Category Archives: community

Distractions

An aspect about life in Africa was the clear focus we were free to have on God. The media didn’t infiltrate every aspect of life. My days were filled with cooking, praying, reading scripture, being with people, teaching, and so forth. This was difficult because the culture from which I came is not one that is filled with those things, anymore.

We eat out much of the time, because people finish the day and are “too tired” to cook. Sometimes we even forget to eat breakfast, but instead we drink that cup of coffee to get us moving in the morning. Coffee is a delicacy, but here it is essential. In Malawi, often cooking means that we build fires, especially when the power is out. It means cooking ndiwo and then nsima in pots. It means the whole family gathers from their respective places, be it work or school. All eat and rest at the lunch hour. It is not rushed. The fastest cooked food is boiled in a pot for ten minutes.

Prayer is what people do on Sundays or Christmas or Easter, here in America, and because we are so comfortable most of the time, we only pray when life stops going along with us. In Malawi, people pray because God has called us to pray without ceasing. They pray at five o’clock in the morning each day, they wake up in the middle of the night to pray, they pray at every meal, before and after every car journey, at night after dinner they pray. They pray together. Community is how life is in Malawi.

In the hot season there is this time of day about two o’clock when it’s too hot to do anything. One must only sit and be. It is a forced break.

Here there are so many happenings that our eyes are on the doing this or that and I find myself at the end of the day without having prayed or read the bible. Not because I didn’t want to, but only because there were all those things keeping my attention and I went from one thing to the next without stopping in between to be. Praise God that He helps us remember and come back.

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Pause

The last few weeks somehow got very busy for me. David went to Malawi, and for some unknown reason I found every nook and cranny of each of those days and filled it right up. With people to see or things to do. By the time David returned, I was ready to lock myself inside my house and sleep for a three days straight. I did slow down. It’s amazing to me how I could just dive right into that strange normal that so many of us are accustomed to on a regular basis. What exactly are we all chasing after anyway?

Our lives get so filled to the brim that we just forget to stop to take a breath. It is my sincere belief that sometimes catching a cold is good for us because it forces us to pause for a moment. It forces us to stop. Rest. Reflect. Return to God in prayer.

One of the many things that I have noticed upon return to America is that we rarely take time to pause. The moments move so quickly because life is just so fast.

The questions just won’t stop coming. Are you settled in yet? Do you have a job yet? No one asks if the pictures have made their way onto the open walls, or if I have found that one good friend (Lu and the Swamp Ghost). Or how they could be a friend. People don’t seem to want to know if I have discovered that cozy coffee shop where I have found that certain corner to read a good book, or if I have found a farmer’s market that sells locally grown food. The focus is so much on what we are doing instead of who we are being. If you haven’t recently, take a moment, or an afternoon, and just pause.

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Our last full month in Malawi, June.

I don’t know where to start.

So much has happened since my last blog. My parents came to Malawi to visit. The mission trip team came from LJPC. There was our send-off service at Lingadzi. We said goodbye to the team. I came down with a cold. We tried to pack up our life. Then people came to say a few last goodbyes.

Now I am sitting in a pub in Notting Hill drinking a Guinness and trying to figure out what it all means. It’s raining outside. All is wet and cold. I can only hear out of one ear because of my congestion. Where are we going from here? How will our life be different forever because of this experience? Where do I begin in processing the events of the last ten months?

The fact that I am drinking a Guinness shows that I am ready to make a transition back to my own culture.

When visitors came I learned that no matter what I said, wrote, or did, I could not instill a sensitivity to Malawian culture that I had attempted for so many months myself. No matter what, no one could learn in two weeks what took me ten months. What was I thinking?

If people are not willing to learn, teaching doesn’t do much. In Malawi I saw a ton of willingness to learn and desire for further education. I also saw indifference and little desire to learn or change. I do suspect that I would find this anywhere in the world. No matter where I am, I assume that there will be people who want more and those who are content with what they have.

