The rains were no surprise.
The floods were.
River banks can hold only so much. Land can soak in only so much. Sand bags can stop only so much.
Then the inevitable happens.
When floods come, fields go. When a cyclone hits, everything is hit. Soil erodes. Roofs cave. Houses collapse. Bridges break. Pit latrines become unusable. Dirt roads become impassable.
In November and December Malawians were praying for rain. Now they are praying for help.
Sabina certainly was.
One minute she was taking inventory of her fish, the next she was taking refuge in a tree.
Perched like a bird on a branch she helplessly watched anything and everything imaginable flow past in a muddy, churning torrent: household items, livestock, clothing, baskets, garbage, crops, grass and logs.
Even bodies. Human bodies.
Oh, she has an amazing story to tell. And tell she did. In a face–to-face interview with Missionary Paul Nitz of Lilongwe, Malawi, she told it. You can find her story at WELS Missions Blog Both Sabina and Paul can tell it better than I ever could.
But one thing I can say: She survived. Hundreds didn’t. Could she ever forget that tree?
When the elders of our Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) congregations took me on a trek through their lands in Malawi’s Central Region, to my shame, at first I didn’t see it.
What I saw was only the destruction left in the wake of the floods.
I saw collapsed houses and piles of broken bricks and useless rubble. I saw the obliterated fields and newly cut river channels.
I saw the bent over corn stalks. Each flattened one was like the needle of a compass, pointing out the direction that the flow of water had taken.
I saw clumps of grasses, sticks, branches and uprooted trees trapped and wrapped against clusters of banana trees.
As I saw incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss. I witnessed so much ruin that had come with so much rain.
But the elders of the congregations saw more than I did.
Even when the rains first began to fall, they knew exactly where to go. As they helplessly watched the waters rise and the floods sweep away so much of what they had or owned, they sought refuge and safety in the one thing strong enough, the one thing big enough and the one thing close enough: the tree.
Yes, that tree.
The Cross of Christ. And, by faith, they climbed up into it.
The Tree of Hope.
At some point along our trek through the devastated land, the conversation turned. We stopped talking about what was lost and instead talked about what was found: Opportunities to serve! Moments to share God’s comfort and blessings in the middle of a flood of problems.
The elders shared with me how people were coming weekly and faithfully to the church to hear the Word. One elder informed me that he was now the elected lay preacher. He was full of joy that he had the privilege of leading the worship and giving the sermons.
I had thought all along that what I was going to come back with was but a report and an assessment of the flood damage. More than that, however, I came back with sharper eyes and a stronger message:
Though the destruction was great, God’s love in Christ Jesus is greater still!
Thousands of Malawians are displaced and struggling to put back together the life they once had. Among them are many Lutheran church members. Some are grieving the loss of family and friends or both. Others are trying to scrape together the means to rebuild a house or prepare a meal. Most fear the hunger that will hit even harder when there is little or nothing to harvest in a couple of months.
But they are not without hope. In Christ, hope is as certain as it is comforting.
There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off — Proverbs 23:18
The WELS Board for World Missions (BWM) and Kingdom Workers (KW) are working hard at addressing the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods. Through funds made available through Christian Aid and Relief, we are handing out much needed practical items that our LCCA members need now: buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, plastic sheeting for temporary roofing and nails to fasten bamboo together for framing temporary shelters.
May I take this opportunity to thank you for your gospel and prayer partnership. It’s a partnership, not only with me, but with them: our brothers and sisters in Malawi who share the same faith in our wonderful Lord Jesus.
As partners, please stay and linger with us for a while at the tree. That tree.
The Tree of Hope.
Missionary John Holtz, Malawi