Survivor: Life in the Mountains of Malawi

The bags slid across the floor as the big, red truck bounced over the rough terrain, climbing further up the mountain. Lush, green tea plants seemed to stretch for miles on both sides of the dirt road. “This must have been what Eden looked like,” I remember thinking. Just when I thought the road couldn’t go any further, we would lurch and turn onto another path – which seemed even narrower than the first. Finally, two hours into our adventurous ride, we stopped in front of a house high in the mountains and unloaded our bags. The children were already there to meet us and each one carried something down a rocky path where we would be setting up camp. Ready or not, village life was upon us.

For the first three days, I was sick. I was coughing, my throat was sore, and I had feverish chills all through the night – not a super fun combination when you are sleeping in a tent and it’s cold outside and rainy. Add to that an emotional breakdown, and I was a pretty sorry sight. Just ask my team members. I looked and felt like death. Not a promising beginning for this would-be missionary! I had reached my limit physically and emotionally (from a build-up of things occurring over the past 2 months) and felt like I had nothing left to give spiritually. By the third day, I was ready to quit. I talked to my leaders and said I’d decided to leave and recover at the Base in Blantyre. We didn’t have a vehicle and were two hours away from the base, so arranging transport and getting off the mountain weren’t exactly the most convenient options. After crying my eyes out some more…praying…and talking with my leaders, I decided that I really did want to see the experience through for the full 2 weeks and that it wouldn’t be the most healthy thing for me or my team members to pull out and try to conquer all of my emotional battles on my own at the Base.

So I stayed.

And it was a great decision. Because not only was I committing to stick it out, I was choosing to believe that God had a purpose for bringing me to Mankhamba and that His purposes were greater than my comfort. I came to the mountains of Malawi with my team but I felt like in that crucial moment, I was choosing to be there because God had called me there, not merely because I was just going along with the team agenda. I can honestly say that from that point, things started looking up. The next day, I felt miraculously better. My team prayed for healing, I went to bed super early without dinner, and I woke up feeling renewed and refreshed. I was in a place with a purpose and I was filled with a renewed sense of hope the whole day.

The next day, however, was hard again. And the rest of the week was hard. God was dealing with a lot of things in my heart that were stretching. One of my purposes in coming to Africa – and one of my prayers – was that I could learn that God is all-sufficient. I have spent a lot of Sundays singing about how God is all I need, but I felt like I needed to really experience that God is really all I need. And let me tell you…there have been many moments in the past few months when I have felt like I have had nothing but Jesus. And He really, truly is all sufficient. Even though my heart fails and my emotions can deceive, I am learning that He truly does satisfy completely. God spoke a lot to me in the village about having a heart at rest and at peace – themes He began to touch on during my time in Mozambique. I had lots of intimate (tearful) conversations with Jesus in the mountains and by week 2, I had a totally different perspective, was totally content to be there and was amazed at how fast the week flew by. God is faithful!!

So what did we do in the village?

So glad you asked. Our team of eight went into Mankhamba with three Malawian translators   – Patrick, Sue, and Patience – who became our lifelines and our friends. They taught us to cook over a fire, walked for hours to get food for us at the market, and made living in the village so much easier. We stayed at Patrick’s family’s home and shared the yard/cooking area and shower/toilet with two families. They were so gracious to let us share space with them. They each lived in a very small one-room area and we very easily took up the yard and their main living space outside. Though we couldn’t communicate with words, we exchanged lots of smiles and laughter.

Every day, a bunch of kids would come over and just sit with us. If I was reading my Bible on a rock, they would just come sit all around me. I only knew how to say “hello” in their language and only a few of them knew English, so mostly we just sat and smiled at each other and then they taught me songs and games in Chichewa. Twice a week we had organized kid’s ministry. We did a lot of door-to-door visits. We would just go and sit with people and talk to them for a long time and tell them about Jesus and pray with them. Everyone in Malawi is so warm and inviting! The culture here is SO amazing! We were always greeted with smiles and warm welcomes at each home. Kids followed us wherever we went and would often shout “Zungu! Zungu!” (aka “white person). I got to give a short message at an HIV women’s support group and I got to preach this past Sunday at a church in the village. We ministered in 5 different churches over the course of 3 Sundays. In addition to the personal ministry we had during the week, we also dug a foundation for a building for future ministry teams and harvested an entire field of corn (actually maize) and spent hours taking every kernel off of every cob. We got pretty good at it so I’m going to need to see if there is any sort of competition at the county fair for “cobbing,” as we came to call it. 😉

The adventure of village life was quite an unforgettable experience. Our food was pretty darn fresh…my American brother and I killed chickens on the second or third afternoon and had them for dinner (we had fresh chicken a couple of other times after that). Then for our final two days, we bought a goat and killed it (I didn’t watch) and cooked it over the fire. It was AMAZING! We named the goat Supper so we wouldn’t get too attached. 😉 By the time we left, we were all quite accustomed to the squatty potty position. Needless to say, I do not miss our hole-in-the-ground toilet at all. I don’t miss the smell, the flies, or the lack of privacy. I also don’t miss our sticks and rocks “shower” (though I do admit, I’ve never had a better view while getting cleaned up). I learned to appreciate sugarcane as a snack, got used to going to bed when the sun went down and getting up with the sun, and even learned to carry a bucket of water on my head up the mountain (which was only half full and a crazy hard workout). There were so many new experiences that were challenging, but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I am so grateful to have had such a unique experience!

The part that stood out to me the most in the village was the spirit of joy and happiness that the people carried. These Malawians are so very poor. I only ever saw the kids in the same outfits – soiled by dirt and torn from lots of use. They eat simply, have barely any possessions, and have virtually none of the “comforts of home” that are standard in any Western household. But they carried with them more love, joy, and hospitality than many people I have met in the states who have more than enough material things. I was reminded again that material poverty is not the most devastation human condition. I was humbled by the amazing testimonies of the women who are living with HIV. They were so hopeful and continued to praise God for all He has done in their lives. The spirit of worship here absolutely blows me away! I hope to be more like these Malawians in their peace, contentedness, and love for others.

I’m sure there is much more that I could say, but my body became so accustomed to going to bed early that I already feel wiped out and it’s not even 8pm! If you have any questions, feel free to ask! I’d love to answer anything I can. I tried to post pictures but our internet is failing at the moment, so better luck tomorrow. I captured some great moments!!

Again, thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement! They continue to bless and sustain me because our faithful God is listening and has been fueling my heart with the strength to carry on even when I feel so weak and inadequate. Praise the Lord!

Until next time,

-s

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