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Showing posts from March, 2008

Easter Sunday 2008

My favorite Easter Hymn is the ancient Eastern Orthodox Paschal troparion--a brief stanza often used as a refrain between the verses of a Psalm, but is also used on its own during the Easter Vigil. Its authorship is unknown. I first learned and practiced it in 1989 during a Holy Week retreat at Mount Tabor Monastery near Willits in California. As I processed with the Byzantine Catholic monks around the church at midnight, I found myself dancing, kicking my feet up, and trampling down the sting of death, chanting:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

This year I’ll be celebrating Easter in a less demonstrative way at our Presbyterian Church, but enjoying the season nonetheless.

Easter Sunday this year coincides with your anniversary--March 23—and will not do so again until 2160, friends told my wife Rebecca and me. Wow, I thought. Maybe this is not just a coincidence; maybe there’s a message in it. (I tend to rea…

Sarah's Email from Malawi

"Greetings from Malawi!! Once we landed yesterday, we had a 5 hour bus ride to the CitiHope guest house. The weather was a perfect 70 something degrees and partly sunny. The magnificence of this place is surreal.

En route to the guest house, we quickly figured out that as you approach a village, you know its coming because of the smell of wood smoke. But what was unexpected along the way was the unmistakable smell of death. I don't know if it was human or animal but it reminded me that woodworking artisans are now primarily coffin makers. Because of the overwhelming need for coffins, woodworking has become the #3 industry in Malawi. And somehow, through all of the disease and death, the people here manage the most brilliant, constant smiles I've ever seen.

Today, we visited Kasasa, a community orphana care center with 115 children in its care. On the way back, I asked Gabriel what it costs to feed the children there. He used his phone's calculator to determ…

Robby's Reflection

As far as nicknames go, the “Warm Heart of Africa” is just about the best I’ve heard. Never have I experienced genuine, sincere, nonstop warmth like I have in Malawi.

From the moment of arrival in this beautiful, lush, country of 13 million, you can expect to be treated like family. Not that I’ve grown cynical and wary of excessive hospitality on my travels—okay maybe a bit cynical—but there is nothing disingenuous about Malawian warmth. Even the people who don’t want to sell you anything are warm.

Despite their country being broken in so many ways—rampant HIV/AIDS and the resultant orphan crisis, insecure food supplies, insufficient water and grinding poverty (rated 164 out of 177 on the 2007 Human Development Index), Malawians maintain a dignity, pride and joy that almost seems surreal. They’re battered, tattered but nowhere near shattered. What keeps them together you might ask? In a word…Christ. In two words, I would say Christ and hope.

The people of Malawi exude the love of Christ…

Robby's Blog

Wow, what a blessing it is to be back in Africa. So far I've gone from ATL to DC to NYC to Dakar Senegal to Joburg to Mzuzu, Malawi--where we're spending the week. So yes, I am now in Mzuzu, Malawi with some good folks from CitiHope Intl. (our main Malawi partner) and other orgs that are helping to care for orphans and raise AIDS awareness here.

Malawi is a small sliver of a nation of 13 million near Zambia (one-time home of the great adventurer Stew Hill), Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and several other places whose GNP is dwarfed by that of Mountain Brook, AL.

Malawi is a terribly poor country where some 80% of the population relies on some form of agriculture for survival. You can imagine the suffering that ensues from droughts, floods, a poor harvest, price fluctuations etc. For a morbid point of reference, Coffin-making is the number 3 industry in this country.

Malawi has also been hard hit by HIV AIDS. I think something like 1 million of the population is infected, and an…

Stacy's Reflection

The most astounding part of my mission to Malawi was discovering the “richness” in faith and the joyfulness of its people.

This photo is of a little girl, an orphan, whom I had the pleasure of coloring and drawing pictures with during my visit to FOMCO. Until she took me by the hand to walk with me, I did not realize that she was missing two of her fingers on her left hand and a terrible scar was left behind. Honestly, would you have been able to guess the amount of tragedy she has suffered just by looking at that beautiful smile?

This is a 16-year old boy, the youngest of four, seen here with his 62-year old mother, abandoned by his father. When I approached him, I grasped his hand and started telling him my name and talking to him. After a moment, an older gentleman approached me and advised me that he wouldn’t be able to talk back to me! However, as you can see in the picture, his smile is worth a thousand words! Let us learn from these heavenly smiles and thank God for each a…

Missions Accomplished

Palm Sunday. The 2008 CitiHope Mission Team has accomplished their respective missions in Malawi (March 4-14), summarized below:

Sarah Harrington(front left), an ambassador for the Center for the Church and Global AIDS, assisted Don in reporting on the HopeHome project her organization is funding, visited prisoners, volunteered at orphan care centers, and filmed and documented the PACCT program and the mission trip activities for a future video presentation. Sarah also agreed to find new sponsors for some of the children and youth in the Mzuzu UMC who need nutritional supplements and educational scholarships at part of the HopeHome project.

Donald Messer, Professor Practical Theology at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and Director of the Center for the Church and Global AIDS, saw and evaluated the HopeHome project funded by the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund; participated in and presented an HIV/AIDS session on the “Alphabet of Life” to pastoral leaders attending the PACCT even…

Safely Home

Our flight was delayed in Lilongwe, and we had less than one hour to make our connection in JoBurg, but we all got on board the full flight to JFK.

Chappy was feeling better and on the mend. All of us dreaded the 18 hour flight home, but we made it safely home.

But our luggage didn't make it back with us. Hopefully tomorrow it will be delivered to our front door by South Africa Airlines. Time now to recuperate from 25+ hours of non-stop travel, and then I'll upload more pictures and commentary this weekend.

To those reading this travel blog who have followed our daily activities and prayed for our safety and success, I thank you. Our joint mission in Malawi was accomplished.

Time to Go

Lilongwe: Having survived the long (5hr drive) from Mzuzu to the capital city of Malawi, our team is preparing to depart for Johannesburg. Because of Chappy's condition, we decided to try to make a short transit connection in the airport and fly straight through to JFK rather than spend the night and do a sight-seeing day in Johannesburg.

I took Chappy to the Adventist Clinic this morning to get a doctor's signiture on the airline medical form certifying that he was "fit to travel" but required some assistance to get on and off the plane and to make the connection.

Because of time restraints, Chappy was moved to the front of the line to see the doctor. I was struck by the positive, cooperative attitude of the receptionist and nurses, and the understanding of other patients. Every in Malawi smiles back at you, without exception. The doctor was especially warm and friendly, helpful and empathetic. After a few tests and questions, he concluded that Chappy did not ha…

Last Day in Mzuzu

Team Health Report: Chappy today has fallen sick with dizziness, nausea and bodily weakness. All week he has been guardian of our food supply, market shopper for adequate greens, and gourmet advisor to our house cook. Now all he wants to do is lay down or sit and get through it. Five out of seven of us have had bouts or been on the edge of minor sickness, but spirits remain high and focused on the mission.

After returning from the remote villages where the CitiHope Village Wells program is underway, we enjoyed our last day in Mzuzu and prepared to leave to Lilongwe. Time for one last walk through the central market and the filling station hub across the street and around the corner from CitiHope's Mission Center.

And finally, some down time under the thatch hut in the backyard.

Gabriel, Dennis, Chewana, and Taxon have hosted us with grace and enthusiasm, and we all are grateful for the incredible hospitality extended to us.

Euthini Village Needs a Well

Then we visited Euthini village where we broke ground for another well to be installed as soon as the rainy season ends this Spring. The new village well will benefit over 1000 villagers and is sponsored by Hopegivers International. Robby Bruberg, representing Hopegivers, breaks ground with village leader.

Chappy Valente prays for the future of the Euthini Village

Zowe Village Well

Today we visited the remote cluster of villages called Zowe, where CitiHope installed a deep water well sponsored by Mike Rose and his friends from New Jersey.

Now 1500 villagers have access to clean, fresh water instead of having to drink from mud holes.

Lack of Fresh Water

Most of the villages in Northern Malawi lack clean potable water from a fresh, reliable source. This is why 1 our of 5 children die before the age of 5 from preventable, waterborne diseases.

Contaminated water typically is collected from stale ponds and muddy streams.

During the rainy season in Malawi, surface water can be collected from mud holes.

Women(not men)often have to walk miles to collect clean water from the nearest well, and carry heavy containers on their heads back to their own village.

Remote villages without wells require 4x4 vehicles to visit, which we borrowed from the Presbyterian Women's Guild in Mzuzu.


In preparing for the fourth training event for our Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) program, I wrote this little dittie and emailed it to Gabriel, our Country Director:

Mobilize the PACCT Committee
Assemble all the troops
PACCT IV is on the loose!

Moira Chimombo is coming
as is Dr. C. and his team*
Dr. Gaston stands ready
with angel Gabriel abeam

March 10 is the date!
But where shall we meet?
How shall we proceed?
And what shall we eat?

At the end of the day
when all is said and done,
We finally will have the Program
that shall not be undone.

The day of training unfolded beautifully. The PACCT Committee decided to meet in the comfortable conference room of St. John of God hospital in Mzuzu. A total of 22 participants from the previous workshops arrived ready to do good and important work.

Draft #1 of the PACCT Traning Manual was reviewed and revised page by page, section by section, to every one's satisfaction. Fascinating questions and issues surfaced such as …