Blog: 2011

April 20, 2011

Steph and I on our amazing journey.

What an amazing, refreshing, and tiring last two weeks it has been.  I have spent a total of about 35 hours on various buses and mini buses, experienced Lake Malawi (the 8th largest lake in the world), visited with one of my best friends (Steph), crossed the Malawian – Zambian border, extended my visa to allow me to legally stay in the country until my time of service is complete, and have safely arrived at Youth Care Ministries in Lilongwe for my final two and a half weeks in this amazing country.  The Lord has been so faithful and has kept Steph and me safe as we traveled.  It is not always the easiest thing to travel around in Malawi and Zambia; some bus schedules are not reliable and typically don’t leave until they fill up, while others sometimes even leave early from their scheduledtime.  If you want to travel cheaply one must settle for the local buses and mini buses which are crammed with more people than they should be, along with bags, crates, and boxes.  We even spent about 6 hours in the back of a flatbed truck with two buckets of smelly fish and about 15 other people on our way to Lilongwe because we missed our bus.

It was absolutely lovely to spend time with Steph.  We went to Messiah College together and have been friends since freshman year.  She is working for one year with Mennonite Central Committee in Choma, Zambia, working with HIV/Aids prevention and education efforts there.  I was able to visit her home where she lives with two local teachers, to see her office and to meet some of her Zambian and Caucasian friends.  We stayed in the home of a missionary couple who are in their mid 60’s and have been serving in Zambia for about 9 years.  They live in the missions complex near to the home Steph stays in.  Their home was lovely, with a  hot shower, a nice bed, and my favorite part, granola with milk and fruit for breakfast, which was such a treat!  It was so refreshing to catch up with Steph and to hear about her time thus far in Zambia, and to share with her many of my experiences, joys, and challenges.  The Lord truly blessed both of us through our time together, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to see a familiar and loved face halfway around the world.

I arrived safely at the home of the director of Youth Cares Ministries (Gibozi) in Lilongwe on Sunday evening.  I will be spending my last few weeks with him and his family in their home located on the outskirts of Lilongwe.  Gibozi is married to Ester and they have a 7-month old giggly, adorable baby boy, Isreal.  Gibozi has also opened his home to his two younger brothers who stay together in one of the three bedrooms in the house.  I have my own room and bed, and I’m able to either bucket bathe with warm water if I choose to take the time to heat it on the stove, or take a cold shower.  I wake up at 6:15 am ready to leave at 7 for the office.  It takes about 50 minutes by minibus and taxi to get to the office, which is run out of the Safe Haven Orphanage where Youth Cares runs its boys’ orphanage.  There are currently 12 boys living in the orphanage with the host dad, Gerald.  The boys will be a part of the sponsorship program that I am working on, and three of them already have sponsors.

The staff at Youth Cares has allowed me to jump on board and are very excited about the projects and programs that we are going to work on together.  They are very friendly, welcoming me with open arms onto their team.  They are impressed with the amount of Chichewa I can speak!  Youth Cares is the most established and longest-running ministry of UPI in Malawi and already has a semi-established sponsorship program for the orphanage.  The program has a lot of potential and could greatly benefit from an extended sponsorship program and some more concrete structure and details in place.  The sponsorship program for the two after-school sites will be a new addition to their ministry and programs.

Chimwemwe - meaning Joy, one of the boys from Rise Malawi Ministries.

These next two and a half weeks are going to go by so quickly and will be full of many emotions.  I will be returning to UPI on May 11th and am planning to use some of the remaining funds raised to work for UPI in Camden this summer, launching and promoting the international child sponsorship program.  I will be using this time to find sponsors for every site, as well as to fine-tune some other fund development projects for the various ministries.  I hope to have completed this journey by August, leaving the ministries of UPI with a sustainable sponsorship program that will allow them to continue the wonderful things that they do--reaching more children and youth for Christ and bringing hope to the children and youth of Malawi.

I am trying my hardest to stay focused on what the Lord has for me here as I wrap up my time, and praying through what the Lord has for me next.  He truly has given me a genuine love in my heart for this people, culture, and country, and it is going to be very difficult for me to leave.

Please Pray:

-          Thank the Lord for keeping Steph and me safe and giving us a wonderful time together.  Also for the success of renewing my visa as I crossed the border from Zambia to Malawi.

-          For the boys in the Safe Haven orphanage as they spend this Easter season together in the orphanage, since they do not have family to spend the holiday with.  That the Lord would be near to them, bring them joy and fellowship with one another during this holiday season.

-          For the grace of God to allow me to stay focused and fully invest myself these last few weeks.  That the Lord would bring me comfort and peace as I begin to prepare to return to the States.

-          For guidance and direction from the Lord as I finish up my time with UPI this summer and seek what He has for my future.

