I'm sorry for the delay but we have been in Nkhoma and computers with internet access are very limited in availability. We will try and give you an update by date as to what we've been doing for the past several days since the first update. The previous entry was provided via phone call so some of the details are a little different. I want to thank Nina Dohoda and Lindsey Plattner for taking notes over a poor phone connection and placing the information on the blog. So this entry is from the notes I’ve been keeping. This entry is courtesy of Louise Laubscher of FTS, who allowed us the use of her computer. I’m sorry we haven’t been able to update pictures but be assured we’ve taken a lot. We’ll be sharing them soon.
Saturday ( 7/11)
We were still at ABC Saturday morning and after a quick breakfast went to Pastor Vasco's church. Enroute we saw some of the common sights in Malawi, vendors selling field mice on a stick on the street corners. We also saw several chicken salesmen, who rode by on their bicycles with 10-15 chickens fastened to their handlebars. We knew they were still alive as they were craning their necks to see what was ahead.
We packed up this morning and drove to Nkhoma where we are being housed at the Nkhoma Theological Guest House, a 65 year-old building in the Josaphat Mwale Theological Institute. Soon after depositing our mass of luggage, we drove off with staff from Fishers, Trainers & Senders (FTS, another Y-Malawi partner) into one of the villages in the hills. As we approached a school built by World Vision, we saw kids from 2-14 running towards us from every direction. We quickly had 130-150 around us and we were able to spend the next several hours playing games, and telling Bible stories. Our group then put on a very simple but enthusiastic version of the story of Joseph and his brothers. The poverty was evident but there was no lacking in the joy in their faces. It was a pleasure to participate in a small way but we hope that 1) seeds are sown for Christ to take root, and 2) that through the efforts of groups like FTS and World Vision that both their spiritual and physical needs are met and their lives impacted for good. I'm writing this several days after this and we have been extremely impressed with the FTS staff members. Dallion, Tokusun, Panda, Lucia, Tinga and Doreen have a gift for loving and reaching children. Time after time, we have seen them as Pied Pipers in the best sense, as they quickly gain control of dozens of youngsters and use what ever opportunity is available to impact them.
This was our first evening out away from a city and by 6:30, it was dark and the stars were out in force. It was amazing the number of stars God has placed there which we aren't able to see in our night skies with the city lights.
We walked into town, which is very small, and visited to Nkhoma Hospital where we had the privilege of handing out basic medications not easily available there and quilts made by WACC members to babies and young children there in the hospital. We then walked to the local woodworker's shop where a couple of us picked up some mementos.
After lunch, we again packed up our "coaster" bus and returned to that same village. Our driver, Max, was incredible. He took us safely over dirt tracks that can scarcely be considered roads, some so rough that bicyclists get off and walk. We again were met by around 100 kids and this time we also added some craft time. Our group had prepared for a couple of days of what we expected as our traditional VBS classes but adjusted on the fly to meld in with the FTS team. Our teachers took the lead and we soon had all age groups involved in activities. We culminated the afternoon when we passed out 2 cases of bibles in Chichewa, the local language. These bibles were purchased with money we'd raised by the sales of bracelets during the World Vision Experience at church this June. It was tremendous to see the gratefulness of the children especially as many sat down where they received them and began reading right then.
Among the group, we saw boys who were playing homemade banjoes made out of wood and old kerosene lamps. Their innate musical abilities and love for music were evident as they played, not for us but for the love of music. Emilio Tello, our group guitarist, had brought a guitar on the trip. He brought it off the bus and the older of the banjo players almost went into shock as he caught his first glimpse and heard his first notes on this instrument. Several of them spent the next 30-45 minutes playing and enjoying the sounds this instrument was able to produce in trained hands. After discussion with the FTS staff, Emilio made him an offer; trade the homemade banjo for the guitar and case. When the offer was translated, all his friends accepted for him in unison but all he could do was sit there in stunned silence. He quickly recovered to accept and was soon going up the hill, gently carrying his new treasure (We saw him again another day and his joy was still evident).
As much fun as we had interacting with these warm people, we saw their need for so many of the things we take for granted. Malawi has been in a drought for over a decade which is evident in the countryside as there are few mature trees because they are cut down for firewood. One of the bright spots is the growing number of wells which impact the people in many ways. Close proximity to water allows families to spend their time on other things like allowing their children to be educated rather than spend hours each day just retrieving water.
We don't know the impact any of our actions will have for eternity but we saw many kids who returned to find someone in our group they had met the day before. Especially touching was a girl of no more than 2 years who returned each day to see Jennifer Wagg and quickly grasp her hand.
