Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lessons in a Time of Malaria

Higher education has a way of turning perfectly normal people into buffoons . Before we started this program we're in, my classmates and I used to talk in such a way that the people around us could actually understand us. But now that we’ve entered the strange and bizarre world of “graduate studies” ( sort of like entering “the twilight zone” only without the cool music playing in the background) we’ve started talking in a sort of scholar-babble that even we don’t really understand. It seems if you write a few thousand words on “How an Indigenous Church Might Propagate a Missional Worldview Among its Adherents” and suddenly we’re all running around using twelve syllable words to say what we used to say just fine with two syllable words.

For instance, a week ago, we were saying things like “man, sure is hot out.”

Not any more.

Now, its “I was thinking of saying that it’s hot, but that won’t do. One can’t just say its hot because, you see, “hot” is a non-specific quantity and thus to classify something as hot is to not really say anything at all. I mean at exactly what point does something stop being warm and start being hot?”

Oh, shut up and turn on the fan.

Resultantly (and “resultantly is another of those words that sounds like it means a whole lot more than it does”), we all sound like a bunch of kokamamie ninkumpoops (and I am certain that “kokamamie ninkumpoops” was coined by a professor reading a bunch of graduate papers. “Why do these kokamamie ninkumpoops keep using such excessive verbiage!”).

So...the week ended with me getting malaria, which by the way if your planning a trip to Africa, I don’t recommend. It sort of feels like all of your body parts are trying to escape through your eye sockets. You hurt all over, you can’t sleep and you can’t eat because your stomach (or is it your liver, I cant’ remember) has been turned into a global village for parasites.


But one great thing did come out of it all . Somehow my suffering did seem to get that high-falutin’ jibberish nonsense out of me and my friends at least temporarily.

“Man, Jerry. You alright? You look terrible!”


“Alright my brother.... Sure is hot out.”

My “uughh” was perfectly intelligible to these new friends of mine, because they have all been where I am, many times before and knew well what I was feeling.

As my roommate said, “When I read that question on the application, ‘how many times have you had malaria,’ I started to laugh!” Apparently, posing that question to an African is like asking an American “how many Doritos have you had – ever?”

My grunting and groaning spoke volumes that were extremely intelligible to those around me and none of us needed an English to Malaria, Malaria to English dictionary. Everyone in Africa is fluent in Malaria.

Today was Sunday and I had yet another wonderful experience with language. We went to a small church on the outskirts of Lilongwe here in Malawi. It was a typical compound church, unfinished with tin sheets for a roof, and in one corner a pile of corn just prepared for grinding. The floor was unfinished, still mostly dirt.

The service started around 10 and at just after 12 the pastor asked for people to come forward who had not been filled with the Holy Spirit. Most of the church responded and about 30 people came and stood at the front of the sanctuary. There were old men and women, teenagers, and even young children. And then the pastor led those gathered in a simple teaching from the Gospel of John and Acts on the Person of the Holy Spirit and how Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to his followers before he was taken up to heaven.

And then he prayed.

For as long as I live I will never forget what I saw this afternoon. Almost every person there was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues, and among them was the village headman (sort of like a local chief) and another was a six or seven year old boy. The little boy stood in the front of the sanctuary with tears running down his face, his hands raised toward heaven, speaking in tongues!

I guess what really fascinates me in all this, is that our own attempts to elevate ourselves through the use of language end up as nothing more than blubbering nonsense. I mean nobody actually says things like “the day is soon to wane” unless you’ve been stuck on a desert island all your life with nothing but the complete works of Margaret Mitchell to keep you company.

No. Real people say, “its night!” And then eat some Doritos and go to bed.

But when we entrust our language to God and speak to Him from a place so deep within us that it can not be mined with the languages we know and trust, we find ourselves being elevated not by way of pompousness, but in the simple and profound mystery of God. We find ourselves lost in the presence of God, as we “declare the wonders of God.”

And the sight of a six year old boy worshipping the Lord with every ounce of his being today reminded me of what a precious gift that is!

No comments: