We called ourselves the “Geriatric Volunteers,” our team of Dr. Paul Beran, a 75 year old retired Presbyterian Minister from Alaska and me, an 80 year old retired CPA from South Georgia. Because we were both veterans of Marion Medical Mission, Paul on his 3rd trip, and I on my 7th, we knew hardships lay ahead, We’d be encased together for over three weeks in an all terrain vehicle from early sunrise until after sunset, driving over rough dirt roads and trails, then walking and walking in the hot African sun to deliver pipes and pumps to the well sites.
In reality, we were as excited as our grandchildren on a Christmas morning knowing we would soon encounter warm and wonderful villagers in remote areas of Malawi. Their joy in living, despite the challenges of harsh daily toil with no electricity nor conveniences such as even beds to sleep on, would energize us for our service.
During training we learned that the typical family in these villages survives on about a dollar a day. That fact really got to us when we passed crews working on a dirt road. In the blazing African sun, they were digging out the ditches and tossing dirt up on the road to use for leveling it before the rainy season returns to erode new holes. At least half of the crew appeared to be women, either pregnant or with a child on her back.
Our African field officer told us that the villagers are working to buy fertilizer for their farms. They work from 5 AM until 1 PM, providing their own hoes to do their work for which the government pays 300 kwachas a day. Only 300 hundred kwachas! That’s less than a dollar! In exchange for one American dollar we received 370 kwachas. A Coca Cola costs about 200 kwachas, 55 cents, a good buy in the U.S. but over a half day’s pay for them.
We were also admonished that it would be considered insensitive and rude of us to refuse a villager’s gift. After the dedication of their well, we were surrounded by God’s caring children eagerly offering us gifts of eggs, greens, ground nuts, corn meal flour, bananas and sometimes a chicken. We could see the harsh conditions of villages and had been told many families have enough food for only one meal a day, yet they shared what might have been food for their next meal. Genuine smiles of delight and songs of praise accompanied these gifts. We passed these sacrificial gifts on to African members of our well installation crews who gratefully shared them with their families.
Of course each day of a month in service for MMM in Africa presents its challenges such as bodily aches, sometimes lack of lights, running water or hot showers, homesickness, skimpy meals. But Paul and I agreed that we had had our best year ever. Each morning we started with a devotional from the writings of William Barkley and prayed together. Unlike other years, I didn’t fall, nor have a flat tire, nor feel anxious at being away from home base in pitch dark on occasion.
We knew every minute counted and we worked efficiently together. While we tried not to brag, we were humbly proud that we delivered parts for 149 wells, more than any other team. Just as the villagers inscribe “Glory to God” in the concrete that caps each well, I felt like shouting.”Yes, God! To you be the glory.”
I wish I could report that I’m eating healthier and giving more joyfully because of all I’ve experienced during my opportunities with MMM. I do think I’ve grown in my daily appreciation of the smallest of blessings. And I recognize the workings of God’s providence in giving me the privilege of serving Him among the warm hearted Malawians.