In my growing up years, service was always the core tenet of faith in my family. So, to me, this was a true mission trip – I thought I was going to Malawi to help others. I expected it to be hard work, emotionally and physically.
I was surprised, on so many different levels. I expected to feel sadness and even pity, yet that rarely happened. I expected to be exhausted, yet that was never overwhelming. The trip exceeded my expectations in many ways. *I* was not the benefactor, but rather the beneficiary. I *received* more than I gave.
Many people predicted that this would be a life-changing experience. That’s a daunting demand – what does it mean to have a life-changing experience? I had an answer after one day in the field, when I realized I would never again look at my own life in the same way. This was probably the most meaningful thing I’ve done in my entire life.
I worked in two districts within the Nkhoma Synod – around the town of Mchinji in the west, near the border with Zambia, and around the town of Kasungu, in the central part of Malawi. In nearly every one of the villages that we entered, we were greeted by singing and dancing, always joyful, sometimes even exuberant. The most frequent song began with the phrase “today, just today,” indicating the amazing and rare occurrence of our visit, and included a reference to “Marioni” (Marion). It was impossible not to get caught up in their joyful celebration of our arrival – several times, the women pulled us into their circles to dance with them. These villages were waiting anxiously, usually for a month, between the time they dug the well and finished the preparations, and the time we showed up to install the pipe and pump. And we often heard stories about how they had been promised a well by the government or an NGO, but never received one. So, Marion Medical Mission actually shows up when and where they promise, which is a huge deal. No wonder there’s singing and dancing when we arrive!
What this meant to me: In a word, joy. Of living, of family, of celebration. Of the ability to express that joy. As I wrote in my daily journal, I tried to think of words that were synonyms for joy.
One day, we walked into the well site on a path, and as we started down the path I turned to greet a little girl behind me. I shook her hand and said “muli bwanji,” but she didn’t let go of my hand, so we walked together down the path and stood watching the pump being installed. My job was to enter data in a handheld tablet, and I learned that day that I could get the tablet out of the case and enter all of the data using only one hand, because I was NOT going to let go of the little girl’s hand. At one point, she called a friend over and she transferred my hand into her friend’s hand.
If that wasn’t enough, in this same village when the village head spoke, he said “we know you’re not rich, but please encourage others in the United States to keep assisting us.” We know you’re not rich. I’d never felt so rich in my life. This little girl had just given me the gift of her friendship and trust, and I’d been welcomed into a village full of people that were incredibly grateful for the simple gift of safe, clean water.
What this meant to me: in the 15 days of actively putting in wells, my partner and I put wells in 130 villages, affecting nearly 3,000 households and nearly 15,000 individual people. What else have I done in my life that affected so many people in such a short amount of time? Yet, I felt, every day while in Malawi and every day since I returned home, that *I* was the one who was blessed, that the gifts that I received impact me in a way as profound as the gift of water is to the villagers. And, every day in Malawi, I thanked God for getting me there.