Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reflecting on Malawi - Bruce Reeve

Wow, it's been two months now since we came back from Malawi! It's amazing how fast you fall back into your old routines after being away. But even after getting back to the hustle and stress of our normal lives, I do notice something different. Not a day goes by when I don't think at least once about my experiences in Malawi. I remember feeling guilty when we were there about being so concerned with buying keepsakes to bring home. But now I find that I cherish them not for what they are, but for the memories they trigger of the people we met and the things that we witnessed.

There's the village print Sarah bought that is hung on our wall, and my coffee cup at work with a village scene. Both remind me of the church services we attended in small villages out in the countryside. Since they drew so many villagers, most of the services took place outdoors in beautiful natural surroundings. Those surroundings however were no match for the beauty of the faith held by the people we met. These are people who have very few material possessions, but their wealth goes far beyond material things. Though they have so little, they give everything they have to their faith and to those who have even less than them. I see Violet, the young lady who was teaching orphans at two villages. Without any other means of transportation, she was walking for hours each day to get to her kids. We could see on her face how proud she was just to have the opportunity for God to work through her to provide that service. We could also see the pride in her students as they show us their math and English skills. I think of Aaron, the carpenter who used his skills with rudimentary tools, to pour a new cement floor for the church in his village church. We were there to help, but Aaron and his helpers from the village provided all the skill. I think of the village women carrying large containers of water and laundry many miles to and from the borehole several time each day. Wouldn't their lives be improved if safe drinking water was more readily available?

I see the cloth bag we bought in support of the church women's group, which reminds me of all the important land breaking work that group is doing to raise the status of women in the church, and to provide ministry aimed at improving the lives of the less fortunate.

I see the small wood carvings we brought back. Some of animals and fish which reminds me of the natural beauty we witnessed on our trips to Liwonde National Park and Lake Malawi. Others of angels, which were presented to us as gifts at one of the villages. At another village we were presented with clocks, with scenes depicting Africa, that were made for us by the villagers.

Most importantly, every day I put on a small wooden cross that I bought to remind me of the incredible faith I witnessed in the people of Malawi. I find just putting it on causes me to be more reflective about not only the trip, but also other things going on in my life. It feels very comforting just to wear it. The cross reminds me of the many amazing people I met on this trip including church leaders like Rev. Mhone and Rev. Steve who have a fantastic vision for growth in the Malawi Methodist Church, and projects that will improve the lives of Malawians. It also reminds me of two brothers Steve and Kelly, young men with uncommon leadership skills who are dedicating themselves to make a difference in Malawi. All of these leaders are very inspirational to me. Everyday when I put on that cross it brings back memories of the the things I was able to witness in Malawi. I feel privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to experience Malawi as I have. With that privilege God has provided comes a responsibility and a challenge to stay committed towards helping the people I met there. They've given me much more than they'll ever know, just by sharing their faith. That in turn has allowed me to grow in my faith. I know I'll always be indebted to them for that, and that I have a responsibility to pay back that debt by continuing to provide help.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I am back - but my heart is still in Malawi - by Mike Gudka

Wow! What an incredible Holy Spirit filled trip. Once again the people of Malawi, particularly those who belong the UMC of Malawi, were so loving and so uplifting that despite their extreme poverty, they lifted me up. I only hope in some small way my presence, work, and words of encouragement and hope lifted them up as well and brought them closer to Christ. It is the relationships that you make that change you, change the other person, and bring us all closer to Christ. I continue to pray for them and work to deepen the relationship between Ankeny First UMC and the Malawi UMC for many years to come. I want to encourage anyone reading this blog to get to Malawi! If you feel the Holy Spirit is guiding you to go, then trust, I mean really trust God, and make plans to join next year's trip. God bless.

Monday, June 29, 2009

We're back! And what a glorious experience it was. Challenging, exhausting, faith expanding, humbling and exhilarating are words that just begin to describe our adventure. After almost 22 hours of air travel (plus layovers) we arrived in Des Moines just before 2:00 PM Sunday with most of our luggage. As all of you discovered, updating the blog was quite a challenge. Most internet access sites closed by late afternoon and we rarely arrived at the hotels before evening or later. We visited churches in villages and worshiped with their members. We conducted bible studies, taught Sunday school and learned more about joyous singing and prayer than we could ever imagine. We hard a presentation from Daniel Mhone, Mission Superintendent of the Malawi UMC, about his dream for a training center for the future growth and success of the Malawi UMC. We worked on a home/church that was in dire need of repair and visited Mzuzu University to learn more about their education system so we can provide scholarships for those most in need. We helped pour a concrete floor in a church that previously had only a dirt floor. It was noted that the new floor would prevent the members from having to wash their close after each service. Malawi is a great contradiction to say the least. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most villages have no electricity or clean water. They have a very poor public transportation system and very few have cars. A bicycle is considered a luxury. Food production depends solely on the amount of rainfall during the rainy season. Having said all that, the people of the Malawi UMC ( and in general, the people of Malawi) are the most amazing, inspiring people you will ever meet. They are hard working, positive, worship with a fervor and joy which is very hard to comprehend. They pray with complete faith and and without hesitation. We will be sharing stories, pictures and videos over the coming months. We will also be offering opportunities for financial support of specific projects. The bottom line, however, is to really understand the country and people of Malawi you must go. I have been there twice now and I continue to be overwhelmed both with joy and sadness. You cannot visit Malawi and not be changed forever. We are so very blessed and we appreciate it so little. We focus on "stuff" and we worship, sing and pray afraid someone might hear us. We confuse heroes with celebrities and "fit in" church activities when we can. Are these exaggerations? Perhaps, but not by much. Can we change to be more like the people of Malawi? Certainly. The task before us is "simple, but hard". Know that your financial support is being spent wisely and as was requested by the Malawi UMC leaders. Your prayer cards were an inspiration to everyone, not just members of the Malawi UMC. Our thank you's will continue but words cannot express our gratitude for your financial support and continuous prayers. The trip was an experience that exceeded expectations by a factor of infinity. The team truly was a team in the largest sense of the word.
Peace to all,
Dennis White

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Monday update

Monday morning is a trip to Sister Witness' house for repairs and renovations. This home also sevres as a church during bad weather so it is actually more than a home repair. We spend the morning hauling bricks up the "driveway" and buckets of water from the borehole up a very very steep hill. Some did better than others. :) The weather is warmer today so we are burning a few calories. Today is also a time of sharing and learning about cultures. After the hard work of the morning we traveled to Lake Malawi for lunch and a little relaxation. The lake looks like the ocean becasue it is so big and the water so blue. A much needed break from the intense experiences so far. Everyone continues to be overwhelmed by our experiences and cannot wait to return home to share. Get ready for lots of pictures and excited discussions. The day ended with some to dinner down the street and some at the hotel. Tuesday was back to the house renovation to carry more water and general "grunt" work to assist the more skilled workers. :) Dennis participated in a healing service for a very sick young member of the household and others shared in learning about woodworking and food preparation. After a brief break we will have bible study and a meeting with their church council. Dinner is an unknown at this point. We continue to be blessed by God on this journey and are already beginning to discuss how we can continue to move forward with this project after we return home. Peace to all.

Mzuzu Sunday (sorry it's Tuesday)

Day began with usual regiment of egg filled breakfast. The group began customary wait for Copeland. Attended Sunday service at Mzuzu chruch. Once again greeted by warm welcome. It was a service full of surprises as Bible study is more like scripture reading than actual q and a. Beth's sunday school was a hit with the children and Dennis and Kelsey's preaching was astounding. Gifts of bowls and jars were given to the group. Pictures of sewing student and encouraging framed letters given from us to them. Then the group left service and handed out heart stickers that could only be described as pure and utter chaos. Group then went to supermarket to pick up supplies for cooking demonstration that afternoon. From there we headed to Copelands house, to begin preparing lunch/dinner. The women were outside preparing Malawi dishes for us. Youth (from both US and Malawi) played soccer (football) in the front lawn. Malawi dishes are all "squishy" mostly mashed and boiled. We prepared sandwiches (huge hit although the idea of meat, bread and vegetables together was foreign) mac n cheese, tuna caserole (ask Arlyn!) pasta salad, pancakes (Dennis mother's special recipe) and french toast. The women of Malawi STACKED their plates full and seemed to enjoy everything. I can't say the same for us, but I do believe we left with a true appreciation of home cooked meals and the idea of eating for sustenence. The group returned to hotel for rest. Majority ate dinner at nearby Indian restaurant, which was fantastice even by American standards. After that, devotions, debriefing and much needed sleep.


Mzuzu Team (the A team)

Picking up where Josiah left off.....

