This morning I woke to the sound of wind and rain. Immediately my mind went to our church site and I thought, “The tent…”
When we moved to our church’s property in December 2016, we pitched our tent and carried on meeting and growing the congregation. How the property itself came to us was a miracle; it was one of those situations that, up until that time, a miracle of that magnitude was something we had only heard of happening to others. The piece we had our eye on was ideal; located on one of the main entry roads leading into the city. When we found out the asking price we simply looked up and said, “Dad? What about it?” Within a couple of weeks, we were able to make our counter offer and close the deal shortly thereafter. After having spent 30+ years in Africa, preaching , working in local communities, and planting churches, we were amazed that in less than a year from the planting of our church in Blantyre, Malawi, we had a piece of amazing property that was fully paid for. This process in itself has usually taken years to accomplish in other places we have served; we knew God was up to something and are still pinching ourselves as we witness His amazing hand at work.
Prior to owning our own land, we rented property from a local school that was willing (for a price of course) to let us set up the tent and meet as a church. It was therefore a great relief to begin the process of settling into our own place. If we had to spend money, we were glad it wasn’t to be spent on rent but on developing our own property, which was totally undeveloped at the time. We hired a large grater, leveled the land as much as our finances allowed us as hiring a sufficiently powerful grater needed for the job we had was no cheap undertaking. Once the land was sufficiently leveled, we set up the tent. There was no (still is no) running water or electricity; we had to come up with creative ways to build without a reliable source of water or power. We learned it was possible to haul large amounts of water from a local stream as well as bring a generator on site to run musical equipment during church services on the weekend.
As we are going on our second year on site, we have a nearly-complete security wall fence around the property and if you look hard enough, you might “see” the main building and surrounding educational/office complexes that will go up in the future. Standing proudly in the middle of the mud, rocks, piles of bricks, and drainage ditches is our tent. In this tent we’ve held meeting after meeting, week after week, and it has been a great adventure seeing people come week after week and meet Jesus.
Yet, tents are not meant to be permanent structures. During the rains in Malawi, our tent has come down a few times due to violent rain and wind. Repair has always been expensive and challenging: expensive as the materials needed are not cheap and challenging as the man who has a sewing machine that is able to sew the tent lives far away and requires us to collect him and his sewing machine whenever we need a repair. All of this doesn’t take into account the fact that not only do we have to go through a lot just to get him on site to sew, but also, we have to arrange for power to run his sewing machine – out comes the generator.
So, when I heard the rain and the wind this morning, Sunday, I prayed, “Lord, the tent.” It’s all I could think of to pray as He already knew the situation. Later on, as we left the house and were in the car driving to the property, I saw a large sign along the roadside that had blown over in the wind as well as some sheet metal blown off a construction site. I kept whispering quietly, “Jesus, the tent.” As we drove up, it was still standing tall without a single tear and we all breathed a sigh of relief and started the service.
It was cold today and windy; we have no walls and are at the mercy of the weather. The sand blew in my eyes and the damp wind made me shiver. Jamie (my husband) preached a message on gratitude and I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking of all I had to be grateful for just that morning: we woke up well, the car got us to church (sometimes I wonder about that car!), and the tent was still standing. Behind me sat a teenager who wore shorts and a T-shirt and I watched his teeth chatter as he huddled next to his friend. Yet he smiled when I looked at him. My eyes looked over our people and I thanked God for them – they’re in a “no frills” church with uplifted hands. These, our people, I thank God for them, they are really coming because they want to come.
In days to come, when God blesses (for He always blesses) and buildings begin to go up on site, I will remember these precious ones who were brave enough to come and meet in a tent. Somehow, I think I prefer these days; there are no bells or whistles to distract us. It’s simply the people, loving Jesus and us watching a church be born.