‘DO NOT GIVE IN TO FEAR, BUT ONLY BELIEVE.’ MARK 5:36
By Joanna Morrison
There is much to fear in Malawi in July 2022. Food insecurity is confronting millions. Maize production in the southern region of Malawi is estimated to be 30 to 50 percent below the five-year average and the cost of maize has doubled since this time last year.
Earlier this year, just as crops had begun to grow, Cyclone Anna came through and destroyed many fields. Then, six weeks later, Cyclone Gombe struck, adding another layer of struggle. It was a disastrous season for farmers in the southern region of Malawi. In April, Iris supplied maize seed to 6,100 distraught subsistence farmers who hustled to replant as the time for winter planting was at hand. Ever hopeful, people put all their resources and energy into winter cropping, holding on to the possibility of a decent harvest. Once again, farmers who planted along the banks of the Shire River were taken by surprise. Unusually heavy rain in early June swelled the river and drowned most of the crops, leaving hunger and defeat in its wake.
These same beloved children of God walked, rode, or climbed in a boat, to reach our first church conference in 3 years. There was a sense of anticipation as pastors arrived from all over Malawi to get ready. Some were building shelters, others setting up chairs, and still others interceding for God to meet us in power. This is the first-time pastors have arrived so early for the purpose of intercession, and God heard their prayers. Moses said to the people in Deuteronomy 4:7, ‘For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?’ We are so blessed because God draws near.
We enjoyed having a team from South Africa here with our beloved Papa Supresa. They blessed us with intercession and with teaching. They also enjoyed Bangula at its most beautiful, after the rain and before the heat. Supresa spoke a powerful word from Deuteronomy 15 about the year of release. The Israelites were to be different from those around them because they obeyed God’s laws, including the commandment to forgive all debts and release slaves after 7 years. That sounds crazy in the poverty and dust of Bangula, where every Kwacha coin is counted. Yes, indeed, to forgive a debt completely does seem foolish and yet God commanded it. How many of God’s laws would sound crazy to our modern ears? What if we simply kept the ten that we know well?
As we sat crowded together in the dirt, I was struck afresh by how the setting of Jesus’ life in rural first century Palestine is so easily understood in this context. Legion could live in any of the villages that surround us. The woman who bled for 12 years could be sitting in the crowd with us. In a big crowd like this, how many sick people would there be? So many. And yet, only one woman was healed. Why were all the sick people not healed? They did not come with intention. The woman knew that if she only touched his garment, she would be healed. What is our intention when we come to the conference? Are we intent on touching Jesus and receiving healing? Jairus waited, but perhaps not so patiently, while the woman was healed and explained herself. He too, had intention, and longed to see his daughter healed. Even as he waited, his worst fears came true, and he saw his servant in the crowd. From the look on his face, he knew that his daughter had died. Jesus’ words to him became the theme of our conference, ‘Do not give in to fear. Only believe.’ How hard, to fix our eyes on Jesus when everything seems to be going wrong. What father would not be afraid? What mother wouldn’t fear putting her children to bed hungry? Yet, perfect love casts out fear. When we are in Christ’s love, it is possible to continue in faith even in the midst of great suffering.
These beloved children of God walked or rode, or climbed in a boat, to return home, to broken homes and devastated fields. They don’t have stores of food or money for the hospital, but they have renewed joy and hope in Jesus. A friend rode in a boat with some of the women travelling home and she told me they sang the whole way, full of joy.