A little Malawi history

Our first day in Lilongwe we stopped to visit a memorial site for Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the first president of Malawi. The memorial included a large monument, photos of Dr. Banda, an empty casket that is the exact replica of the actual (it’s forbidden to visit the real one), and flowers. Stopping to visit the memorial in Lilongwe is similar to how U.S. residents would stop at the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. It's a quiet place that represents the history and culture of Malawi.

Dr. Banda was initially the prime minister in 1964, but he became president in 1966 when Malawi became a republic. He was president until 1994.

At each corner of the monument is a pillar and written on the pillar is a word: Loyalty, Unity, Obedience, Discipline. These words make up the foundation of the Malawian culture. I joked with Gibozi that they were good words for parents to call out when talking with their children. He agreed. 

We drove by a tall Memorial tower with a statue of Dr. Banda out front. After walking around it a tour guide ran over and introduced himself. He said he'd take us to the top of the tower if we wanted to look out over the city. So up we climbed! The view was amazing!

I’m so thankful we had the weekend in Lilongwe to sightsee and learn more about Malawi. Having that time to a) adjust to the time difference and b) experience the culture helped us prepare for the week of work ahead.

Breakfasts and debriefs in Lilongwe

I'd grown used to our group gathering around the breakfast table in the morning, and I wasn’t ready for that to end.

The staff at Damron Suites made us breakfast every morning: fried eggs, sausage, potatoes. We’d make coffee and usually slice up an avocado to spread on toast. And we might have eaten a banana or two. (Fruits just taste better in Malawi!)

Breakfast was our first point in the day to be together. We gathered around a long table in the dining room, poured some coffee to help us function, and then thanked the Lord for the new day. Conversation at breakfast varied. Sometimes we talked about the activities from the day before, or discussed what we were looking forward to. We also spent time verbally processing how we could meet needs that we’d seen. 

"Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not us paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete." - 2 John 1:12 ESV

One of the things I loved most about the trip is that I didn’t have cell phone data and I was off most social media platforms. Which meant I was able to genuinely focus on the person in front of me. Breakfast was a special time for us to focus on each other and the day ahead. My joy was truly complete that week with these women and I believe it's because we were "face to face," experiencing life and talking about real, meaningful situations. Breakfast was our time to center ourselves, our hearts, and communicate with the One who was using us to make an impact. 

When we were planning this trip, we had weekly calls to talk about Lilongwe, what to expect, and what our roles would be. One of the things we talked about was starting each day with Jesus and ending each day with a debrief. The goal of the debrief would be to give each of us a chance to process how our day had gone (whether good or hard), and to share what we'd learned.

Our debriefs were my favorite. Breakfast was time for us to re-focus on our purpose, but debrief was time for us to process how that purpose was playing out. Debriefs started out an hour long each night, but by the middle of the week we were up to three hours. We had so much to share!

The time usually started with someone saying, "So, what was the best part of your day?" And then someone else would say, "Well, I had several great moments..." And that would start a cascade of stories. At the beginning of the week, we stuck together and did the same thing, so we heard many of the same conversations. But, as the week progressed and we became more involved, we found ourselves having sidebar conversations with the staff or villagers, observing situations, and picking up on detail that others missed. The more we talked with other people and developed individual relationships, the more we saw our impact growing and God at work.

One of our last nights, it was observed that women in general pay close attention to detail and like to think about many things at once. This was especially noticeable in our debriefs. Our group was picking up on so many things - we identified needs of those around us and possible solutions, we shared conversations that we'd had that gave us more insight into an individual and how God was working in their life, all while also processing how God was working in our own lives. We laughed a lot. And we cried. It was incredible to be together as four women who notice the detail and want to figure out how we can make an impact in each moment. 

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father though Him." - Colossians 3:15-17 ESV

I've found myself truly understanding these verses and what it means to be thankful. Not just thankful for material possessions, but thankful for people and relationships. Thankful for experiences that grow me and point me to the Father. Thankful for conversation that goes deep, tears that run long, and laughs that carry a tune. Thankful for aunts and for new friends. Thankful for breakfasts and debriefs.

