COVID–19 made the planning for this trip extraordinarily difficult. Travelers are required to have a negative COVID–19 test before entering each country, and each country also has its own timeframe for when the COVID test must be administered. Since our team had to go to Malawi, Uganda, and back to the United States, it meant 3 different COVID tests on this trip. In order for us to get the test results back in time for flying out to Uganda on Saturday, we had to go the only testing site in the Phalombe District, which is in Blantyre, a city about ninety minutes from our hotel. Fortunately, Nathan has a friend in Blantyre who investigated all of the logistics for us and walked us through the process.
The catch is that the only time the tests are being given is between 8:30–10:00am and 1:00–2:30pm. Therefore, we would have to miss a half-day portion of the seminar in order to get the tests. We were disappointed but were powerless to do anything about it.
When something unexpected happens or things do not go according to plan, Nathan Chiroma has a saying: “TIA,” which stands for “This Is Africa.” We had our first big “TIA” moment when we awakened for breakfast. Our rental vehicle had a flat tire. This would put us even further behind schedule. Remember when I said the only certain thing in Africa is that nothing is certain? But along with the news of the flat tire also came some humor. It is the custom of the hotel staff to hurry outside to the guest’s vehicles when the sun rises, in order to wash them and in return for their service receive a tip. However, before the car washers could arrive to inspect the vehicle, the hotel cook had already spotted the flat tire and was busy at work trying to put on the spare. When the other staff arrived and saw the cook possibly taking their tip, they were angry and forced the cook back to the kitchen.
After repairing the tire and getting our test done at the Queens Hospital in Blantyre, we made our way back to Chiringa and down the dirt road, which Nathan was becoming very skilled at navigating. By the time we arrived at the church it was already lunchtime. But what was remarkable is that the pastors were all sitting in the grass under the trees wearing their church clothes, where they had been waiting for us to arrive for over three hours. Yet not one had left.
When I look at the dedication and hunger of many of these pastors, I am often humbled and convicted of my own callousness and desire for the status quo. One of the reasons I am committed to training pastors like these men is because of their devotion to Christ and intense desire to learn. Believe me it is infectious!
When the last bit of goat meat, boiled animal skin, rice, kale, and corn porridge called xima (pronounced chi-ma) had been eaten, we were ready to begin our lectures for the day. I did the first session on the Practice of Church Discipline. Nathan and I had decided, however, due to our late start, to tweak the schedule and do the final session of the day on Principles of Biblical Interpretation. While I enjoy teaching pastors, the pastors enjoy being taught by Nathan. ITEM is beyond blessed to have Dr. Nathan Chiroma as our primary leader in Africa. I sat in awe at the way he was able to instruct and interact with the pastors. Every time I do an ITEM seminar with Nathan, I learn so much from him about how to contextualize teaching in African culture. While Nathan taught the basics of Bible Interpretation, the room pulsated with energy as pastors sat on the edge of their seats, busily writing in their notebooks interspersed with eruptions of laughter and praise.
While we were only able to accomplish two sessions today, the impact was incredible. The quality of pastors at this seminar speaks volumes about the potential of the church in Malawi. This is Africa!
It’s hard to believe, but there is only one more day of the seminar remaining. So, it’s off to the hotel for another $6 T-bone steak and a good night’s sleep.
~Chris McMillan (ITEM COO)