It has taken me several weeks to really understand my experience in Malawi during the fall of 2004. Since this was my fourth trip to Malawi, I pretty well knew what to expect. However, due to a very busy schedule at work, church and family life during the prior months , I was not able to get my body in shape for this difficult trip. My back and leg problems began to act up during our layover in Johannesburg. The first week in Malawi I was rather miserable since I was in pain most of the time. Due to pain medication and muscle relaxers, I spent many hours napping. After a week, I could finally stand up straight and walk without too much pain. On Tuesday of the second week, I developed the flu which resulted in my spending many more hours napping. By the end of the second week, I had decided this would be my last trip to Malawi. I was just getting too old. The third week, however, I felt good, things went smoothly and I found myself telling my Malawian friends that I would be back in a couple of years. What had changed? What had I accomplished between all those naps during my three weeks in Malawi? Many questions remained unanswered.
In retrospect, I realize that during the first week, I managed to visit six of the seven schools I had planned to visit and arranged workshops for teachers on health related topics. During the second and third weeks, I presented one or two workshops for those same six schools, plus workshops for housemothers at the two boarding schools. I spent a few days in Mzuzu doing computer entry of information from health surveys for the Synod of Livingstonia. I attended many social events, a ten year anniversary celebration for a school, sorted several footlockers of supplies, helped with the end of the season shallow-well celebration and visited with many friends. I realize that my back problem and flu forced me to catch up on much needed rest, which I would not have done otherwise. I managed to do everything I had planned to do during my visit, plus a trip to Lake Malawi, the pottery shop and the usual shopping.
It reminded me of a story that I have used to teach about the importance of prioritizing. If I put larger stones in a jar, symbolizing the important priorities of our lives, followed by small stones, symbolizing the less important priorities, sand symbolizing the everyday activities and water symbolizing the unimportant things that take up our time, it will all fit in the jar. However, if I put the sand, small stones and water in the jar first, there will not be enough room for the larger, important priorities. Likewise, if we fill up our time with unimportant priorities, we will not be able to make time for the important priorities of our lives.
As a result of attending to my physical needs, using quiet time for preparation for workshops and attending to spiritual needs, I was able to accomplish what I had planned to do in Malawi. Additionally, because I realized that I might not have a chance to return, I developed a new appreciation for the the opportunities, challenges and blessings that present themselves each day. I have a new, more adventurous, grateful and joyous attitude about life. Once again I was able to enjoy the beauty of the Malawian springtime countryside, share in the fellowship, joy and celebrations of my Malawian friends and enjoy the wonderful warmth and hospitality of the people of Malawi. God works in amazing ways!!