A mission trip is a lot of work. It is unlike any other type of visit. Plus, Americans are high maintenance. We like to be comfortable. We like to have a plan. We like to have a back-up plan. Being in Malawi, life happens. I would be pleasantly surprised when life worked out. But I learned quickly that I should not plan much, because it would fall through. The first month we were there, I searched for a fan; this took several days and multiple stores. An excursion that I thought would take an afternoon took a while longer. So I stopped having expectations. This way, how could I be disappointed? But I like people to be happy, especially if I am hosting. So I tried and failed to make things go exactly as planned. Another reminder that no, I am not in control, God is. One day when we were on the bus, there was worry that we would run out of fuel. Our friend Jason said to me, “Do you believe Jesus is Lord?” and of course I said I did and to this his response was that all would be okay. Of course it was. Which shows how deep faith is in Malawi. This is something that will remain in my heart.

The send-off service was wonderful. David preached. There were speeches from the church session clerk, the synod representative, the presbytery representative. I even gave a short speech. Then many handshakes, hugs, farewell gifts and smiles. My favorite part of saying goodbye came during the following Sunday when I was in with the Sunday School children and they were sharing loving thoughts and words of gratitude. Bester says to me, “I am wishing you a friendly good luck, safe journey, it is a tough world people can die, as believers we live forever”. He is right. This is a tough place to live because death happens. People do choose to live in opposition to God. They do choose to hurt, to smash, to lie, to steal. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to live that way. We can choose to love. We can choose to love God and love people. It is my hope and prayer that with the power that only comes from the Holy Spirit, that God would help me to live a life of love and not that other stuff.

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Ready to come home

When I went away to college from San Diego, California to Spokane, Washington, I was looking for a new experience and expecting adventure. It is true that my experience at Whitworth shaped me more and my faith deepened. I also found amazing friends there; some who I have lost touch with and others that have remained close despite the distance.

When I came to Malawi, I came looking for a new experience, hoping that it would deepen my faith and I was also expecting adventure. All these things I have certainly found. I have also formed friendships that may fade with distance and time, but I am sure a few will remain close, despite the distance.

In both cases, going away has taught me that home will always be home. There will be no other place where I can enjoy the ocean that I grew up near my whole life. The ocean that I visited daily as a child. The ocean where my husband proposed to me. The ocean where I spent the fourth of July almost every year, playing over-the-line with friends. There will be no other place where I spent countless ours playing soccer starting from when I could kick a soccer ball. No other place where I took my first step, said my first word, squished mud between my toes for the first time, broke my first bone, had my first win, my first loss, took my first photograph, had a broken heart for the first time, considered the value of life for the first time, encountered Jesus for the first time…

When I left San Diego to step into this new adventure, I knew I would miss all the people and places that hold so many memories. I also know that new memories would shape up in Malawi. They have, good and difficult ones.

God has taught me a few things, or reminded me of lessons I continue to learn again and again. God has taught me that God will give the strength to live my faith actively each day. God has also taught me that when I fail, there will be grace and mercy for me. I have also learned that any good fruit that grows in my midst has not much to do with anything that I have done, but has only to do with how much God has done. I just happen to have been nearby to see it happen.

Yes, I will miss our friends in Malawi, and yes, I am looking forward to going, home.

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Birthday in Malawi

I got to see monkeys on my birthday!

So the evening before, our friend, Sydney decided to come for a visit. He had some business to take care of in town and came here to sleep for the night, and of course chat a bit. When he found out it was my birthday the following day he said I would be a baby again. Then I mentioned that I was planning to wake up in the morning and make breakfast, his response was that I couldn’t do that because I was a baby again and babies don’t know how to make breakfast. Fine with me, David could cook then.

Of course, my birthday breakfast of egg surprise, breakfast potatoes, and tea was lovely. Then we were off to Malingunde to visit the CCAP youth camp, meet with the pastor and take pictures of the school for the blind to send to the mission team who is doing some work there in June. Naturally, we had a quality meeting and then when we were leaving Malingunde CCAP I noticed some monkeys walking around. Pretty fun.

We made it back to the house for a few minutes and then we went off to meet with a friend about our upcoming camping trip. Exciting.

For dinner, Vasco and Mada got a few people from their church together to have a birthday dinner for me. Again, the baby thing, I couldn’t possibly make my own dinner! Besides Vasco and Mada, I had only met the other people one time and they opened their home to us. It was some good fellowship and quite a blessing that our friends here would take their time to prepare a delicious meal. We were able to relax and laugh together which is so fun. There was a gift, a card, and they even had a birthday cake!

