Above and Beyond

Isn’t it amazing how God knows us better than we even know ourselves?  And how we can ask for one thing we really think we want, but then God goes above and beyond what we even thought to ask for.  This has been my experience all through out this journey.  God knows me, he loves me and he wants to give me better things than I even know that I need.

I’ve lived by myself the majority of the last seven years, and that’s exactly how I liked it.  The space was my own, the schedule was my own, there were no expectations on me.  If I wanted to cook I cooked, if I wanted to eat out I ate out.  If there was a t.v. show I wanted to watch I watched it. I saw people when I wanted to see people and I was alone when I wanted to be alone.  I was accountable to no one but myself.

I’ve known all along that I would have two German roommates in Malawi, in fact for the majority of the time I thought there would be three of us in one room.  Thankfully, that didn’t end up being the case, but I was ready for that challenge.  I looked at this as the potential to be like the college experience I never had.  I started at a junior college, transferred to Cal State Fullerton and was a commuter.  At that time it was about finishing, not about enjoying the experience. I knew living with strangers wouldn’t be easy for this introvert, but I wanted to take this as another opportunity to stretch and grow.

I found out about a week or so before they came that they were two 18 years old girls.  I knew they would be younger, but I had no idea they would be that young, literally just graduated from high school.  I am old enough to be their mother.  This did not seem to be an ideal situation to me, but there was little I could do about it, so I was left only to trust that this too was part of God’s plan.  My prayer all along had been that I would at least be able to tolerate whoever I had to live with.

God answered my prayers above and beyond what I asked for.  Not only can I tolerate Pauline and Leonie, I love them.  They have strengths where I lack, they are extremely mature for their age, they are good natured, funny and we just all balance each other out so well.  We can joke and tease with the best of them, there has definitely already been some mom jokes, and I can’t help but laugh at the way they say some things with their German accents, but we are also so encouraging and caring towards one another.  We’ve learned and grown so much together and it hasn’t even been a week yet.  It’s obvious that God chose us for each other.  Of course there will be challenges over the next eleven months, but I am confident that we will get through them together.

I’m thankful for the challenges I spoke about in my last blog, because through that loneliness I’m now so grateful for this new connection.  If I hadn’t gone through that dark place, I don’t know that I would be able to appreciate the light I now have.  The Bible talks about how the storms of life will come, and that if we build our foundation on the rock of Jesus Christ we will be able to weather those storms.  I’ve come through the storm of loneliness stronger and full of trust in God unlike I’ve ever had before.  I’m so happy and grateful to God for all that he’s done, is doing and will continue to do.  He is a good God who knows us better than we know ourselves, loves us deeply and wants to take care of us.

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On my own, but not

I want to be transparent with my experience, because otherwise what is the use in sharing?  On some level I knew that there would be challenges as far as this year in Malawi went.  I was under no illusion that the whole year would be a breeze.  However, I did not realize how early the challenges would come and how significantly they would affect me.

The initial challenge started with saying goodbye to the team.  I felt fine the whole morning, but the closer we got to the airport the stronger my emotions became.  The tears came, despite me trying to hold them back.  The tears didn’t just represent sadness for saying goodbye to my friends, but for the first time they also represented fear of staying here on my own.  There was an inner conflict happening that I couldn’t control.  I’d been so excited about this experience for so long, but the reality of it was also incredibly scary all of a sudden.  Honestly, there was a brief time where I contemplated getting on the plane with them, I didn’t obviously, but that’s how significant the feelings were.

The fear of staying settled down pretty quickly, but the loneliness hung around.  I’d never realized how significant connecting with people was to me, probably because I had never been quite so disconnected before.  In retrospect this shouldn’t have surprised me, as two of my top five strengths are connectedness and relator.  Regardless, I was totally caught off guard by how alone and hopeless I felt.  When I could fill my time, that helped to distract me, but as soon as there was down time, I would again feel down.

The opportunity to serve with a children’s outreach came up and I thought this would really help.  This would put me with a group of people and it would give me purpose.  My thoughts were that those would both significantly help with the loneliness.  Those were good thoughts, but it back fired at least at first.  The problem was that I was with a group of strangers most of who didn’t speak English.  It turns out, it is worse  to be in a large group and still feel lonely than it is to just be alone.

