In 2007, the pastor at our church told us about a mission trip he was planning to Malawi, Africa which would take place in June of 2009. I was one of the first to jump on board. It took over a year to raise the money to get our team of 22 people to the small country but all our hard work paid off.
15 million people inhabit the Pennsylvania-sized country. Although Malawi is landlocked, there is a large lake (Lake Malawi) which is one of the best places to go scuba-diving. Malawi is consistently ranked as one of the top 5 poorest countries in the world. Around 1 million people are living with AIDS. Over 50% of the country’s population is below the poverty line. (The pastor, Steve, is very well paid at around 40 US dollar a month.) In Malawi, parents have to decide if they or their children eat. If they choose themselves to feed, they are forced to watch their children starve to death, but if they choose to feed their children, they will die and leave the children to fend for themselves.
After over a year of planning, June 15th of 2009 arrived and we boarded our plane, ready to be changed forever. After a 20 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa we got off the plane, excited to be on level ground again. We spent the night at the trendy Metcourt Laural, a hotel which was connected to indoor streets with shops lining the walls. It was the nicest hotel most of us had ever stayed in, which I think was our pastor’s way of giving us the shock treatment once we entered the third world country of Malawi.
The next morning we finished the last leg of the trip with a 2 hour flight to Blantyre, Malawi. We got off the plane and we through “customs.” Once everyone was through, we stepped out into the parking lot and were greeted by the singing and cheers of the congregation from the local church. They immediately grabbed our bags (some of the women had babies on their backs and still wanted to carry our luggage) and we went off to the side of the parking lot and had our first church service right there. At the service, we met Daniel Mhone, who started the whole Malawi Methodist movement under a tree with his family and 1 church member. It was an amazing greeting to get, especially when they don’t even know you.
After our 2 hour service, we boarded our buses. We exchanged our money and went to the our hotel the Soche Travel Lodge. This hotel was a very different than the Metcourt Laural. With all 22 of us, we occupied the whole hotel. The floors were painted cement and the cement stairs were uneven. The beds had nets cascading over them. The bathroom didn’t have a door on it, but at least there was a flushing toilet, which we were all thankful for, even if we did have to use 1-ply toilet paper. All-in-all the hotel could have been a lot worse. It was clean and the woman at the desk was very friendly. That night, we sat around in a big circle tasting interesting potato chips. They had flavors like spare rib, beef, and salsa. It was hard to take in the reality that we were in Africa.
The next morning, after cold showers and breakfast, we took off for Zomba. We pulled up next to a carpenters shop, where, sitting right outside, was a child’s coffin. The second I registered the fact that a little kid would soon be buried in it, it was forced out of my mind by the dozens of kids surging towards the bus, singing and laughing, huge smiles on their faces. We got off the bus and followed their songs down to a half finished brick building which was their church. For two hours, we sang, preached, and listened to stories. Then they pulled out Coke and Fanta in a bottle for us to drink. We then went with some of the church members to the local hospital where they showed us how they do outreach. The nurses showed us their newly built building, which they were very proud of. This hospital was nothing like what we have in the States. People where grouped according to their diseases. They were put in large rooms filled with 25 beds or so and they just laid there in pain, with nothing to ease their discomfort. We brought some basic supplies for the patients and were able to hand them out directly to them. The patients’ families, when they visited, often slept on the cement floor right next to their loved one’s bed because they didn’t have money to stay in a hotel.
The next day our team split up. Half went to Mzuzu, the other half, including me, went to Lilongwe. We stopped at a church on our way. This was the first village church we visited. It took us about 45 minutes to reach after we had left the main paved road. At this church, the nearest water was about 2 miles away and it was surface water, which shouldn’t be drunken. There was no building at this church just an empty field. During service people had to keep getting up to run the goats off. At the end of this service, we gave a few gifts like a soccer ball, a hand-cranked flashlight, and harmonicas. Then we were off to the Kiboko Town Hotel.
The next day we visited the church where we would do our main mission work. Over the next few days, we gave blankets, food, and school supplies to orphans, and installed a cement floor which meant carrying water on our heads from a borehole about 3/4 mile away several times, lugging bags of cement, and hand mixing it.
Malawi is a relationship-based culture, which means they’d prefer to talk rather than work. At this church we met Violet, the orphans’ teacher. She told us how she became the teacher. She only went to high school and when God called her to go into the ministry of teaching kids, she was unsure of whether she could do it, but she decided to trust God and began teaching. Now, because of her, these orphans are learning math, writing, and English, which is necessary if the child ever plans on getting a job. Violet walked an hour every day to the school (we later presented her with a bike).
We met a 23 year old man named Steve. His parents had shipped him and his brothers from The Congo to Malawi to live with their grandmother. When Steve got a little older, he ended up with TB and in Malawi there is really no cure, you just lay in the hospital until you die. Well, Steve got up out of bed after he had been in the hospital for a while and said “God, you will heal me,” and he left the hospital. 3 days later he was completely healed. Steve is now going to a school in Tennessee, where he got a scholarship from. His brother, Kelly, was one of our translators. He told us about how his parents had made them leave to go to Malawi. He said that they didn’t realize that they were not going back to their parents. After their grandmother died, Steve was left to take care of the household. They often went hungry and sometimes were homeless. They haven’t seen their parents in 14 years and have a 12 year old sister they’ve never met . We tried to give comforting words as he told us this story, but her rejected it saying, “If all that hadn’t happened, I would not be here right now and this is where God wants me.” Kelly often helped us haggle in the market places and told us a lot about how Malawians live. Several times, Kelly would just disappear for a while. Later, we would find out he was talking to someone whom he knew had fallen away from church and was trying to get them to come back. He know 7 languages and was one of the top in academics in his school. He is now at Africa University in Zimbabwe. Both of these brothers are going back to Malawi to help their country with what they learn.
Pastor Steve was another amazing person we met. He is the pastor at the church we put cement in at, St. Peters. He told a story of when he met a blind boy. The boy’s parents asked Pastor Steve to pray over him, so he did. A few days later, he visited the boy and his parents again and found out that the boy could see!
We heard many amazing stories while we were in Malawi. We couldn’t help compare ourselves with them. Their faith is so strong and yet they had so little. Our faith often falters under the slightest pressure. Although Malawi is financially suffering, they do not lack joy or faith.
Although we were on a mission trip, we were in Africa, which many of us may not get the chance to visit again. We went to Lake Malawi, which is very pretty. We watched a boat come in, piled with people from Mozambique. The boats often tip over in the middle of the lake. We visited the Dedza pottery factory, where they hand-make and hand-paint pottery. We also went on a safari. We saw monkeys, water bucks, impala, hippos, and even a few elephants.
During our trip we were faced with many difficult moments. We had several beggars come up to us and although we could give them money, it would do them little good because they were dying of AIDS. We gave orphans supplies, then found our that 5 of the 80 orphans there had AIDS and would die within the next 2 years. We were forced to be uncomfortable, pushed to our emotional limits in some cases, and yet not one of us would exchange that experience for anything. 22 missionaries went to Malawi to help, 22 missionaries returned with Malawi fire.
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