Getting to know the staff

I didn't know any of the AWP staff before visiting Lilongwe. I've known about the staff. I've read their bios on the website and heard some stories here and there, but I'd never met any of them and didn't know all of their names. 

Now I do. 

Gibozi, Joseph, John, Professor, Yohani, Alex, Elias, Patricia, and Gerard were so kind and welcoming to our group. We were able to spend time with each of them, hearing their stories, and learning about how they enjoy working for AWP. Spoiler alert: they love it. Each of them said AWP is a blessing and they enjoy working in an environment that's so encouraging and honest.

One of the first moments we had with all of the staff was at the staff meeting Monday morning. The meeting started with a devotional led by Gibozi. He dived into the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 and then opened the floor for discussion. We had a very rich conversation about Jesus and loving others. It was evident that the men and women in that room are Christ seekers and they were excited to talk about what the scripture was teaching them. 

Photo (L-R): Kyrsten, Margaret, Gibozi, Professor, Doris, Gerard, John, Yohani, Elias, Joseph, Alex, Patricia, and Wanda (photo by Kimberly).
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During our week there, we got to know the staff on a more personal level. We spent our first weekend there with Gibozi, John, and Joseph. These three are compassionate and hard working, and it was evident in their demeanor toward us that they valued us as sisters in Christ. John is one of the drivers on staff and he's so careful when he drives. The roads in the city are paved, but once you start heading toward the villages, the roads are dirt and full of holes, bumps, and deep ridges. It was great to have someone who knew the roads driving us around. Beyond being a driver, John helps the rest of the staff out with windmill repair and trainings - he goes above and beyond to ensure farmers have what they need to be successful at irrigation farming, and it really shows. 

Joseph is the project manager and has a great spirit. He spent time teaching us about Lilongwe and Malawian culture. Later in the week several of us had a chance to travel with Joseph to the widow’s program and meet some children from COTN (Children of the Nations).

Photos: Joseph surveying a garden at Mziza (1). Wanda teaching the children at COTN a song, with Joseph and Kyrsten (3). John getting ready to drive us to Chigonthi (3).

Professor and Alex lead irrigation training for farmers in the villages. We had the opportunity on Wednesday to go out with Alex and Elias (another driver) to Mngwangwa and meet with three villages in that area. They all love Alex! He works with over 2000 farmers and based on some of the songs and prayers we heard, we know they respect him and appreciate all he's doing to help. Alex is kind and speaks with a boldness that inspires those around him. Elias worked really hard all day to get us safely to and from Mngwangwa. We got to know Elias a little more on the drive to and and he said he's happy to be with AWP.

Photos: Alex giving us a tour of the office and talking about windmills.

On Thursday, we traveled with Professor, Yohani, and John to Chigonthi where Professors works with ~1300 farmers. Professor led irrigation training for one village we stopped at and it was fun to see him in action. He's an engaging teacher and enjoys his work. Yohani accompanied us on the trip to repair a windmill at another village in the area. Yohani has a deep history with AWP and it was nice to get to know him better. He's funny and likes to joke around, but also works really hard to build and construct the windmills to the best of his ability.

Photos: Professor teaching village farmers about irrigation farming (1&2). Yohani welding a windmill (3). Yohani, Professor, and John repairing a windmill in a village (4&5). Our team with Alex at a village demonstrating a water pump (6).

Patricia started at AWP the first week of March. She works in the office on finance and administrative tasks, but she did journey with us out to Mziza on Tuesday to check on a water pump. One of the things I really enjoyed is meeting other women and learning more about their story, and meeting Patricia was no exception. She's very excited about her position and looking forward to working for AWP for a long time. 

Photos: Kyrsten and Patricia in a garden in Mziza (1). Kimberly and Patricia (2).

Gerard! I have to say his name with emphasis because he cooked our lunch several times during the week and it was delicious. Gerard lives on AWP’s premises with his family and takes care of the office and workshop. We ran into Gerard on his bike one day earlier in the week when we were walking home after a minibus ride, and he was so excited to see us. He's very genuine and loves the Lord so much! 

Photos: Gerard (1). Gerard's wife and daughters (2). Lunch that Gerard made one day - nsima and vegetable (greens) (3).