I wasn’t willing to stay in this place though.  I kept reminding myself that I knew God had called me here and that I was here for a purpose.  I prayed a lot and I asked people to pray for me.  I looked for the lesson in the situation.  What I came up with or rather what God showed me was that I needed to be dependent on him.  I wasn’t alone at all, he was with me the whole time.  At home, I lived on my own. I did what I wanted when I wanted and didn’t do what I didn’t want to.  I didn’t need to be dependent on anyone but myself.  That is not my reality in Malawi, I need help here and that help needs to come primarily through God.

There is more to the story, but this realization of my need to depend on God was a good start.

My First Two Weeks Part Two

Following Nkhotakota, we were headed to Nkhoma.  This is the region Y-Malawi has been working in for a long time, where I spent most of my time when I was here two years ago, and where I will be living and volunteering for the majority of this year.  I was excited to go back there and especially to get to visit Ebenezer, the school where I will be volunteering.

The first thing on our agenda in Nkhoma was church on Sunday with the Chief’s Ministry.  This was exciting for me, because it would be the first church service I ever attended in Malawi and on top of that I was going to be preaching with Candie.  We spoke on Ephesians 2:19-21, which was about how we are all one in Christ.  We were able to really connect with the people, and based on their responses they connected very well to the message.  It was an honor to be a part of it.  We had the opportunity to share the message again the next afternoon at a Chief’s Bible study.  It was also well received there.

On Monday morning we visited Ebenezer and Nkhoma Hospital.  When we arrived at Ebenezer, we started in the staff room where Chrissy Mbewe, the principal, greeted us and started to tell us about the school.  As I sat there, I was overwhelmed by emotion and I started to cry.  It was an interesting experience in that I couldn’t connect to the tears to a specific emotion like happiness or fear, but just this overwhelming experience of finally being physically present in the place I have felt God calling me to for so long.  The school is an amazing place and it was evident that a lot of good work for the future of Malawi takes place there.

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Following the visit to Ebenezer, we made our way to Nkhoma Hospital.  It was amazing to tour this facility, meet some of the people who help run it and to see the good work they are doing.  I’m thankful that I will be living next door to the hospital, as it was obvious that they are doing an excellent job with the resources that they have.

On Tuesday, we spent the day with World Vision.  We were able to visit a local school they are helping to develop.  What stood out as special about this place, was the obvious pride the community took in the development.  It was not just the fact that they were getting a school building, but that they were contributing to the project as well by making bricks.  A really cool thing happened at the end too when I was giving everyone present an encouragement for the good work they were doing.  I was in the middle of saying that the work they were doing now would make a huge difference in the future generations, when a little boy about two years old came out of the crowd and let me pick him up.  It was a really special moment and it felt like it was orchestrated by God.

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Following the school visit, many of our team had the opportunity to meet sponsored children.  Some were kids they were sponsoring themselves, and some they were acting as representatives for people from our church.  It’s always a great experience to get to connect with someone one on one especially if you have known them from a distance for a long time.  Conversations ensued, gifts were exchanged and then the goodbyes.  I know it meant a lot to every member of the team to get to take part in this.

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Our time in Nkhoma was very encouraging and it was a great end to our time serving together as a team.  From Nkhoma we headed to Mvuu, a safari lodge in Liwonde National park.  It was a great time of relaxation and provided us with the opportunity to debrief as a team.

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Saying goodbye to the team was very challenging, but more on that in the next blog.

My First Two Weeks Part One

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The first two weeks in country, I was leading a group of ten including myself, on a short term Y-Malawi trip.  It was a jam packed two weeks with an amazing team!  I’m going to try to give you the Reader’s Digest version of all that we did.

We started out by working with World Relief.  This is the newest partner for Y-Malawi. Their main goal is to empower the local church’s, who then come together to help the most vulnerable in their community.  It was great to see multiple congregations from different denominations working together to serve and do what God designed the Church to do.  It was also a privilege to get to work along side them and help with their project.

The project we were able to be a part of was for an elderly woman whose house had fallen down.  The church group had already helped her rebuild the walls, and on this day the men would be thatching the roof and the women would be smearing the floors (think spreading mud with your hands to even out the floor).  We definitely gave the local people a good laugh in our attempts to help, but I know both groups were honored to be working along side each other, and it was clear to see the elderly woman appreciated what was being done for her.

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The next group we had the privilege of serving with was Fishers Trainers and Senders, or FTS.  This part of Y-Malawi focuses on evangelism, discipleship and other charity work.  At the time we were with them, they were hosting a two week discipleship program in a new area called Nkhotakota, which is located near Lake Malawi.  People came from all over Malawi to camp for two weeks and be discipled.  They would take classes in the morning and then go out and practice what they had learned in the local villages.  The dedication of the people was amazing to see.  We were also able to participate in local kids clubs and adult literacy programs that FTS runs and supports.

