Day 12: Teen Studies, Ladies Ministry Celebration, Vision Clinic, and Work Projects

Many activities wrapped up today!

Teen Studies and Women’s Ministry Celebration

I wanted them to understand that they are expensive.  They matter the most to God.

–  Omega, Pilira’s wife and Discipler

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Omega has a heart to build into the lives of these young women since she is an orphan herself.  The teen girls’ studies concluded and a celebratory luncheon was hosted for the women’s ministry team today.  Both celebrations emphasized, encouraged, and reinforced the women’s relationships with the Lord before sending them into their spheres of influence.  Our own women were overwhelmed by the example of love and camaraderie displayed by the Malawian women.  We committed to pray fervently for the names and faces we know in their walk with Christ, since most likely the guardians of the teen girls are not.

Vision Clinic

The final vision clinic of our trip was held today to serve children, staff, and guardians of children at the Passion Center.  God worked through us to improve the sight of over 300 people during our clinics!  The reactions of our patients have been extremely gracious and a blessing to us.  People have been saved as the result of Christ working through us!

Future plans are for the vision clinic to continue operations!  We have trained several Passion Center staff members to examine and fit patients for glasses, and supplies will be sent as needed.

Work Projects

Construction of the kitchen roof was completed today and the last of the shelving is ready to be installed in the new office building.  Work projects provided a new level of understanding for the planning and complexity involved in Malawi construction projects.  Things are a little more difficult when there is not a Home Depot around the corner!

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Day 11: Wildlife in Malawi

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If you were to talk to any member of our team, there would be one recurring theme you would hear from every person: we have seen God at work at literally every turn.  Today was no different.

Today was supposed to be a rather uneventful day.  You can’t go to Africa and not go on a safari, right?  So, this was our day to pull back from the hectic pace of ministry, and enjoy the wildlife in Africa.  It was absolutely incredible! Strangely enough, however, the “wildest” part of our day was after the safari was over!

Demonstrations were being held today in some of the key cities throughout Malawi.  The protests centered around the fuel shortage throughout the country, as well as many of the president’s policies.  As we made our way back to Zomba, there was quite a bit of activity on the outskirts of the city.  Once again, God stepped in and showed Himself mighty, just as He has on every day of our trip.  We will give you more of the details when we get back, but rest assured, everyone is fine, and excited to be thrust back into ministry tomorrow!

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Day 10: Vacation Bible School, Teen Studies, Vision Clinic, Correctional School, and Work Projects

Vacation Bible School and Teen Studies

As expected, Vacation Bible School attendance jumped (400 children) for day two of the study. The teen Bible studies were an awesome demonstration of the staffs’ relationship with the teenagers.  Team members boldly preached the gospel sharing God’s plan for redemption from sin. What a joy and honor to share God’s plan for salvation with so many young faces!

Vision Clinic

Our team has provided corrective vision to a total of almost 150 people so far.  Today we screened the guardians of Passion Center children.  We are full of praise and thanks for the amazing people and support God has blessed us with to fulfill this initiative.  From planting the idea in our hearts to watching it grow and manifest so beautifully – God is most clearly seen!

Correctional School

The correctional school we visited was comprised of 120 boys ages 15-18.  Common reasons for being in the correctional facility include murder, pending court cases, and disobedience towards parents.  The boys receive vocational training and schooling.  Before we went, our mental image of the boys was a little negative, since we had no idea what to expect.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to observe their treatment towards the female headmaster who runs the correctional school.  The woman was clearly a God-loving woman, which in-and-of-itself acquired a HUGE level of respect from the boys. The boys shared songs with our team and Bible lessons, and their attitude was simply amazing to witness.

Work Projects

The new office building is nearly fully functional!  Shelving has been completed, curtains are hung, and office furniture has been moved.  The kitchen roof is nearly finished, and we look forward to starting construction for the carport in the coming days.

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Day 9: Vacation Bible School, Child Head-of-Household, Youth Rally, and Teacher’s Seminar

Vacation Bible School

The Vacation Bible School team leaders really pushed their creativity this year!  Most of the VBS supplies were sent in the luggage that was lost, so improvising was vital.  The central theme was the seven days of creation.  Nearly 150 children ages 4 – 13 participated in day one of our two-day program.  Most children were part of the Passion Center.  Team members engaged them in songs, crafts, and the Bible story of creation.

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Child Head-of-Household

Teams visited three Child Head-of-Household families this afternoon, similar to day 4.  Charles, one of the Head-of-Households, faces additional challenges outside of being a child . . . Charles has cerebral palsy.  He cannot drink or feed himself.  Many of the things Charles is unable to do, we in the States take for granted.  However, Charles has a very positive outlook on life.  He sits on his porch all day and SMILES!  Charles is the image of God’s joy.  What would life look like if we let Him shine through us – our thoughts, words, and actions – ALL the time?  God used Charles to be an inspiration to all of us.

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Youth Rally

Passion Center children ages 12-14 engaged in a message and breakout group discussions with team members about choices regarding sexual purity and friends.  Pastor Mark’s message concluded that the choices we are making right now are taking us in a direction – either towards the Spirit or the flesh (Galatians 6:7-8).  What we sow – towards the flesh which reaps corruption, or to the Spirit which reaps life through Christ – is a daily process.

Young men and women were split into breakout groups where we were able to connect in an open, honest, and safe environment.  They were able to see that Americans face the same issues of purity and peer pressure.  We pray God would create strong men and women leaders who live according to His plan and can serve as role models for others.

Teacher’s Seminar

A new door opened this year in the learning arena.  Several of our team members serve as teachers, and organized a seminar to talk about how students learn differently.  Many students are orphans and have learning disabilities.  Sharing new teaching methods cross-culturally blessed the teachers . . . and ultimately the children.

Linda’s Surgery

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Linda, age 5, is a very special friend of Northwest Bible at the Passion Center.  She became a resident child in September 2009 following a traumatic life event one month prior.  After taking food from the table, Linda’s mother doused both of her hands into a pot of boiling water.  Linda’s mother left after locking the battered child in the family home.  Little Linda cried and screamed in pain for several days before village members finally brought in the authorities to free her.

Wounds were horrific to the point that Zomba Hospital cut four fingers from Linda’s right hand, while her left hand had four broken fingers.

Clearly this incident had profound physical and emotional effects.  Last year’s Malawi team met a sad, stunned little girl who did not trust women.  However, she did warm up to Jon Herman, an essential team member of both the 2010 and 2011 teams.  Linda only had eyes for Jon, and the same holds true this year.  This year’s Malawi team was greeted with a warm, bashful smile from a spirit softened with time, and she was reunited with Jon.

Linda had been through two restorative surgeries prior to our arrival with a third surgery scheduled during our time here.  On Sunday, Jon and Jill Cross made the trip to Blantyre to admit Linda to the hospital.  After buying new shoes and enjoying lunch, Linda was left at the hospital with her stand-in grandmother who will tend to her needs while in the hospital.  Linda behaved like a typical child once inside the hospital.  She was scared and crying – this wasn’t new to her.  She knew the pain of the events in the forthcoming days all too well.

After successful medical screenings, Linda’s surgery was scheduled.  She underwent her third surgery to separate her fingers and restore functionality on Monday, July 18th.  Please keep Linda and her caretakers in your prayers as she recovers.  Pray that her spirit would be steadfast and she would rest in the palm of His hand during the healing process.

Day 8: Church Services, Funeral, and Vision Clinic

Church Services

Our team broke into five smaller teams to participate in different church services this morning. Love is a universal language, and we all felt loved and blessed to be a part of the celebration! The people were very upbeat, welcoming, and focused on the positive elements of life. We danced and worshipped with the Malawians singing songs of praise. Team members boldly shared testimonies, messages, and preached the gospel to our brothers and sisters in Christ. How incredible that we are all part of the same body of Christ, and it’s the same awesome God lavishing His faithfulness and grace upon all of us!

Funerals

Today marked the second funeral of the past week for the Passion Center. The first funeral was for the sister of a Passion child earlier in the week.

This afternoon, two team leaders and Pilira attended the funeral of Stella, age fifteen, after she passed away due to a brain tumor. Stella became one of the first Passion Center girls in late 2004. Funerals here in Malawi are nothing like the funerals we attend back home. The team members who attended described the ceremony for us, since not all of us were able to attend. There was no joy and morbid feelings engulfed the air as she was lowered into the unmarked dirt grave and wooden casket. Stella’s extended family members placed small sentiments on the grave, and one of the most touching moments was when Pilira was asked to be the third in line. This demonstrates the closeness of the Passion Center to its children, and how the Center is recognized in the community.

The discussion revolving around the observations we’ve made in the past week and the funeral concluded that death is not a predominant theme in this culture, despite its prevalence. They focus on life after death. And we who with unveiled faces can see that God is still on His throne—still rescuing the lost and providing hope.

Vision Clinic

Rob Mulvaney, a Malawi 2010 team member, met a young boy at last year’s VBS that reminded him of himself at a young age. His eyes would cross and it affected his vision—just as Rob’s eyes crossed when he was young. There are a number of young orphans in Malawi that do not have access to basic eye and medical care. We cannot change the lives of all the orphans in Malawi, but the ones we are able to touch and impact…what an incredible gift we’re able to share with them, primarily spiritual, but also health and well-being.

Milan Silas, a six year old orphan at the Passion Center, had similar vision problems as the child Rob met a year ago. This year, Brenda Tiffan organized a vision clinic as one of our service projects. She told her son Greg and Piliara’s wife Omega that she was looking for Milan, to which Greg replied, “Mom, he’s been hanging off me all day!” Milan was brought to Brenda and Omega. Omega told the older boys in Chichewa to bring Milan’s mother. The women talked about Milan’s vision history and Brenda gave him glasses.

Milan’s face lit up and he was looking around at a transformed world! Brenda asked if he could see better. Milan nodded his head with a huge grin on his face. He had truly walked by faith, not by sight until this point in his life. What an amazing gift to receive through God’s own timing!

Our first official vision clinic kicked off today with the Passion Center resident children! When Jesus was here on earth, He healed immediately, often restoring sight to the blind. Not only did He heal the blind physically, but more importantly spiritually. The entire team feels blessed to play a role in improving the vision of the Passion Center children, guardians, and staff. Children can now read their Bibles and perform more successfully in school. Lots of sunglasses were distributed to the children as expected since only 10% of children require corrective lenses. The children were thrilled with their “Hollywood” looks!

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Day 7: Sports Bonanza and Work Projects

Sports Bonanza

Today, the Sports Bonanza continued with netball and football championship games. Unfortunately, the boys’ football team was defeated in the championship, but they played a great game. Although the boys lost, the Passion Center didn’t come out empty-handed. The girls’ netball team won the championship game against the same team they had lost to last year! The Passion Center has a new trophy!

Before the trophy presentation, everyone gathered around excited to be there and celebrate. Villagers came together and stood united. Several people shared commentary and Eric prayed. Jamie Dato boldly shared the gospel while Joseph translated and the crowd expressed their excitement.

Work Projects

Work projects are coming along well. Today, several men made progress on roof construction for the new kitchen at the Passion Center. The current cooking method requires balancing a very large pot on rocks over a wood fire. The new kitchen has a cement form poured in the middle of the room to function as a stove. Pots will rest on rebar with a wood burning fire beneath. Cooks can stand on cement platforms to stir the contents. Meals for the children often include white rice, boiled greens, and nsima (see-mah), which is a corn based flour mixed with water. Another group of men finished the construction of large shelves to be used in the new office building at the Passion Center. Shelving has been placed in storage until the structure is complete.