Saturday morning we awoke at the Mimosa Lodge to cold water (except Josiah and Sam) and breakfast of eggs, chips (french fries) and sausage. Thankfully for me there was also cereal -room temperature milk :( and fruit. We loaded the bus (left late - we're on Malawi time now) to visit orphanage and meet the scholarship winners. The Hope Home is for orphans and children with only 1 parent. The children sang and rejoiced (in English too!) and even had a little Bible quiz. In typical fashion points were awarded to teams, but as each team got a correct answer Jesus got 2 points first, then 2 for me and 2 for you followed by laughter, claps and cheers. It was such a blessing as we passed out sandwiches and drinks! We met the tailoring class and were able to see the sewing machines we've provided. Jesus says if you teach a man to fish.... We've been blessed repeatedly that day with fellowship. It is amazing how much is the same and yet at the same time so much is different. We lunched at the University provided by catering/food service students. I will be adding cabbage to salads when I return. Several of us got to visit the market (Josiah, Sam and Arlyn will wear their new shirts soon.) Bartering skills need some fine-tuning! Dinner was at a restaurant in town. Chicken and beef are standards (same as home) and Spaghetti was also offered. Eating has certainly NOT been a concern (although I packed as if I would have to grow/kill/prepare my own meals.) We had debriefing every evening complete with devotions, recap of crazy things and plans for next day. Went to bed tired, but full of God's grace and love. Surely the Lord's presence is in this place!!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Lilongwe Team

Sunday (Lilongwe Team)

We left the lodge at 9:00 to travel out into the bush to worship with Trinity UMC. This little church that looks like a mud hut with a grass roof has about 97 members.

We first entered into three groups. Several went with the children (there were probably about 20 kids) and the men went with the men and the women went with the women. We all had incredible discussions as we shared what it means to be a Christian in the different cultures.

The worship service went on for 3 hours and we marveled at every moment. We sang, we danced, we prayed - I mean really prayed, we heard words of witness, we had a joyous offering, and Mike preached. The most amazing part of the service when people were asked to come forward and receive the Holy Spirit as the team laid hands upon them. They were asked for them to pray for the team to receive the Holy Spirit at the same time. People came forward - men and women; and the children also came forward. It was amazing to see the team bend down to lay hands on the little kids. We also had the opportunity to present most of the prayer squares to the women of Trinity UMC. They feel very fortunate that the women of AFUMC will be praying for them as they will be praying for the women of AFUMC.

Trinity UMC is where Ankeny FUMC has sent money to purchase pigs. The church members are starting to make bricks to make the pig pen, then a member of the church will travel to the village to teach them how to raise pigs, and then they will purchase the pigs. The hope is that as the pigs multiply, each of the church members will receive pairs of pigs to raise them for food and maybe even some for sale.

After worshiping at Trinity UMC we traveled to the parsonage of the circuit pastor Steve Mbwe and his wife Rhoda. There Bruce taught them how to use the Chlorine Generator he brought. This will be a critical part of the church program and most of the people do not have access to safe drinking water. To drill a safe water well with a hand pump costs almost $8,000, but the Chlorine Generator only costs about $300.

After the Generator training, we went into Pastor Steve's house for bible study. We enjoyed entering into their discussion on "What is a Christian" were we explored everything from being born again to people acting like fake Christians.

We traveled back to the Kiboko Lodge, at some dinner, rested.


This was work day. We traveled back to St. Peter's UMC and began to install the new cement floor. The women of the team were asked to join the women of the church to walk about 1 mile each way to get water for the cement. This meant carrying the water buckets on their heads like the village women. Let's just say that the when they arrived at the church, there was less water in the bucket than when they started. They had to make three round trips to get enough water.

The men of the team joined the men of the church to dig out the old and level to the old floor. It was dusty and hard work and we were amazed at their stamina compared to ours. We were able to lay about half of the floor and will return tomorrow to finish the work.

I just cannot put into words what the team is experienced. They are seeing poverty at unbelievable levels, but they are also experiencing God through the joy of these very special people. We are all being changed, the people we meet and the team. Please continue to pray for us as God is being revealed in very special ways. The team is also making very deep friendships with many of the Malawi UMC members. These relationships will be maintained over the years to come.

Also, you can probably tell we are not able to keep up with the blog on a daily basis. This is because we leave very early and get back late. But please know the team is doing well and we will all be very different Christians when we return. The word Malawi means "fire" and I think we will be bringing back some Malawi fire when we return.