It was the evening of July 22, 2000, when I made that life changing decision. The night was memorable in itself as we celebrated the marriage of Tom and Jocelyn Logan’s daughter, Marie. I never expected to be asked such a question, and even more surprising still, was my answer. My knowledge of the Marion Medical Mission has, up until then, been just through pictures and through stories told by Tom and Jocelyn. Never in a million years did I ever expect to find myself in Malawi. Maybe it was that open bar at Marie and Darragh’s reception, but when Tom asked if I wanted to go with him to Malawi to dig wells, I rather tentatively agreed. I can still remember the slight hesitation in my voice as I said, “Okay.” However, I did have a six-week paid sabbatical from work coming up with nothing really planned. Still… Malawi! What was I thinking? What was I getting myself into? I’m a total city boy, born and raised in San Francisco, California. The closest I’ve ever come to roughing it was pitching a tent in my cousin’s back yard when I was twelve. And that was about as close as I ever wanted to come. I should also mention that this would be my first trip outside of North America.
Though, as a man of my word, I couldn’t go back on it. I had two months to get my shots and collect my nerve. What would it be like? How would I fare? Would I do a good job? Would I survive? As I pondered these and other questions, I decided I needed to rely on faith if I were to make this trip; faith in myself, faith in the Marion Medical Mission, faith in Tom and Jocelyn in their previous trips, and faith in the Lord. It made the preparation for my adventure that much easier, and before long, I was actually excited about going.
Things moved rather quickly and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Lilongwe, Malawi (via London). A total of 23 hours in the air, I spent my time trying to learn some basic Malawian words and phrases, reading up on the shallow well manual (even though I had no idea what it all meant), and meeting my fellow team members along the way. Jim, Carol, Joyce, Nicole, Evelyn, Tom, and Jocelyn, you made all the difference in making this such a memorable experience for me. The love and support we all had for one another was astounding! I really can’t imagine haven taken this trip with a better group.
Malawi was everything I expected it to be, and yet held so many surprises for me still to come. My first full day in Malawi was spent touring the Embangweni hospital and schools. The most memorable moment was when we visited the Embangweni School for the Deaf. I love children, and at home I volunteer as a Youth Mentor for the YMCA. Seeing the kids so bright-eyed, eager, motivated, and willing to learn. It was truly a sight, and at the time, I thought it would be the highlight of my trip. I thought, “How could it get any better than this?” It did. Along came Day Two… my first full day on shallow wells.
Part of my duties on this mission was to be a driver. We drove Land Cruisers for the most part, but there was an added challenge for me. I had never driven a stick shift before. I got a chance to practice one time before I left San Francisco. I got a crash course (not literally) from a friend who let me drive her fairly new Jetta. Of course, the Land Cruisers weren’t quite as smooth, and I was driving on the opposite side (of the car and the road)! We made our way through the rough terrain to our first well site. First off, the villagers were very pleased to see us. We installed the pump and Mr. Soko sang his song, “This is the way we pump the pump,” as he demonstrated the proper use and care of the equipment. We then dedicated the well to their village and to the Glory of God (Uchindami Kwa Chiuta), and gathered the villagers for a group photo. What followed was truly amazing. As we were packing up to move on to the next site, some of the local elders approached us and presented us with a live chicken. This scrawny little bird, which probably could have fed several families, was a gift to us. My feelings were indescribable, very humbling to say the least. The generosity and love displayed by the Malawians took me completely by surprise, and it was then I realized why Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa”.
Each and every day I spent in Malawi was a blessing in it’s own way. The people I met, the places I visited, and the things I saw were truly awe-inspiring. It was, most definitely, the time of my life.