As the 2006 teams began their work in Malawi, Tom Logan suggested that, as a part of our daily journaling, we add a note about where we saw the face of Christ that day. I found it to be a most useful exercise – a way to look around at what is for me very familiar and see how our Lord is present. This was my 8th trip to Malawi; the 5th with Marion Medical Mission. It is very easy to slide into the pace of life, the work to be done, the all-too-commonplace poverty and needs and forget to see just what is going on here among our Christian friends. I’d like to share some of the notes from my journal.
Where Did I See Christ Today?
- Sept. 25: “Today, as so often, in the Chapel choir. They lead such hard lives and yet are so joyful and praise God continually.” The hospital chapel choir provides a wonderful wake-up call each weekday morning at 7:00. I often do not understand the Tumbuka words, but the sense of worship is at times overwhelming.
- Sept. 26: “In the eyes of Mr. Hara as he talked with the newly-deaf boy’s gogo. Such love and compassion were there.” Acting head teacher at the school for the hearing impaired, Mr. Hara had been meeting with some of us when an obviously upset man brought his grandson to the office. The boy, about 3 years old, had just been diagnosed as deaf and the family had no idea what to do. As I watched Mr. Hara gently talk with the man and explain that the boy was too young for school but that they would be in continual contact to help until he was 6 years old and could enroll, I was touched by the look in his eyes. Always a compassionate man, I could see him taking on some of the hurt of that family. This was not just another deaf child, but a child of God who happens to be deaf.
- Sept. 29: “That old man, whatever his difficulties and mental problems, is a child of God. The face of Christ is seen in the gentle tolerant way this culture accepts such as these.” There is an old man who has been wandering around Embangweni as long as I have been going there. He is, I learned a few years ago, a former teacher whose English is better than mine. And yet he never speaks as he walks around, carrying an axe over one shoulder and an ancient stick of wood over the other. Quietly and unobtrusively he stands and listens to any event going on – especially teacher workshops and school celebrations. I was overjoyed this year when he began to respond when I greeted him with “monire, adada.” And more so on that precious day when he initiated the greeting in English “Good morning, Madam.”
- Oct 1.: “Deaf school bell choir at church. ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not…’ It would have been easier not to make the effort to get them to worship and teach them.” The oldest group of children from school ring handbells every Sunday at the English-language service. They practice faithfully each Saturday and one of the teachers signs the service for them. That in itself was an act of courage when it began years ago, because the people in the congregation did not understand what was happening and asked the teacher why he was “waving his hands around” all through the service.
- Oct. 3: “’Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel…’ Even the world of the deaf.” This note was triggered by deaf school chapel, at which one of the students (Cecilia) had organized some of the kids into a chancel drama illustrating the parable about the beggars who were healed but only one returned to give thanks.
- Oct 9: “This weekend, all over! On the faces of gogos and children. In long worship services. In the greetings. He is here.” Four of us from Colorado had spent the weekend at Engalaweni, home of our partner congregation. The outpouring of love that always meets us there never fails to awe and inspire. What a lesson we Christians in America need to learn from these brothers and sisters!
- Oct 10: “The very heartfelt opening and closing prayers at my workshops and the tea. The older man who took Sheila’s hand and began to sing ‘God be with you ‘till we meet again.’ Mr. Chulu at school who is so concerned that the kids learn skills to make a living.”
- Oct 11: “ There is always room in my house for more.” Matron Katherine, who invited us to tea at her home, when more people showed up than had been expected.
- Oct. 12: “Chizimia School – the hope that now lives there. Especially the young man who was on scholarship and has now graduated from secondary school.” Christ has used Marion Medical Mission at this bush school! Buildings – faculty — children learning and knowing there is hope for a better life. Recognition from around Malawi and beyond. A special place, indeed!
- Oct 15: “All the people walking home from church. They have such faith and have to work so hard to exercise it.” As we drove the second MMM team to Embangweni from Lilongwe, we passed people obviously coming from worship walking along the road. Not just once in a while, but nearly continuously for the 3 hour drive. Men and women in their Guild uniforms, kids dressed in their very best all making the effort to be at church. In the States, we check the weather forecast and if it is too hot or too cold or too rainy or too snowy, we don’t get in our cars to drive a few blocks….
- Oct 17: “Mr. Hara coming to check. (on me when I didn’t show up a school due to illness) Would an administrator in the US –even a Christian – walk a mile in the heat just to see how an employee was? I think not. The faith in Malawi, paired with the culture and some innate personality traits, makes this place where Christianity is lived 24/7. I think that’s why I am never fearful around here. People take such good care of each other.”
- Oct. 20: “Several today. The choir, for sure! How could one not have faith bolstered when hearing them? The experience in Standard 2 – faith has been planted at the school and some is taking root. Matthew 13:3” The hospital chapel choir brought a pot-luck dinner to share at the guest house and regaled us before the meal with songs. Their bodies must be so tired by the end of the day and yet the voices ring strong and the faith is sure! Earlier in the day I was at deaf school with Standard 2 looking at pictures from “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” We talked about Mary & Joseph, the flight to Egypt, Jesus’ preaching, Judas’ betrayal and the crucifixion. They practically quoted chapter and verse about the crucifixion – up to and including “Father forgive them for they don’t know” and “Mary was crying”. Do they understand what goes on in church? Do you doubt it for a moment?
- Oct 27: “Women’s Guild. They are concerned about the needy here. ‘We can carry wood for them and smear their floors, but we need to do more.’ Does PW do the equivalent?” I was delighted to be invited to a Women’s Guild meeting with Joyce. What a lovely group of women. I was particularly impressed with the portion of the meeting devoted to memorizing a scripture verse. It was read and repeated over and over until each woman in turn could repeat it from memory.
- Oct. 28: “I spotted one of the big boys at Deaf apparently teaching a small boy to play Bowa. The big ones really do take good care (it at times a bit rough) of the little ones. I’ve seen them at chapel making sure they’re paying attention, sometimes even moving to sit by them.” When each new class of preschool 1 children (ages 6 & 7) arrives, the oldest students each “adopt” one as their child. From that point, the younger one has someone who watches out for them, makes sure they are clean and clothed properly and who even shares a bed with them. If the young one tries to run home, the older will go along until he can convince the child that running away is not the thing to do.
- Oct 29: “The feeling at Elijah’s when his grandmother knelt to offer the meal blessing. One could almost pick up and examine the faith in the room.” One of the joys of return visits to Malawi is the development of long-term friendships. We have a special relationship with a young man named Elijah. He always invites us to the family home for a meal, which is shared by grandparents, an uncle, mother and several sisters, brothers and nieces. It is always a very special time to share food, conversation and prayer.
- Oct. 30: “The Word is being spread the school. While Pre-3 was waiting for us to gather all the hearing aid parts, 2 or 3 of the kids got up to the lectern and “preached” and prayed. It was really cute, but they stopped whenever I looked their way. But something of the message is getting through.”
- Oct. 31: “Women’s Guild and their deep faith. So concerned with helping the needy, when their own needs are so great! How does one define ‘needy’ in this country of grinding, unrelenting poverty? ‘Poverty’ does not do it justice – there needs to be a more dire word.” Once again I was privileged to join the Women’s Guild, this time the sewing group meeting at the manse. They had asked for help learning to use the new sewing machine recently given and for help learning to cut. I had assumed that meant “cut from a pattern”; they really meant, however, “cut”. Most had never used scissors. Once again, I have to stop putting my western mind-set into Malawian culture! These women are devoting their (spare?!) time to making clothes for the needy in the area, relying on donations of funds and material to continue the work. Their hope is to one day be able to sell some clothing and use that money to buy fabric to make give-away clothing.