Blog: March 2011
Time literally seems to be flying by. Each day is filled with so many wonderful things and I wake up one morning and find myself more than halfway through my time here, with only two sites left. My time with Project TEACH came to a close last Wednesday. I attended my last day at the after school program, finalized some details, gathered the last profiles for the child sponsorship program, took my last pictures, and said goodbye to all the kids and youth leaders. I can’t express to you how hard it is to leave every site. I could see myself staying to serve at any one of these ministries, having grown to love the staff, youth leaders, community, and children, and having left a piece of my heart with each and every one of them. The Project TEACH community was such a blessing to be a part of, and I truly can see the Lord working through the example of that ministry in the community, changing the lives of the people of Mulanje for the better. Project TEACH has a big plan for the future in the establishing of a soccer academy and the growing of the after school program. I hope and pray that the efforts of a child sponsorship program and the other development projects I worked on with them will help accomplish these goals.
I began my journey with Rays of Hope Ministries in Blantyre last Thursday. I moved into Willie’s (the leader of Rays of Hope) house, which serves as both his house and the facility for the youth leader program and ministry space for the feeding program. Willie has taken in a boy from one of the local villages to help him around the house and to provide a space for the boy to live while he attends a local high school. Two of the other youth leaders, Arthur and Isaac, are also living in Willie’s house while I am living here for the next two weeks. I am staying in a small room that is used for storage, with a mattress on the floor and no pillow. Normally I would feel sorry for myself, but knowing that some of the kids we serve sleep on grass mats with no blanket or pillow, I have no reason to complain. Willie’s room doubles as his office, and there are two other “bedrooms”, one used as an office for Arthur (who is a volunteer for Rays of Hope) and in which he and Isaac are sleeping for the time I am here, and the other full of four desktop computers which are used for the youth leader program.
The youth leader program looks a little different here than it does at all the other sites. It is a yearly- based program involving about seven youth from the local community. Willie works closely with the youth as they act as mentors and counselors for the kids and their families in the after school program. They walk together through a computer training and learning course where Willie teaches them the basics of computer knowledge, including programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. They also take part in Bible studies and prayer together, and they participate in evangelism to the local community. Each youth leader is a part of the program for one year only because Willie believes that they should be able to accomplish everything they need to in one year’s time. They are then sent from the program well- equipped to pursue the Lord’s calling on their lives.
The after school program runs Monday through Thursday here at Rays of Hope, and has about 120 kids in attendance. Before the program even starts, about 40 or 50 kids begin to gather at Willie’s house to get lunch. Willie has been fortunate enough to become friends with the director of another ministry in Blantyre, a medical-based hospital ministry called CURE International. CURE had some extra food donations and donated about 20 boxes of a rice and soymeal that the leaders cook and serve to the kids every day, providing lunch for the children who cannot go home for lunch, or whose families do not have enough to feed them lunch. After lunch the kids gather in four classrooms in a schoolhouse that is just a few minutes’ walk from Willie’s house for afternoon tutoring and the after school program. They study subjects such as math, Bible, agriculture, and English and end the afternoon with a fun program of prayer, songs, Bible lessons, and games.
Willie and I will be working on a number of projects together including the development art project and the sponsorship program. He is in the process of preparing for a very important Rotary Club meeting where he is going to try to find some local support for Rays of Hope, and he does not have very many resources prepared. I will be working with him to create a brochure and to get some other important details and promotion pieces in place for these meetings. Willie is doing a very good job at networking within the local community, and has already seen great benefits from his efforts and connections-- one of the advantages of living in the largest city in Malawi.
- Pray for Willie as he is currently suffering from a boil on his leg. It has been causing him a lot of pain and making it difficult for him to walk around. It seems to be getting better, but please pray for continued healing
- Pray for the future of Project TEACH, that the Lord would continue to provide for them, give Sullivan wisdom as he heads up that program and looks to the future. For the potential of a soccer academy and the expansion of the after school program in the community of Mulanje.
- Pray for continued strength from the Lord for all the ministry leaders and myself as we serve the children and youth of Malawi
- Pray for guidance and direction from the Lord in my life as I look to what He has for my future.
Teach Every African Child Hope is the acronym and motto for Project TEACH. Hope is exactly what I see when I look into the eyes of the children in this program. Each day during the program the children gather with excitement and joy in the small red-brick, tin-roofed, open-windowed school rooms to begin another afternoon with hungry hearts and minds ready to learn, and full bellies from the after school feeding program. They are hopeful as they study various subjects with the youth leaders, working hard in order to succeed and excel in their education, and trusting in the Lord to continually provide for their every need. They are hopeful as they look up to the youth leaders as positive role models who they strive to be like someday, and as they look to their futures with vision and inspiration, knowing that because they are a part of a program like Project TEACH they are blessed.
The children begin the program with prayer, which they say in English since I am their guest and they want me to understand, thanking the Lord for the food and asking His blessing on their families and teachers. They line up out the door to receive either their snack, which is served on Mondays and Wednesdays, or a full meal, which is served on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This week was especially exciting for the children as we focused mainly on the development art program that I am doing with the various ministries. The children do not have the privilege of studying art in school, and so it is very fun and exciting for them to set aside an entire afternoon during the program to simply draw a picture. They are even more excited by the idea that some of their pictures will “become famous” in the United States, and will be turned into prints and note cards that Urban Promise International (UPI) will sell on behalf of the ministries here in Malawi.
Another very exciting time for the children is when I simply take the time to sit down with them as they do their best to teach me new Chichewa (the national language) words. I have some trouble with pronunciation; it is not the easiest language to pick up as it is very different from English. They laugh and joke with me as we learn together-- I, Chichewa, and they as they practice their English. I can now form sentences to say a simple greeting, that I love Jesus, and some other very basic words. It has been a lot of fun to learn their language, and sometimes I actually build up enough courage to speak it to locals; they are extremely surprised and happy that I can greet them in their national tongue.
Hope was in the heart of every player on the Project TEACH soccer team this past Saturday as they had a match against one of their biggest rivals. The team has practiced and prepared for this game for weeks, and the anticipation for the outcome of this match was through the roof. We showed up at the field about an hour early to set up the nets and prepare the boundaries of the field, and the players suited up in their yellow uniforms and waited for the opposing team to arrive. Hundreds of people from the local community and villages came to watch the game. Soon a large flatbed truck came rolling onto the field, on the back of which was the opposing team and a crowd of supporters waving flags, cheering, and blowing their game trumpets upon arrival. The players unloaded onto the field and began their warm-up alongside of our team.
As I was standing on the sidelines watching all of this take place, I noticed that some of the opposing team members were not in the middle of the field taking part of the warm-up, but were instead walking around the field and stopping at every corner to do something. I asked George, one of the youth leaders who is currently injured and cannot play what the opposing players were doing. He laughed and explained to me that the opposing team must have gotten some advice from their local witch doctor who told them that they should perform this ritual around the field; it will bring their team good luck, and will “tie” the feet of the Project TEACH players so they will play poorly. You see, witchcraft is something that is very real here in Malawi. The people whole-heartedly believe in witchcraft, and some people actually practice it. However, our team certainly was not affected by the “spell” that the other team was trying to put them under. The Project TEACH team gathered to pray before the game, played with great skill, and beat the opposing team with a score of 3 to 0, an amazing victory for a team who stands for the only true God and highest power of the universe.
We drove away in Sullivan’s car, blasting their victory song, which is a rap version of the song “Our God is an Awesome God!” Some of the lyrics are, “Our God, is an awesome God, He reigns, from heaven above, with wisdom, power and love, our God is an awesome God.” As we drove home under the dusk of the Malawian sky I couldn’t help but think about the meaning of these words, and suddenly I was so overwhelmed with the reality of what it means that our God is an awesome God.
He is above all, greater than ANYTHING you could ever imagine. He is so much bigger than what we can even begin to understand. He created the moon, the stars, the earth and everything in it, and you and me. He holds everything in its place, He keeps your heart beating every second, and He loves you so much that He sent His Son to earth to be the sacrifice for our sin, which we are absolutely helpless to escape from. He is outside of the boundaries of time, He conquered death, and He showed us how to live through the life of His Son Jesus Christ. He is an awesome God!
How else are we supposed to respond to this awesome, loving, just, merciful God, than to surrender our lives in their entirety to His will, to stand in awe of Him, to fear Him, to love Him from the very depths of our souls, and to share His love through the way we live with others. It is so easy for us to become wrapped up in this world, focusing on our lives day to day and to trying to take our lives into our own hands instead of entrusting them to the one who created life. Our God is an awesome God, and I am so blessed to be able to share Him with the people here in Malawi.
- That the Lord prepares my heart and mind to leave Project TEACH and enter into a new site this coming Wednesday- Rays of Hope in Blantyre.
- For the continued example and testimony of the Project TEACH soccer team to the other teams they encounter and to the community of Mulanje.
- Praise the Lord for how awesome He is. He is more than deserving of our whole-hearted love, devotion, and praise.