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The next group we partnered with was the Nkhoma Youth Department.  Youth is defined very differently in Malawi, and pretty much consists of anyone from birth to 30 years old.  This department is helping to inspire some amazing things.  Some of the things we got to see were  a Dare to Discover class which is helping to give the youth a sense of who they are in Christ, literacy programs, a savings and loan club, a fish pond that was created by young men whose proceeds are helping to support their local kids going to school, a program where students were trained to use sewing machines and then turned around and trained other youth, and gardens planted and tended by youth to use as a source of income and nutrition.  The Youth department is definitely making a huge impact in the community.

I couldn’t keep this as brief as I wanted, because there is so much to share.  For this reason, I will end here for now.

You Can’t Get to Malawi Without a Passport…

Let me start this blog with a confession.  I am an all star, first class, well practiced procrastinator.  Throughout school, I always used the excuse that I do my best work at the last minute, but the truth is I don’t really know when I do my best work, because I’ve never really done it any other time than the last minute.  With all of that being said, procrastination is not your friend when you are planning to be away for a year and there are certain requirements you have to complete to allow that to be an option.

Not Exactly around the corner…

Getting a Visa is one of those things you can’t completely wait until the last minute to do.  Actually, I technically could have done it upon arrival in the airport, but that wasn’t a risk I was willing to take since I wanted a one year visa instead of a regular tourist visa.  I guess that is a point in my favor right?  Anyway, I did some research ahead of time and talked to the Malawian Embassy in Washington D.C. to find out what I would need to do to get the one year visa.  I was advised to send it no later than July 1st.  I technically sent it on July 2nd, but July 1st was a Sunday so don’t judge me too harshly.

One of the scariest parts about getting a Visa, especially when you wait until the last minute, is that you have to physically mail your passport to the Embassy.  As I mentioned, the Malawian Embassy is in Washington D.C., not exactly around the corner in case of any complications.  And you guessed it, there were of course complications.  I felt like I’d taken some pretty good measures to help insure timely delivery, such as sending my passport and all of the necessary paperwork by two day mail and including a pre-paid self addressed return envelope for two day return that I could track.

What would it mean if I couldn’t go after all?

We were scheduled to leave on a Friday night, when there was still no activity on the return sticker by Monday, I started to get a little concerned.  Just a little though, I knew that as long as it was in the mail by Wednesday I would be fine.  Then Wednesday came, and still nothing.  This was not good!  I did my best to get in contact with the Embassy, but they weren’t really the best about answering their phones.  Even with all of this happening though, I still had a sense of calm about the whole thing.

In my heart I couldn’t believe that God had brought me this far just to not be able to get on the plane.  I considered it though.  What would it mean to me to not be able to go or at least to be delayed about going?  The previous Sunday, I’d had the opportunity to share my story in church and I’d made the comment that if I learned nothing more than what I’ve already learned in preparing for this trip, that would be enough.  I was faced with the reality that that might be the case.  Was what I’d said really true?  Was it enough?  I think I definitely would have been disappointed if that had been the case, but in my heart I knew what I said was true.  I’d learned to trust God, and this was just another opportunity to put that into practice.

So many people stepped up!

There’s an old joke about a man during a flood on his roof.  You’ve probably heard it.  A boat comes by and he won’t get in, because he trusts that God will save him.  I don’t remember all the things that were sent to him, but the man drowns and when he gets to heaven he asks God why he didn’t save him.  God’s response of course is that I sent you so many chances to be rescued and you didn’t take any of them!  I did not want to be that guy, so I decided not to sit idly by and just wait to see what happened.  I decided to do my part, and many other people did their part on my behalf as well.

Wednesday came and went with no progress, but no one was giving up.  One of the most humbling things that was done for me was that on Thursday, three of my friends fasted and prayed on my behalf.  I’d had oral surgery the day before, so I wasn’t in a state to be able to do it along with them, but I was so very deeply touched by their willingness to do it for me.  Additionally, calls were literally placed to the Deputy Ambassador of Malawi for the United Nations on my behalf by a contact in Malawi.  It was crazy to see all of the moving parts.

