World AIDS Day at Drew was observed on December 3, and I was invited to speak in chapel on AIDS in Malawi. Since it was the first week of ADVENT, I chose to speak about the witness of John the Baptist who had heard that the Messiah was on the move.
Aslan is on the Move: Stirrings of Hope in Malawi
Text: Matt 11:2-5
Introduction: One of my favorite Advent themes is from the Chronicles of Narnia:
“It’s always winter and never Christmas,” says the character of the Beaver.
“But Aslan is on the move–perhaps has already landed.”
“He’ll put all to right as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:
Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes him mane, we shall have spring again.”
Advent is about anticipating dramatic changes in the long season of winter, of exile, captivity, suffering or devastation. Help is on the way. Hope is in the air. Soon it will be Christmas, even is sub-saharan Africa.
There are stirrings of Hope this Advent season. Aslan may have landed! Messiah may be on the Move in Malawi, in Africa, in your life and mine.
The second Sunday of Advent often focuses our attention on the ministry of John the Baptist. In addition to the lectionary texts, there is this remarkable passage in Matt 11:2-5
“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’
Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”
THE EVIDENCE THAT MESSIAH IS ON THE SCENE… IS THAT THE BLIND SEE, THE LAME WALK, PEOPLE WITH AIDS ARE HEALED, SOME WHO HAVE DIED HAVE BEEN RAISED TO NEW LIFE…YOU WHO ARE WITNESSES TO THIS MOVEMENT OF GOD, GO BACK TO JOHN IN PRISON, AND TELL HIM WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN AND HEARD.
I. THERE ARE SIGNS OF HOPE FOR PEOPLE INFECTED WITH HIV/AIDS IN MALAWI!
Malawi is a small, land-locked, Pennsylvania-size country of 13 million bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Malawi made the list of 10 countries having made the greatest improvement in the last ten years:
• Malawi is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease…but the rains came this year and the crops did not fail as they did last year and the year before when children were hungry and malnourished.
• Malawi suffers disproportionately from extreme poverty and AIDS. Currently, AIDS infects 14% of the population and accounts for over 85,000 deaths per year, leaving 950,000 AIDS –affected orphans.
• Yet, more anti-retro Viral Drug Treatment was available this year, and the number of deaths to AIDS was less than last year.
• Prevalence of AIDS in Malawi has stabilized, according to the latest report issued by UNAIDS and WHO. The number of new infections of HIV in Malawi was also lower.
The Good News is that since 2003, antiretroviral drugs have been available in Malawi—and have saved thousands of lives; making AIDS potentially a manageable, chronic disease rather than a death sentence.
II. Malawi Mission: Faith, Love and Hope
During my sabbatical last year from Drew, I was a ‘man on a mission’ to help save 1,000 AIDS orphans and widows in Malawi…. Some of you read my blog or heard me speak about it before. I took volunteers with me on two mission trips last year (in Sept and March). We worked with local volunteers and CBO’s to deliver emergency food rations, life-saving medicine, needed hygiene supplies, and our ministry of presence.
• We went there not inspire faith, for the people of Malawi are among those most faithful Xtians I’ve seen (70% Christian, mostly RC and Presby, legacy of David Livingstone’s medical mission and those who followed him there; and 20% are Muslim).
• We were not there to share our great love as if there was not love already there. Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa” for a reason. Even in great diversity, in the midst of AIDS epidemic, they are the most loving people I have ever encountered.
• They have faith, and they have enough love, but as a nation, Malawi is in need of more Hope. Our mission was to raise hope in people’s lives, especially for those living with AIDS.
A ministry principle I learned from Br. Roger of Taize: “When you go into a city to do ministry, instead of looking first for needs, find places of help hope and hope and just show up.” (Br. Roger)
We visited AIDS clinics and hospitals, orphan care centers for children affected by AIDS, prisons where AIDS patients are left untreated, but not totally abandoned, schools and churches struggling to deal with the epidemic. And what we found were many places of help and hope where God’s people were present as the Body of Christ in the world.
• “It takes a village…” An informal foster care system works in Malawi: Guardians informally adopt orphaned and abandoned children and bring them home to live; but they cannot afford to feed them, so they bring them daily to a feeding station. There the children eat their one meal for the day—maize mixed with a high-protein, nutritionally-fortified, vegetable soup mix supplied by NGO’s. Daily, they sit on the red African dirt by the hundreds, waiting for a bowl of soup or portage that will keep them alive. And if they get sick, and if they can get to an AIDS clinic, the nutrition they get will make the medical treatment effective.
• The UMC in Mzuzu is small but growing. A 100-member congregation has taken in 35 Orphans and Vulnerable children in their Hope Homes. The regularly feed 60. Rev. Copeland Nkhata has a 6-pt charge. Preaching huts in small villages, three which lack fresh water. Idea: Samaritan Wells of living water dug next the church. First village well in Zowe where 1500 people now have fresh water. (I just received another $10k check this week to install a fifth village well in Malawi in 2007!)
There are other encouraging snap shots and stories of hope, revealing the fact that the Messiah has come to Malawi. Go back to John in prison and tell him what you have seen and heard: that the lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor!
It’s Advent, and hope is on the way. You are the body of Christ. In your words and actions, Messiah has come.
Hope is on the rise. Aslan is on the move, Messiah has come to Malawi. The people of God are present in the Global AIDS crisis! Let us tell others what we have seen and heard. That Messiah has come to heal and save the world.