- Pray that the Lord would continue to give me strength and motivation as I continue to work with the ministries here in Malawi.
I took a five hour bus ride from Lilongwe to Blantyre on Tuesday morning to meet Sullivan, the director of Project TEACH, at the bus station at noon. Project TEACH is located about an hour outside of the city of Blantyre in southern Malawi, in the district of Mulanje. I am staying with Sullivan, his brother, and his three nephews in their three bedroom house with their dog Fox and about ten chickens that run around in the yard. Sullivan serves as the director of the after school program, and as the owner and coach of a high school age and young men’s soccer team in the community. Project TEACH after school program serves about 40 children from the community, and the soccer team consists of about 25 youth and young men. This week I was able to attend after school program, help with snack and lesson, and stay to watch soccer practice after program is over, since Sullivan is my ride home and he is one of the coaches and players on the team.
Project TEACH serves underprivileged children and youth of the Mulanje community through after school programs and a youth leadership program. After school program runs from two in the afternoon until five, Monday through Thursday. The children gather in the small school complex to enjoy snacks each afternoon, which usually consists of some sort of bread or other carbohydrate, and a glass of sobo -a fruity drink that you buy by the bottle and dilute with water currently one of my favorite drinks in Malawi. After snack time the rest of program consists of tutoring and lessons led by the youth leaders- lessons in math, English, agriculture, history, or bible. Each week the leaders focus on a different subject, and then hold a quiz with the children at the end of each week. To encourage them in their education and to help them form good study habits, leaders reward the children who do well on the quizzes, and they mentor the ones who are struggling.
The youth leaders are youth who are employed by Project TEACH to help run the program, mentor and act as positive role models for the children. The youth program not only promotes responsibility and leadership, but it also provides finances for the youth leaders to attend high school, which many of them would otherwise not be able to do because of lack of finances. They use their earnings from working with Project TEACH to pay for schooling. The youth leadership program truly is one of a kind. It encourages young people to be leaders and role models who positively affect their communities.
It has been so much fun getting to know and be a part of the Project TEACH soccer program. Soccer is the most popular sport here in Malawi. It seems like every boy, no matter what age, wants to be a soccer player, or avidly follows and is dedicated to a team. The team is well known and respected in the community, and has gained a positive reputation through its team spirit. The team practices and prays together, and is more like a brotherhood than a soccer team. Sullivan’s dream for project TEACH is to expand the after school program, to have his own soccer field, and to someday build a soccer academy. He believes in the importance of teaching leadership, hope, respect, morals, and hard work through the sport of soccer. It keeps the boys out of trouble and gives them something positive to work towards. The team is very talented, and I have already had the privilege of watching them play and win two games in their league.
Hope for a brighter future is something that each UPI ministry works to instill in every child and youth. Their futures seem so determined, so set to be one of poverty, hard work, and struggle. But they deserve something so much more. They deserveopportunity, education, and a chance for a brighter future. Organizations like the ministries of UPI are so effective in providing this for the children and youth in the communities that they serve because the leaders and staff are individuals from the communities and county themselves. They know the issues that need to be addressed, and how to address them. They themselves broke from the cycle of poverty and have followed the call of the Lord to serve and love others. This is why it is so important for the church to follow the call of the Lord and to support efforts like these, and join them in any way possible, that we may be a part of providing hope and sharing Christ’s love with others. As I spend time at each site, I am able to see the great need and potential of the ministries. It truly has been such a blessing to be able to work alongside these leaders to advise and hopefully expand their ministries through fund development efforts.
- For Sullivan and Project TEACH, as he looks to the future of their programs. That the Lord would provide for a soccer academy, and to grow and expand after school programs.
- That the Lord continue to provide for the families of Malawi, as the rainy season is almost over they will soon begin to harvest and store food for the coming year.
- Praise the Lord that He has kept me healthy and safe thus far during my time here in Malawi.
- For God’s direction and provision for my future as I return to the States in May.
This past week was full of amazing times at program with the kids, a visit with sponsored high school girls, brainstorming fundraising
ideas, and building deeper bonds with the children and staff at ChristCares Ministries (CCM). We completed the development art
project with the kids, in which we will turn their artwork into thank-you pieces for donors who give to CCM and UPI, and create note
cards which UPI will sell to benefit the ministry. The kids do not have the opportunity to express themselves through art, as it is not a subject in school, and is not seen as a matter of importance for them to learn. They had a wonderful time coming up with an idea of what they wanted to draw for their supporters, and were very proud of their final product. I will be bringing these pieces back to the States with me in May and am so excited to share their work with the UPI supporters.
