Growing up, I didn’t always know what I wanted to do with my life. What did I expect out of life, and what was expected of me? I think the questions I asked myself are typical of most young people, such as:
How do I impress that girl? Why do my parents make such a big deal about going to church every week? What should I pursue for a career? Should I go to this party on Friday night? When will I have a real girlfriend? What phone should I buy? Do my friends really like me?
I don’t think I was alone in asking these types of questions. In fact, I know that these big life questions are common all over the world! One year ago, my wife and I moved to Malawi—a little country in East Africa—to serve some of God’s people. Malawi is sweltering, densely populated, politically volatile, beautiful and full of warmhearted people. And guess what? Despite the language barrier and the economy, the people there really aren’t that different from those where I was from in the United States. I would like to introduce you to some of the similarities between teens in Malawi and teens in America, and everywhere else.
The first similarity is that every single young person in God’s Church whom I have had the pleasure of meeting possesses a willingness and a desire to serve. I often ask the young people in Malawi to serve in various ways in the congregation, and every time I ask they are more than willing to help however they can. Just like teens elsewhere, Malawian youths have a desire to feel that they are needed—to feel like they are part of the congregation—and they are willing to act on that desire. Talk about an awesome character trait to have in common with someone in a foreign country!
Jesus Himself said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). Isn’t that the attitude we should all have when interacting with others? Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t 100 percent sure how you can help or even if you aren’t able to serve in the exact capacity you desire. I will tell you from experience that just demonstrating an initial willingness and desire to serve goes a long way! Having an attitude of service opens doors sometimes in the strangest places. People appreciate acts of service, and most importantly, God looks upon the heart and notices good deeds and a willingness to serve.
Malawian young people also share a love of sports with their North American counterparts! By a long shot, the favorite sport of Malawi is soccer, or as they call it there, “football.” Colonized by the British in 1891 and then receiving their independence from Britain in 1964, Malawians retained the British practice of using the letter “u” in various words (like “colour”), the love for tea, and of course, the enjoyment of playing and watching football. And boy, some of these kids are good! Maybe I just happened to notice the talents of a few individuals, but it seems to me that the ability to skillfully play soccer might run in the veins of Malawian teens. For what seems like hours, they can run back and forth and up and down a soccer field (or “football pitch”) in 95-degree heat—can you imagine! Some of you can—I’ve seen this sort of energy exhibited at Winter Family Weekends!
In 2019, we hosted a United Youth Camp (UYC) in Western Malawi. At the start of camp, teens and young adults arrived from all over Malawi and Eastern Zambia with the intention of having fun, making friends and developing a relationship with their Creator. When camp was finished, everyone left thoroughly exhausted, having completed all of these tasks. They took with them new friendships, a stronger bond among themselves, and they gained a better understanding of how to be “lights to the world.” For many of them, this was their first time being exposed to a UYC, and they loved it.
But it’s not just the good experiences that Africans and Americans share; it’s also the struggles. Have you ever been faced with the temptation to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana? Alcohol is extremely cheap in Malawi, and alcoholism is a constant threat that plagues many. Marijuana is illegal for most people, but if a person claims to be a Rastafarian (a crooked branch of mainstream Christianity), they are legally allowed to possess and use it. With or without legalization, the use of marijuana and abuse of alcohol can be physically and spiritually damaging. (See the Compass Check article about marijuana in the Summer 2016 issue, and to learn more about the dangers of alcohol addiction, search “Overcoming Alcoholism” on ucg.org .)
Added to this, in Malawi there are many more people than jobs because the country is so densely populated. This means that as a teen or young adult, a Malawian must be extremely diligent and hard-working to get high marks in high school so that they may have a chance at finding a good job. The alternative is to develop some sort of manual skill or craft from which to make a living. You might wonder how this is similar to your life. Well, the similarity lies in the temptation to break the Sabbath. Many occupations in Malawi require employees to work on Saturdays; and what’s more, the education to even have a chance to acquire one of those jobs often includes going to class on Saturdays.
If you are growing up in God’s Church, there will come a time (or many different times) when you will be faced with the following question: “Am I going to church because my parents are here, or because I really believe these things?” You may be facing this question now, or you may have already answered it, but either way you aren’t alone. In Malawi, for our teens, that question often comes in the form of: “Am I going to keep the Sabbath holy, or am I going to go to class?” Sometimes the choice is up to the parents, but in many cases, parents send their kids to boarding schools, where they are all of a sudden faced with the decision to follow God or follow their friends.
In Malawi, Satan often attacks the younger generation of God’s Church by presenting them with a pseudo-ultimatum: “You must choose between having a job, a family and money in a very poor country, or you can choose to follow God.” Have you ever felt like Satan is offering a similar pseudo-ultimatum to you? Sometimes it feels like you really have to give up a lot to follow God! But let’s see what God says about the matter: “The Lord your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good . . . if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 30:9-10).
Do we have to choose between receiving blessings and curses? Absolutely, but God’s way of life is a blessing to us, not a curse. That is something Malawian teens and young adults are learning and having to prove for themselves, just like teens everywhere. Is this my parents’ church, or is it my church? If it’s my church, do I have a personal understanding of the fundamental beliefs? If I don’t, why not? Have I proven what I claim to believe for myself from the Bible?
These are just some of the similarities between the teens in Malawi and teens in the Church all over the world. There are many more! Teens here in Malawi want to be successful, and they want to enjoy life to the fullest. They argue with their siblings, they experience disappointment and they deal with many of the same issues you deal with. And when I see them at services on the Sabbath, it’s clear to me that the ones who are present at church are attending because, deep down inside, they recognize there is something different about their Church family, and they yearn to be surrounded by like-minded, godly people.
So, my friends, I encourage you to reassure, comfort, and above all, pray for your fellow teens here in Malawi and everywhere else throughout the rest of the world. Life isn’t always easy, but you’re all in this together. And you are the next generation of God’s Church—you are the ones who will shape the world around us as we draw closer to the return of Jesus Christ. CC