Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ethiopian Cusine for Joy

Ethiopian Coffee Beans for Peace

Ethiopian coffee may be the best in the world.  As least this is what I thought last week in Addis Ababa during our 5-day stop over in Ethiopia on the way back from our mission in Malawi.   Here's a family photo (minus Rachel who stayed home to work) at a traditional Ethiopian resturant in the capital city.  We were fascinated by an ancient culture and religious dynasty where many streams converge: Jews, Christians and Muslims seem to get along and share daily life and commerce; the Ethiopian (Coptic) Orthodox Church claims to have (and guard) the Lost Ark of the Covenant and a piece of the True Cross of Christ; the Cradle of Civilization (we saw where 'Lucy' and other remains of homo sapiens live in the national museum); the organic and roasted coffee bean product was first produced; and where Rasta Ferians claim to follow the Royal Line of Judah in their loyalty to the line of Rulers of Ethiopia extending back to the marriage of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  

The Falasa (beta Israel of Ethiopian Jews) and the Orthodox Church (especially in monastic communities) have much to teach us in America about finding common ground, shared culture and a common religious tradition.  We were hosted by an ecumenical group--The Council of Elders--whose founder is a Ethiopian Jew living and teaching at Princeton University and commuting to Addis every month or so to give leadership to the Council comprised of Jews, Orthodox Chrisitans, Muslim leaders and others who care about shalom/salaam/shelam/peace, ensuring peaceful elections and fair political process, and preserving a common culture.   Ethiopia providing a new and different experience of Africa for me (after 6 trips to Malawi and South Africa), and I will reflect more about it soon.

In the meantime, I shall continue to enjoy my Ethiopian coffee which I brought back with me from Addis, and remember fondly our time in Ethiopia in July.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mission Accomplished in Malawi

I just returned from 3 weeks in Malawi and Ethiopia—my 6th trip to Mother Africa since 2005.   

Each year I take a ‘vision team’ with me to witness what the Spirit is doing in another place, usually a place with obvious needs and hidden resources.  Sometimes our mission team makes a contribution through our gifts and graces, and volunteer service; most of the time it’s not about ‘giving back’ but about what Henri Nouwen calls “reverse mission”—having our social consciousness raised by those we seek to help, gaining so much more than we were ever able to give, and experiencing the joys of cross-cultural friendship.  

I tend to be critical of church mission groups that spend too much money on themselves in order to travel to a foreign country to serve the ‘poorest of the poor’, and end up viewing them as they would poor animals in a zoo.   If relational objectives, mutual ministry, and cross-cultural friendships are not the purpose of a mission trip, then it’s just volunteer tourism. 

WorldHope Corps, Inc.—the relief and development organization I founded a few years ago to connect resources with needs, is clear about its purpose:

“to build capacity for sustainable community development with support from international partners. Our strategy is to come along side local, indigenous, community-based organizations and congregations as a mission partner with technical assistance and relational support; connect resources with needs by procuring humanitarian aid, mobilizing volunteers, and sponsor specific projects; and empower local leaders to access and build on local resources for assess-based community development.”

As stated on our website:   “In all its mission partnerships and activities, WHC engages in what the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen calls “reverse mission”—the idea that those who serve the poor find themselves to be the poor that are served by others. North Americans who desire to travel to areas of need to make a difference in the world frequently find themselves transformed by the process. WHC Mission Trips tend to raise hope among those with whom we serve, and transform those who go together on mission.”   See
Six of us—Rebecca Laird, Megan Christensen, Mary Johnson, Sandra Bragg, Ilse Zwinkels, and me—traveled together to Malawi for 10 days.  As in previous trips to Malawi, we were shown incredible Love by our hosts in the ‘warm heart of Africa’ and witnessed courageous Faith in those who have suffered much.  
The gift we were able to share was Hope—reminding those we met that they were not alone in their struggle with AIDS, extreme poverty, and injustice.   Faith, Hope and Love.  The greatest of these is Love.” (I Cor. 13).  Yet Hope was the gift offered and received, as evident in the following mission accomplishments: 

We served daily meals and distributed hygiene supplies to orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children and led recreational and educational activities at two community orphan care centers, including Friends of Mzuzu Community Organization (FOMCO) and the HopeHome program sponsored by Mzuzu United Methodist Church—supported by WorldHope Corps. 

We met some of the youth recipients of Hope Scholarships whose sponsors pay school fees for their secondary school education and vocational training, enabling these bright young men and women to stay in school.  

We visited CitiHope Malawi food and medical projects and nurtured international friendships with local staff members and beneficiaries.  And supplied a volunteer for a month or two.

We witnessed the drilling and installation of "Rebecca's Well" in Njuyu village 
(see and visited three other villages where new deep water wells have been installed through WorldHope Corps sponsorship (for a total of 12 village wells as part of our community development program).    

We met the nine recent graduates of our Hope Tailoring School and celebrated with them their new vocation as skilled tailors and seamstresses that will enable them to support themselves and the orphan care ministry to which they are committed. 

We attended and facilitated a Shalom Committee meeting and training session focused on developing new micro-financed ventures, including a ‘piglet project.’  And supplied a mission volunteer—Shalom intern Katrina Walk—to work with the Committee for 10 weeks on their chosen community organizing and development projects.

We worshipped with our brothers and sisters on Sunday at a local Presbyterian Church and at the United Methodist Church of Mzuzu; and met with the Methodist church leadership team to help them plan a new transitional housing project and build a Hope Home to sustain the Orphan Care and Youth Scholarship programs.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kamuli Village Well is in

Today I am in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (enroute to Rosebud Reservation), to give a report to Wesley United Methodist Church about the deep water well they sponsored in the Kamphenda area of Northern Malawi. This year's confirmants--youth joining the church--took on a village well project they called "Well Well Well"  and raised $5,000 in six months to sponsor a WorldHope Corps well.   We were able to match that amount from the Well Fund to pay for a new well in Kamuli village in July...and I am delighted to share photos and a report of how over 1000 villagers now have clean, potable water that will save lives.

"I was thirsty and you gave me a drink..." Jesus said in Matthew 25.   The "Well Well Well"  youth presented me with one of their fund-raising T-shirts with this scripture on the back.  I responded by saying:

"Jesus also said, 'whosoever offers a cup of cold water in my name shall not lose their reward.'  Sometimes we are called to do more than offer a cup of water; sometimes we are able to provide a deep water well so that over 1000 people can draw buckets of water every day.  What you have done in providing a new well at Kamuli will literally save the lives of many people, especially children under the age of 5, who otherwise would get sick or die from waterborne diseases.

"Women (more than men) typically walk 3-5 miles each day to fetch a pale of water from the nearest water source.  Often these water sources--stream, mud hole, shallow welll or a rain puddle during the rainy season--are contaminated and unsuitable for drinking.

Kamphenda--a rural area about 4 hours from Mzuzu--is a remote area targeted by the Church and Society unit of the Synod of Livingstonia in Malawi for community development.  WorldHope Corps is pleased to partner with them to provide as many as 20 deep water wells in villiages where their volunteers are working, teaching, organizing and promoting human rights.

The new well in Kamuli is number 12 in our ongoing commitment since 2007 to sponsor village wells.

Rebecca's Well in Njuyu village, and Helen Ford's well in Wilrilo village--both hear primarily schools--where the other two wells we sponsored and installed during our mission trip in July.  

more photos to come. 

Here are a few photos of the new village well, installed on July 15, 2010, through project manager Jim McGill and Andrew Solidad:

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Malawi Mission Trip 2010

Ministry Partners:  United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Medical Missions International, and CitiHope Malawi

Team Leader:  Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D.

Michael Christensen teaches practical theology at Drew University where he directs a training institute and community development network known as Communities of Shalom.  Dr. Christensen founded WorldHope Corps in 2007 in partnership with CitiHope International and the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.  This will be his sixth mission trip to Malawi since 2005.  He plans to post daily travel blogs about the mission trip on his blog site at

Team Members:

Mary Johnson, from Madison, NJ, will be a senior in High School next Fall, and has been actively involved in a number of civic engagement projects, including: Habitat for Humanity, volunteer at the Special Olympics, Princeton Downs Syndrome Awareness campaign, the environmental club at school, and church mission trips. She is a member of the Chatham Presbyterian Church and feels a special connection to Africa and hopes to help children in need there.  

Megan Christensen, also from Madison, NJ, currently is an exchange student in Madrid, sponsored by the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. After a year in Spain, she returns in June in time to join the Malawi Mission Team and will be a senior in High School in the Fall.  Megan has gone on previous church mission trips to Bolivia, Mexico, New York City and Birmingham, AL.  After hearing about previous mission trips her father, Michael Christensen, has led, she wanted to go herself and is excited about participating in the Malawi mission.

Dr. Rebecca Laird currently teaches spiritual formation at Drew Theological School and serves as Director of Ministerial Formation and the Spiritual Formation Certificate program.  Ordained in the Church of the Nazarene, she served for several years as Associate Pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Summit.  She has gone on several mission trips over the years, worked in urban ministries in New York and San Francisco, and was a community development consultant with World Vision. She is married to Michael Christensen and lives in Madison, NJ.  This will be her first mission trip to Malawi.

