Saturday, March 31, 2007

Final Reflection on March Mission Trip

I just returned from spending Friday/Saturday at church with my two daughters and their youth group. We were taking part in a “30 Hour Famine” fund-raiser for World Vision and the Y-Malawi fund (which supported CitiHope last year). I really didn’t mind fasting for 30 hours or sleeping in a Sunday School room (at least I had a cot). It was a worthy cause. I got to share my slides of the people of Malawi and their need for food, medicine and fresh water from a well. What joy it was to watch my daughters and their friends get passionate about ending hunger and AIDS in Malawi, and to want to do something about it. This youth group (of about 30-40 kids) raised over $10,000 for hunger relief! Amazing how they were able to articulate the need, get sponsors, and put the funds to good use.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. As the season of Lent draws to a close and the new season of Easter begins, it is time for my March Travel Blogs to be filed in the achives. (if you want to read all the Travel Blogs, go to the Archives and click on March).

A month ago I invited you to join me on this Lenten journey of travel and reflection on the Malawi mission project which has occupied my time this sabbatical year (See invitational Blog posted on Feb. 28). It is gratifying to know that an average of 300 read my Blog each week with a total of over 1900 visits to the site. As an obsessive writer in search of a public, it motivates me to continue this public journal. So, before turning my attention to an April trip to Korea, I offer this final reflection on my March Mission Trip to Malawi.

I don’t know why this third visit affected me more deeply than my two previous trips to Malawi. I saw again what I saw before: extreme poverty and AIDS; warm and happy people who accept the way life is; human resilience and spiritual resources that carry folks through. It is so inspiring to see how willing people are to take in orphans and abandoned children and become their guardians and care-givers. It is not uncommon for a nuclear family of five to become an extended foster family of 15, even though they cannot afford to feed ten orphans and support them through school. Remarkably, these caregivers and guardians find a way to survive. These experiences were not new to me on this trip.

What got to me this time were four particular encounters where I witnessed obvious need and the difference food and medical aid is making in peoples lives:

1) The prisoners at Nkata prison gave us a super warm welcome when we visited them one afternoon. Neglected by those outside the prison walls,and denied basic human rights (the current administration in Malawi says that convicted criminals have forfieted there human rights), they were so grateful for our visit. Simple gifts of soap, soup, toothpaste and toothbrushes were so deeply apreciated, I was unsettled by what I take for granted. They listened intently as we shared gospel message of hope, smiled a lot,sang songs with us and prayed with us. Amazing! If a group of ten visitors walked into a prison in the United States, there would likely be an uprising, and possibly hostage-taking, not prayers and songs.

2) A dozen AIDS patients at Mzuzu Central Prison were segregated in the yard. Five men who were sick or dying from AIDS, were confined to a small room, untreated, on huddled on the floor.

3) We vistited other HIV patients at the Rainbow AIDS Clinic at Mzuzu Central Hospital, waiting to be seen by a doctor. There we meet and prayed with them outside as they prepared for their AIDS test or ARV drug treatment. How warm and welcoming they were and receptive to our interest and attention. I prayed with a woman who said she was a merchant, but could not afford to buy enough nutritional to make her ARV treatment effective.

4) Orphans at a nursery school located far into the bush where few if any foreigners travel, were waiting for us when we arrived. I saw first-hand what a dramatic difference our nutritional food aid program makes for these 300 kids. The village chief and volunteer teachers practically begged us to continue sending them the high-protein vegetable soup mix, and not to forget them. I cannot describe the full experience of entering a remote village and meeting hundreds of kids whose nutritional needs were being met by CitiHope, who otherwise would eat only a starchy maize paste without nutrition, and thus remain malnourished.

Beyond these encounters of providing daily bread and raising hope, I experienced the profound gratification of organizing the PACCT event and seeing the delight of those who benefited from the AIDS training program (see previous blogs).

But mostly, what made this trip different than the others, was feeling the full burden of responsibility to somehow continue the relief and development programs that CitiHope began.

I have been entrusted with a program budget to manage and a need to raise $350,000/yr this year for CitiHope Malawi. If successful, our efforts will literally save 10,000 lives—AIDS orphans, hospital patients, school children and prisoners. I feel uniquely gifted and equipped for this kind of work, and spiritually called to the task. Many others have joined me (you’ve read some of their reflections) and together, we are making a difference.

In the words of Mother Teresa, “we’re doing something beautiful for God.” More accurately, God is doing something beautiful in Malawi and we have the awesome privilege of participating in God’s good work. “All we do for God only amounts to a drop in the ocean of need,” Mother Teresa said. “But without that drop, we would be missed.”

I know the work of God will continue. I know that those of us who went on the March Mission Trip are forever changed by the experience. And I know that I will return to Malawi with other mission groups in the coming months and years. I am humbled by such a privilege, and overjoyed to be called to mission in Malawi “for such a time as this.”

Thank you for taking this journey with me, offering your prayers and support, and doing your own work for God in your unique place of ministry and service.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Don Wahlig's Photos and Reflection

Certainly the highlight of the trip for me was the experience of sharing my faith and a gospel lesson with prisoners at Nkata Prison.

Thank you, Gabriel and Dennis, CitiHope Malawi staff and our wonderful hosts for our mission trip!

As is so often God's way, this life-changing opportunity to help lead our wonderful group to Malawi seemingly came out of the blue. It soon became clear that God had a transforming experience in store for all of us!

For a team of 10 folks who didn't know each other well at the start, we sure bonded in a hurry. (Dennis, Trin & Mo - Fryball, anyone? 8>)

Before leaving, friends and family expressed a sense of fear, bordering on dread, for the despair and devastation they (and I) assumed we would meet in Malawi. "It will be so hard to see that," they often said. Well, they were right, but not in the way they thought.
Our first day with the kids at the day care center run by the Presbyterian Church in Mzuzu, St. Andrews Church. What fun!

This set the stage for the jarring contrasts which soon became the hallmark of the entire trip: joyous, hope-filled kids in the care of make-shift families and volunteer-run day care centers & orphanages struggling against malnutrition and the ever-present spector of HIV.

This shot pretty much sums up the trip experience for me: look closely at the picture. The kids are munching away on the USAID food which CitiHope delivers (and Martha hands out!) to help them stave off hunger another day. Do you see anything peculiar in the background? Those wooden boxes, perhaps? Yup -- they are coffins, products of one of Malawi's top-three industries. The kids play, sing and laugh in front of them, oblivious (or reconciled) to the fact that they or any one of their friends may be in them before long. Now, how's that for a contrast?

And here's the thing that struck us: how warm, faith-filled, hopeful and even jubilant the people of Malawi are! Despite the disease, despite the poverty, despite the death, reminders of which are everywhere as this picture shows, they greeted us everywhere with dancing and singing. We felt like rock stars going into to each village, everyone wanting to touch us, to take their picture. Dennis and I were even presented with a live chicken! (Michael said it was tasty ...)

And how to describe the sheer joy that we experienced at worship in Livingstonia, the compound created by legendary Scottish missionary, Robert Laws?

And bringing soup and soap to prisoners, hungry for both food and gospel. Will I ever be able to top the experience of preaching on the Loaves and Fishes as they sat in rapt attention? (A captive audience, I know!) Thanks to God and the team for making this call-affirming experience possible!

We saw the face of AIDS and innocent suffering in Malawi. It was hard to miss. But, we saw something even more powerful, still: the power of faith and hope. Upon reflection, that is what made our experience so impactful. Experiencing daily the emotional poles of life and death, joy and despair, may take some time to process. But this I know for sure: Christ calls us -- all of us -- to be in the midst of this struggle. Matthew 25 tells us we are to see Christ in the faces of "the least of these" and to treat them as Jesus. The first step is a step of the heart. Wanna come?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Josie's Photos and Reflection

Nearly two weeks have passed since our team returned from Malawi. So many memories come to mind, but there are four images of the people that have found their place in my heart:

We, the CitiHope team, were the first “white people” this girl had ever seen. She lives in the Village of Nkhwali, located in the middle of a rubber tree forest in Malawi. CitiHope delivers food to the Nkhwali Nursery School. Her sense of wonderment and delight is obvious in her eyes.

In the smoky, outdoor kitchen of Nhkata prison in Malawi, a young man steps close to me and says softly, “Please, Lady, take my picture”. I nod in agreement and motion for him to step away from the dense smoke. He went into a posed position. I took his picture, then showed him his instant image on my tiny digital screen. As he looked at his picture, his countenance changed to one of relief and a peacefulness of sorts. He responded, “Thank you, Lady”.

The simplicity of an image . . . the looking for some assurance that ones-self is okay, has meaning, significance . . . don’t we all do that to some extent? I don’t know this young man’s story, why he is in prison, but you can tell by looking into his eyes that he has experienced much in his life, undoubtedly not what he has hoped for, and certainly not what could be his potential. I can’t help but wonder what his gifts, talents and intelligence level are that he will probably never realize, and consequently that the world will never recognize of him.

Lillian has had AIDS for seven years and is receiving ARV drug treatment.
After her husband died of AIDS, she became an AIDS activist. She is also chairwoman of the Livingstonia Synod AIDS Program, a facilitator of the first CitiHope Women’s PACCT Seminar, and an incredible mother to seven HIV/AIDS children.

Lillian’s portrait speaks volumes of her determination to survive and accomplish against all odds. The lime-green outfit Lillian has on in this picture looked stunning on her and I kept telling her so throughout the day. Lillian ended up giving me this outfit -- such an incredibly generous gift! The outfit won’t look nearly as nice on me as it did her. More importantly, I couldn't help but consider that I doubt I could wear the amazing courage she has and exhibits with such dignity.

These amazing, confident, strong, smart women will be influencing communities, challenging myths and imparting knowledge following the 3-day educational PACCT Seminar on HIV/AIDS. CitiHope was blessed to have HIV/AIDS specialist, Dr. Andy Gaston and Dr. Joseph Yu, who live and work in Malawi, presenting the information.

Dr. Christensen wanted the three-day PACCT Women’s Seminar to one of pampering these special women. CitiHope provided lodging and meals for all 28 selected women. Some came from far distances by walking, taking crowded buses, any form of transportation they could find. One lady left her home at 3 AM on Sunday and arrived at 4 PM that afternoon. She was very tired and so relieved not to have to go find wood to build a fire to cook supper, but in fact, could go to the dining room at the hotel and be served a lovely meal.

Each day the women were given donated gifts from American companies: pajamas, neck scarves, undergarments, lip glosses and perfumes. We were told that these products would cost a year’s salary in Malawi. Thank you Amiee Lynn, Blair Corp., Maybelline and Potomac Sales. (Special thanks also to Burlington for the diaper bags and baby bottles given to new mothers at the maternity ward at Mzuzu Hospital.)

Because of the powerful influence of religion in Malawi, women from several different denominations were selected as representatives for this conference. The first morning of the seminar you could sense the women were a little shy, unsure as to what was going to be presented and what their participation would be. However, by the end of the seminar, they were no longer divided by denominational barriers, but instead, united in feeling empowered to and change the face of devastation HIV/AIDS has had on their country.