This was the last time we'd see several of the FTS staff members so we shared some thoughts and remembrances of our time together. We interspersed prayer with a song and a bible game. All of this, including our dinner, was while the electricity was out, which I think added to the intimacy. The power did come back on a few hours later so we headed to our rooms to rest up for the next day. We have plans but aren't expecting things to go as we have planned but looking forward to whatever comes at us.
Each evening we get together as a team and discuss the day we've just finished and the plan for the next day. Breakfast has usually been planned for around 0800 but no one has told the local roosters, who insist on helping us out by crowing no later than 0500. If we ignore that, the church bells remind us at 0600 and 0630 that a new day has started.
As mentioned above, although we have plans, Kari has repeatedly reminded us that of the need to be flexible. The team has done that. Today we were to meet with Pastor Amos, of the Chief's Ministry (another Y-Malawi partner) at 0800 to go to a Chief's meeting. Due to a large village funeral, the meeting became meetings and the time became afternoon. To fill the time, 9 of us went on a quick hike up Nkhoma Mountain, just outside of town. A "2 hour" hike turned into 3 hours as the hike distance and difficulty was underestimated. Seven of the group made it all the way to the top, clambering up the steep and rocky granite slopes. As we hurried down, some of us heard what sounded like a strange dog barking. A closer look revealed a pride of baboons nearby. With our cameras at the ready, we were able to bring back proof of this unexpected surprise.
After a quick bite, we jumped back on the coaster and headed back into the villages. The first was back at the school we had been the prior 2 days and we saw some of our friends again. There was a difference though. This time we were welcomed by a group of the village chiefs and by a choir of the chief's wives (although they do have woman chiefs). They sang several songs of welcome and worship. We then received places of honor as we witnessed one of their meetings. The regional chief spoke about the importance of the chief's leading their villages and being examples to them. The importance to them of Bible study was evident. Two provided short testimonies and their maturity was clear. They love their people but they also love God and his Word. Kari was asked to participate and gave a short message of encouragement using Ephesians 2. The second meeting was in an even more remote location and was headed by a regional chief over 48 villages, each with 20-50 families (probably between 6-8,000 people). He challenged us to make their challenges our challenges and not to go home and forget them. Melissa and Brenda also spoke briefly in one of the meetings, giving encouragement in spite of circumstances.
We finished our dinner and then several of us spent part of the evening lying on the front yard grass and enjoying the bright stars in the sky. The weather has been nothing but fantastic, the temperature being around 70-75 every day. This is the Malawian winter and it is a little funny to see people in jackets and babies with knit caps on in the middle of the day. Our food has also been excellent with the cooks here cooking us familiar foods such as rice and chicken and the local staple, Nsima, a thick doughy meal made of corn meal.
Today was one of the highlighted days on our group itinerary, the day many would get to meet their World Vision sponsored child for the first time. Several World Vision staff joined us as translators as we drove to several villages. We met with a total of 11 sponsored children and several of their families as well. So many were very shy and a little overwhelmed with the sudden attention and the gifts. It brought us joy to see them as they began to understand that these people cared for them. The parents very eloquently expressed their thanks and appreciation for our support, not just for the specific child but also for the concrete differences World Vision support is doing in their lives. The community wells and the schools were specifically named. It was an honor to be able to participate in such a small way to impact lives for the better. At one stop, we met with 6 children at their school and after we'd met privately, we were welcomed by the whole school and serenaded by 2 choirs. After this we were able to return to the Guest hose for a little down time.
With this group, down time is a little of a misnomer. We soon had convinced Dallion to accompany us on a walk to the local market. The sights and sounds were unlike anything we are used to here. Each vendor and stall sells something different, and very little of it is processed to say the least. That did not phase this team at all. We were soon sharing foods we have never seen before, at least not in this form. We shared some pastries made of wheat and corn; we bought bread, great tasting bananas, tomatoes, fried potatoes, and sun dried smelt (small fish which our cook fried up for some of us later). Needless to say we spoiled our dinner appetites a little but did enjoy seeing how the people here really live.
This morning we said goodbye to the Nkhoma area, packing up and heading back to Lilongwe, where we checked in at the comparatively luxurious Mididi Inn. After unpacking, we drove to the FTS building site. Seven years ago they bought several acres and have been slowly building as time and funds allow. We tried to help (actually trying not to hinder the actual workers) and cleaned up several rooms and the outside of a lot of construction debris. A few also tried our hand at building a small wall but the truth is we hope it is still standing at least until we get on the plane next week. A few hours of this and we retired to Louise’s home for a short time. We will be returning to the hotel and are looking forward to dinner and hot showers.