Here are a few photos from the day: 

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Revival Weekend…

Day 1: started with a meeting at 7:30 in the morning, tea, bread and then off to church for the first service which went from nine in the morning until twelve noon, more or less. I skipped out after about twenty minutes to see what I could do to help the ladies who were preparing lunch at manse number one. The electricity happened to be off so the cooking was done over three different fires. Have you ever made rice over a fire? Well, I witnessed it this day. It’s like camping. Then people started returning to the manse and I was sent to the sitting room to chat with one of the visiting pastor’s wives. It was a pleasant chat, and then lunch was served at about 1:00. After that we scurried to manse two to sit for about ten minutes before it was time to go back to church for the afternoon service. David spoke about revival meaning new life and that this was a time to consider what newness might be offered to us today. Perhaps some had just known about God but had not yet actually known God. Others might want to meet God in a new way. Still others might want to offer themselves up in prayer. Some was in English and then was translated into Chichewa and some was in Chichewa only. I think it was past five when the service ended with the Lingadzi women’s choir singing a song as people exited the church. Then, by God’s grace, the power was back on just in time to prepare dinner. I was happy to open the fridge and find that the contents were still cold.

Day 2: I decided to make some scones to share at the 7:30 meeting, so I was up at an early 6:30 in the morning. Again, the meeting transpired, food, then this time we were off to Mkochi prayer house for the morning service. We arrived to find a few mats spread out under some trees within Mkochi village. On one side, chairs and a small table with a sound system were arranged for those leading the service. Somewhere behind the chairs, a generator hummed in the background. Sitting on both mats were children. We were welcomed by a few elders and then shown to the seats. After a few minutes, we briefly commented to one another that if children were the majority, we’d need to adjust the service to better accommodate them. So, I did a children’s sermon.

Mkochi Prayer House is the smallest and newest of the prayer houses of Lingadzi. They meet at Mkochi primary school which has standards 1-4 and which Lingadzi also supports. However, for Easter Revival, they chose to meet within the village of Mkochi. It is the small but lively community that I enjoy so much. There seems to be some good energy and there are women that have taken ownership and become elders and leaders. Within a culture where the power lies mostly in men’s hands, it is refreshing and exciting seeing these women stand up and take leadership positions.

Music was put on through the sound system for the children to enjoy. They quickly started to dance. A few more heard the music and came out of their houses to join. It seemed that we would be waiting for some time before starting the service, so we decided to play a game with the children. Duck-duck-goose seemed like the easiest to play for the range of ages and the space available in the shade. After a short while of playing, we found our way back to our seats and awhile after that, the service commenced. It was all in Chichewa and the English was translated into Chichewa. In the children’s sermon, I shared that God loves us, and so much so that Jesus came and died for us. I talked about how the more we know that, we can find value in the fact that God loves us so much, the more we see that it doesn’t matter what other people think. What matters is that God loves us. Again, there was a sermon, singing, and then at the end people were invited to accept Jesus or come up for prayer. People prayed and we sang songs in worship. It was a blessing to experience. We then went to one of the elder’s homes for a lunch of n’sima, rice, ndiwo, and fantas and cokes. At about 2 o’clock it was time to go to Kauma Prayer House for another service.

This second service of revival was similar in that the message was similar but the context was different. The people were gathered inside a building and there were still plenty of children but it was mostly adults filling the seats. There was a message that Jesus’ death meant salvation, plenty of songs of worship, hymns, choirs, and another invitation for prayer towards the end of the service. Many adults began to move toward the front. A few children came forward for prayer and so one of the elders and I took them aside to pray for and with them. Just as we started walking to the back, several more children stood up to approach the front (about thirty in all). After praying for a few of them we quickly saw that we wouldn’t have the time to pray for each one and so we did a lesson on prayer teaching them a few basics on how to pray. It was encouraging to see so many people (both children and adults) feel free to come. It was a beautiful picture of how we can share each other’s burdens. Another choir raised their voices in melody, as the service finished we walked out into a sunset-filled sky and the cooler air felt nice on my face. It was a good day of opening hearts to God in a new way.

Day 3: Easter Sunday. All the prayer houses came to Lingadzi (the mission station) to gather together and celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Once again, we began the day with a 7:30 meeting before traveling toward the church. My only experience of Africa is Malawi, and Malawi has some beautiful choirs. This is one aspect that I truly enjoy and I will greatly miss. The way that the voices come together is simply beautiful. On Easter there were many, many choirs.

The way the revival weekend was organized is that there were four locations, so there were four teams. Each team had four people. Some teams had all the people preach at each location, some teams had a different person preach at each location and the other three assist in worship. For Easter Sunday, each of the four teams was supposed to chose one person from their team to preach. Therefore, Easter Sunday had, four people preaching. Intermingled between the sermons were the various choirs, hymns, and prayer. After roughly forty minutes of the third preacher, I was tired. Bravely, I excused myself and returned to the house to change clothes, as I had been wearing the stifling and uncomfortable women’s guild uniform, and I went to manse one to assist in preparing lunch.

This Easter, there were no egg hunts, pastel decorations, or deviled eggs, but the message of Christ was preached and hope and grace were offered to people. It was a fun, exciting, and at the end of it all, we were ready for rest.

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Kansale Cares…the immigration office disaster…Deportation?

(I wrote this about a month ago)

Okay, so it has been mostly confusing and very frustrating to try and get our paperwork in order. We have heard different things from different people. Frankly, it is a huge discouragement that government offices are so disorganized that getting the proper VISA done can take up to two years, so I have heard, and I’m not the least bit surprised. Deep down, I truly believe that the hold up is because of corruption.

Through all of the trips to the immigration office, plus talking with people here, I have found that although problems tend to surround us all, people do pull through and are helpful when push comes to shove. After another disappointing all-day trip to the immigration office, I was, to say the least, um, distraught. It seemed that anyone I spoke with, either told me something I didn’t want to hear, or didn’t care to try and understand what I was asking about. When Kansale brought us back to the house, I once again attempted to call the immigration headquarters in Blantyre. While on the phone, I was told that the office was closing and I would have to call the following day. That morning when I had awoken, I had my heart set on getting all of this done once and for all. So as I often do when I have been working on something for 6 months, and nothing is seeming to go my way, I lost it and the tears came.

Well a while ago, our friend, and church driver, Kansale, had his house broken into and almost all of the contents had been stolen. Malawians are the happiest most content people I know, but after this horrible thing happened, I will never forget when I asked him how he was doing and he said “I am down” –he was not doing well. He had worked so hard to make a home for himself; a comfortable place to live, and it had been taken away in a short hour’s time. When this happened we offered him help in the form of food, clothing and pots and pans. Well, when I was having my meltdown, he rushed off to get Abusa Zembeni, and brought him to the house. Even though his workday was done, he was ready to be a friend and help. The next thing we knew we had a visit from a neighbor who offered help, and the following day, had visits from a number of people offering to make calls and talk with people to try and accelerate the process. It has been a beautiful thing to see that people take care of one another.

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“You don’t have a headman, how do you live?” -Abambo

One afternoon, Abambo greeted me and I asked how his community meeting had gone.

Earlier that morning he told me that he would be going to a community meeting involving multiple schools in the area, he is on the Parent Teacher Association at the primary school behind the house, Mphungu. For that reason, he was going as a representative from the school. It is really wonderful that he is still involved at the school even though all of his children no longer attend.

He responded to my question with enthusiasm, telling me about what had been discussed. From what he said, I gathered that the school wanted to get a water pump so that they could clean the grounds and water the plants to make it a more welcoming environment. He went on to explain that it was especially good that the headman of the village and the traditional authority had come to the meeting. He was happy to say that all seemed to come to an agreement on the issue, the only problem was, of course, ndalama money. He then went on to ask me, “Where you are from in America, do have a headman?” I responded that no we did not. A dumbfounded look crossed his face and he said, “You don’t have a headman, how do you live?” I couldn’t help but laugh at the question. We both laughed for a few minutes before I went on to explain about our local government system. Conveniently, he is very familiar with the Presbyterian system, and so I was able to use that in order to explain how decisions are made, with a group meeting and deciding together or with a majority vote.

He seemed to understand what I was saying but I could see the mystification he was experiencing to think of a world where there was no concept of tribes, clans, chiefs, headmen, and traditional authorities. You don’t have a headman, how do you live!

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Fire in the Cooker!

Actually, just smoke appearing from the wall behind the cooker switch.

This house, Manse #2 was built in the 70’s. In addition, it has many quirks like outdoor light fixtures inside and a sink in the bathroom that looks like it might fall off the wall at any moment. Because it has been occupied intermittently, alterations and repairs get completed seemingly without the insight of an occupant of the building. Why there are outdoor light fixtures inside, that are causing electrical shortages…maybe because those happened to be less expensive than the indoor ones? I have no idea. In any case, I am offering the church committee a few items at a time to tackle as to avoid overwhelming them. And, we must remember, we are in Africa. We are also surviving just fine. I have confidence that God is watching over us and each electrical wire inside the walls, in order to keep us safe, healthy, and serving God.

