It has always been a sweet sound to my ears to hear a person speak of their passions. Passions have a way of unlocking a heart, driving it to open up wide to relentlessly follow its greatest desire. As believers, we know that God does not haphazardly give us our passions but deliberately weaves them deep into every fiber of our being, for His purpose. His Word tells us in Psalm 139 that He formed our inmost being. Together, as the body of Christ, He has given us our unique passions that can act as fire. He can use them to ignite our souls to be fully devoted to His service and mission when we surrender ourselves selflessly to Him.
Today I’m excited to share a guest post written by my sister-in-law Jewel, who has found her passion in the tiny rural villages of Malawi, Africa. God has used and will continue to use her heart’s desires to fulfill His plan for the people in this area. Please read through to the end to see how you can join in and help with her current fundraiser!
If someone would have told me a few years ago that I would one day be involved in foreign missions, I wouldn’t have believed them. That was always a good job for other people. I was too attached to my things, my home, and my people. I enjoy traveling and visiting new places but not for missions. “Missions”, means relating to strangers, facing unknowns, not having everything mapped out, experiencing new things, and overall being stretched WAY farther than what I’m comfortable with.
Have you ever experienced God’s sense of humor?! Just watch out! When I didn’t want to be pushed outside my comfort zone, I pictured God laughing and saying, “Ah but just watch me push you out.” In case you haven’t figured it out, incredible, mind-blowing things happen when you’re willing to step outside your “box”.
I remember the Sunday morning that my pastor announced about a possible mission trip beginning to be organized to go to Malawi, Africa. Granted I hadn’t even heard of Malawi before, I had to go look at a map to see where in Africa it was located. For whatever reason, Africa tickled the little “that sounds interesting” button inside of me. I’m picturing the vast safaris in Africa filled with giraffes and elephants like I had studied in school. I wanted to see this. Have you ever been interested in something and the whole time, you just doubt that it could possibly ever work out? That’s how this was for me. I was interested but the whole time I’m thinking that there’s no way I’d really get to go to Africa. Even so, I filled out my application. I was accepted. Step #1 completed.
Plans progressed and I started realizing that this is no joke. Not only were steps being taken, but they were also falling into place. One of the big hurdles along the way was funding. A trip to Africa isn’t cheap. If our team didn’t get funded, we couldn’t go. We planned some fundraisers but we didn’t know how successful they would be. We also sent out correspondence letters asking for people to consider sponsoring us. A few days after mailing out some letters, I got a call from one of the owners of the company I work for asking if I had gotten the funds that I needed. I told him I hadn’t and he said that he was ready to fill out a check for me for whatever I needed. Boom! In one short phone call, I was completely funded.
I cried from the overwhelming emotions that enveloped me. There was nothing left to doubt that I was to be making this trip to Africa. After a very successful BBQ fundraiser, our entire team of 8 people was fully funded. There were lots of little details still needing to be sorted out but I no longer doubted that they would also be taken care of and they were.
It’s a grueling travel experience. We traveled from Tampa to JFK in New York. From New York to Johannesburg, South Africa and from Johannesburg to Lilongwe, Malawi. The flight from New York to Johannesburg was to be a 14 hour, non-stop flight. We were about half an hour en route, about to watch a movie and settle in for the long haul. The pilot came on, saying that we’re experiencing a technical difficulty. The flaps on the wings weren’t retracting, keeping the plane from being able to get up to the correct cruising altitude. If we flew across the ocean at a lower altitude, we wouldn’t have enough fuel to get to Johannesburg. So we’d have to go back to JFK to get the flaps fixed. One more problem: the flaps are also used to slow a plane down for landing so we’d be making an accelerated, emergency landing. At this point, the entire cabin was deathly silent.
Let’s take a step back here so you can understand the scenario. Flying straight up scares me. I’ll do it but I don’t like doing it. This is the longest flight I’ve ever experienced. This is my first mission trip as well as my first time out of the US/Canada. Okay? So I’m not feeling the most relaxed. This whole experience is a giant step outside of my “box”. Imagine the terror coursing through my body when the pilot says we have technical difficulties. This is like my worst nightmare in an airplane coming true. Not only are there technical difficulties but we’re going to have to go back and make an accelerated, emergency landing. There were fearful and terrorizing thoughts zipping through my head. The thought of the possibility of having to make an emergency landing in the water when I don’t know how to swim or wondering if we can make a safe “accelerated landing” at the airport. Might I add, it’s not very comforting when a grown man on your team sitting next to you says that this technical issue is nothing to be alarmed about.
My thoughts turned to prayer. I couldn’t see how God would coordinate all the details for a team of eight people to carry His Gospel to Africa only to let them die just outside of New York. A peace flooded over me and I had confidence that we’d be okay. That’s what is amazing about God’s power. He already knew we’d face this obstacle long before we did. Whatever the outcome, He had a plan and a purpose. Maybe this was only to spare us of something much more severe.
Going back now to the pilot’s announcement; we’d be making an emergency landing back at JFK. However, we were too heavily weighted with fuel to safely make the landing. We spent 45 min to an hour circling to release enough fuel into the air to make us light enough to land. When we were light enough, we headed towards the airport. The plane had external cameras so we could watch the entire fuel dumping and landing process from the screens in front of each seat. We landed on a remote airstrip that was lined with emergency personnel in their hazmat suits. In that moment, I had a new fearful thought. What if this plane bursts into flames? We were definitely coming in at a much higher rate of speed than normal but it was an absolutely flawless landing! We all cheered when we were safely on solid ground. We thought that we’d be transferred to another plane or at least be deplaned while ours was under repair. No, we had to sit on that plane for 4-5 hours while it was fixed! They didn’t have another South African Airline plane to put us on. I wasn’t keen on the fact that we’d remain on the same plane. Now our14-hour flight was turning into a 19-hour flight.
Not long after landing, we received word that one of our church’s members had suddenly passed away from a heart attack. Here we are sitting at JKF on our way to Malawi and a very close friend to several of our team members has died unexpectedly, back at home. What was the right thing to do? Were we getting a glaring stop sign? After more prayer, we decided our answer was to still go.
That long flight allowed us ample prayer time, lifting our sister in Christ up as she suddenly was made a widow. Our team would end up being absent to grieve with her and our church family during this tragedy. This was especially hard for the several team members who were so close to this family. We knew that all we could do was pray and trust in our Lord’s sovereign plan for these situations He was allowing us to face.
By His mercy, we finally arrived in Johannesburg without any more incidents. Johannesburg only has one flight a day that goes to Lilongwe and our delay made us miss that flight. They kindly put all of us up in a hotel at the airport and gave us enough meal vouchers that we could eat like kings and queens. We were able to explore the quaint airport, experienced team bonding, and had hot showers before having a long, restful night. It was much appreciated!
The next morning we flew to Lilongwe, where the luxurious lifestyle that we had become accustomed to in the US, ceased to exist. I loved the simplicity of the lifestyle. It felt like home. Immediately. That completely took me off guard. I don’t typically adapt to a new setting and especially to a new culture that quickly. It usually takes awhile before something feels familiar to me. But I immediately felt a connection there.
We started right into our weekly activities the very day we arrived. Our main goal was to repair as many bore holes as we could. Bore holes are their wells that they pump water with a hand pump as a source of clean water. Malawi has thousands of bore holes that are not working leaving entire villages without a source for clean water. Oftentimes villagers either do not have the money to purchase replacement parts, do not have access to the parts or do not have the knowledge and tools to make the repair. Therefore, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people are left to drink contaminated surface water. Water from puddles that their livestock tramples through. This has lead to a crisis in many parts of Malawi. With their very limited medical knowledge, death statistics continue to remain high.
In certain areas, we found multiple villages relying on the same bore hole. Sometimes a working bore hole was in sight of a broken bore hole. We didn’t understand the necessity to repair the broken bore hole until we learned that they serviced different villages. The villages with a working bore hole often charged other villages with a broken one to come use theirs. These villages couldn’t afford to pay for water.
We spent our days traveling from bore hole to bore hole. Sometimes it was a 10 minute stop and other times it was a couple hour stop. We never knew until the men took the pump apart. While the men worked at fixing the bore holes and showed the natives how to make repairs, we ladies would play bubbles with the children and women. We also would share the Gospel with them, the most important part of our trip.
We left them with access to clean water but we wanted to leave them with eternal hope, even more. We’d spend as much time with the women and children as we could. Once the men completed the repair, we’d all go join them around the bore hole. One of the men from the team would stand and share the Gospel story with everyone. We’d then leave Bibles and two soccer balls with the village chief before moving on to the next bore hole.
The course of the week was filled with tangible evidence of God at work, answered prayers, and a few embracing Jesus as their Savior. It’s hard to portray to you the extreme poverty that we witnessed in words. Their entire houses were typically smaller and more shabby than most Americans’ backyard sheds. The kids only had one set of clothes most times so on wash day, they had to just play naked until their clothes were dry.
Their work ethic was incredible to witness. They’d get up at sunrise (around 4:30 the time of year we went) and started the day by tidying up their land parcels and starting a fire. You’d see the people disperse, trailing across paths, headed to work in their fields. The kids would help until it was time to go to school (if they were fortunate enough to get to go to school). Then they’d return to the fields after school until late afternoon. They went to bed at sundown and started all over the next day.
While these people live very difficult lives with little hope of the economy improving, they are some of the happiest people I have ever related to. They welcomed us with open arms and shared with us what little they had. They sang, danced and laughed as they worked. We heard story after story from women sharing about their lives but never once did they complain. Needless to say, these people worked their way into my heart. When we left, I felt more like I was leaving home than returning home.
The verse, “Be still and know that I am God” comes to mind. We Americans have so many distractions and hectic lives that we have to be intentional about being still and listening to God. That’s one of the things I loved about Africa. It is much easier to hear God in a culture that is much more simple than the luxurious life we live. While we are concerned about when we can get the upgrade to our phone, they’re wondering how to get enough food to survive. I’m not saying our culture is wrong. It’s a matter of keeping our priorities straight and remaining unselfish.
Africa changed my heart and my faith forever. If you’ve made it this far, I’d like to thank you for reading my story and to tell you that it’s not ending here! We are going back! My friend Esmeralda and I are in the process of planning a return, extended trip!
I’m beyond excited at the opportunity to return and see the loved ones we learned to know. We will be involved in the feeding programs, mentorships, and budding congregations that have been planted. While definite steps are being taken that I can return in February 2018, I need your help! We need workers from all over the world, but I understand this is not everyone’s call or reality. Would you consider supporting our mission?
Right now, our largest need is prayer. We covet your prayers for safety and that all we do in this journey will glorify God as we complete His kingdom work that we have been called to.
Our next obvious need is funding. We have set up a GoFundMe account if you’d like to donate there. Or you can join in on our first local fundraiser happening now!
We are selling homemade, made from scratch cinnamon buns as a fundraiser. (Fun side note: they freeze well!🤗) We have two sizes: an 8 count pan for $10 or a 4 count pan for $5. We’re taking PRE-ORDERS from now through September 23rd, 2017 or until there are a manageable amount of orders. Our goal for this is to meet at least $500. Please EMAIL your order to firstname.lastname@example.org Please specify your name, phone number, quantity, and size. Pickup will be on September 30th from 2 pm to 6 pm. If we work with you or go to church with you, we can deliver. Payment will be by cash or check at the time of pick-up.
More opportunities will be coming soon! Please RSVP for our event on Facebook for the fundraiser and stay tuned for updates.
Thank you so much for supporting our heart’s call.