Gratitude and thanksgiving has always been a deep part of the Malawi experience. In village after village people who have virtually nothing insist upon giving us a gift. Some peanuts, or bananas or mangos picked from their trees. Gifts of cassava, or eggs or chickens are common. Once I was even given a goat I named Jessie. (Don’t ask about the heart breaking story of Jessie’s fate.)
I find it is more difficult to receive than to give. But I do because refusing such gifts would offend their cultural values. Three stories:
At almost every well you are greeted by dancing singing and a sound of joy made by whipping the tongue back and forth. At one well, a woman I guessed would have been in her sixties, threw herself at my feet. She clasped her hands together in a sign of gratitude and literally writhed in the dust before me
I was taken back and felt awkward not knowing what to do. So I knelt down in the dirt and took her hand. Through our interpreter she told me her story.
(These are tough people. They sleep on woven mats that they spread out on the ground or in the case of the more affluent, the concrete floor of their huts. They till their land by hand with a crude ax & hoe combination made out of pieces of automobile struts heated and burned into a handle. They fetch wood and cook on outdoor fires.)
This elderly woman had to walk over two miles to their water hole and then carry a bucket of water back on her head – two more miles. Twice a day she had to do this. She told me that for the past year she could only make the trip once. Others did it for her or she did without.
She was overcome with joy because now her water would come from a well no more than several hundred yards away from her village.
The tears rolled down her cheeks as she indicated she had regained her independence.
At another village we were invited by the village headman to join him under the shade of a tree. There he had placed several chairs for Russ and I to sit upon.
Cokes, which are enjoyed by the average Malawian only on holidays, were offered to us. They cost roughly 30 cents in Malawi where the average income is equivalent to about a dollar a day.
I am diabetic and avoid cokes. To the village headman I explained that I had a disease which causes too much sugar in my blood. I took a small sip and asked if he would be offended if I shared my coke with several children standing nearby.
He said that would be ok. I carried the coke to the children. Through gestures I indicated that it was for them to share. Then I handed the coke over to the oldest.
I stared in amazement at what happened next! The boy to whom I had handed the coke took a sip and passed it to the next child. There was no grabbing! Each in turn passed the bottle. Each took a sip. There was no gulping or two sips! Everyone in his or her turn took an equal share. Can you believe that?
But the story doesn’t end there. As we were leaving I told the headman, through our interpreter, that I was very grateful for his coke. That he couldn’t have given me anything that would have brought me more pleasure. That it was such a joy for me to see the children so happy and sharing of the coke.
He said to me with a puzzled expression, “You must be Jesus Christ.” In a rare spirit inspired moment I replied, “no but I am trying to follow him.”
It was probably the finest sermon I have ever preached.
It is a story of one of the proudest moments in my ministry.
This year Marilyn and Randy Biehler donated a well in honor of their daughter Paige’s 17th birthday.
When I thanked them for their donation and told them what a wonderful and meaningful gift I thought it was, this is what they told me.
They had asked Paige what she wanted for her birthday.
She said to them, “donate a well for me.”
(Someone is doing something right.)
“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” It’s from the Gospel of the day – A parable about accountability. It concerns God’s judgment and how judgment is rooted in God’s way of choosing to care for His children through the Body of Christ. Both sheep and goats are judged by their deeds not their creeds. It is one of the few places in the Bible where Jesus is the judge. And the standard of Jesus’ kingdom is doing good – not feeling good.