their wall when you’d walk in. It had pictures of all of us from different stages in our lives, from Indiana to Florida to California. They loved their family.

Their house had the feeling that a grandparent’s house should. As a young boy, I remember it feeling a bit foreign because it was full of “old people things.” It smelled kinda funny too. It wasn’t quite home, nor—if I’m completely honest—was it all the way comfortable. But I knew that every time I arrived I was safe and in a place where my childhood mind could wander into one mystery or another. I also knew it was a place where I was loved, no matter what I had done at home.

As I let my adult mind reflect on grandma, and as I try to grapple with what it means to be grandson, son, soon to be Father, friend and pastor, the passage that was read earlier brings both great hope and great comfort.

The Gospel of John puts Jesus’ words very simply. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe in me.” Jesus had been sitting, having an intimate experience with those who were closest to him—the people he claimed were his family.  And right before this passage we read that he knew the hour had come for him to depart from the world and go to the Father. His disciples were afraid and didn’t know how to go on without their leader and friend. They may have even expected something else.

We often read the passages about Jesus telling his disciples about his death with glazed over eyes. We know the whole story. Or at least we often treat Scripture this way. We flip from Genesis to Revelation and think we’ve seen—or read of—the beginning and the end…. But we do so without realizing we are living in the middle.

God created the earth, humanity sinned, Jesus was born to take on that sin, He was crucified and then he rose from the grave. We live—in the same way as the disciples would eventually—between the time of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of our own.

Jesus knew that his disciples were uncomfortable with the unknown—with living in the middle. It was scary. And it was painful. It hurt so much that Jesus could see that their hearts were troubled. And what were His words of encouragement?

Believe in God. And Believe in Me.

Those are words that I’d pray we’d hear today.

Jesus went on to tell the disciples that there was a house with rooms prepared for each of them. I wonder what images popped into their head as Jesus spoke?

I hear these words and can’t help but think of a house kinda like grandma’s. One where a little boy’s mind can wander and dream. One that is different from where I now live, but oddly familiar. One that is completely safe. A place where you’d walk in and know you were loved even though you had done nothing to deserve it.

I just hope it smells a bit better than grandma’s house did.

I love Jesus’ next words. “I am the way, and the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He doesn’t say, “I point to the way” or “I point to the truth and the life.” He says HE is the way.

I spent a few moments last week going through grandma’s bible. I never had any deep or long talks with her about faith, but looking at how she had underlined certain passages made me smile.

She had highlighted the Doubting Thomas story. I don’t know how she resonated with it, or what it was about it that made her bracket it in her Bible—but I’d like to think it had something to do with wrestling with being in the middle of the story.

Being in the middle is difficult. Thomas new this as well as anyone. And it’s only natural to doubt all that you know when the foundations of what you believe are shaken. The middle hurts. It even hurts when we know the final outcome.

We all knew this day was coming for Grandma. The honest truth was, it was just a matter of time before she got tired of fighting. But if we are completely honest with ourselves, we’d realize that it is the same for us.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but we will all get tired of the earthly race. And, whether or not we like it, it will finish for each of us at some point.

Scripture is littered with stories about people dying and passing on a legacy to their children. Much of what was recorded in the Bible was done so in order that future generations would remember who God was and what God had done.

My hope is—when I finish this race—that I’d be able to say that I passed on something that was not only honoring to God but was a visible sign of His love for a broken world. I look around this room and am confident that this is exactly the type of legacy that Ella has left for us. Will you pray with me?

My sister and I playing with grandpa in the house I described in my sermon
Malawi Ministry preaching Travel

Mozambique: In the Way

Preaching in Mozambique

Sing it with me:

“On the third day of Mozambique, my true love reminded me”

“How little we’d done, how bored she was and how much we had to do in Malawi.”

Hailey and I knew the rest of the team had been busy reaching out to Tete. It was an odd feeling to have been invited on a mission trip, given a specific task and then told to sit and wait.

Jason with the football (soccer) boys

I had finished reading a book, written a blog and a half and gotten to know the Gimba family really well. I was done waiting. Saturday morning we decided we’d head out with one of the ‘field teams’ to do door-to-door (or yard-to-yard) evangelism.

