As I celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today, I will focus less on racism and more on abject poverty. I have no room in my heart to harbor anger and hate toward another people group or people of different skin color. You see, I have been stricken with a severe heart condition and one I have had for 5 years. Not many people know of my condition.
In 2009, Christ UMC, the church I was serving, decided to visit all the water wells they had sponsored in the tiny African country of Malawi. I was stoked at the possibilities. We formed a team comprised of a couple people who had been to Malawi 7 years earlier. In my mind, I was going to take Jesus to a hurting country. I was going to show God's love and grace in abundant measure. I was about to experience the first harbingers of heart issues.
Upon arriving at Lilongwe airport we were greeted by our hosts. As they embraced each of us, their first words were, "Why have you stayed away so long?" I felt something twinge in my heart but attributed it to a different climate and hemisphere. For the next ten days the twinge would come and go with varied intensities. No worries.
Traveling from one distraught village to another brought all of us into close contact with people poor beyond description. With every visit, we were greeted with celebration and hospitality that can't be found anywhere here in the states. The churches in those villages rejoiced with abandon. They treated we Americans like royalty. We were embarrassed in evey location. Blessed but embarrassed.
(Unnamed child in Dedza)
Each evening we would travel back to our Roman Catholic convent and debrief. What had we seen? What were we feeling? Where did we see God that day? With heavy eyes and heavier hearts we would go to bed. I didn't sleep well those 10 days. Malawi is impoverished. With poverty comes crime and violence. One particular night, a gunshot rang out somehwere outside of the high walls of the convent (Walls embedded with shards of glass at the top to prevent people climbing over them).
After ten days of travel, inspection, and worship, it was time to depart. All my personal goals to evangelize, teach, and love the people of Malawi were set aside in order for God to perform open heart surgery on my cold and brittle heart. Mission accomplished. I shall forever close my eyes and see the beautiful glowing faces of women, men, and children of Kasunga, Katondo, Madisi, Carmel, Dedza, and a host of our villages in Malawi. Their spirituality and hospitality dwarfed my feeble attempts to lift them out of their daily dispair. A large portion of my heart remained in Malawi that warm day in July 2010. And so goes the story of my heart condition, God's magnificent surgical skills, and the "Warm Heart of Africa".
Find ways to celebrate those who don't look like you, don't speak the same language as you, and those who don't enjoy the same things you do. WARNING: If you choose to hold onto pride and feelings of superiority, God might unveil the scapel he used on me and begin a work on you. God's skill in heart surgery is the only way racism will be defeated.