Friday, June 29, 2007

I Am Rich...

Have you ever examined your life and realized that you have more than you ever need? I have felt this way for a while now, but God continues to bless me time and time again. I know some of you are wondering what this has to do with my recent trip. Well let me get to the point. I am rich because of the many, daily opportunities God provides to serve others! I am rich because of the many people in my life and heart who I am fortunate enough to call friends and family! I am rich because of the love that I can share with others! No amount of money, no possession could ever compete with this richness! And no matter how rich I am, God continues to bless me…and so He led me to Malawi.

As I begin to collect my thoughts, I ask myself, “How can I even begin to express the experience I had in Malawi?”. Though I am not as creative or descriptive in the writing department as Phil and Aaron, I start to write. And as I reflect on this experience, my heart and mind are flooded with the faces and memories of the beautiful people and hearts that made my journey in Malawi unforgettable.

First, before I begin to describe this experience, I need to send my heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to work with an amazing group of people. I left for Malawi not knowing anyone and came back with another family and another home! I left hoping to learn more about LifeNets and to serve others, and came back blessed beyond measure! For all of this, my heart is filled with thanks!

My journey to Malawi began with the opportunity to be a part of LifeNets. It was important that I gain an understanding of what this organization is about and the impact that they have in the world. The timing couldn’t have been better as both Phil and Aaron were beginning their journey to Malawi. I was excited to be able to work with these gentlemen to get their perspectives as well.

After a few weeks of planning, the time came for my departure. During my two days of traveling I had time to really think about all this opportunity presented. Questions raced through my mind, as I was uncertain about what to expect. I left the familiar and entered the unknown. As excited as I was, trepidation began to sneak in more and more as I got closer to my destination. But all that nervousness disappeared when I saw the smiling face of Dr. Chilopora as he greeted me at the airport. Mrs. Chilopora soon embraced me in a hug and I knew all was well. Their warm welcome made my fears disappear. It was the beginning of a special friendship. A few moments later I met Phil and Aaron, two wonderful men who caught me up on their experience thus far and who made me laugh the entire way home to Ntcheu. And so the journey began…

If you have kept up with Phil’s travel blog, I am sure you have heard of the many wonderful opportunities we all had to see Malawi, from Liwonde National Park, Zomba, Lake Malawi, to parts of Balaka and Blantyre. As incredible as those excursions were, it was the interaction with the beautiful people of Malawi that will stay with me and that I would like to share with you.

The days spent in the clinic were eye opening to say the least. First, I was personally impressed by the operation of the Chizeni clinic. Mrs. Chilopora would greet and register each patient waiting to receive treatment. Dr. Chilopora, along with the assistance of Phil and Aaron, would meet with and diagnose each patient. Then Mrs. Chilopora would distribute the medication. It seems simple enough, so why was I impressed? I was impressed with the interaction that took place. You see each patient was treated as a person, not as a number or just another patient.

Mrs. Chilopora would welcome the patients with her comforting smile. She talked to them and spent time with them as she registered each one. Dr. Chilopora, Phil, and Aaron took their time with the patients to make sure they made the right diagnosis. Mrs. Chilopora would then work with each patient to make sure they understood what medications to take and when. A lot of the conversations took place in the Chichewa language, a language Phil, Aaron, and I were beginning to learn, but the smiles and laughter mean the same in any language. There was trust. There was compassion. There was a feeling of safety and comfort. And in a field where you see case after case of malaria, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, cancer, infection, diabetes, etc…that simple smile and friendly interaction makes a world of difference. I heard personal stories of tragedy and loss. I saw people who came to the clinic because they were misdiagnosed at the district hospital due to the lack of adequate staff and increased numbers of patients. Each patient had a story. These stories expressed the struggle they faced, but also the gratitude for the assistance they receive at the clinic. The Chilopora’s have many plans for the clinic that I will be sharing with LifeNets.

I was also fortunate to work with two groups of orphans. One group would come to the clinic once a week. They would gather together while breakfast was being prepared. I was lucky enough to speak with them during this time. They sang and danced as they waited for breakfast. Once they ate, they had class. They received free care from Dr. Chilopora as well. They shared their appreciation for the assistance they receive. I played with the children and just wanted to stay in that moment forever as each smile warmed my heart. Mrs. Chilopora works closely with this group to make sure they have what they need. What an amazing job. What a blessing to work and assist with these beautiful children…where can I sign up?

My experience with the second group of orphans was during a blanket ceremony. A church in the states made blankets for the orphans to use during the winter months and we were lucky enough to be there during the distribution. Many might be surprised to hear that it does get chilly in Malawi during the winter months (June and July), but it does. As we listened to the chief of the village give a blessing and share her thanks in the native Chichewa language, we all knew this would be an experience we would never forget. As each child heard their name called, they came up and received a blanket from one of us. Some knelt to their knees as they received the blanket, while others smiled and showed their appreciation by holding their blankets tightly as they realized that it was their very own. I wish those who made the blankets could have seen the gratitude and excitement. But please know that the blankets and kindness were treasured by the children. And the opportunity to be a part of this experience will stay with me always! A congregation reached out to a group of children they have never met before. They showed kindness and love. Who wouldn’t be blessed to be a part of such an act? It was just a great reminder of another simple way to serve others.

