Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Handshake

We have seen with our own eyes . . . we have touched with our own hands. 1John 1.1

I am growing convinced that no one in Mchengtuba thought they would see me again.

When the choir returned last August, triumphant and filled to overflowing with gifts, there must have been a Vegas moment: what happened there, stays there. Because the story some of the members concocted and the foolishness that prevailed can only be carried on by people believing there is no one who can challenge them. Well . . . so much for that theory.

There is another possibility that any attempt to redirct the donation to build the church into personal hands could have transpired before I returned and then it would have been too late. Malawi is a tough place to get a refund.

At first glance the confusion, the awkwardness, the greed is why many people don’t want to get involved with places of extreme poverty. The missionaries, the church leaders, and even the ex-patriots don’t like to expose visitors too much to this. For this reason it is rare to hear them complain, to speak ill. Like the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, you don’t want the folks from Kansas seeing any of this.

It’s not that I like awkward moments, but for me, that’s life. And when you are talking about Malawi real life has a funny way of intruding on a regular basis. A part of me doesn’t trust a situation until I know the broken parts and the less than desirable aspects.

Speaking with Jim and Jodi McGill about this it was clear not everyone is as flexible and more importantly not everyone continues their support once they know the potential pitfalls of working with extreme poverty.

All right, not everyone gets this. And a big part of me wants to be just as careful not to offend. Another part says, Do you really believe you are going to make a difference in a context like this, facing daunting challenges like these and all will be nice? You can’t just say “this is Africa” every time something goes South, but easy . . . here? No.

As I walked around Mchengatuba Tuesday there was a common look on the faces of the people I met: I can’t believe you are here. On some level this is because Mchengatuba is not rife with American guests. This is a hard scrabble set of streets. Most of Mzuzu is just as poor, but Mchengatuba seems to have an edge. The people smile as I pass, the children yell, Mzungu, just as in other neighborhoods, but there is something different.

Shaking hands had a whole different meaning here. It was what John said, “we have seen . . . we have touched.” It was as if this meant a whole other level of support. I am starting to believe that people figured if there was conflict, if there was a problem, no way would he come here. Another theory gone.

I want to say that is what called to me. Conflict, challenge, Holy Spirit: don’t these things go together?

No comments: