Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Things I Learned in Malawi: Education is a True Privilege

He who thinks little of the ABC's will never be a man of great learning. 
A Favorite Proverb Martin Luther Wrote on a Wall in His Home

I have always valued education. As a young child my favorite toy of all the toys in my room, was a chalkboard. I saved every paper that was returned to me in grade school and used them to teach my teddy bears and dolls how to read, write, and do math. (Okay so they had a hard time learning, but I'm sure by "teaching" them I learned the material even better.)

Our two children have watched us receive master's degrees and have witnessed their mother being hooded for a doctorate. They know that education is their most important job as young people. It's a culture we have fostered with them from in the womb and they know no other way of being. 

While in Malawi, one of the poorest countries on earth, I saw signs of hope there in the small village of Kanyenyeva where our church, and a handful of other dedicated churches are partners in an orphan care ministry. There are around 300 registered orphans in the KOCM (Kanyenyeva Orphan Care Ministry) Project and each one of them is required to attend school or forfeit the services they receive four times a week. (Food, and more!) It is not mandatory to attend school in Malawi. The government does not have education as a top priority. There are no books, paper, pencils, chalk, or crayons. There certainly isn't a gymnasium or a cafeteria. There are empty shells of buildings and some half finished that are presently unusable. (The new president promised if he was elected that education would be a priority. He started construction on school buildings and once he was in office he quickly forgot about his promises.) 

Funds have been donated to put a metal roof on but there are few laborers to do the work.

Unfinished building erected by newly elected President. 

Another building that was left unfinished.

Classroom for 80 students. 


The hope that I experienced is that there are people who are striving to get kids enrolled in school but it is an uphill battle. We learned that "ideal" ratio of student to teacher is 60-1. Imagine our teachers in America faced with that ratio! Yikes! However, the ideal is not the case. . . in the level that is equivalent to our Kindergarten or First Grade there are 200 students to 1 brave teacher. It goes down from there; in the 8th grade there are 80 students and 1 teacher. If a student actually qualifies to go to High School by their performance on exams, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to enroll. Their families simply do not have the $150 it costs for tuition to send them. We pay more than that to have our kids play Varsity Sports at our High School in Norwalk, Ohio. 

Together, we are making a difference! The churches who are a part of the Malawi Orphan Care Project are constantly raising funds to get kids to High School. This year, thankfully, almost 40 students qualified to enter High School. We have about half the money at present with a deadline of 2 weeks away when the term begins. We will do it! I know we will. People are responding already because they know that education is the way to change the world, one student at a time. 

As your children head back to school, think about how blessed we are in this country. We complain way too much about our teachers (a most precious resource!), our schools (palaces compared to the third world), common core (at least we have people who consider what our kids should be taught and they work to provide materials), and a whole host of other things we take for granted. Rejoice that our kids are learning and don't have to walk five miles to a beat up building, try to learn without resources, try to learn with 199 others in one class, and are not simply too hungry and tired to learn most days. Education in some places in the world is not a human right, it is a privilege. We would do well to keep that in mind. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Things I Learned in Malawi, Africa: Our Elders are an Amazing Gift!

Everywhere we go in this short life of ours we learn things. Sometimes they are practical, sometimes they are spiritual, sometimes they are lessons that God has been working on us to figure out for a long time. I recently returned from a two week journey to the country of Malawi where my congregation is a mission partner with an Orphan Care Project. (Google Malawi Orphan Care Project for more information). The site of this project is in a small village outside the town of Salima called Kanyenyeva. It is named for a large hill that occupies space there. It is very remote and fairly densely populated by villagers who live on very little. The spirit of these people is anything but little! They are the warmest, most loving people I have ever met. Their smiles are the most genuine expressions I have ever seen. Their affection is tender and sincere. I know I have changed. .  . I am waiting for God to reveal to me in what ways that has happened.

While I wait for the Holy Spirit to do its work within me, which is often a long process, I want to share with those of you who are kind enough to read my ramblings, some of the things I have learned from this amazing journey. My intention is to write a number of articles with the same title (or nearly so) in the next weeks (maybe longer) as I reflect on my short time in a place I grew to love and hated to leave.

Robina and Mom: These two hit it off famously!

One of the most profound and beautiful things that touched me is where I will begin with this post. My 71 year old mother made this trip with me and 7 others. It was the fulfillment of dream of hers and I was honored to accompany her on this journey. She did marvelously! When we first arrived in Kanyenyeva we were met by the elders of the community and the children of the project. They met our van at the end of a long dusty road that leads to the project with singing and a welcome banner. We could not understand their words but in our hearts we knew exactly what they were saying. "Welcome! We are glad you are here!" As we reached the project and were ushered into the brick hall where teaching and feeding takes place, they danced and sang to us, and grabbed our hands so we would join them in the dance. It was incredible. As we were all introduced to the group that had gathered that day, when it came time for the people to meet my mother, she was introduced as the mom of Abusa Amy. Abusa means pastor in Chichewa. All who were gathered cheered loudly for this person they had just met. Their praise of her was twice as much as any other on the team. My eyes pricked with the potential of tears as I realized that in this culture those who are older are highly valued. This is as it should be!

We can learn much from this show of respect and admiration to those who lived many years more than we have. Their wisdom and experience is hard won by the struggles they have endured in this lifetime. Instead in our county and culture I see something very different. I see elders being pushed aside and viewed as a burden on our time and energy. We are all God's children and thus we are all valuable and precious. We have much to learn from those in our lives who have a few years on us. May God humble us from our egos and complacency and help us to see the incredible gift of knowledge and wisdom that is present in those who are the oldest among us.

Give thanks for those in your life and in your parish who have been there, done that! Talk to them, ask them to share what they have learned. You won't regret it! In fact I believe you will be blessed and filled. It is our call from God to cherish all people and not shove anyone aside. Those who have life experience that outnumbers our own are full of stories and lessons and love that we cannot imagine if we fail to see them and celebrate them.

Have a blessed day!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Great Commission is a Global Initiative

In Malawi the average annual income for a household is just $730. That's less than $2 a day.  Think about it! You can't buy a kid's meal at McDonalds for under $2. Your morning coffee probably costs more than this. 

As we have been preparing to make our journey, there have been a few times when good, loving folks have said, "We have starving people in the United States to feed. Why would you go around the world to another country when there is work to be done here?" It's a valid question to be sure, however, as the Church of Christ we are called to go to the ends of the earth to serve God's people.  We DO feed the hungry in our neighborhoods and cities. We DO help the homeless and downtrodden right at home. But that's not to say that our mission in Christ is to stay right where we are. The Great Commission calls us to make disciples of ALL nations. So we go and make relationships so that we can gain the trust necessary to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  One mission does not preclude another. 

One thing that I will most likely be called to do as we set foot in Malawi is to preach in worship. I've asked myself, "What in the world could I possibly have to say to these people who live such joyful lives?" My first thoughts have been that I have no right to speak about faith in Christ as my life is incredibly blessed with enough food, a home, beautiful healthy children, and more. But then it hit me. There is something that I preach about quite often in the parish where I serve as pastor. It has to do with the barrier of faith called affluence. We, in this country, are in desperate need of a relationship with our God. We put way too much emphasis on all the stuff we can and do acquire. It's sad really. In this way, the people of Malawi have something precious that we don't have-- true faith in the midst of hardship. We rely on the consistency of our paychecks, the dependability of our government to care for us when we are in need, and the goodwill of our neighbors who are also affluent and can come to our aid if necessary. The people of Malawi have none of that. They are totally dependent upon the goodness of God. Therein lies an incredible spiritual gift. I am in no way saying that there circumstances are ideal! Simply that we lack the joy that comes from total dependence on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because we have so much "stuff" to occupy our minds, bodies, and hearts. 

So, then, something to think about. How do you rely on Christ and give God the glory even in times when you are struggling? 

Tidzaonana. (See you again!)

Abusa Amy (Pastor Amy)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Malawi or Bust!

Dear Friends,

Many of you already know that later this month I will be going on a mission trip (ulendo) to Malawi, East Africa. This trip has been over a year and a half in the making. I am excited about this for many reasons, first and foremost to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ in Malawi who are in need of the basics that we take for granted. Secondly, that my mother who is 70 years old will be making her first mission trip as well. I am so proud of her courage and grace as she prepares for this journey and I look forward to the time we will spend together. Thirdly, two others from my congregation have also discerned God's call to "Go and Make Disciples" across the world.

Malawi is called the warm heart of Africa because the people there are known to be very friendly. I found this out when I met the director of Kenyenyeva Ministries, Mrs. Yamikani Chikoti, who visited the United States and spoke at our church about the orphan care project that we are in partnership. We will be guided by Yami and her husband, Shadreck when we arrive in the country on August 1st. They will be our translators as well as those who will keep us from making any serious social faux pas. The cultures are quite different as we have been learning about for the past year. 

My intent is to post here some information about Malawi, the orphans that are served at the project, as well as my reflections on the journey. 

Here's a phrase for you in chichewa, the native language of Malawi:
Moni muli bwanji? (Hi, how are you?)
Ndili bwino. Kaya inu? (I am fine. How are you?)
Ndili bwino. Zikomo. (Fine. Thank you.)
Zikomo. (Thank you, or you're welcome.)

That's all for today! Zikomo, ndapita. Tidzaonana. (I'll see you again.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Letter to Rose: It's Not About the Bunny

My dearest Rose,

It was so wonderful for us to be together on Easter! I am thrilled that you are speaking my name and ask for me from time to time. What a joy that is, to be known by you. . . and even more for us all to be known by God!

Speaking of God, I wanted to write to you to remind you of something very important about Easter. Easter is not about the Bunny. I hope this is not news to you.  Now I know we get all carried away with taking pictures with the Rabbit and hiding eggs (bunny eggs? No!) and all of that fun stuff, but Easter is about what God has done and is doing in our lives. You see, Rose, Jesus is God's son. His only son in the flesh, who came into the world to make sure that all of God's people (that means you and me and Mommy and Daddy and everyone else in the whole wide world) would know him. Just like you know my name and God knows our names, God wants every person in the world to know his name. To know someone's name is to know them deeply and have a relationship with them. The bunny is cute and all, but the bunny didn't do anything for us that required such a deep and abiding love.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that Jesus loves you and so do I! And he came into this world so that we would be free. You don't know what that means yet, but someday you will. Someday you will know the pain of sin and joy of being forgiven. Someday you will understand that there is darkness in the world (you won't like it but you'll recognize it) and you will know the light of Christ. This is the light that shines in and through you because of Jesus, because of your baptism.

Oh and one more thing. In the church on Easter we always get to shouting this really cool phrase because we are so exciting that God raised Jesus from the dead. Yes, that's what I said, he was dead and in a tomb after he was hanged on a cross almost 2000 years ago. But God did a miraculous thing: he made Jesus alive again. And not just for a few days or weeks or years, for ever and always! So in worship one person will say, "Christ is risen!" And then everyone else shouts back as loud as we want to show how happy we are, and we say, "Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

Why don't you try it? It's kind of fun actually!

Here's a picture of you, my darling girl, on Easter day.

See you soon,

Your Godmother -Aunt Amy