April 5, 2011

This week marks the end of my time in southern Malawi with Rays of Hope Ministries.  Things have been wrapping up as far as projects are concerned, and the kids have now started their two-week break from school, since it is the end of their third quarter from school.  They will start back up again in mid April, and programs will resume.  Since the kids are on vacation, Rays of Hope has not had their after school program this week, so the majority of my time has been spent focusing on development projects for the

Some of the kids from at Rays of Hope and I.

ministry.  This coming Thursday I will be meeting up with a good from college who is currently serving in Zambia; she and I will be spending a few days together.

I ended my time with the kids in some wonderful last days together as we wrapped up the program and completed the development art project and the child sponsorship profiles and information.  We sang songs; the kids taught me some in Chichewa and I taught them songs in English, dancing with joy as we praised the name of the Lord.  We played games of basketball and football (they make balls out of plastic bags that they find), practiced English and grammar together as I helped them work through some of their studies, and helped them prepare for their end of quarter exams which they took at the end of last week.  The kids received the results from their exams early this week, and they proudly march over to Willie’s house to show him their results.  It is part of the Rays of Hope program for the kids to report their grades to Willie, the director, as he notes who has done well and should be rewarded and recognized, and who needs to receive more attention and tutoring from the youth leaders.  The results from their exams seem to reflect the wonderful job that the Rays of Hope after school program is doing to encourage and tutor the kids in their studies.  It is difficult for them to focus on their studies when the reality of life for some consists of working alongside of their parents on the family farm, or helping raise their younger siblings, and facing many more responsibilities than simply focusing on academics.  The ministry of Rays of Hope is much needed and greatly beneficial for its participants.

It was very difficult for me to say goodbye to the kids.  I see the Lord shining through every one of their smiles; their hugs and embraces make my day.  I wish I could stay at each and every site, with every child and youth leader, to continue to be involved in their lives and give them my all.  As of today, I have exactly one month left until I board a plane that will take me back to the States.  I pray that the Lord uses this final month to bring Himself glory and honor through my actions, thoughts, and words.  He has been so faithful so far, and I know that He will not fail me in this final month.

Willie and I were able to complete some resources and prepare for an important meeting that he is going to have with a local rotary club in a few weeks.  Willie has done a great job networking within the community of Blantyre to find some local support for Rays of Hope, and hopefully build some meaningful relationships with other non-profits and influential people that will be helpful to the ministry as it looks to grow in the future.  I was able to create a ministry brochure, come up with some giving idea’s, and help Willie gather other important information and advise him on some strategies and tactics which he should use in approaching the rotary club for support and funding.  It has definitely benefited Rays of Hope Ministries to be located in such close proximity to the city of Blantyre; the connections that have been made and will be made in the future will be crucial to the success of this ministry.

Since the ministries will be on break for the next two weeks due to the schools’ vacation time at the end of the quarter, I will be taking

Three beautiful girls from Rays of Hope After School Program.

the next week and a few days to do a little bit of traveling with my friend who is currently working with the Mennonite Central Committee in Zambia.  The timing works out perfectly, because I need to leave the country in order to renew my visa.  The law here in Malawi is that as a visitor, you are only allowed to stay for 90 days, after which you would be illegally staying here.  Since my time here in Malawi exceeds that 90-day period, I have to find a way to leave the country for a few days to acquire an extended visa for another 30 days, in order to be allowed to stay here until my time has been completed in early May.

So my friend and I are planning to use this week to visit lake Malawi for a few days, which is the 8th largest lake in the world, and then travel on to Choma Zambia where she is staying and doing ministry with the Mennonite Central Committee.  We may possibly make a trip to Victoria Falls which is about 2 hours from where she stays.  Since I will be traveling next week I will not be posting a blog, but will resume posting the week of April 18th.

Lord willing, I will return to Lilongwe on the 16th of April, and I will start my time with YouthCare Malawi, a boys’ orphanage and after school program.  I will be spending the remainder of my time with this ministry, and will be wrapping things up with UrbanPromise International here in Malawi.

As I look forward to this next week and final month here in Malawi please pray:

-  For safety and a restful, reflective, and rejuvenating time on my trip with my friend.  That we will be successful in our days of traveling and time spent at the lake and in Zambia.

-  For the details of my visa to go through as I cross the border into Zambia and return to Malawi.

-  For a successful meeting of Rays of Hope with the Limbe Rotary Club.  That the Lord would move in the hearts of the members and encourage them to get involved and give to the ministry.

-  Praise the Lord that the boil on Willie’s leg is getting better and he is almost 100% healed and able to move around comfortably.

-  For the Lord to bring peace and clarity to my heart, as I begin to think about leaving this amazing place in May, and determine what His next steps are for my life.

March 30, 2011
My last day at Project TEACH AfterSchool Program

My last day at Project TEACH AfterSchool Program.

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 beautiful smiles of two boys from Rays of Hope AfterSchool Program

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.

Prayer Requests:

-          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.

March 22, 2011

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.

The opposing team coming to the field on the back of a truck.

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 helpChimse one of the youth leaders and I watching the soccer game. 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.

Please pray:

- 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.

March 16, 2011

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.

Please Pray:

-   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.


Subscribe to Blog: 2011