The first time I ever came to Africa one of the locals told me that when Africa gets in your blood, you can never rid yourself of it. I’ve found the saying to be true. Despite the frustrations and occasional discouragement, one is bound to experience while being here for an extended time, Africa always draws you back. She is like a lover that maddens you, but you know you can’t live without her. This is now my fourteenth trip to the African continent. Each time I set foot upon her fabled red clay I feel a greater bond with this mysterious and daunting land.
After a fifteen-hour non-stop flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, with 300 of our closest friends, the doors to the aircraft mercifully opened and we poured out like calves freed from the stall. Because we had an overnight layover, we booked rooms at the Holiday Inn near the airport and proceeded to enjoy the sheer thrill of stretching out on a bed. To top the night of simple pleasures off, I treated myself to a piece of chocolate cheesecake. Because calories don’t count when you’ve just spent fifteen brutal hours confined in an aerial tube flying with 300 others.
The other benefit of international layovers is that you never have to worry about missing an early flight because you aren’t going to sleep much anyway! After tossing and turning for most of the night, we were up and ready to catch our shuttle back to the airport, where we caught our flight to Malawi. I will be meeting with our team in Malawi tomorrow and then it is on to Liberia and Cameroon, where we will begin training with several new cohorts. However, my trip to Cameroon is currently in flux, as I have not yet received visa approval. By God’s grace, I will receive it before I arrive on October 7.
This morning while ravenously devouring a delicious breakfast of fruit, yogurt, bacon, and eggs before we left for the airport, I was reading my Bible and found myself drawn to Jesus’ words in John 4:38, “I sent you to reap where you have not sown. Others have labored, and you have entered their labor.” In the immediate context, Jesus is chiding His disciples for their spiritual blindness and urging them to get busy reaping the harvest of souls all around them. But there is also in His chiding a word of encouragement for them. They are not going into uncharted waters. Others have gone before them to prepare the way. The seeds have been planted and watered. The hard work is done. The disciples get the best part of the job–the harvesting!
The truth is that none of us who are laboring in the harvest fields are alone. We are standing in the shadows of giants. Others have gone before us to plow the fallow ground, plant the seeds of the gospel, and water them with their blood, sweat, and tears. We have entered their labor. We get the privilege of reaping the harvest, but we are not the cause of the harvest. One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6).
As I crisscross over the continent of Africa, the shadows of those who have gone before looms large. They are present in the millions of churches, schools, and hospitals located in countless villages, towns, and megacities across this vast land. Their names are not known to many but are written down in heaven. They faced constant hostility, disease, and death but now experience eternal pleasure in the presence of the Lamb. Many died without ever seeing a harvest, but now a whole new generation enters their labors and reaps their harvest.
This fact is particularly significant to me as I consider my work with International Training and Equipping Ministries (ITEM). Twenty years ago, God planted a seed in the heart of our founder Dr. Steve Van Horn to provide training for pastors in Africa who would never receive the opportunity for any kind of formal bible college or seminary training. Over the years that seed has been faithfully watered and ITEM’s ministry has grown to incorporate training in fifteen countries across two continents.
As the leadership of this organization now passes into my hands, it is a sober reminder that I am entering into the labor of another. To work in the harvest fields is thrilling, but I am merely playing a minor role in God’s spiritual economy of seedtime and harvest.
One more item of note, in years past when I come to Malawi, I have been staying at the same rather rustic lodge. But its setting is gorgeous, nestled at the base of the third highest peak in Africa, Mount Mulanje. However, our hosts told us the lodge is no longer in good condition, so they secured accommodations at another lodge. I was a little disappointed, as I thought the setting could not be more spectacular. However, I was wrong. The scenery is even more stunning, and to boot there is even hot water and air conditioning in the rooms!
Well, that’s all for now. Good night and God bless from Phalombe, Malawi.