LifeNets continues to play an important role in Malawi as we all saw during a project tour around Blantyre. We visited a music studio and school. We visited a maize mill. We visited several locations where the use of sewing and knitting machines has helped different women create products to sell. We visited a farm that produces several types of crops and is looking into expanding and creating a more efficient irrigation system. All these projects surprised me, as I became to realize the impact LifeNets actually has in Malawi. So much gratitude was expressed throughout the day. Lives have been changed. Opportunities to succeed have become real. I am excited to share with LifeNets all that I have seen and provide some recommendations. I am excited to partner with this organization and assist them any way that I can.

There were times when the power would go out and for a few days there was no running water. But I can’t complain at all. I can’t be anything but grateful. Because it was during those times that great conversations took place. By the light of kerosene lamps you could see the siloutte of Aaron or Phil playing the guitar and singing, Jimmy taking a nap or walking around the house making sure there was enough light, Chiku just enjoying the peacefulness of the evening, and a couple of times we all enjoyed a walk around Ntcheu, laughing and enjoying each other’s company while the moon and the many stars lit our path.

The time for me to leave came too fast as I was not ready to depart! As I said my goodbyes I began to realize how important these individuals were to me. The people I have met along the way have touched my heart.

Dr. and Mrs. Chilopora are two of the most giving and loving individuals I have met. They referred to me as their granddaughter informing me that I always have a home in Malawi. They sent me home with a painting that reminds me everyday of my love for them and my other home with them. Though we are far apart my love for them keeps them close to me. They will always have a special place in my heart and I look up to them as wonderful examples of love and service!

Phil and Aaron are very giving and caring men. They made me smile and laugh often during our conversations and interactions. And I can’t imagine two better men to share this experience with. Phil put it perfectly that our group was like a functional foster family. It seemed that each one of us contributed our own personality that made the group work…that made the friendships grow. Phil is a very focused gentleman. He had the perfect balance of compassion, professionalism, and energy. He will make a wonderful physician. Aaron too is an extraordinary gentleman. The amount of knowledge that he has is incredible. He is a man of passion…passion for caring for others, passion for traveling, passion for knowledge, etc. He too will be an amazing physician. I am blessed to call them friends and look forward to the times that our paths cross once again.

Along with Phil and Aaron, I had an amazing time with Chiku and Jimmy. They are the Chilopora’s grandchildren and we had so many good times together. They are friends that will stay with me as well.

My journey in Malawi has brought so much to my life. The struggles I saw and the beauty I encountered will always be with me. My heart cried for those I met who were trying to support their large families by selling fruit at a price that barely gave them enough money to travel home. My heart cried for those who walked for miles after waiting days to get medical treatment. My heart cried for those who were battling an incureable disease, who were hungry, who were just trying to survive. Even after seeing all of that, I left Malawi with hope. How? Because though I saw poverty, tragedy, and struggle, I saw people reaching out to address these issues. I saw projects that were working to eliminate such challenges. I met people with such caring and loving hearts who spend their days serving others. There is hope!

Malawi is a beautiful country, but to me, Malawi is about the people! I left Malawi with a better understanding of LifeNets! I left Malawi with amazing friendships! I left Malawi a richer person!

The only question left to answer is…”How can I help?” For I am blessed to have discovered my purpose…to serve others! Want to join me?

All I can say is Zikomo Kwambili! Thank you very much!
(Although I could say "choka pasewu mbuzi!" meaning "get out of the road goats!" But that is whole other story ;)

A Few Pictures from Malawi...

Chizeni Clinic in Balaka, Malawi
Aaron working with the wise Dr. Chilopora
Mrs. Chilopora: Wonderful nurse
The sturdy ambulance...our mode of transportation!
Beautiful children...orphans associated with LifeNets
Preparing breakfast for the orphans
It is always better eating right out of the pot!
Blanket Ceremony for second group of orphans associated with LifeNets
Chief of village sharing her blessings and thanks
Aaron distributing blankets
Phil distributing blankets
Children who captured my heart
LifeNets project: Music School
LifeNets Project: Maize Mill
LifeNets Project: Sewing/Knitting Projects
LifeNets Project: Farm
One of the many elephants seen at Liwonde National Park
Beautiful Lake Malawi
The extremely busy msika (market)
Vendors at the msika
View from the top of the mountain overlooking Ntcheu, Malawi
Aaron, Jimmy (James Issac), and Phil on top of the mountain
Phil, Aaron, Chiku, and I and Liwonde National Park
Great Friends...
Great Memories...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Coming Soon...

Hello all you lovely people! I have made it back to the states safe and sound. I had an amazing trip and will be sharing more about it a little later. Still trying to organize my thoughts a little and summarizing everything is a bit difficult to do. Plus, my computer is acting up in regards to copying all the photos I took...all meaning over 300. No worries though. I won't be sharing it all on here. But I will say that the over 300 photos does not even come close to capturing how wonderful this trip was! So keep your eyes open because more details are coming soon...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Less Than A Week

Okay, deep breath!....Relax!

That is pretty much what I have been telling myself the past few days or so. I've gotten quieter as I try to list out all I have to do before I leave. I have thanked God for those moments where I am filled with courage and confidence. I appreciate those moments...though they seem few and far between. But the time is near. In less than a week I am leaving for almost three weeks. We all have those times in our life where we are really challenged. During this time of anxiousness, excitement, nervousness, and all the other emotions I am facing, I have never once doubted that this is what I am to be doing. That is where I find my peace. Knowing that this is bigger than me...knowing that I am being led...knowing that I will not be alone. I am stepping into the unknown, but through this process I am learning to put all of my faith in God as he walks with me. My desire is to be used. So as my nerves start to get the best of me, I will redirect my focus to the One who is working through me. For I know this is only the beginning...