The U.S. team of volunteers have now returned to their daily lives in America. You’ve read in Michael’s blog how their lives will never be the same from what they experienced in Malawi.

As a CitiHope staff member, I want to thank each volunteer for what their individual personalities and gifts brought to the trip: Don Wahlig, for his coordinating the team from start to finish, his infectious smile, uplifting laugh, and always positive attitude. Rev. Clarissa Holland, for her demeanor of confidence and ability to give a “word fitly spoken” whatever the situation. Libby Holland, for her incessant and contagious enthusiasm, along with her desire to know and understand the culture. Dennis McQuerry, for his ability to instantly connect with anyone he met. Trinity Webb, for the humbleness of his spirit and flexibility to go and do whatever was needed. Monique Webb, “the nurse”, for repeatedly showing her caring spirit, and giving fabulous “how to brush your teeth” demonstrations at the orphanages and prisons. Martha Cavazos and Kristen Albo, for the genuine joy that was so transparent on their beautiful faces as they met the people of Malawi, especially the children.

I want to also take this opportunity to acknowledge Dr. Christensen for his vision for PACCT. He is highly respected and deeply appreciated. His burden for and dedication to the people of Malawi is keenly evident wherever he goes. His sensitivity to the culture and traditions, and his ability to blend the many factors into a way forward, reveal his knowledge, wisdom, inspiration and love is for this important work.

Josie Dittrich is Special Assistant to the President of CitiHope International, Public Relations specialist, television producer, missionary, entertainment/singer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Martha's Questions

all right, more than a week has passed since we returned from Malawi, and i'm ready to give this whole reflection thing a whirl.

you know, it's really funny. actually hilarious. normally when i come home from mission trips or any other life completing trip for that manner (read: anything from a band trip to cruise) i am FLIPPING OUT. like can't stop talking about it, breathing it, living it, missing it like CRAZY. but man oh man, this africa trip has proven me totally wrong.

because honestly, i came home on friday sooo excited to see my friends. just so excited to show them pictures, to tell them stories; though more than anything, just really excited to get back to life. and i wasn't really thinking much about africa. more about wrapping myself back up in senior year. and i did that quite successfully.
out with my friends the next night handing out my little tokens for them- a rubber ball, a broom, ostirch jerky, wooden feet- showing them the rainbow bus, etc. but now a week later, i've stopped handing out gifts. they're all still piled up in my room and i don't feel much like handing them out anymore. why?

came back to school on monday (rockin' the mo skirt and my "i love africa" shirt of course!) and i was just beyond excited to be back. but it's just so bizarre- i just don't find myself talking about it with the same kind of passion and nostalgia i normally would. i mean don't get me wrong; this trip completely changed me, inspired me and everything and i would go back to that week in apx .2 seconds but i just. i don't know. i'm living in two worlds.

i think my problem is i'm too passionate. like, maybe i love life too much. there's just so much of me here, in new jersey. at my high school. with my friends. in this GLORIOUS spring weather. freaking out about prom, band trips, everything that ='s the end of senior year.

then i'm still there in malawi. i'm still there sticking my tongue out at the little kids while dennis is praying. i'm definitely still singing this little light of mine after being completely BLOWN away by some little AIDS orphans screaming whatever it was. i'm positive i'm still giving out high fives, dancing with little girls, serving the meals, taking pictures, smiling, smiling, smiling at everyone.
and then i still have absolutely no idea what i lived.

i'm thinking that about 5 months from now, i'm going to wake up, it's going to slap me in the face. and the next day i'll get on a plane on go back. but for now, oh for now. for now it'll just pop back into my head. random flashbacks of little kids eating their only meal with coffins while i have my huge fuddruckers burger after school. me looking at prom dresses that cost $200 while that money could easily support an AIDS orphan. where are my priorities? where are our priorities? what now? what do i do? i'm so lost in two worlds that i'm just at a lost of what to do.

what do we do? what can i do?

last night there was a beautiful sunset. i was driving, made a turn and it just caught me. i was in the car with my two friends and i completely went insane. DO YOU SEE THAT SUNSET?!?!?! yes martha, it's pretty cool. THAT REMINDS ME OF AFRICA!!!!!!!! and well, needless to say, they didn't know how to react. the sunsets in america will never replace that one we all witnessed on the bus ride back to lillongwe on our journey home. for me, that sunset captured it all. all of it's glory sprawled across the sky. the beauty of the trip. and last night's when it hit me. that's when i was positive africa would never escape me. because there's just always something that brings me back. that jolts me for a second as i'm stuck in my two worlds. it grounds me. and i've never thanked God so much in my life before.

throughout the whole trip, (starting from the airplane ride over and ending on our flight back) i always looked for o'ryan's belt in the sky at night. i look for it here almost every night. the stars are the same here in america as they are in malawi. as they are in dakar. in south africa. in everywhere. we are all the same in this one big world. we are all connected.

so, what do we do? what do I do?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dennis McQuerry's reflection

I thought a lot about "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" while I was in Malawi. Ten days in a land of scarcity. Most of the people in that part of Africa operate on the lowest levels of that hierarchy -- focusing on obtaining drinkable water, food and shelter. And yet, everywhere we went, the people welcomed us with singing -- and joyful singing, at that.