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Day 6: Play Time, Sports Bonanza, Work Projects, and Pastors Seminar

Play Time

This morning, part of our team stayed with the Passion Center children and had such a wonderful time!  We played frisbee, jump rope games, and painted fingernails.  Even the boys wanted their fingernails painted.  The kids were so proud of how bright and sparkly their fingers and toes were.  Everyone was entertained by our cameras and enjoyed looking at themselves on the screen.  Most have never seen their own reflection, let alone a photograph.  It was a sweet time of just being a friend and loving God’s children.

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Sports Bonanza

After lunch it was time for the Sports Bonanza which included netball (girls) and football (boys soccer).  Our own Jamie Dato even made the team!  They played both sports at the same time and people from the surrounding villages came in crowds to support the teams.  It was awesome to see the support from all the villages.  Children were everywhere and a joy to watch!  Joseph, a Passion Center Chaplain, played worship music before the game and during half-time.  The boys were breaking it down!  There was such happiness!  The highlight may have been Chris visiting the “concession stand” (a small hill covered with natural sugar cane), and shared some with us.  It must have been a sight for the kids to see the Azungus (“white people”) stripping the cane with their teeth!  The taste resembled sweetened cardboard – not awful, not wonderful.  Unfortunately, the Passion Center football team lost 1-0 despite their awesome defense.  The girls won and are moving up in the championship bracket.  Both teams play Saturday.

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Work Projects

Two teams of our men split up to begin work projects.  One team built shelves, and the second began work on the roof of the new kitchen at the Passion Center.  They hope to have a very productive day tomorrow as well!

Pastors Seminar

While some of us were at the Sports Bonanza, others of us assisted with the Pastors Seminar.  Pastor Mark organized and preached while Abusa (“Pastor”) Lawrence Mandawala translated into Chichewa.  Eighty-two pastors and pastors’ wives were in attendance for the all-day conference.  During set-up, we lost power for one hour.  Pastor Mark and Eric prayed together for the day and for the power, and low and behold, it came back on during their prayer (let there be light!).  This was especially crucial for projecting the presentation.  It was definitely a blessing that the power to stay on all day as we frequently experience power outages.  Pastor Mark’s message painted an overview of the entire Bible, from where we originate to our salvation and who we are called to be as Christians.  The translator stayed in character with Pastor Mark’s enthusiastic message delivery.  God used my talents and gave me the responsibility of executing the logistics for the day.  I was blessed to observe and speak with attendees as they left the conference with a deeper desire to know God and shepherd their flock according to His Word.

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Day 5: Widow Visit and Hospital Visit

Visiting widows and sick children is never an easy task, and Malawi was no exception.

Widow Visit

The Malawi team visited widows of the Zomba villages this morning.  Upon our arrival, the widows welcomed us with friendly smiles and focused attention.  They embraced us with handshakes and hugs as introductions were made.  In Malawian culture, it is custom to personally greet each individual.  We clapped and danced as the widows led songs of worship.  We were blessed beyond measure when both the widows and our team members shared personal testimonies.  God revealed suffering unites our cultures.  After Pastor Eric shared Scripture from Isaiah 61, each team member prayed with a widow after learning specific prayer needs, most of which related to body ailments and vision problems.

In addition, widow care packages containing flour, sugar, oil, beans, soap, and a vitamin supplement for HIV positive women were distributed.  The packages also included a letter of encouragement from widows of Northwest Bible Church, emphasizing Ephesians 3:16-17a.

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Hospital Visit

Hospital visits on Thursday afternoon deepened the team’s compassion as we surrendered ourselves to scripture:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(James 1:27)

Fratsani, a Passion Center intern, began by boldly sharing the gospel with the children, families, team, and hospital staff.  Fratsani was literally on fire for Christ!  In the end when he asked everyone if they would like to receive Christ, 90% of the hands were raised signaling the desire to receive Christ’ grace and forgiveness.