I was also calling the Embassy, and by the grace of God I got through.  The person I talked to told me my Visa was processed and approved on the 10th of July, and she seemed very surprised that I hadn’t received it yet.  This was kind of good news, in that at least I knew it was approved, but also very frightening in that I was left with the question of where in the heck was my passport then?!?!  She said she would look for it, and in the calmest voice I could muster I asked if she would please call me when she found it.

I got the phone call from the Embassy that afternoon that they had found my passport, received my email with the new faster shipping label, and that it had been dropped off to FedEx.  The passport then arrived the next morning at about 7:30 and was in my possession with a cool 12 hours to spare before we had to leave to the airport.  Nothing like procrastination for the win right?!?!

In all seriousness though, God was in complete control of this situation and honestly my trust did not waiver.  I am so grateful to all of the people who worked on my behalf through prayer, fasting, phone calls and every other way people have supported me throughout this journey so far.  I am humbled to be the recipient of it all, and I will do my best to continue trusting God and learning through this adventure.

So Far Behind!

I must start with an apology.  The final few weeks of preparation and the first two weeks in country held many things, and unfortunately this blog was not able to be one of my priorities.  With that said, I have a lot to catch up on.

Let’s start with a story of God’s provision.  I have had Cutaneous Lupus for the past three years.  This is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin.  Other than when I was first diagnosed with it, I have had no major issues with it and it is well controlled by medication.  That in and of itself is pretty great news, because that is not the reality for many people with Lupus.  I talked in my previous post about making doctors appointments before I left.  One of those was with my Rheumatologist.  He gave me great news that I would be able to cut my dose of medication in half, this was provision number one. He was also willing to fill a prescription for the full dose for the year in case I needed to go back on the full dose while I was gone.  Doctor’s prescriptions are not the same as insurance protocols however.

When I went to fill the prescription two things happened.  First, the max they will normally fill and prescription is three months, and the second, is there happened to be a shortage of the medication I take so they were only wanting to fill one month at a time.  When I talked to the pharmacy and tried to explain my situation, their reasoning was that by only filling one month at a time they were trying to prevent anyone from having to go without.  I explained that by only giving me one month at a time, they were basically guaranteeing that I would go without.  Mail delivery from the U.S. to Malawi is neither speedy nor reliable.  I was able to convince them to give me a three-month supply, which if all went well would actually be a six-month supply.  This was provision number two.  There was also malaria medication to consider, a three-month supply wasn’t going to cut it for that.  I was informed that I would be able to file an appeal with the insurance company.

When I called to file the appeal, they were very friendly, but it did not seem like it was going to be a quick process.  Fortunately, the woman who helped me was able to put a note that this was a severe health risk issue and she said that that may help speed up the process, provision number three.

It then came time to get my shots for the trip and to pick up my malaria medication.  I decided to go online to see if I could fill a prescription for my Asthma inhaler, and when I was there I saw that there was an old prescription from August 2017 for my Lupus medication that had a refill on it.  I decided to try and fill it, because why not, the worst they could do was say no.  When I went to pick it up, they gave me another one-month supply, I didn’t push it, because I figured I was already working the system a bit and I didn’t want to send up any red flags.  As I walked away, I realized I hadn’t picked up the Malaria pills.  I decided this time when I went back to the counter I would push it a little, since I already had the one-month supply in my hands.  I explained to the guy at the counter that I understood why he only gave me one month, but that I was going out of the country for a year and that if he could give me the normal three-month supply that would be very helpful.  He double checked with his supervisor, and he didn’t just give me two additional months, but a full three additional months.  This was provision number four, above and beyond my needs.  The story doesn’t stop there however.

Fast forward to the Tuesday before we left for Malawi, and I got a text message saying my prescriptions were ready.   I was confused as I hadn’t ordered anything, but didn’t give it too much thought and figured I would just stop by the pharmacy on my way home.  About an hour later, I got a call from the pharmacy saying that they were going to fill both my Lupus medication and the Malaria medication for a full year!  I was beyond excited.  I ended up with over a full year of my lupus medicine, even if I have to go back on the double dose, and 400 days worth of malaria medicine.  Again, above and beyond my needs.  Provision number five.

God was and is so good.  He has called me to serve in Malawi for the year, and he has taken care of every detail.  He is faithful and worthy of all of our trust.  When we look to God as our provider, he will take care above and beyond every need.

We Made It!

We are exhausted, but we made it!  Too tired to write much more than that.   I’m not sure what our internet availability will be like for the next several days, but we will do our best to keep you updated.  We head to Nkhotakota in the morning!  Please pray that we will have safe travels and that our time there will be fruitful and bring glory to God.