Saturday, July 31, 2010

Statistics of Life

Statistics are so much more than numbers. Those numbers represent people’s lives and the events of those lives. That was painfully driven home to me today. The statistic is that one in five children under the age of five in Malawi dies. The most frequent cause of death is malaria or complications of malaria. Favor Fatsani died today of malaria. He was just one year old. He is one of those who make up the statistics, but he is so much more than a statistic, as is each one who makes up the statistics. He was an inquisitive, lively little boy who loved to explore and learn, who was eager to try new things and meet new people. He was the apple of his father’s eye as his first child, a favor from God, his parents believed. He will be remembered as far more than a statistic by everyone who knew him. His impish smile and little giggle will be missed as long as those of us who cared about him are alive.

How do you process the death of a child? That is an age old struggle. Questions come flooding in, questions without answers. This is not a situation unique to Malawi, but it is one that is relived each time a child dies and statistics are reinforced. It is a situation that is lived out almost every day in this country where poverty and disease sometimes seem to reign, in spite of the strongest human efforts. There are no answers to the questions that won’t stop, no answers for the whys? and the wheres? and the hows? that just keep coming. But there is comfort in the midst of all of this. Jesus is present. That is a truth that transcends the questions and supersedes any attempt at answers. It is the only comfort in a comfortless time. That is not something that is affected by poverty or disease or statistics. Jesus’ presence is the only thing to hang onto. He knows that little boy. To Jesus, Favor was not a statistic, but a child of the covenant. That is God’s grace in the midst of sorrow and grief and confusion. That is the only answer that can come with the death of a child.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Travel Season in Malawi

This is travel season in Malawi – not for Malawians to travel but for “alendo” – visitors – to travel to Malawi. Since this is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is vacation and travel time, so there is the freedom and flexibility to come to Malawi. This is prime time for church groups, young and older, to try their wings at mission life. That was evident at church on Sunday and around the Mission all this week.

Sunday evening is an informal worship time at St. Michael’s and All Angel’s Church. The 5 o’clock service is more like a vespers service. It is a time when some of us who preach regularly can actually worship. Many of the internationals who live in the city come for worship because the style of the service is more of praise and prayer than a traditional service. And the service is in English. It is a comfortable place for visitors. Sunday there were more visitors than regular worshippers. There were three different groups from Ireland – two from Northern Ireland and one from southern. There was a large group from Canada, several folks from the Netherlands, two from Germany and one from South Africa. It was an international worship time, just with the visitors.

This week has followed the pattern of alendo. Some of the folks who were in worship have been visiting the Synod, being introduced to our programs and projects. There have been teas and dinners and lots of trips to various projects. Yesterday one of the groups from Northern Ireland, led by a pastor, Dr. Jim Campbell, who taught at Zomba in the 1980’s, had a wonderful reunion with some of his former students. Tea was a time of telling stories. Monday, large container arrived with supplies that a team coming from Australia will put to use when they arrive later in the month. They are serious about working. They have sent everything from cloth for sewing to car parts for repairs. A college student from the US is here until mid-August learning about the church in Malawi for her senior paper in Religious Studies. I am her local advisor and have been overseeing her travel to various churches and groups. She is in and out of the office as she works with orphan care and youth clubs. We will be traveling together much of next week to visit some of the more rural areas. I have had three meetings, working on details for groups coming in the next week or so. I have alendo who arrive this afternoon and will be here until Tuesday, when they head up north. These folks are from US and Zambia. Monday Chigodi is hosting a group from Canada who will learn about gender issues in Malawi. Next Friday my good friend Dr. Sue Makin comes for a short stay. Sue is a medical doctor who served here for 11 years and is coming “home” for a few weeks before returning to her new post in South Korea. Next Saturday a group of 19 from Illinois arrives and the following Saturday the group from Australia lands. And the list goes on until late September.

The joy of this is that all these folks want to experience the Warm Heart of Africa and are delighted with what greets them – more than they had ever imagined. They experience the hospitality here but even more, they share in the faith and worship of life here. Some may have a once in a lifetime experience, a more than memorable vacation, but a few of them will lose their hearts to life in another culture. They may not return to Malawi (some will) but a number of them will examine again what God wants of them, regardless of their age, and where God might be calling them to serve. It is a great adventure to be a small part of that process.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Water is life and life has returned to Chigodi Women’s Center! Early on July 1, 2010 water began to flow through Blantyre Water Board pipes to Chigodi Women’s Center. Now this may not seem like a big deal in other parts of the world, but it is in Malawi and particularly at Chigodi. It has taken 10 months to accomplish this and I am so excited and so full of praise to God that I am hardly able to contain myself.

The process of turning on water has taken twists and turns and detours along the way. First was the assessment of how best to provide water to a center on top of a hill. The site is beautiful for a retreat center, but water does not flow uphill and pumping it up from a well at the bottom had proven to be problematic. The reason the well was at the bottom was because of the depth of drilling needed through rock to reach the water table, so the well was well positioned to draw water, but not to pump water. Two generators had been burned up trying because of inadequate electrical power. It would have taken over MK 1,000,000 to correct the electrical connections, so that was not an option. We didn’t have the money. We were hand-drawing water from a well at the top of the hill, our only source of water for the entire Center. This well ran dry in the dry season and we have to go to the bottom of the hill to draw water, then carry it up the hill. When we began to further investigate, we learned that the Blantyre Water Board had similar problems with the flow to their connections, since they had been pumping uphill as well. That is why the Center had disconnected with them and opted for the well in the first place. But they were installing a new line above the Center to service a new area over the hill from us. We petitioned them and reasoned with them, in the course of several meetings, until they finally agreed to run a line down to Chigodi from this new line. We were delighted, but this would take time. The pipe had to be laid and all the connections made. This was all delayed by the rainy season when none of this digging could be done. Finally in late April, the digging began again and progress was made. Once they thought they had their line secured, they contacted us to prepare for the connection. This took some time because they couldn’t open the lines until the connections within the Center were secured. We didn’t want to have water flowing through leaking pipes. Finally two weeks ago this was all accomplished and we contacted them, expecting water to come immediately. But it didn’t. The Water Board reported that they had leaks further down the line and couldn’t turn on water until those were fixed. So we waited. Everything was in place, but the Water Board was not responding. When we inquired early this week about the delay, they told us that they had problems with the truck they use to make connections, so we needed to wait for them to get the truck up and running. My hope all along was that we would have water by the end of June. It was not looking hopeful. June 30 ended with no water at the Center.

This morning (July 1), the first person to greet me at the Synod offices was our young accountant from Chigodi. He lives at the Center but works from the Synod. He had just come from his home. He joyfully reported that water had begun to flow from the connection to his house early this morning. The water was turned on! Without pomp and ceremony, water just began to flow where it had not flowed for several years. The Center has running water! I can’t begin to express my joy. This is the answer to months of prayers. This is the evidence of a future and a hope for the Center. This is a new beginning of programming at the Center because we can now have folks stay there, knowing they have save water for all the needs of their comfort as they learn with us. We have several international guests coming to assist with programming and they will be well provided for with water now. Praise God for his provision, in His perfect time.