Certainly the highlight of the trip for me was the experience of sharing my faith and a gospel lesson with prisoners at Nkata Prison.

Thank you, Gabriel and Dennis, CitiHope Malawi staff and our wonderful hosts for our mission trip!

As is so often God’s way, this life-changing opportunity to help lead our wonderful group to Malawi seemingly came out of the blue. It soon became clear that God had a transforming experience in store for all of us!

For a team of 10 folks who didn’t know each other well at the start, we sure bonded in a hurry. (Dennis, Trin & Mo – Fryball, anyone? 8>)

Before leaving, friends and family expressed a sense of fear, bordering on dread, for the despair and devastation they (and I) assumed we would meet in Malawi. “It will be so hard to see that,” they often said. Well, they were right, but not in the way they thought.

Our first day with the kids at the day care center run by the Presbyterian Church in Mzuzu, St. Andrews Church. What fun!

This set the stage for the jarring contrasts which soon became the hallmark of the entire trip: joyous, hope-filled kids in the care of make-shift families and volunteer-run day care centers & orphanages struggling against malnutrition and the ever-present spector of HIV.

This shot pretty much sums up the trip experience for me: look closely at the picture. The kids are munching away on the USAID food which CitiHope delivers (and Martha hands out!) to help them stave off hunger another day. Do you see anything peculiar in the background? Those wooden boxes, perhaps? Yup — they are coffins, products of one of Malawi’s top-three industries. The kids play, sing and laugh in front of them, oblivious (or reconciled) to the fact that they or any one of their friends may be in them before long. Now, how’s that for a contrast?

And here’s the thing that struck us: how warm, faith-filled, hopeful and even jubilant the people of Malawi are! Despite the disease, despite the poverty, despite the death, reminders of which are everywhere as this picture shows, they greeted us everywhere with dancing and singing. We felt like rock stars going into to each village, everyone wanting to touch us, to take their picture. Dennis and I were even presented with a live chicken! (Michael said it was tasty …)

And how to describe the sheer joy that we experienced at worship in Livingstonia, the compound created by legendary Scottish missionary, Robert Laws?

And bringing soup and soap to prisoners, hungry for both food and gospel. Will I ever be able to top the experience of preaching on the Loaves and Fishes as they sat in rapt attention? (A captive audience, I know!) Thanks to God and the team for making this call-affirming experience possible!

We saw the face of AIDS and innocent suffering in Malawi. It was hard to miss. But, we saw something even more powerful, still: the power of faith and hope. Upon reflection, that is what made our experience so impactful. Experiencing daily the emotional poles of life and death, joy and despair, may take some time to process. But this I know for sure: Christ calls us — all of us — to be in the midst of this struggle. Matthew 25 tells us we are to see Christ in the faces of “the least of these” and to treat them as Jesus. The first step is a step of the heart. Wanna come?