When I think about door-to-door evangelism I get a horrible feeling in my gut. I think about all the times I have heard a knock on my door, peered out the window or peephole and seen bicycle helmets and neck ties. I never mind talking to Mormons on their mission (their commitment puts those of us who spend a week in a place, paint a few fences and rarely actually talk about our faith with others to shame), but I’d be lying if I said it was something that I looked forward to.

As if one conversation with a complete stranger can convert a person…

Or can it?

Think of how many times Scripture tells us of one quick life-changing conversation. The paralyzed man at Beth-zatha, the Samaritan woman at the well, the calling of the disciples. The list could go on and on. When Jesus was on His way he talked to people. And their lives were changed.

I can hear your internal monologue screaming at me right now. You’re looking at the computer screen and thinking, “But that was JESUS!” Yes, it was. But there were many others. The Church didn’t grow to where it is today because of sermons preached on Sunday morning (though it may have shrunk to the size it is in the US today because some of what is said during them).

I still here your thoughts (well, probably, because I have them as well), “but Dave, I wasn’t called to that type of ministry! I don’t have those gifts.” The all-too-often used excuse that keeps us conveniently confined to the comfort of our pews. I am not saying we are all called to be curbside prophets, but most of us have been given the ability to communicate in one way or another. What are you communicating?

We walked around all morning and talked with some women and their children, a group of 15 boys kicking around a makeshift football and a family who had fled from the Congo three years earlier because of its civil war. We shared stories, laughed at our differences and talked about Jesus.

In the afternoon we met with a youth group and then I went to meet with the executives and professionals I was supposed to work with the day before. Surprise, no one showed. To be honest, I wasn’t disappointed. I was exhausted.

On Sunday I preached on Jesus being The Way, The Truth and The Life. I mentioned that the early church was often referred to as “those that were in/on the way” and focused on the idea that we often try to jump to Jesus as truth and life without first getting in the way. We miss the point. We miss the journey.

Monday at 6 a.m. we piled back into the same Nissan we arrived in five days earlier. The car reeked of gasoline—spilled generator fuel. Wonderful. As if the six hours of stench weren’t bad enough, the shocks on the car were worthless. I’d start to fall asleep, into a gas-induced coma, and the rear of the car would swerve uncontrollably as the driver increased his speed.

Our journey to Mozambique was not at all perfect. It didn’t go as we expected and what I set out to do was not accomplished (many of the other outreaches were very successful). But sometimes, most of the time actually, we spend so much time focusing on the finish line that we forget about our role on the way.

Malawi Ministry preaching Theology Uncategorized

Altar Call Anxiety

I know it is a pastor’s job to introduce people to Christ. For most, the
chance to preach the message of grace is at the heart of our calling.

Yet, I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the “saved” terminology tossed out by most evangelical speakers at camps and conferences. We often throw it out like it’s one of those orange and white life-saving rescue rings. The chance to “get saved” is flung out over the side of the boat, and all the person drowning has to do is hold on for dear life.

For a moment the rescued feel safe. Tears of joy stream down their face as they are reeled in from the stormy waters. Death has been averted…for now. Once back on the boat they realize the boat isn’t really the safe haven they had envisioned. Open waters call their name and, soon enough, they’re back in the drink.

Again the life buoy is thrown out to them and, once again, they’ll be pulled back to safety.  Oh, to “be saved” once again. They’ll limp down the aisle toward the pastor and will hear the same message they heard the year before, pray the same prayer and re-accept the same Christ into their hearts. They are convinced; this time it will be different.

Tomorrow, revival season begins in Malawi. From Friday to Monday groups will gather in homes, churches and large fields. People will sing for hours on end. Both good and bad sermons will be preached. And people will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

This Easter season I will experience Christ’s resurrection in an entirely new way. At Lingadzi there are four preaching teams that will be sent out to each of the church’s places of worship. I am leading one of the teams.

At the end of every gathering my job is to summarize what the three preachers before me said (a difficult task considering they will all be speaking Chichewa) and to offer an altar call. I’m all for the message of grace reaching people in a new way. I’m all for people accepting Christ into their lives and having it change the way that they live. What I am not about (and am fact terrified of) is cheapening the death of Christ by turning it into a dog and pony show.

Jesus died once for our sin but the need for repentance is constant.

When guilt—more than grace—drives people to the altar, Jesus is nothing more than an artificial life raft. He may save us, but he is no longer the one who gives abundant life.