This is in spite of the fact that the third largest industry in the country is the manufacture and sale of coffins. And the fact that 20% of children don't survive past the age of 5. And the fact that 14% of the population have HIV/AIDS. And the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of orphans -- many of whom have HIV. I could go on, but you get the point that there are stark realities in the country. Still, those whose lives are characterized by such loss and need and pain expressed great joy for our visits. And after what I've seen of the people there, it's no wonder that Malawi is called "the warm heart of Africa."

Returning to my nice big comfortable home in the US, I can't shake the notion that my life is no richer than theirs, in spite of all my riches. Most of us in America have lives that are characterized by the things we own. In fact, owning things is what Americans do best -- we invest most of our lives in the pursuit things. After all, our "stuff" is what defines us. In Malawi, since nobody seems to have much of anything, they are who they are, not what they own. This, of course, challenges my American way of life and identity.

Throughout our trip, my mind kept turning to Matthew 25:40 -- "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" What response can we, as Christians, make in the face of such overwhelming need? Or on a more personal level, what does God require of me? There are many opportunities for involvement, and I'm confident that The Lord will show me how best to invest my time and gifts as I pursue His will. In the meantime, John Wesley's words are an appropriate guide for all of us:

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can."

Dennis McQuerry is a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Lab where he specializes in ‘visualization-based techniques for the analysis of large datasets of unstructured text.’ He is married to Maureen McQuerry, a writer and educator. They have two children -- a daughter in an MFA program in Creative Writing at ASU, and a son who is a senior at Whitworth College in Spokane. They are members of West Side Presbyterian Church in Richland, WA.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Clarissa's Holy Moments in Malawi

It had been years since I had attended a chapel service at Drew Theological School. A seminary student invited me to chapel in December during World AIDS Week to hear a Children’s Choir from Uganda sing and Dr. Michael Christensen speak about Global AIDS. He invited volunteers to go on a mission trip with him to Malawi in March, and much to my surprise I found myself calling him later for additional information.

In March my 13-year-old daughter Libby and I were headed to Malawi. I wanted her to see firsthand the daily challenges many people face just to survive, and to learn that there can be joy in struggle.

During our two weeks in Malawi, Libby learned more about joy, hope, faith, and Christian community than many people learn in a lifetime. Everyone we met, whether in Orphan Care Centers, hospitals, or prisons, expressed gratitude for our being there to learn about the joys and challenges of the people living in Malawi.

I was especially moved at Nkhata Bay Prison where over 100 men are housed together in small rooms with cement walls and floors. There is no furniture and only one toilet. I did not see a sink. Their few belongings were hung on the walls in small plastic bags. We were told that they had to sleep sitting up because there was not enough space for them to lie down. We delivered soup, toothpaste and tooth brushes to the prisoners. We also reminded them that the fortified vegetable soap they eat was provided by the United States and delivered by CitiHope; and that the gifts we brought today were a reminder that God and the world had not forgotten them. We concluded our time together by praying for them and singing “Amazing Grace.” The prisoners responded by singing an African song to us. One prisoner prayed the most wonderful prayer, asking God to bless us. It truly was a holy moment.

We had many holy moments throughout the mission trip. I would encourage others to visit Malawi to see what God is doing in Africa. Also, I would like those who support CitiHope to know that I was impressed by what responsible stewards they are of the resources that they distribute. This is the first time that I saw a model for ministry that encouraged ‘mutuality’ rather than ‘entitlement’. I am looking forward to using this model in the local church. I plan to share with my congregation what I have learned about the root causes of poverty in Africa. I also hope to help others understand that children of God are suffering from AIDS in Africa.

Rev. Clarissa Holland is Pastor of the New Vernon United Methodist Church in New Jersey, where she also acts as chaplain at her local fire department. Clarissa participated in mission work in Haiti, which gave her an appreciation for the challenges involved in trying to improve the day-to-day life of folks in impoverished communities, as well as the hope and joy that Jesus Christ can bring to them. She looks forward to sharing this mission experience with her daughter, Libby.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Libby’s Letter to her Jr. School Principal

Dear Mrs. Hodges,

I was in Africa as you know for around two weeks. During those two weeks I have changed dramatically. The way I look at myself and other people now is very different. Our team visited hospitals, jails, nursery care centers, orphan care centers, places for those with disabilities and churches.

When we went to the first hospital I found it repulsive. The smell was rancid and fowl. My opinion is that if it was here in America it wouldn’t pass the health codes. They don’t have enough supplies to keep it clean.

All the women in the maternity ward stayed in one room (after they had their baby or babies). This room was a little bigger than one of our classrooms. In that one large room many women had their children with them, except one woman. That woman had lost her baby and still had to stay in the same room. She sat in between two women who had had twins. The woman’s face was filled with sadness. Josie, one of the members of the team, said a prayer for her during her time of need. The woman was still very sad but I think that she was happy that someone had actually took the time to pray to God for her.

We brought diaper bags with us for the mothers and their babies, but we hadn’t known that a one woman lost her child. The poor woman must have been in so much agony because she was watching as we handed out diaper bags to all the other mothers and the excited look on their faces as they received them. So when we got back to the lodge at night and debriefed we decided that we would send this woman a woven shawl which was all we had left. I was happy that we could give this woman a small token of our sorrow for her.

We also asked the women what they had named their babies and they shook their heads. I wondered why and asked someone why. They said “because they haven’t named their babies yet. That’s what they meant.” Then I had learned that they wouldn’t name their babies until a couple weeks after their birth in fear that they may die. Many women lose their babies within a few days after giving birth.

Later in the week we went to another hospital where there was an HIV clinic. Inside we saw how many people got tested for AIDS or were there to receive treatment. At least 14% of people in Malawi have HIV, but those are the ones who get tested. Many people don’t want to get tested and don’t know they have AIDS.

At the clinic we talked with this woman named Mercy who shared with us her story. Her husband and her two younger kids were HIV positive. They had gotten tested and were getting treatment because they had experienced symptoms and when tested they tested positive. Then, she told us that she had two other kids at home whose ages were 11 and 13. They had not yet been tested for AIDS because they had no symptoms. She said that one day she hopes that they will get tested so she can see if they have it or not. We gave her a gift of a baby bag for her younger child so she could carry what she needed in it. Then afterward we asked her if we could pray for her and she said yes. At the end she kept saying to us “God Bless You”. I was so sad for her that her two children had AIDS. Outwardly you can’t tell. When they have HIV they just look like any other child and yet they have this serious illness. I said to her and numerous times “ May God Bless you and your children.” She was very happy that all of us who were around her kept saying this and praying for her. We told her right before we left that our church would pray for her and that we personally would also pray for her. She had a smile on her face when we were leaving. It was a great moment.

Another place we visited was a prison. Actually we went to two prisons. We brought the prisoners soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Then Don (a member of the team) went over to them and told them about us. He also told them what we were doing there and a story from the bible. When we went into their living quarters they were so small. They fit around a hundred fifty men, maybe more, in a room a little bigger than our classrooms. They weren’t able to lie down at night but had to curl up and lay against each other. There were two of these rooms and that’s where around the 300 plus men sleep.

In the prison there were many men but only around 7 guards. That really scared me because many had come in for rape or murder. Most likely they hadn’t seen women in a long time and that made me nervous, especially when we prayed. The guards would close their eyes and the men didn’t. I kept my eyes open and saw that the men were looking at us. It was very scary because I felt like there could be an uprising. After a while I got used to it and thought that God would take care of us and didn’t worry as much. When we left the men sang to us with the most beautiful voices!!! I was amazed that although they were in jail they had such good spirits and the voices were sung from the soul!!!!!

At one of the jails we saw the women. They had terrible living conditions. The floor of the place where they stayed was dirt and outside it was all dirty and muddy. The place where they cooked was just in the ground covered by soot and ash and not at all sanitary. Three women had babies and all they had to drink was soda and water which was most likely not sanitary. It was depressing to see them and how tattered their clothes were and yet how happy they were when we came. When we went to the jail we gave the women some blush, lip gloss, toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap. Their faces lit up like light bulbs. They lit up because this was something that they could call their own. Most of the women had probably never owned a toothbrush because it was a luxury that they couldn’t afford. Then afterwards we prayed for all of them and gave them hugs. They may have been in prison but they were sure peaceful and grateful for what we did. It made me fill up inside that they were so happy.

Another place we visited was a Nursery Care Center . It was so nice and the people so kind. The little children sang to us. It was so amazing. They brought chairs out for us to sit down on and many of us took them on our laps and one even fell asleep on Trinity’s lap (team member). When I took pictures of the kids they would nudge my hand after because they wanted to see themselves. When I showed them their pictures they would jump up and down scream or run in circles. They were just so excited.
Dennis and Clarissa (team members) read to them from the bible with a translator. We brought some crayons and paper to the children and gave it too the teachers to distribute at anytime that they felt was necessary. I feel it will go to very good use. We also gave them toothbrushes to brush their teeth. Monique taught them how to do it right with her own toothbrush and toothpaste. Many kids here had not seen a toothbrush and didn’t know how to use it. You should’ve seen the look on there cute little faces! So sweet and precious nothing can get as good as seeing their faces. Before we left we presented them with a children’s bible that they could read. To receive a bible, I believe , is so very important.

Another place that we went to was FOMCO where there were many orphans. When we first when into the room I noticed this little girl who had a cut above her ankle. She kept picking at it, and the flies kept landing in it and I felt so sad for her. When she kept picking at it the scab fell off and I felt deeply sorry. She was just so cute and yet she had this cut that would most likely get infected.

They sang to us and their voices were amazing. After that we sang to them “This little light of mine” which they REALLY enjoyed. Afterward we passed out paper, crayons, pencils and markers ,giving one to each child. They had most likely not gotten this before. In the classroom there was no paper. The teachers only taught them verbally. The place that they were in was a little room not even half the size of one of our classrooms. It was devastatingly small and over 150 kids were in it. The people who run it said it hadn’t been built to well and that at any moment it could fall down. I found that deeply disturbing because that was their school room and probably one of the only places that provided shelter over their heads. [It was raining hard when we were there, and we left a donation for the repair of the roof that leaked water.]

After seeing the classroom, we went into another room where we fed them their lunch. This meal would be the only meal that they got that day. What they eat is like gruel. It’s called soup but is really a feeding supplement. They mix it with maze (corn) and make it thicker and have more of it to eat. One of the kids wouldn’t eat, but then my mother fed her the food and she ate it, every last bite. Michael (one of our team leaders) was feeding this one girl her food with a spoon which was just so cute because many of them were so helpless. These kids were so young and had to learn how to use spoons so much earlier than normal because no one was there to feed them individually.

In the feeding room there were coffins. I was so surprised when I saw coffins for little children and adults. What saddened me the most is probably around half the children by next year will be in one of those coffins.

Later in the day we had a soccer game with the FOMCO youth. It was a really good game and for the first half we didn’t let them score, but in the end they beat us. It was a good game and really fun. The children on the sidelines laughed hysterically when we made our moves. After the game we all shook hands and said “good game.” One boy shook my hand, and wouldn’t let go. Then he said “Can I have you shirt?” I said hold on one second. Then I ran over to Dennis and was saying “HE WANTS MY SHIRT!! WHAT SHOULD I DO?” The boy came over again and I hid behind Dennis and after a while he stopped bothering me.