Our visit to the pediatric ward (infant through age four) began in the most critical ward.  These children are lucky to see a doctor once a week.  Team members went to the beds of the sick and dying children where terminal illnesses, like Malaria and Typhoid, broken bones, and burn wounds ravaged their bodies.  We prayed with them and their families for God to heal or deliver those He wants by His side.  Prayers ripped out the heartstrings of the entire team.

Beds in the hospital were spaced three feet apart.  In addition to the child (or two) on each bed, the families gathered near.  Families are a HUGE part of the healing process in Malawi.  They serve the orderly function by cleaning, feeding, changing bedding, and caring for their child instead of spending quality time to help them heal.  We left the families with supply bags of essentials containing juice, sugar, Vaseline, and soap.

Hannah, a three year old girl with Typhoid, and I locked eyes when we first saw each other, and I knew we would pray together.  I prayed for Hannah, her ill brother, and their mother.  They understood me with help from a translator, but I learned prayer is a language universally understood when our hearts cry out for mercy from God.  They were so sweet and appreciative.  Hannah had an IV feeder installed inside her elbow to ease the frequent IV insertion on her tiny veins.  She has such a bright, smiling spirit.  Children do not belong in hospitals.  They should be outside playing carefree – the way God designed them to be – pure and innocent, never experiencing such brokenness.

Day 4: Intro to Passion Center, Child Head of Household Program, and Village Bible Study

After Pastor Mark led our morning charge, we went to the Passion Center for the first time.  We spent time with the Passion Center staff members and children before familiarizing ourselves with the facilities.  Building relationships with the people of Malawi is our primary goal.  The theme focus from our trip is spiritual metamorphosis.  As Pastor Mark quotes, “Perhaps the main ‘take away’ is this.  We must be extremely careful, not only what we see – but how we see!”

This afternoon, we split into two teams.  One team visited Child Head of Households and the other conducted a village bible study.

Child Head of Households

The Passion Center began the Child Head of Households program about 1 year ago.  This program is primarily comprised of young females (age ten through sixteen) whose parents have died due to AIDS (or are fatherless), and are left to raise their siblings.  This often consists of supporting extended households financially, spiritually, and relationally (read: children taking care of children).  These young females can easily fall prey to witchcraft, thievery, being taken advantage of, and are often unschooled.

Individuals representing the Passion Center met with child heads of households to establish goals for the households.  From there, the Passion Center provides food, seeds, hand tools for working ground, and opportunities for other income generating activities on a case-by-case basis.  Additionally, weekly visits are intended to check on the women spiritually and to ensure supplies are being used as intended.

We met with two girls who head their households, Mercy and Everest.  Our team led an impromptu message to encourage the women in their relationships with Christ.  Although they are suffering and in difficult situations, victory can be found in Christ.  From there, we met with the women in smaller groups of two or three to learn their story, share our own, and pray for their specific needs.  For several team members, this was their first encounter with Malawians who spoke only Chichewa.  One can easily gather knowledge from academic resources, but experiencing a new culture first hand can be challenging.  Life unchallenged is life unchanged, and lives are changing.

The visit was supplemented with supplies (mattresses, pots, cups, plates, water buckets, Bibles, and a book of simplified Bible stories).

Village Bible Study

The second team conducted a village bible study with about twenty villagers.  Team members and villagers shared personal testimonies.  Suffering united our two cultures.  As our team was leaving, the villagers began chanting and singing about how they were going to miss the Azungu (“white people”).

Twenty-three additional bags of luggage arrived Wednesday evening, leaving 2 bags still missing.  Please pray specifically that the personal bag of Josh Tiffin, one community bag, and the container would arrive promptly and in God’s timing.

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A few Passion Center girls at the well
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The widows enjoying their bags. Each bag included a note written by the widows of Northwest. One example of God connecting us to our Malawian brothers and sisters thousands of miles apart.

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Team members listen to testimonies during the widow visits Thursday morning. God orchestrated an amazing sharing time for both the widows and the team.