Is Malawi in…Hawaii?

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

As I’ve gradually told people that I’m going to Malawi, I’ve received a wide range of responses. My grandmothers both provided the most negative range of reactions (Grandma: “Good God, Sarah Ann.” and Nannie: “Please don’t tell me you volunteered for that.” ), while my more travel-savvy friends have responded with a sort of knowing enthusiasm.

But most commonly, to my surprise, my I’m-going-to-Malawi proclamation has been met with bewildered expressions. Most people, I’m finding, have never heard of the small, landlocked country of Malawi, located in southeastern Africa. The conversation usually goes like this:

Me: “So, I’m going to Malawi in November for a month!” Friend: “WOW!” [insert surprised/excited/confused face] “Is that in Hawaii?” Me: “Ha! No, Malawi is in Africa.” Friend: “OH.” [insert more deeply confused face.] “Why are you going there?”


Why, indeed.


The short answer is that I’m going to write a sample chapter of a book I’m hoping to write. I’ll be spending a month interviewing savings group members served by HOPE International’s local church partners.


The long answer is a mixture of calling and crazy, undergirded by a deep foundation of self-doubt. This idea has been bubbling inside me for a long time. I’ve been affectionately referring to it as my “pipe dream” until suddenly I found myself buying plane tickets, thinking “HOLY MOLEY THIS IS FOR REAL HAPPENING.”


In the past six months, I’ve experienced more self-doubt than in the past six years. I can believe that this book project will serve the Kingdom; I can’t believe that I’m the right person to write it. I’ve repeatedly told friends, “I am this project’s biggest weakness.”


This narrative of being the wrong person for the job has followed me all my life, I’m realizing. At every step, I’ve felt ill-equipped and unqualified for the task at hand. Looking back over journal entries from my time in the Philippines three years ago, my feelings feel eerily similar to my feelings today: I feel wildly unqualified for this job. Who the heck thought this was a good idea? I felt like a kid pretending to be this writer/missionary/development worker role I’ve fallen into.


I’ve often thought of insecurity as some sort of inconvenience that I’ve been burdened with–inconvenient but manageable. I’ve viewed my neurotic tenuousness as just a personality quirk that I’ve learned to live with.


If my insecurities hamper my obedience to the Kingdom, I can only view that as sin. It’s exchanging the truth of what God says about me for lies conjured by my experience.

Every time I’ve picked up my Bible in the past several months, I’m been magnetically drawn back to Exodus 3-4, where God sets a bush on fire and commissions Moses to go tell Pharaoh who’s boss. And Moses responds with excuses that feel all-too familiar:


Who am I? (3:11) Who are You? (3:13) What if this doesn’t work? (4:1) I am slow of speech. (4:10) Please send someone else. (4:13)


And God responds with:


I’ll be with you. (3:12) I am who I am. (3:14) What’s in your hand? (4:2) Who made you? (4:11) I will help you speak and teach you what to say. (4:12)


That’s where I’m choosing to place my confidence. He is with me. He is God. He’s filled my hands with what I need for this task. He made me. He’ll help me.


I love to serve a God who picks the little guy to slay the giant, the ineloquent to proclaim freedom, the young to prophesy, a virgin to give birth to a Savior, a murderer to write the better part of the New Testament.


And today, I lean on my Father who reminds me, “I have been with you wherever you have gone” (2 Samuel 97:9).

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Sarah Ann Schultz

writer + editor + dad jokes aficionado