We had a special day in program on Thursday, as it was a public holiday and therefore it was not mandatory for the kids to attend.
However, all the kids, and more from the community came out to have a fun day filled with games, special music and dancing, and motivational talks about life goals. Two guys from a local church came with speakers and a microphone, one of them (a musician) led the kids in some music and dancing to songs that he had written. The kids had a blast and certainly found it funny when I joined them in dancing. I was privileged to talk to them about what it is that I do, and why I am here in Malawi. You see, when it comes to dreaming of what they want to do with their lives, their views are very limited as to what they see people around them doing. When asked what do you want to do with your life, they simply say one of about four things: a nurse, teacher, policeman, or farmer. CCM wants to provide them with a broadened perspective, that they can be whatever they want to be.
I was asked to speak to them about what it is that I do, and why I have come to Malawi. I told the kids of my home in the United States, college education, and the call of the Lord on my life to serve and bless others with what God has given me. I told them that I am here in Malawi to do just that; to work with organizations like CCM, to help them grow and reach more children and youth, and to spread the word about the good things that are happening here in Malawi. I encouraged them especially that in whatever they do with their lives, the most important thing is that they use their lives to bring glory and honor to God. For it is because of Him that we are alive and even have dreams, and our vocation, our ultimate calling in life, is to glorify Him and share His love with the world around us.
Saturday, I took a trip with Robert and two of the youth leaders to an all girls boarding high school located about an hour and a half
outside of Lilongwe called APU (Atsikana Pa Ulendo, Girls on the Move). We took a car down one of the only major roads in Malawi until we reached a small dirt road that 45 minutes later would lead us to APU. The road was all washed out and covered in pot holes and ponds of water because of rainy season. We passed women and children washing clothes in the streams, and men carrying loads of wood on the backs of their bicycles. There are not many high schools in Malawi, and there is much need for one in this district. A native woman from Malawi and her husband who graduated from African Bible College in Lilongwe had the vision to help girls achieve their high school education and started APU in 2009. Their website is http://www.malawigirlsonthemove.com/governance. The school is amazing, wonderful facilities, dorms for the girls to stay in, a new dining hall that is in the process of being built, and one of the most beautiful views of the rural Malawi countryside.
There are six CCM girls at this high school, four of which are
sponsored through UPI supporters. The girls work very hard, and are
currently studying to take their exams which will determine whether or
not they may continue on to some sort of university education. I was
able to sit down with the girls, help them fill out their sponsorship
profiles, and pray with them about their studies and future. With the
sponsorship program that I am working on, we hope to find more
sponsors so that we can send more girls to continue with their
education at APU. CCM hopes to build a similar high school for boys
and girls in the region they currently serve within the next few
years. CCM has recently acquired land in the region in hopes to
someday build a high school, and are in the process of writing a
proposal and fundraising to make this dream a reality. Every child
deserves the right of education, and far too many children and youth
here in Malawi are denied that right due to the educational system,
and life circumstances that they were merely born into. CCM is
working very hard to change these odds for their children. I am so
blessed to have been a part of their amazing ministry, and excited to see what the Lord is going to do for them in the future.
This week I will be leaving CCM, and starting my time with Project TEACH located in southern Malawi near Blantyre. Project TEACH runs an after school program, and also a boys soccer camp and team.
As I make another transition to a new site, Please Pray:
- That the Lord brings me comfort as I leave behind the friends and
kids that I have come to love at CCM and move to a new site. That I
will come to love and cherish the relationships that are waiting for
me at Project TEACH.
- For CCM as they look forward to possibly starting a high school this
coming fall. They hope to use Robert’s church building as a facility
for classes until enough money is raised to build and start a school
facility on their own property.
- Praise the Lord that thus far I have been staying healthy, and that
the Lord has protected me in all my travels and transitions.
- That the Lord would make clear to me His path and plan for my life
once I return to the States.
I have now been at ChristCares Ministries (CCM) for a little over a week. Living with Robert and his family has been such a blessing. Their house is very nice and is located right outside of the city of Lilongwe. They have running hot and cold water, a tv, three small bedrooms, a bathroom and shower J. ChristCares runs afterschool program three days a week, and does home visits and office work the other two days during the week. I was able to meet the three full time staff members, Robert, Peter, and Jon, and their four youth leaders and two volunteers early last week. They welcomed me with open arms, and helped me jump right into the program.
