Tree of Hope

Posted by djaspersen on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 Under: Malawi

KW EDITOR'S NOTE :: This is a special Malawi Mission Partner Communique which was sent to our by Missionary John Holtz.
The rains were no surprise.

The floods were.

River banks can hold only so much.  Land can soak in only so much.  Sand bags can stop only so much.

Then the inevitable happens.

When floods come, fields go.  When a cyclone hits, everything is hit.  Soil erodes.   Roofs cave.  Houses collapse.  Bridges break.  Pit latrines become unusable.  Dirt roads become impassable.    

In November and December Malawians were praying for rain.   Now they are praying for help.  

Sabina certainly was. One minute she was taking inventory of her fish, the next she was taking refuge in a tree. Perched like a bird on a branch she helplessly watched anything and everything imaginable flow past in a muddy, churning torrent:  household items, livestock, clothing, baskets, garbage, crops, grass and logs.

Even bodies.  Human bodies.

Oh, she has an amazing story to tell.  And tell she did.  In a face–to-face interview with Missionary Paul Nitz of Lilongwe, Malawi, she told it. You can find her story at  WELS Missions Blog  Both Sabina and Paul can tell it better than I ever could.

But one thing I can say: She survived.  Hundreds didn’t.

Not many can claim they were airlifted by helicopter and set down into a boat.  She arrived safely to land and was eventually reunited with her family.

Now that the waters have receded and the ground has dried, take a walk with her.  I know, I know, it’s an imaginary walk for you; but for her it’s a very realistic one.  Follow her down the foot path that leads to the river.   Step on foundations that once supported houses.  Weave through the piled-up debris.   Step around the bloated bodies of the cattle.  Shoo away the flies.  Try to envision what the area once looked like before the water came: Knee-high corn.  Bustling shoreline businesses.   Farmers farming and fisherman fishing.

But notice now how the land has been cut away and gorged deep.  Crops that had been growing near the banks of the river are now kilometers downstream.

Huts and shelters and dug-out canoes that once dotted the shoreline are nowhere to be seen.   

You are walking along at a snail’s pace, but now she stops altogether.

This river channel was not here 2 weeks ago!

You look around and wonder what she sees that you don’t.  She gently presses the calloused palm of her hand against a tree and seems to be lost in thought.  

She is.

A tear forms in the corner of her eye.  She begins her story.  You realize this is not just any tree.

It’s, that tree.

It’s the one that saved her life. Could Sabina gingerly walk past without giving pause?

Without giving any thought to what happened? Could she ever forget that tree?

I answer with a question:   “How could she?”

Her life was spared.  She was saved!

She was Jonah in the belly of a whale.

She was Daniel in the belly of a lion’s den.

She was Noah in the belly of an ark.

She was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the belly of a furnace.

Can she ever again walk nonchalantly past that one particular tree and not remember?  Could she ever again drag a finger across the bark or pluck a leaf from that tree and not offer a word of praise?  Not to the tree but the Creator of it?

Deep roots.  Sturdy trunk.  Sound branches.  Not only strong enough to withstand the pressure of water and the current, but strong enough to hold what truly mattered at the time…


The chopper and the rope ladder are long gone.  But the tree is still there.  For Sabina it stands as a daily testimony:

There is hope.

Isn’t that what the LORD of Amazing Grace has been saying to people of every nation all along?  In all seasons?  Whether it’s been raining or not?

When everything earthly breaks loose, buckles under and is being swept away, a tree still stands.  Once on a hill, now in our hearts by faith and by promise: the cross of Christ!

That tree!

The tree that saves.  Unfailingly strong.  Sufficiently big.   Surprisingly closer than many realize.

When the elders of our LCCA congregations took me on a trek through their lands in Malawi’s Central Region, to my shame, at first I didn’t see it.

What I saw was only the destruction left in the wake of the floods.

I saw collapsed houses and piles of broken bricks and useless rubble.  I saw the obliterated fields and newly cut river channels.   

Alice Josephat’s house in Kalambe Village

I saw the bent over corn stalks.  Each flattened one was like the needle of a compass, pointing out the direction that the flow of water had taken.

I saw clumps of grasses, sticks, branches and uprooted trees trapped and wrapped against clusters of banana trees.

As I saw incalculable devastation I could only imagine incredible loss.  I witnessed so much ruin that had come with so much rain.

But the elders of the congregations saw more than I did.   

Even when the rains first began to fall, they knew exactly where to go.  As they helplessly watched the waters rise and the floods sweep away so much of what they had or owned, they sought refuge and safety in the one thing strong enough, the one thing big enough and the one thing close enough: the tree.

Yes, that tree.  

The Cross of Christ.  And, by faith, they climbed up into it.

The Tree of Hope.

At some point along our trek through the devastated land, the conversation turned.  We stopped talking about what was lost and instead talked about what was found: Opportunities to serve!  Moments to share God’s comfort and blessings in the middle of a flood of problems.

The elders shared with me how people were coming weekly and faithfully to the church to hear the Word.  One elder informed me that he was now the elected lay preacher.  He was full of joy that he had the privilege of leading the worship and giving the sermons.

I had thought all along that what I was going to come back with was but a report and an assessment of the flood damage.  More than that, however, I came back with sharper eyes and a stronger message:

Though the destruction was great, God’s love in Christ Jesus is greater still!

Thousands of Malawians are displaced and struggling to put back together the life they once had.  Among them are many Lutheran church members.  Some are grieving the loss of family and friends or both.  Others are trying to scrape together the means to rebuild a house or prepare a meal.   Most fear the hunger that will hit even harder when there is little or nothing to harvest in a couple of months.   

But they are not without hope.  In Christ, hope is as certain as it is comforting.

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off -- Proverbs 23:18

Dear Mission Partners, maybe you know and maybe you don’t, but our beloved WELS is showing faith in action by getting involved with both prayer support and financial aid.  WELS President Mark Schroeder has written an encouraging letter of explanation and information and posted it on the WELS Website.

The WELS Board for World Missions (BWM), the Committee on Aid and Relief (CAR) and Kingdom Workers (KW) are working hard at addressing the immediate needs of those in our Lutheran congregations who are greatly affected by the floods.   Through funds made available through CAR, we are handing out much needed practical items that our LCCA members need now: buckets for clean water, blankets for warmth, plastic sheeting for temporary roofing and nails to fasten bamboo together for framing temporary shelters.

These buckets will be distributed first week in February 2015

Photo by Kathy Felgenhauer

Dear Mission Partners, may I take this opportunity to thank you for your gospel and prayer partnership.  It’s a partnership, not only with me, but with them: our brothers and sisters in Malawi who share the same faith in our wonderful Lord Jesus.

As partners, please stay and linger with us for a while at the tree.  That tree.

The Tree of Hope. Mariya Chikaya stands in her now barren field


Your Malawi

Mission Partner

John Holtz

In : Malawi 

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