We need to preach that no matter what a person has done in the past—no matter how they have screwed up or fallen short—that they are still loved by Christ. Yet, at the same time, we need to preach that the grace that Jesus offers is costly and demands us to become imitators of the One who calls us to put on faith, hope and love.

Malawi Ministry preaching Theology

Oh Death, Where is They Sting?

In life, “nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” Usually when people quote Mr. Franklin’s famous words during this time of year it is in a complaint about giving money to the government. While many tax themselves greatly to find ways to get out of paying one’s full duty, none of us can cheat death (unless we are Elijah, who didn’t die but rode off to heaven in a flaming chariot).

I am learning a lot about death in Malawi. For Malawians, death happens on a daily basis. Last Monday, the Masina family told me one of their cousins had just died from Malaria. She was two. Later that day I found out that one of my colleagues at the theological college lost his wife. She was 57. Africa is the only continent in the world where the life expectancy is still under 60 (I read today that in Swaziland it is 30…I turn 30 in a month).

As I sat with my friend Vasco at Mrs. Chikoti’s funeral we talked about the high mortality rate. He told me that there are hundreds a day in Lilongwe alone. He also said funerals are expensive and a burden to most families. He said, that before he would be able to actually mourn and grieve his father’s death he would be expected to take care of all those coming to the three day service.

The National Aids Commission did a study and found that, for a poorer family, a funeral costs between 120,000-140,000 Malawian Kwacha ($800-950). That’s a lot of money when you make less than two dollars a day. Wealthier families spend as much as a million kwacha ($6,700) per funeral. Many people here spend more on dying than they do on living.

I didn’t grow up where someone I knew died every other week. One in seven African children die before the age of five. Those that die have brothers and sisters. On Thursday a friend told me there were ten children in his family, there are now five. He just turned 29. Everyone here deals with death from a young age.

I preached this morning on Jesus’ death (an odd feeling—while most of the churches in the world were celebrating the Divine King’s Jerusalem entry, I was asked to preach on His execution…).  Jesus may have conquered death, but He still had to die. Before we can approach the empty tomb we need to come to grips with the magnitude of Jesus’ death. And before we can know what the power of Christ’s resurrection means for our own lives we have to come to terms with our own suffering and our own death.

During this last week, while I was thinking about death, I read an article written by Donald Miller. When Don’s book Blue Like Jazz blew up in the pop Christian scene, I’m not gonna lie, the pretentious theology student in me was a little turned off. But then I read his A Million Miles in A Thousand Years and I was taken aback by his desire to live a life that is worthy of a story. In this article he asks if we know how to trust God with our lives, but also with our death.

I’m not sure if anyone knows all there is to know about death. But my Malawian friends are teaching me a lot about how death is an unavoidable part of life.

Malawi Ministry preaching

Preaching in Malawi: Five (More) Lessons I’ve Learned

During my first three months in Malawi I preached more Sunday morning sermons than I had in my entire ministry career. I wrote some things I learned in our first months here. We just finished our sixth month and I’ve continued preaching on an almost weekly basis. I’ve grown accustomed to the routine of studying and writing a sermon every week. And I’ve learned a few things. Here are five more lessons I’ve learned while in the pulpit:

1. When your wife starts dosing during your sermon you know you’ve lost the congregation—This is true even if the reason she is struggling is she’s heard the sermon twice (four times if you count its Chichewa translation) and only slept five hours the night before. Part of being partnered in ministry is having your best critic sleep next to you every night. We just gotta get to bed earlier.

2. When preaching and leading the liturgy for two 2+ hour long services without a sound system, it is wise to save some of your voice for the last half of the day (even if the back five rows can’t hear a thing in the beginning)—Who would have thought that it would be preaching instead of singing/screaming in a punk band that would send me to my sister for vocal therapy?

3. It is possible to preach a sermon that plants seeds in young minds while nourishing and stretching older (more mature) soulsI’ve always had a deep passion to see intergenerational church work. It’s tragic that most churches don’t make more of an effort to create a worship service that is welcoming to the entire body. I do understand that many parents see Sunday morning as a time for personal growth and worship. But that doesn’t have to mean shipping kids to Sunday school every single week (a blog for another day). I recently preached on the traditional Palm Sunday text (the church calendar is different here). My sermon was definitely geared toward adults, but right before I began preaching I looked out the door and saw a donkey grazing outside. LIGHTBULB! I desperately wanted to bring the donkey in, but settled for having the children make the sound ah-oo, ah-oo, ah-oo! whenever I uttered the word donkey (if you ever want to laugh in a foreign country ask a local to make an animal noise, you’ll hear something different in every place). Adults heard the Word preached and children followed along waiting anxiously for me to drop the d-word (well b-word, donkey is burru in chichewa), and hopefully picked up some of the sermon along the way.

4. When preaching a bilingual service, knowing at least a small amount of both languages is VERY helpful—I’m not going to pretend that, after six months in Malawi, I am fluent in Chichewa. But I can take the church through the first part of the liturgy in the native tongue. I may not have the correct phrasing or pronunciation of every word down, but it is nice to be able to lead the congregation to the Lord’s Prayer… People genuinely appreciate my attempts at their language. We all get a laugh when, instead of asking people to stand and sing a hymn, I say “now can we all stand and sing a bean or house” (nyimba=beans, nyumba=house and nyimbo=hymn).

5. Illustrations are only useful when people can actually relate to them—A few weeks ago I failed miserably at explaining the function of a piñata. I said that it was a doll stuffed full of candy, hung from a tree and then beaten by children Great image. The man translating my sermon just starred at me.  I tried to go into further detail but soon realized it was a lost cause. I was attempting to say that when Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, we aren’t being told to take a beating for the sake of the enjoyment of another…like a piñata. Half of the people who knew what a piñata was nodded their head showing they were tracking, the other half laughed hysterically as I tried to explain the illustration to the 400 other people who were lost. When we finished the sermon the translator leaned over to me and said, “Children beat dolls in Mexico?” Illustration Fail.

Malawi Ministry Music preaching Theology

The Church has Voice Immodulation Syndrome

Rockin my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rockin my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rockin my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Oh, rockin my soul…

The song blared from one of the houses in our neighborhood interrupting an otherwise quiet Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure if it was a worship team rehearsing or an impromptu worship gathering. After the sixth or seventh chorus I gave up on tuning out the inconsistent drumming and Nintendo toned keyboard and sought sanctuary and sanity inside the house. Fortunately this place is large enough that what can be heard clearly at one end of the property isn’t noticeable at all from the other (I don’t know the square footage of this place, but it’s huge).

It seems that every weekend there is at least one loud party or celebration. A few weeks ago the party came to Manse #2. The youth had asked if they could hold their semi-annual bash here and we, of course, said sure. They joked that they had waited to ask us because they knew that Mayibusa didn’t enjoy loud music (she’s often seen in church with both fingers in her ears).

But Hailey is not alone; church is very loud. The other morning we walked through the rain into the daily prayer service (which, I know I’ve mentioned before, starts at 5 am) and saw about fifteen people worshiping…with the leader singing into the mic like there were fifteen hundred in the congregation. As I walked up to preach, I was handed the same microphone, needless to say I quickly set it down.

Usually we can hear the praise team practicing from a few hundred feet away. I couldn’t imagine living any closer to the church—I’m not sure when I’d sleep between the daily devotions, Sunday services and monthly all-nighters. I know I sound like the disgruntled church neighbor that lives across the street from most churches, but I’m starting to understand that perspective…and I’m a pastor at the loud church.

Part of it is just the Malawian way. Sitting through a Chichewa church service can be like hearing a sermon from Jacob Silg. When it’s not people talking it’s roosters crowing or our turkeys squawking. Everything is louder here. On multiple occasions I have stopped on the road to notice shouting people, positive of an impending fight, and then I’m reminded that I live in a place where confrontation is about as common white pastors. Malawian’s are just loud.

When we were taking Chichewa lessons our teacher told us that voice inflection is just a part of the language. You don’t say chonde (please), because it is begging, you just lighten your voice when asking a question. The volume of your voice indicates the importance and urgency of a message. And I guess that is true everywhere, it just seems to be exaggerated here.

