It’s been quite an eventful couple of days since my last report. I am sitting in the airport in Lusaka, Zambia writing this post, but the path here has been anything but smooth.
Wrapping Up in Chiringa
On Friday morning we were up early and checked out of our lodge in Mulanje and headed to Chiringa to meet with our newly formed mentoring team. ITEM’s approach to pastoral training is unique in that we are convinced that transformation does not occur in seminars but in life-on-life discipleship. Therefore, our training process incorporates a two-year mentoring process for pastors who attend both of our seminars. These pastors are broken down into small groups that meet monthly and one of our trained mentors facilitates each group with a curriculum ITEM provides designed to help these pastors implement the principles they are being taught. The goal at the end of the 3-year process is a transformed pastor which results in a transformed church.
Since we have just completed the seminar phase with our first group of pastors in Malawi, the most critical part of the training now begins: the mentoring. We were delighted to meet with the new mentoring team identified by our coordinator Duncan Nyozani and his assistant Innocent Mugona and explain the strategy, detail responsibilities, discuss next steps, and inform on best practices for facilitating small groups. What was most impactful for me, however, was to see the excitement of the team to carry forward the work.
On To Llilongwe
wrapped up our last meeting in Chiringa and said our goodbyes, we began the 8-hour journey to Llilongwe. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Hippo View Lodge in Liwonde, which sits right on the banks of the Shire River. Both Hippos and crocodiles are in abundance in the river. Unfortunately, their active time is in the morning, so we did not see any. We kept pressing one of our team members to wade into the water so we could see them, but he refused. I suppose he didn’t understand the concept of taking one for the team.
Another great surprise was the Indian food on the menu. There is no problem that a heaping portion of curry and Naan cannot solve. After lunch it was on to Llilongwe where we arrived after dark and bedded down at the African Bible College. Having expected to sleep in a typical rustic dormitory, imagine my surprise when I walked into my room and beheld a king-size bed, a ceiling fan, and a modern bathroom with a shower that had excellent water pressure and scalding hot water. God is good!
Trouble at the Airport
Arising early on Saturday morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fried tomatoes and bacon and headed to the airport enroute to Zambia. Jayson and I were scheduled to preach in two different locations on Sunday. However, when we arrived at the airport, we were in for quite a surprise. Unbeknownst to us, it seems that Malawi requires a negative COVID test before departing the country. Of course, this information is not listed anywhere on the Malawi immigration site nor the U.S. Department of State nor any other place I could find online. Because Zambia does not require a negative test for fully vaccinated passengers, we assumed we were clear to depart without one. Our powers of persuasion failed as the gate attendant was unhelpful and generally unmoved with our plight. When I demanded for him to show me one piece of official documentation with this policy, he could not produce one. Instead, he produced a document dated April 29 stating that passengers no longer needed negative COVID tests on May 1, which was the day after we were supposed to depart.
After our last pitiful pleas fell on deaf ears, we walked away from the gate discouraged and quite irritated. The irritation only increased when we had to pay $75 to contact our travel agent because it was on the weekend and the U.S. staff is out of the office and rebook the same flight for the next day, which cost us an additional $800.
When the steam began to evaporate po
uring off my head from being incensed by the injustice of it all, I realized that we experienced briefly what many Africans experience every day. Frustration and injustice are part of the landscape in Africa. Government entities do not communicate effectively with one another, government officials are susceptible to bribes, and rules can change on a whim without anyone being aware. If you question the status of things, it is your fault because you should have known.
Fortunately, our new friends at the African Bible College were more than willing to house us for another night. Still trying to digest the $800 bomb that dropped on us, we tried to make the best of the afternoon by relaxing, getting in a game of hoops, and finding a great place for some more Indian food.
On to Zambia
Having awakened from a decent night’s sleep and quite dreading another difficult airport encounter, we ate a quick breakfast and made our way to the airport. Praise God we were able to board our flight without any further problems. Now it is on to Lusaka, Zambia and then Ndola and then Chingola where we will begin a 3-day training seminar with 100 pastors. Having regained my enthusiasm after yesterday’s kerfuffle knocked the wind out of me, I am excited to see what God is going to do this week.
Stay tuned, more later.