Of course, staying in a quirky house comes with funny happenings.

In the first week of 2011, the oven stopped working. I did smell some metal burning just before the thing went off. Therefore, as the procedures are expected to commence, I called the maintenance committee. There was an electrician who arrived the next day to assess the situation. He said we needed a new switch in the wall. Therefore, he left in order to find the necessary parts and did not return… until Monday of this past week, still empty-handed. I started noticing some sparks flying out of the switch on Sunday, so even though I was glad they showed up on Monday, I was slightly concerned and suspected that the switch wouldn’t last much longer. I was right, by Friday partway through cooking dinner, smoke started to rise up from behind the switch on the wall. I promptly shut the thing off, called maintenance once again to see exactly how we should finish cooking dinner that night. I was encouraged by them to “send the cook” (aka, Mrs. Masina, Chepa, David, and me) over to Manse #1 to finish cooking dinner. Luckily, the oven had enough heat to finish off baking the breadsticks. However, we did have some near-boiled water, and veggies prepped for sautéing. David’s recommendation: don’t burn yourself on the pots. The game plan: Mrs. Masina, Chepa, and I would venture to Manse #1 to finish cooking and David would stay and watch the breadsticks.

By then, it was dark. There are no streetlights on the side streets; so, it was dark. I carried one of the pots, Chepa another, and Amayi, well she carried the rest of the prepped food on a tray on her head. It was fun to chat about being careful and hoping there were no holes on the road that we couldn’t see. We greeted people when they came into view, which occurred as they were just a few feet in front of us. While in the kitchen of Manse #1, I had a small chat with the cook there about keeping food in containers or at least covering the food so that bugs don’t get inside. Also, we discussed the pasta and sauce we were making and got funny looks when I said we only use a small amount of oil when sautéing the veggies and don’t add any salt. All in all in ended up just fine, we were all well fed when dinner found it’s way through the street, back to Manse #2 and onto the dinner table. Even though we were eating about an hour later than expected, it was comforting to know that here in Malawi, we don’t just borrow an egg or a cup of sugar from the neighbor, we can just walk down the street to use an entire kitchen when the oven goes out of commission.

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Piece by Piece

Little did I know that coming to Malawi would lead me to the craft of quilting.

As a child, I loved to make things: drip sandcastles, drawings, paintings, mud pies, popsicle stick houses, clay pots and macaroni and cheese. My sister and I even wrote plays and performed them in the backyard. I loved to watch as sand and water muddied my fingers, dripped through my fist to become a tall tower in a palace, or make something beautiful emerge from paper, paint, and a brush. Getting my hands dirty with this stuff or making up something with my mind was always fun. It has been a fun challenge to try and illustrate life here through my words these past few months.

After we had been in Lilongwe for about a month, we took a trip to town on the minibus for the first time. On our ride back we met an American who happened to live in our neighborhood! She mentioned that she had been attending a quilting group made up of international women. We exchanged phone numbers, and that week I attended my first quilting group meeting.

So far, I’ve learned a fancy way to tie a knot with the thread and needle, how to sew a simple stitch, a back stitch, sew a pattern that creates a picture, finish off an edge so that you can’t see the thread, make a simple curtain, and make a cushion. With each little accomplishment I feel a sense of triumph. I figure that as I learn how to move things together with fabric and thread I can also teach others how to do so as well.

In addition to learning how to sew, this quilting group has surrounded me by a group of women from all over the world who have learned what it means to live in a different place. There are those who’ve been here for only a few months, and others who have been in Malawi for several years. It has been a blessing to have a place to ask questions, like where I can find a specific food item or just find out about the culture from those who have already gone through the transition to life in Malawi. It has also been fun to hear their stories about interesting cultural encounters…like eating fish eyes. Topics that are even more serious have come up, like stepping into retirement by adopting children from the Crisis Nursery here in Lilongwe. Attending the group each week gives me encouragement and also a break from the daily culture shock for a few hours. I can sit and listen, chat, or just sit and sew allowing myself some much-needed downtime. The tea and scones (and even Christmas cookies) are nice too.

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