It was three or four days before we were scheduled to return to the states when I finished the book I had been reading; I decided to start the other book I had brought along. I reached into the front pocket of my suitcase and pulled out a book entitled “God’s Joyful Surprise.” It was not the book I was expecting. In fact, I didn’t remember buying or ordering a book by that title. I sat and stared at it a few minutes, wondering where it had come from. After some thought, I decided that the title was a beautiful description of my previous three weeks. My trip to Malawi was filled with wonderful, joyous surprises!

Joyce doing first aid training

Joyce doing first aid training

As our plane landed in Lilongwe, I was again filled with a sense of joy and excitement; I was again welcomed by our fellow team members already in Malawi; and once more I was greeted by the sight of the gorgeous Jackaranda trees in full bloom – their beauty always a joyful surprise. On the 3 � hour drive to Embangweni, my heart was warmed by familiar sites and memories of my previous five trips. The first morning after we arrived, I was delighted to see six of the seven hospital chapel choir members who had spent a week with my husband and me in the US in 1999. It is always a wonderful surprise to hear how beautifully they praise God with such joyful music. That same day, as I was walking back to the guesthouse, I met an friend that I did not expect to see; we have corresponded for the past 9 years but he and his family live many kilometers north. For the first time in the past three years, we had time to sit down and really visit. I was delighted to get the opportunity to see and visit with so many old friends, many I have missed on previous trips. I was also blessed with the opportunity to make special new friendships.

I went to Malawi prepared to do the usual teacher workshops on first aid; fire, electrical and other general safety; HIV/AIDS prevention and a presentation for the women’s guild about menopause. This year, however, I had requests for presentations and workshops on several topics I had never done before, even a couple of topics for which I had no expertise or resource materials. By the time I left, I had taught 25 workshops, presentations or classes on fifteen different topics – nutrition, hygiene, water safety, women’s reproduction, women’s heath, natural family planning, birth control methods, customer service, team building, arts and crafts as well as the topics I had been prepared to teach. I felt like I had been in a “whirlwind”; but I was joyfully surprised that people were finally asking for information that was important to them. Despite the intense afternoon heat, they did not want to leave at the time our sessions were scheduled to end.

I had received some funds from members of my church to be used for a special project while I was in Malawi; I was very surprised when the headmaster of the school for hearing impaired children told me the estimate for the purchase of 100 new bed nets for the 140 children; bed nets protect children and adults from malaria mosquitoes. The estimate was very close to the amount of funds I had available, so we bought them.

Each day brought new and wonderful surprises – the scenery as we drove through the mountains to Mzuzu, the vibrant sunsets, the beautiful bright red blossoms of the flamboyant trees that bloom just before the rains come, the awe of seeing African animals in their own habitat at the game park in Zambia. As seems to be true on each trip, one if the most special surprises is to hear the total number of wells that have been installed in the previous six to seven weeks. This year we had 952 photos of new shallow-wells that had been installed. God is truly generous with our “joyful surprises.”