With winds up to 280km/h leaving 1.5 million displaced and ruining 711,000 hectares of crops, Cyclone Idai grabbed the headlines earlier this year. It caused an estimated $1bn damage to infrastructure across Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
It is thought by some to be the worst ever disaster in the Southern Hemisphere. A few days after it hit, Lee found himself preaching at the memorial service of a dear friend after she apparently lost her footing alongside a small stream that the storm surge had turned into a raging torrent. Mercifully, overall, there were fewer fatalities in Malawi than with Cyclone Bansi in 2015, partly because people found out then where to find higher ground to rebuild safer houses. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many, sending financial aid and offering assistance with the reconstruction process.
Safehouses of another kind
We’ve also been pleased to help provide safehouses of another kind. A few years back, we found ourselves priced out of property in the city by spiralling rents. To avoid being pushed too far out of town, we borrowed money to buy a place on the fringe of Blantyre, between the township – where many of our congregation live – and the rural villages. Providentially, the property had a decent piece of land and a few outbuildings. We now have a smallholding and three vulnerable families living in safehouses. The issues we meet most regularly here include poverty, prostitution, addiction and abuse.
Central to all we do is proclaiming the gospel to address the deeper needs that the cameras do not capture. In the shape of the worldwide Church, God is building the safest of all houses for all who call on his name, which will withstand the ‘flood’ of his judgment when Christ returns. Through Word ministry, we are delighted to be, as our late seminary principal would have said, ‘brickies’ (bricklayers) on the site. Blantyre Community Church, where we serve and Lee pastors, is inching closer to becoming a church that plants church-planting churches. The challenge is to engage our culture humbly, yet boldly, with the gospel, not retreating into a Christian ‘comfort club’ or conforming to the world. We also struggle to retain potential indigenous leaders. Many are distracted or deterred by the struggle to make a living in one of the world’s poorest countries, or diverted down the path of sensual indulgence.
In the shape of the worldwide Church, God is building the safest of all houses
This year, we’ve been working through John’s letters and the book of Revelation in our Bible studies and sermons. We are struck by how the description of the beast in Revelation 13 fits the proliferation of false teachers here. Looking like a lamb, but speaking like a dragon, it has the appearance of Jesus but the message of Satan! We constantly find the beast at work to tempt the extremely religious people of Malawi to unknowingly join the rebellion of the nations against the God of the Bible. Many are brought up on Scriptures misapplied, albeit in the context of an impressive performance. There is much learning and unlearning to do.
A strong tower
“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10). Praise God, a few Christ-centred, mission-focussed churches have popped up in Malawi recently. We’re exploring how to collaborate in evangelism, churchplanting, support, and rural outreach in particular. Travel and time will be challenges in an already demanding context, but we rejoice that the Lord continues to provide human and financial resources at just the right time. Our eyes are on him.
Lee and Fai Furney work in churchwork in Malawi
Follow the Furneys on Twitter @leefurney