The first week of Lent seems an appropriate start of my third trip to Africa. I arrived today in Johannesburg, and will meet a mission team of ten who will arrive on Monday. Together we will seek to fulfill our relief mission in Malawi, particularly CitiHope’s PACCT program of AIDS education in the churches.

I came a few days earlier than the rest of the team by invitation of the Regional Office of the Church of the Nazarene in South Africa to lead a Lenten retreat in the mountains on the theme of ‘spiritual direction’, based on the book Rebecca and I edited by Henri Nouwen. See
Henri, my teacher at in seminary, has a tender heart for people living with HIV/AIDS and a commitment to AIDS ministry as well as ministry with the poor.

On Ash Wednesday, one week ago today, I shared with my college class at Drew—“Religion and Social Justice: Faith-Based Approaches to Ending Poverty and AIDS”– a remembrance of my friend, Joey. Joey was six year old when he was diagnosed with AIDS in San Francisco. He died of the disease in 1994 at the tender age of 14… I also reviewed how we as a nation slept through the AIDS crisis during the 1980’s and only now are dealing with the Global AIDS pandemic in Africa. Lent is a time for repentance for our compliancy and a time for recommitment for the journey at hand.

The Lenten journey is a journey of the heart of prayer and discernment that prepares us for Christian service in the world. I cannot imagine trying to sustain an AIDS ministry or international relief and development work without a prior commitment to contemplative prayer, community relationships and compassionate ministry in the world—the three components of Henri Nouwen’s spirituality which informs my own life and work.

I invite you to join me on this Lenten journey to the heart of Africa for the next 15 days. I will write (and post ASAP) a daily Travel Blog to record our mission experiences in Malawi, and inform you on how best to pray for us as you feel led.

Remember: Lent is that period of 40 days and nights prior to Easter when we seek to follow Jesus into the desert of introspection, temptation, and need (see Matt 4). The word “lent” comes from the Latin word for “lengthen,” because the days of Lent occur during the spring time of the year (or the hot rainy season in Africa), when the daylight hours increase. The period consists of 40 days because the number 40 has special biblical significance: Moses and the people of Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years; Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days. It has always taken God’s people a long period of time to get spiritually ready for what lies ahead.

The season of Lent, historically, also has been a time of prayer and fasting, repentance and reflection, of ‘giving up something’ (e.g. sweets, shopping, the news) to make time for other habits that will increase one’s devotion to God and solidarity with God’s poor. It is a time of sacrificial giving, intercessory prayer, simplifying one’s lifestyle, and deliberate acts of loving kindness.

If you want to join me on this Lenten journey in Africa, just click on this link to my Travel Blog and imaginatively enter into our daily activities in Malawi. Pray for each member of the mission team, and maybe send us a word of encouragement along the way.

I’ll be home on March 16 (in time for my daughter Rachel’s 17th birthday), and will be available to share with you more about the journey to the warm heart of Africa.