"I'm just not sure if my class learned anything at all," Ross confessed. Having spent his week helping us train pastors in Malawi, Ross admitted how difficult and discouraging his week had been: "Some moments felt like my students were starting to catch on. But then right after I'd wonder if they understood a word I said." Ross's worry was something we all had felt: Was this trip a waste of time? Should we have stayed home? Did God use us at all?
The truth is Malawi is a hard place. Belonging to one of the world's poorest countries, many Malawians lack even basic access to education. Many don't advance beyond the fifth grade. Consequently, with low reading comprehension and little biblical literacy, many of our students struggled. Moreover, we struggled to teach in a way that resonated with our students. Yet behind the difficulty and discouragement, God was still working.
Earlier in the year, we taught nearly fifty Malawian pastors how to read and teach narratives and laws from the Bible, using Genesis and Exodus to practice these skills. At the start of Exodus, one pastor raised his hand: "Why did God wait so long to save his people from slavery?"
It's a good question. God promised to bless his covenant people beyond measure (Genesis 12:1–3; 17:3–8; 22:15–18). So why, then, in Exodus' opening lines do we learn that God's people have become slaves in Egypt? Where is God? Has he abandoned his people?
We expect God to save his people quickly—first, through the Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:15–19), then through Moses (Exodus 2:11–12). But our hopes are quickly dashed—Moses, scared for his life, flees into the desert and God's people suffer for another forty years. Can God not save his people?
Yet God was saving his people. He drew Moses up out of the water and then, eighty years later, used him to draw Israel up out of Egypt. God didn't save his people in the way we'd expect or prefer. But God saved his people in his way for good and wise reasons beyond us.
And God is at work in Malawi. Throughout the week, I watched pastors wrestle with Scripture, encourage one another, pray for each other, and sing together of God's faithfulness through the ages.
Was our trip worth it? Absolutely! But only because God is still working to save his people through his word. God's purpose and plan in Malawi may be different than ours, but it is infinitely better. It's infinitely better because Christ lays claim over Malawi, and he is present and active even now.