At AfterSchool Program over 80 children (grades 5-8) gather at the rented school buildings that we hold program at. We start program with lunch, serving the kids rice, greens, and either a small piece of meat, or beans. The children disperse into the open area roofed pavilion, sit on the floor and eat their lunch. Every day a group of the children are responsible for cleanup of the dishes, and to bring them back to the head teacher’s house where we borrowed them from. After lunch all the children gather in one big group, divide into rows, sing camp songs accompanied by some sort of dance moves. This is one of my favorite parts of program, they have such beautiful voices, and the songs they sing are so wonderful! My favorite song, which I also learned in Chichewa this week, is “my home is beyond the sky’. The children sing this song which about how their home is in heaven beyond the sky, that they are truly strangers here on earth, and that their true home is in heaven with the Lord. I am planning on recording this song on my camera this week and hope to figure out how to post a video of it for you all to see for next week’s blog. It is breath taking to hear the children lift up their voices together, they are so talented!
The rest of the afternoon consists of tutoring time. The children disperse by class into different rooms in the school houses, sit on the floor, and participate in a lesson that one of the leaders or youth leaders teaches. I was able to teach a class this week to some of the children who are struggling with reading English. I help them with word pronunciation, and sounding out certain letters, they really struggle with the difference between the letters R and L. After tutoring, program consists of counseling, bible lesson, or recreation, depending on the day. The children have welcomed me into their lives with open arms, asking an array of questions about the U.S., and my time thus far in Malawi. They come to program with bare feet, ripped and dirty school uniforms, books in their hands, and smiles on their faces. Program is by far the best part of my week here.
On Friday, instead of having program we as a staff took about three hours in the morning to visit the homes and families of some of the children. The purpose of home visits is to build meaningful relationships with the parents and family members of the children, talk to them about their child’s home life, behavior, academic progress, and to hear feedback about program. We walked all morning long down red dirt paths, through corn fields, and into three small villages where we stopped by about 17 of the children’s houses. Most houses are made of mud bricks, with thatched or metal sheet roofs, and consist of two or three rooms. There are chickens, goats, ducks, and donkeys running around everywhere. Most of the time both parents are not at home during the morning hours, they are either at work, drawing water, or at the corn mill, but we were able to meet with about 13 of the parents or guardians of the homes that we stopped at.
It was a very eye opening experience to be able to visit the homes of our kids. To see where they are coming from, and meet some of their parents and families. These children come from circumstances that from the very start of life are very hard. The basic right of education is something that not every child has access to, and the chances of their academic success and future are few. This however, only goes to show me the great need for programs like ChristCares, programs that will encourage and support children both academically and spiritually, to promote their successful future.
However, the success of our programs only go so far. Once the child ends 8th grade they take their high school entrance exams, in which their score determine whether or not they get into high school, and which high school they may attend. Many families cannot afford to send their children, and so their fate is to be a high school drop out, and usually is to work on the family farm. ChristCares is working hard to change these odds for the children in our programs, in which I was able to witness the success of this past weekend. Robert and his team at ChristCares worked hard to find about 18 sponsors for girls who went through the CCM program, and could not afford to continue their education onto high school. These sponsors pay for the girls tuition, in which they attend a boarding high school here in Lilongwe. I am working with CCM to gather profiles and other information about these girls for their sponsors back in the US. The sponsorship program in which I am working with the various UPI sites on, will be implemented beginning with these girls, who already have sponsors.
The girls were so excited to have me visit. Since they live at school they don’t get to see their families very often, and rarely have visitors. I only wish I could visit them every day, share in their smiling faces, and encourage them in their studies. They bombarded me with questions as I helped them fill out their profiles, and took their photos. They all want to come to the US someday to visit me, and asked if I would please move to Malawi to work at their school. They are the most deserving young ladies, who have so much potential. I praise the Lord for the sponsors who enable them to continue with their high school education, and I know that their future is much brighter because of this program.
The Lord is so good to me, and has allowed for me to humbly be a part of the lives of the staff and children here at ChristCares. What a joy it is to work towards a brighter future for the children and young people of Malawi. This week I look forward to attending program, finishing up some child sponsorship odds and ends with various children, and working with the staff on some fundraising projects.
As I enter this new week, please pray:
- That the Lord prepares the way for the success of the Child Sponsorship Program in the US. That He goes ahead of the work here and moves in people’s hearts to become sponsors for the children and ministries here in Malawi. Pray that He provides time, and a way to successfully promote the program this summer.
- For guidance and direction for me as I begin to think and pray about where the Lord will lead me when I return to the States. That He opens doors, and guides my steps.
- Praise the Lord that the rainy season has been consistent, and that they corn crop which sustains most families is doing very well and should produce a good crop come harvest in May.