One of the last places we went to a place for those with disabilities. The hut they had was around the size of an office in our school. The people told us that they had thought we had ignored them [in not bringing them food] because of their disabilities. But, that wasn’t true. We hadn’t gone because we didn’t know that they were there. What is truly amazing is that those who have disabilities take care of the orphans! They don’t let their physical problems get in the way of helping other people who need it. That was just amazing. I couldn’t believe how spirit filled they were even though their conditions were terrible. The people who ran it also tried to send the orphans to school with money from their own pockets. School there is very expensive. When we left all the team members said “We have to start sending supplies there. They really need the help.”

On Sunday we went to three churches. They were little huts with absolutely nothing to them but a loving and heart filled congregation. I was surprised by how loud and beautiful their singing was. We also met several church youth groups. They enjoyed learning about America. They had imagined it very differently than the way we explained it. They also laughed when we told them about what we thought Africa was like. We gave them soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and hard candy. They were so happy! They smiled and whenever we gave it to them they would kind of bow their heads and say thank you. No one in our school would do that for those types of things!!!! How lucky we are here and we don’t even realize it!

The place where we heard the best singing was at the school for those who were blind or visually impaired. They sang beautifully with their voices and were respectful of whatever we had to say. They would listen to us and when we told them what we had brought for them, I saw one girl crying and overjoyed at the thought of a toothbrush. Monique had to explain how to use a toothbrush by words instead of showing because they couldn’t see. Before we were about to leave we said a prayer for all the people who were there and all those that we saw. It was so moving I could’ve cried. The joy on their faces was enough to fill my soul up for a lifetime! In the future I hope to do this again.

I have been changed by what I saw and experienced. People in our school eat a tremendous amount of food per day. They eat two lunches, a muffin, cookies, etc and these people have nothing and have better spirits. Now, when I eat my three meals a day I think of those who only get one meal a day of much less quality. I feel bad every time I see someone throw away some new shoes that just got muddy because those people have no shoes for their feet.

Many people in our school could not do this. They are just so happy to get a new hundred dollar shirt when these people only make a dollar a day and are happy to receive a toothbrush. They live under harsh conditions and yet have more of a need to learn then EVERYONE AT OUR SCHOOL! Those people live in nothing but a small hut with maybe a blanket on the floor but mostly not anything else. The people in our school live in these huge mansions compared to their houses, compared to my house, and yet they aren’t satisfied. All they want is more more more! They want another pair of shoes, a hundred dollar belt, anything pricey and outrageous. These people all they want is a toothbrush something they can consider their own! A TOOTHBRUSH!! A LUXURY!! And do the people in our school care? No. all they care about is getting all they want all the time.

The prisoners that we saw I would like you to know are better behaved then our school kids. The prisoners are in the prisons for rape, theft, murder and other punishable deeds and yet they still respect you. They are quiet when you speak and don’t say a word. They don’t mumble behind your back a bad word or something that makes them all laugh at a joke about you. The people there who live under such harsh conditions are more well behave then those who have WONDERFUL conditions!!!

Since I came back I have been changed. My life, my perspective, everything. When you come back to people who don’t understand and won’t listen, it’s painful. I got great joy by helping those children who have nothing. While there we may have big spiders, rooms with bed bugs, mosquitoes with malaria, but I don’t care. Those people are more important than anything I own. My life goal will be to help those people. This is why I am writing this letter.

I would like to ask you for help. I am with CitiHope International and am asking you for help. If our school could collect money, yarn, knitting needles, pencils and other things (I can write up a list) it would help a lot. It would make a small difference in these people’s lives, the lives of people who care for the smallest amount of generosity, the smallest amount of a prayer. Please Mrs. Hodges, let me ask the student body if they would help collect these items for the school.

I hope someday to be able to go back to Africa and help them once again. It has given me great joy for these people and hope that they will survive. Africa was so moving and Malawi is definitely the warm heart of Africa.

Libby Holland is 13, and in the 7th grade. Coming as she does from a family with several ministers, Libby is compassionate, prayerful, fun-loving and creative. And she’s a good writer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

True Religion is Love-in-Action

As I reflect on our mission trip, my earlier reflection on "breaking the cycle of dependency" became a little clearer to me. CitiHope’s approach to relief and development ministry in Malawi is distinctive, because it is faith-based, collaborative, and inspired by the way Jesus feed hungry people (John 6) and healed those who were sick (John 9), revealing three core values and seven principles of love-in-action.

Here they are in outline form:

1. What we do as staff and volunteers comes out of a heart of compassion:

• “Let your heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
• “God looks down with compassion on the arena of human struggle and takes sides.”

2. We show your faith by our actions:

• Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength, and neighbor as self.” (Jesus of Nazareth)
• ‘Salvation is a matter of grace through faith, not of works’ (Paul, a disciple of Jesus)
• Faith without works is dead.” (James, the brother of Jesus)
• “The only Gospel most people will ever read is the Gospel written on your life.” (St Francis)
• You express your love for God by how you treat the least of these (Mother Teresa).
• “Find a need and fill it. Find out what God is doing in the world and join it.” (Bob Pierce)
• “We’re called not to debate words of Jesus but to do the works of Jesus” (Ralph Winter)
• “You will do even greater works than I” (Jesus)
• “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something… Do the thing that is in front of you.” (Mother Teresa)

3. We intentionly call forth faith and resources from those we wish to help, so that ministry is mutual and participatory

• “Little is much when God is in it” is the gospel principle
Available resources can be leveraged and multiplied
7 loaves and 2 fishes = perfect number

These core values lead to seven principles of love-in-action:

1. Many developing countries are aid dependent on NGO resources and International Debt reduction, which in turn encourages social lethargy, civil ineffectiveness and sometimes political corruption.

2. NGOs, like CitiHope, can either reinforce dependency it by further relief work, or move toward sustainable community development through resource mobilization and leveraging.

3. Authentic partnerships (international and domestic) are required to break the cycle of dependency.

4. True partnership requires needs assessment and resource assessment. "I have gifts to offer and receive and you have gifts to offer and receive." When the resources flow one way to meet the needs, it creates an un-level playing field between the 'haves' and the 'have nots.' Jesus did not feed the 5,000 with food aid from his global NGO. He saw that the crowd was hungry and he first asked them: "What do you have to offer?" They were able to find among themselves 'five loaves and two fish' for a total of 7 food products within the community. Seven is the perfect number. It was enough. In the hands of Jesus, the available resources were leveraged and multiplied...enough to feed 5,000 hungry people on the hillside (Mark 6:30-44). "The best partnerships," says Rev. Levi,” is when I don't carry you and you don't carry me."

5. Mutuality in ministry is walking side by side. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, side by side, without adequate provision, so that they could depend on each other. Mutuality in ministry is evident in how the disciples were sent without a money bag or extra coat. In this way they would make themselves mutually dependent on the hospitality and protection of those they sought to help. This is "reverse mission." (Mark 6:12)

6. Humanitarian assistance and charitable aid programs should be offered to the most vulnerable and at risk, not to the masses. Life and death matters require basic aid and take priority over development programs.

7. Sustainable development requires authenticity, mutuality, transparency and empowerment.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mission Accomplished!

Here's a summary of our March Malawi Mission Goals and Objectives fulfilled:

Goal #1: Provided practical help, offered relational support, and raised hope for the future in northern Malawi through humanitarian assistance, relational/recreational activities and service projects with vulnerable children, youth and extended families in some of the 40 social service and medical institutions supported by CitiHope International.

Goal #2: Provided leadership and resources for implementation of PACCT program by hosting and facilitating CitiHope’s second curriculum development workshop (PACCT II) for selected women in leadership roles (pastors’ wives, guild leaders, lay leaders) and continued process of developing curriculum for training manual.

Objectives: Engaged in daily mission activities with CitiHope staff and ministry partners focused on food security, medical aid, HIV/AIDS training in congregations, HopeHomes for AIDS orphans, and a village well community development project.

In fulfilling these goals and objectives, our mission group of 10 plus two local staff was divided into three teams, each focused on a number of objectives. The teams interacted and came together on many days to mutually fulfill some objectives. Total community-based organizations visited: 17. Total beneficiaries: 1700+

Team A (Michael, Josie and Gabriel) focused on facilitating PACCT II at Mphatso Motel and Conference Center.

Team B (Clarissa, Libby, Kristen, Martha and Dennis) focused on the mutual encouragement and relational support of children and youth (and physically disabled) in the distribution of hygiene kits, school supplies, recreational materials and other donated products for selected beneficiary institutions in CitiHope’s network.

Team C (Don, Dennis, Trinity and Monique) visited Livingstonia over a weekend, engaged in relational support for the Presbyterian mission, and assessed a village well proposed project.

All three teams visited hospital wards, AIDS clinics, orphan care centers, nursery schools, prisons and churches for relationship building and ‘reverse mission’.

Specific team activities and accomplishments included:

1. Assembled and distributed 1000 hygiene kits using products donated by Colgate-Palmolive, knitting materials supplied by United Methodists, recreational supplies and other donated products to three orphan care centers, three schools, three hospitals, two prisons, and two community-based organizations (a school for the blind and a center for persons with disabilities), which have or will receive food aid.

2. Offered pastoral care and useful products (diaper bags, baby bottles, hygiene supplies, etc) to expectant mothers, recent mothers and HIV patients in three hospital wards and clinics.

3. Helped to feed over 500 orphans (toddlers thru teenagers) their daily meal, and led them in recreational, artistic and educational activities.

4. Presented FOMCO (orphaned) youth with specially-designed soccer shirts and shorts, and challenged them to a soccer match (Team CitiHope lost).

5. Assessed two village well projects for CitiHope and Hopegivers to consider in Mosanto and Kamphenda (Samaritan Wells?)

6. Conducted 3-day PACCT curriculum development workshop for 25 women in leadership roles in Presbyterian, Methodist and Assembly of God churches in northern Malawi.

7. Visited historic Livingstonia--the 19th century Scottish Presbyterian mission work of David Livingstone and Robert Laws, toured the hospital and observed current mission programs; led Bible study with students attending University of Livingstonia; preached at the Livingstonia Presbyterian Church and delivered official greetings from Central Presbyterian Church in Summit (Don Wahlig).

8. Attended Mzuzu UMC, preached (Rev. Christensen) and delivered official greetings from UMC of Green Village (Rev. Clarissa Holland.

9. Attended St Andrews Presbyterian Church, preached (Rev. Christensen), and prayed pastor and elders.

10. Met and interacted with youth at Kang’ona Church, United Methodist Church, Viyele Church and Livingstonia church.

See previous Travel Blogs for more details.

Specific CitiHope outcomes:

1. Confirmed reception of proportional share of 75MT of USAID emergency food product at selected beneficiary institutions.

2. Finalized PACCT II content and schedule with resource team (Professor Chimombo, Dr. Gaston, Mrs. Kamanga, Mrs. Kumwenda, Mrs. Ngosi and Dr. Yu).