I know the Church believes it has an important and urgent message, but so does the guy driving down the street with a p.a. strapped to the roof of his car shouting nonsense. It’s not the sheer volume of a church’s message that is going to change a neighborhood, city or nation. Jesus actually taught quite the opposite. Instead of making our neighbors angry about our noise (no matter how unstable or nonsensical they may be), let’s love them with the quiet—yet impossible not to notice—message of the grace of Christ

Malawi Ministry preaching Theology Travel

They Call It “The Bush”

Living in the city of a developing country can be a funny thing. One day in church an announcement was made about a Malawian who was marrying a Mozambican and everyone laughed. I leaned over to the person next to me and asked, “Why is everyone laughing?” “Mozambique is the bush.”

We have a friend from Zambia who is quick to reminds us, compared to Lusaka, Lilongwe is the bush. I have yet to hear someone describe their own home as the bush—most are proud of their village heritage. But there is always somewhere farther away or worse off. Everyone has a place to pity.

The dichotomy between life in Lilongwe and life on the outskirts is shocking. Unlike the established world, where the rich often seek to live away from city centers (i.e. the houses with the best views, most land, etc.), in poorer countries the wealthy seek to move closer to the busyness. Here, the urban are wealthy.

A week ago Hailey and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in the bush. We have spent plenty of time in villages that border main towns— still villages, just ones with the benefit of living near developed roads which weakens the blow of poverty. Some suggest that infrastructure improvements—like paved roads— are the key to helping countries like Malawi become self-sufficient (I don’t disagree, but the corruption in the county has to be discussed as well—a topic for another post).

My friend Sydney had been lobbying for me to come visit and preach at his church, Chamatao C.C.A.P., for some time. And we agreed that early in the new year was the best time.

After two cramped bus rides and a three hour adventure in a flat bed truck we arrived at the Mdoni Trading Center. We stopped and five or six people began unloading some supplies we had picked up along the way. Fuel for a generator, a few bags of fertilizer and some tools—all necessities for a distant rural community.

Sydney’s house and church sit on a few acres of ridiculously fertile soil. Fields of tobacco as far as the eye can see. Corn is the main food produced and consumed in Malawi, but tobacco is the cash crop. While there is no excuse for the greed and injustice of large cigarette companies, seeing fields of the cancerous plant is oddly breath taking.

In the distance were the Chipata Mountains, Nkhotakota and Lake Malawi. In the 19th century Nkhotakota served as a major slave trade center. Thousands were captured and shipped across Lake Malawi to Tanzania and Mozambique, where they were forced to walk to the shores of the Indian Ocean before boarding boats to be sold in Arabic nations. Tragic.

Sydney’s family welcomed us and neighborhood children sprinted toward the truck as we unloaded our things. The negative impact visiting missionaries and aid organizations have had on developing countries is most apparent in the way its children react to visitors. Most kids have been conditioned to beg for money because, at one point or another, someone gave an older brother or sister a hand out. In many ways, we have ourselves to blame for being seen as an “endless resource.” Not here. These kids were simply curious.

We bathed in water drawn from the community borehole and warmed on a fire before eating dinner. By the time I got in the bathroom the sky was a mix of deep purples, blues and greys. I closed the door of the bathroom, took off my shirt and noticed I wasn’t alone. CHICKENS! I opened the door and our hosts were laughing–not sure if it was a joke or just a routine occurance. Something tells me, when bathing with birds, one doesn’t get too clean.

Sydney’s boys spent an hour firing up the generator, a rare treat reserved for holidays and visitors. Then, as if it were a game, they swung at the bugs attracted to the light from the naked bulb hanging over our heads.

The night rain panged off the sheet metal roof and kept us awake for hours. I preached the next morning and we were once again humbled by the gift-giving sprit of the Malawian people—eggs, bananas, mangos and chitenge.

We spent the rest of the day walking in the market and tobacco fields. Sydney told me of his plans for the church and of the challenges of working in a place as poor as Chamatao. A man met us, bought us cokes and we sat on a porch—the white guy on display for the entire market.

It didn’t rain that night. It felt like I had just fallen asleep when I heard Sydney’s voice, “Dave?!?” The sun was ascending over the mountains and the flatbed had arrived for our journey home.

Malawi Ministry preaching

Chamatao Sermon Clip

Preaching in Malawi can be difficult. While I’ve learned a lot and grown accustomed to a few cultural differences there are still times where I struggle to communicate clearly. This is especially true when I preach with a translator, which has happened a lot lately.