Sandra Bragg, from Standish, Main, was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, converted to Roman Catholicism and currently attends the Episcopal Church.  She is employed as a medical assistant.   As a church volunteer, she increasingly has felt called to international mission.  After meeting the President of CitiHope International, who referred her to WorldHope Corps Malawi mission trip, she has been excited about making a difference—even a small one--for women and children in Malawi.

Ilse Zwinkels lives in Amsterdam and attended Hotel School in The Hague after college.  She managed a hotel in China for two and half years, and then moved back to Amsterdam where she worked as a sales manager.  Now 26, she is back at the University in a master’s degree program in Strategy, Communication and Organization.  On holiday this summer, she plans to meet us in Lilongwe, stay and volunteer for a month in Mzuzu with CitiHope Malawi.

Hosts in Malawi:

Rev. Copeland Nkhata, Senior Pastor and District Leader
The United Methodist Church, Mzuzu Circuit
Box 1015
Mzuzu, Malawi

Monday, July 05, 2010

Departure day

We’re going to Malawi together!

Travel Plan: We plan to depart Laguardia Airport, NYC, on Monday, July 5, at 6am, first to Dullus, and then on to Lilongwe via Addis Ababa Ethiopia. We will arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi, on July 6 at 12:20pm (with no overnight layover stop). Most plan to return to Laguardia on Friday, July 16, at 1:48PM. Some (including the Christensens) will continue to travel in Africa.

Destination: Malawi, a small land-locked, developing country of 12 million people bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and suffers from extreme poverty and AIDS. The July Mission Trip team will carry out its mission in and around Mzuzu City in Northern Malawi where WorldHope Corps supports HopeHomes orphan care program, Hope Tailoring School and Village Well projects in partnership with Mzuzu United Methodist Church and Malawi Shalom Zone Committee.

Reverse Mission: To raise hope in vulnerable communities through cross-cultural relationships, “reverse mission” and the ministry of presence. Our service team will focus its activities on being present in communities need and to vulnerable persons, who have their own gifts to share. By focusing our mission of help and hope on relational support and being with those who are economically poor, we hope to fulfill a ministry of presence (God’s presence through us) which may result in our own spiritual transformation. Henri Nouwen calls this “reverse mission.” In encountering the rich spirit of Christ in those whom we would serve, we ourselves are transformed in the process. A good way to prepare for the trip is to read Henri Nouwen’s book Gracias to deepen your understanding of “reverse mission.” Other reading material will be recommended to team members preparing for the trip.

Projects and Objectives: We will assist in food distribution, volunteer at selected mission sites, meet and encourage students receiving Hope Scholarships, assist participants in economic ventures that support the mission, and visit village well projects with the objective of mutual ministry and service. We will also explore with local experts social justice issues affecting Malawians, including the HIV/AIDS pandemic, extreme poverty, and local effects of economic globalization.

Specific Activities:
1. Serve daily meals to orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children and lead recreational and educational activities at two community orphan care centers, including HopeHome program sponsored by Mzuzu United Methodist Church with support from WorldHope Corps.
2. Visit with some of the youth recipients of Hope Scholarships and support for their secondary school education and vocational training
3. Visit CitiHope Malawi projects and meet local staff
4. Visit prisoners in Mzuzu Central Prison, delivering food and hygiene supplies
5. Possibly dig a village well and dedicate other village wells recently installed by WorldHope Corp as part of our community development program.
6. Help local community members develop micro-financed small businesses
7. Help organize a new ‘shalom zone” within the Mzuzu Circuit of the United Methodist Church
8. Conduct art workshops and recreational activities for vulnerable children and youth in remote rural area (possibly overnight).
9. Visit Livingstonia Mission (legacy of David Livingstone)
10. Worship with our Malawian brothers and sisters on Sunday in church

Local Ministry Partners: Mzuzu United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, Malawi, Mzuzu Shalom Zone Committee, and CitiHope Malawi

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Save the World One Young Woman at a Time"

By Rev. Copeland Nkhata, Director

The Hope Tailoring School (HTS) focused on economic empowerment of young women who live in the community that supports over 100 orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) through HopeHomes of the Mzuzu United Methodist Church,  is a joint venture of WorldHope Corps and the Mzuzu United Methodist Church, funded by a Sustainability grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief UMCOR). 

The Hope Tailoring School in Mzuzu, Malawi, saw its first class of 10 young women graduate from the program in May 2010, and a second class begin the same month.  Both classes are well on their way to economic sustainability as the tailoring skills they gained will enable them to be more productive citizens of Malawi and better able to care for OVC in their community.

The second class of students, like the first, is made up of people who have always been on the peripherals of society; they come to this class to gain skills that will help them become financially secure economic players, breaking the cycle of poverty so common among the marginalized.  The major purpose of the school is to empower women, regardless of their current status in the world – we accept students from the immediate community regardless of if they are illiterate, under-educated or financially handicapped.

It is our hope that the skills they gain at Hope Tailoring School (HTS) will enable them to participate in the market place. All of the students are coming through this program aspire to find means and ways of generating income to sustain their families, but the HTS program dreams that they will do even more with their new skills; we hope they will change not only Malawi, but "save the world, one woman at a time."

During the devotional time constructed into each day of learning, students learned about the good works of Dorcas (also called Tabitha in the Bible) who made garments and gave them to the poor, Dorcas's garments were her alms to the poor. The devotional lessons were geared toward encouraging the women to imitate Dorcas's example, thereby receiving the same blessings given to her (Acts 9:36). The students were particularly encouraged to look at the wellbeing of the orphans and vulnerable children in their midst who could benefit from their services. James 1:26 was also an inspiration to the women - providing a Biblical basis for Christian charity to those in need.

The women consider this program a big window of opportunity through which they can acquire skills to fulfill their dreams. In the course of the training we achieved a number of things, but the accomplishments deserve special recognition. The training has enhanced the women’s social relations, increased their spiritual growth, and also gave them the skills. Now they are ready to go out into the world and start their business ventures.

The Hope Tailoring School graduation in May was a milestone to the work of UMC in Mzuzu.  It brought people from the entire city to the University hall. This ceremony was particularly unique in that we did not just use the Mzuzu University facilities, but we also had Professor Lusayo Mwabumba as the guest of honor, to speak encouraging words to the graduates. The professor shared with the audience the new branches of the dream of the Hope Tailoring School, such as the Knitting School and a Culinary School. These two new branches would give incoming students an array of skills from which to choose and hopefully utilize in the complex marketplace.

The class was very gleeful and excited about beginning this new chapter in their lives. They entered the hall singing and dancing. They even planed a fashion show, where they displayed their creative fashions, and fine new skills. The Class Captain gave a speech disclosing the teams’ gratitude for the training opportunity with a special focus on their vision to become economic players. It was a short but electric presentation.

As a gift in good faith that these promising students will be world changers, the graduates were given seed-money from the UMC head office. It is expected that this money will help them start their business off on the right foot. Each lady received 7,500 Kwacha.

The following members of the Hope Tailoring charter class of 2010 were presented certificates  of completion for nine months of vocational training:
Agnes Nyirenda
Towera Nkunika
Chimwemwe Nyondo
Lyness Singa
Phalles Singini
Violet Banda
Juliata Munthali
Linda Mzumara
Hannah Makala
Stella Ndhlovu

During her address as class captain, Agnes Nyirenda made sure to express how this course of vocational study has given the women the power to generate income for their families and for the church. The audience erupted with praise, making joyful noise and sharing feelings of success and hopefulness. Violet Banda, was recognized for her aptitude and skills as one of the best students of the first class with a special reward. Mrs. Nyirenda was rewarded for her leadership abilities with a new suit. Apart from these special awards, every student received a certificate, the aforementioned jump-start package, and a special notebook for business planning and record keeping.

Almost all of them have already started to go into some business. Mrs. Nyirenda received orders just after the graduation to make dresses and skirts. Another student, Hannah Makala received four orders just after graduation because some audience members were impressed with her graduation suit. Phalles Singini made three dresses for children on the 14th of June 2010 and two of them were sold within 2 hours and the third sold on the very next day. Mrs. Linda Mzumara, another promising student, is currently making caftans for sale at a hawker’s shop.

Overall, the Hope Tailoring School is proud of the first class of graduates and hopes for even brighter and higher achievements for the next class. It is our prayer that the seeds sown in these special women will reap a fine harvest for their families, for their country, and for the world.

The second class already has started to learn the skills of a tailor and 12 new women are enrolled in the 9-month course of study.  Drew Theological School has assigned a Shalom summer intern—Miss Kartina Walk—to be with us for 10 weeks during the summer months to mentor the second class and help development the program as part of the Communities of Shalom initiative.   We are grateful to Dr. Michael Christensen for creating this joint venture and partnership between the United Methodist Church in Malawi, WorldHope Corps, UMCOR and Communities of “Shalom.