3. Conducted PACCT II Workshop at Mphatso Motel and Conference Center for 25 women in leadership; affirmed the significance of their involvement in the program by issuing training certificates, PACCT Women’s Guild badges, and ladies' gifts and glamour products.

4. Evaluated program and reviewed draft training manual with Professor Chimombo, Dr. Gaston and Dr. Yu. Began preparation for next two training workshops: PACCT III in July for youth leaders (including having a mobile VCT unit); and PACCT IV for all three groups--pastors, women in leadership and youth leaders—in order to formally launch the PACCT program in the various sectors).

5. Interviewed applicants for staff positions: Medical Program Assistant and PACCT Program Coordinator.

6. Interacted with Pastor, congregation and the 26 orphaned and abandoned children adopted by the United Methodist Church (HopeHome #2), and discussed next phase and budget for development

7. Visited Kamphenda area of new development for CCAP and received proposal from Synod Church and Society for collaboration in implementing a Village Well project.

8. Preached and taught in two churches in Mzuzu about mutual ministry and breaking the cycle of dependency based on how Jesus fed and healed people in the Gospels: St Andrews Presbyterian and the United Methodist Church.

9. Located and secured a Mission Hospitality House for short-term mission volunteers and negotiated 3yr lease agreement.

10. Challenged Mission Team members to take on specific development projects.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Safely Home

Our mission team arrived home today after the 17 hour flight from JoBurg. Exhausted but delighted with the fruit of our journey, and ready to continue the mission on the home front in behalf of the 'orphans and widows' we met in Malawi who need our support.

I will update the various Travel Blog entries from last week and post new Team Member Trip Reflections next week for those (200+) who have tracked our journey.

Rarely I have I been on a mission that went so smoothly. No meltdowns half-way through trip, no traffic accidents or road kill, no frustrating moments when nothing went right. Sure, there we some bumps along the way, and a couple days of travel sickness. But, over all, I stand amazed at how wide the doors opened, how the right people showed up at just the right time to help us take the next step, and how God ordered each of our days. To capture all that happened will take a few more days and many perspectives, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Out of Africa

Lilongwe--last night in Africa

We are now in Lilongwe, Capital Hotel, at midnight, and we will be flying to JoBurg tomorrow and on to JFK for arrival Friday AM.

The four of us who were sick for 2-3 days are no longer ill. Everyone is upbeat, energized, and a bit sad to leave. Great team dinner tonight with fab food and decor. A welcome change. Team is ready to go on mission again. This is really an amazing group and there were no meltdowns at all. I hope to post some of the comments of various team members when we return. There was very little down time on this trip and so not a lot to time to process experiences, but we will begin to do so on the long flight home tomorrow.

Time to rest now.

PACCT II Workshop Concludes

Josie Dittrich, Special Assistant to the President of CitiHope International, Public Relations specialist, television producer, missionary, entertainment/singer, joined me for the production of PACCT II. Josie prepared for this trip by procuring and assembling 45 ‘ladies gift bags’ with high-end products from corporate donors for the PACCT Women’s Guild, including: woven shawls from Venus Co., long, lightweight, colorful neck scarves, panties, long-sleeve pajamas, and bed sheet sets from Blair Corp, and lip glosses, shampoo sets and perfume from Maybelline. She also brought four beautifully hand-woven shawls for the PACCT facilitators.

We decided not to give out all the gifts at once, either at the beginning or at the end of the training, but to make a few of the products available as a special presentation each day as tangible expressions of love, affirmation and significance of this training.

At the close of the third day, 25 wise and courageous women in leadership roles in Presbyterian, United Methodist and Assembly of God churches received a Certificate of Participation from CitiHope International, a special badge identifying them as a charter member of PACCT Women's Guild, and their final gift of appreciation: a gift bag of beauty products from Maybelline.

I wish you could have seen the joy and gratitude on these women’s faces as they sang and danced their way to the front of the room to receive their credentials and gifts. As Dr. Andy Gaston, Chair of the PACCT Committee, read their names one by one, each woman stood to her feet, started singing a song, and danced her way forward with much fanfare and enthusiasm. As the gift-bags were given, they each received a big hug from Josie, who had become their soul friend.

"It would take a whole year's salary to buy these things here," once participant said. The delight on their faces revealed a deeper gratitude that the work of women in leadership roles in the church and community was more highly valued.
This incredible cadre of women in leadership roles in the church is now equipped to train and empower others in how to deal with the some of the issues of HIV/AIDS in the congregations. They will be at the forefront, we believe, of the efforts to mobilize the churches to stop the spread of HIV through behavior change and change of heart.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Professor Chimombo faciliated a "simulation" of STD transmission modes by assigning parts and assembling each character on the floor next to their pretend partner who might have HIV or other secrets.

In the discussions that followed, what surprised me most (well, not really all that surprising) was what women in general have to face in Malawi: cultural mores and expectations disfavoring women, sexual exploitation and neglect, lack of communication in marriage, gender violence, family members living with AIDS, weekly deaths of church members and funerals to attend, denial and stigma, and extreme poverty.

It was amazing to me how open and willing these women were to talk about the details of their lives: their daily struggles in marriage and family, church and society, stigma associated with HIV testing, predatory behavior, multiple sex partners, condom-use, and how to deal with a husband or family member with AIDS. Discussion questions like “should you pack condoms for your husband if he is going on a long trip away from home?” are not commonly discussed in public among pastors’ wives and church members. But extra-ordinary provisions are called for in apocalyptic times.