I preached at Chamatao C.C.A.P. last Sunday, a church where there were maybe a handful of people that spoke English. I am to the point where I can fake a bit of Chichewa, including the first part of the liturgy (don’t get any crazy ideas, I haven’t learned a new language—it’s written word for word in the hymn book).

When I step away from what is written by someone else and rely on my own limited understanding of the language it’s not quite as pretty. Last week, Hailey caught one of those moments on video. Enjoy.

Chamatao C.C.A.P. Sermon Clip from David Rohde on Vimeo.

Malawi Ministry preaching

Preaching in Malawi: Five Lessons I’ve Learned

1. Part of my sermon WILL be lost in translation—even if I’m preaching to an English-speaking congregation. I’ve been forced to thoroughly think through every single word I say, which can be a good exercise. But it’s also very tiring.

2. DO NOT DRINK TOO MUCH WATER BEFORE CHURCH—My poor bladder doesn’t need the fluid for the forever-long services. My morning diuretic provokes the pee-dance on its own (thanks Meniere’s). Any extra encouragement may force me to ask for an intermission in the middle of the morning’s liturgy. A friend told me that eating two hard-boiled eggs would resolve the problem. But then I’d surprise the congregation with something else, even more unpleasant.

3. Congregation involvement is a GOOD thing—Growing up I always thought “Amens” from the congregation did nothing but inflated the preacher’s ego and brought little glory to the Word. And in some ways, I still question those who fish for encouragement from those listening. At the same time, something beautiful happens when you ask the congregation, in the middle of a sermon, to turn to their neighbor and wrestle with an issue for a bit. Sometimes, it is a good thing not to be stuck in the stagnant hour-long formula that many American churches follow.

4. I am not a Rock Star—The women taking their tops off during the sermon aren’t trying to get my attention…their children are just hungry. At first I thought that the hooter hider needed to make its way to Africa and then I remembered a conversation I had with a very wise friend a few years back. On my first trip to Africa she told me that visiting Africa will remind one of what the proper view of a woman’s breast should be. I think she is correct. BUT—if underwear starts being thrown at the pulpit, I might change my mind…

5. God can use whomever God wants…even a crazy Mzungu like me—I often wrestle with how to convey a particular message. I spend time agonizing over how culturally appropriate an illustration will be, or if I will even be understood. The truth is, it is often the times when I think I have given my worst sermon that God opens someone’s ears to what Scripture might be saying. And I guess that is the whole point; I just need to continue to pray that I get out of the way.

Malawi Ministry preaching


Today was a good day. I had known for a while that I would be preaching at Kauma Prayer House, one of the three church plants of Lingadzi C.C.A.P. But I didn’t know until earlier this week that the service was going to be such a large celebration.

Kauma is trying to charter itself as its own church, but needs to have a building and be able to support its own pastor before the Synod will recognize it as one. The prayer house system here is a phenomenal model for church growth and someday I plan on blogging about it—But today is about Kauma.

This morning’s service started at 9:30 and didn’t finish till 1:00. There was singing and dancing, and then I preached. Usually I’m not a fan of the bilingual service, because of how long it can get. Back and forth, English and Chichewa (or, Chichinglish) all morning long. Those that understand both languages hear the sermon twice (which may be a good thing—double the chance something sticks right?). It is draining.

For some reason today was different. When you preach in Malawi, you are not onlyresponsible for the message but also the entire liturgy (as if learning a language hasn’t been difficult enough). I had a translator, but still tried my best with certain Chichewa phrases. Within my first few words the congregation was rolling in laughter—I knew it was going to be a good day.

I preached on John the Baptist, about his call for fruit bearing repentance. I mentioned that, in the same way he was tasked to prepare the way for Jesus’ earthly ministry we are called to prepare the world for the celebration of the birth of Christ.

The first offering was taken (regular tithe collection), and it was followed by a special offering to support the building project. Again I was astonished by the eagerness of these people to give. Singing, dancing, laughing and celebrating all the way up to the offering plate.

I couldn’t help to sit, listen and watch all the smiles. The building, as incomplete as it is, was overflowing with joy. It was contagious. Church had rejuvenated me. The people of Kauma know how to celebrate. I can’t wait to go back.

Kauma Prayer House 12/6/2010 from David Rohde on Vimeo.