I just returned from spending Friday/Saturday at church with my two daughters and their youth group. We were taking part in a “30 Hour Famine” fund-raiser for World Vision and the Y-Malawi fund (which supported CitiHope last year). I really didn’t mind fasting for 30 hours or sleeping in a Sunday School room (at least I had a cot). It was a worthy cause. I got to share my slides of the people of Malawi and their need for food, medicine and fresh water from a well. What joy it was to watch my daughters and their friends get passionate about ending hunger and AIDS in Malawi, and to want to do something about it. This youth group (of about 30-40 kids) raised over $10,000 for hunger relief! Amazing how they were able to articulate the need, get sponsors, and put the funds to good use.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday. As the season of Lent draws to a close and the new season of Easter begins, it is time for my March Travel Blogs to be filed in the achives. (if you want to read all the Travel Blogs, go to the Archives and click on March).

A month ago I invited you to join me on this Lenten journey of travel and reflection on the Malawi mission project which has occupied my time this sabbatical year (See invitational Blog posted on Feb. 28). It is gratifying to know that an average of 300 read my Blog each week with a total of over 1900 visits to the site. As an obsessive writer in search of a public, it motivates me to continue this public journal. So, before turning my attention to an April trip to Korea, I offer this final reflection on my March Mission Trip to Malawi.

I don’t know why this third visit affected me more deeply than my two previous trips to Malawi. I saw again what I saw before: extreme poverty and AIDS; warm and happy people who accept the way life is; human resilience and spiritual resources that carry folks through. It is so inspiring to see how willing people are to take in orphans and abandoned children and become their guardians and care-givers. It is not uncommon for a nuclear family of five to become an extended foster family of 15, even though they cannot afford to feed ten orphans and support them through school. Remarkably, these caregivers and guardians find a way to survive. These experiences were not new to me on this trip.

What got to me this time were four particular encounters where I witnessed obvious need and the difference food and medical aid is making in peoples lives:

1) The prisoners at Nkata prison gave us a super warm welcome when we visited them one afternoon. Neglected by those outside the prison walls,and denied basic human rights (the current administration in Malawi says that convicted criminals have forfieted there human rights), they were so grateful for our visit. Simple gifts of soap, soup, toothpaste and toothbrushes were so deeply apreciated, I was unsettled by what I take for granted. They listened intently as we shared gospel message of hope, smiled a lot,sang songs with us and prayed with us. Amazing! If a group of ten visitors walked into a prison in the United States, there would likely be an uprising, and possibly hostage-taking, not prayers and songs.

2) A dozen AIDS patients at Mzuzu Central Prison were segregated in the yard. Five men who were sick or dying from AIDS, were confined to a small room, untreated, on huddled on the floor.

3) We vistited other HIV patients at the Rainbow AIDS Clinic at Mzuzu Central Hospital, waiting to be seen by a doctor. There we meet and prayed with them outside as they prepared for their AIDS test or ARV drug treatment. How warm and welcoming they were and receptive to our interest and attention. I prayed with a woman who said she was a merchant, but could not afford to buy enough nutritional to make her ARV treatment effective.

4) Orphans at a nursery school located far into the bush where few if any foreigners travel, were waiting for us when we arrived. I saw first-hand what a dramatic difference our nutritional food aid program makes for these 300 kids. The village chief and volunteer teachers practically begged us to continue sending them the high-protein vegetable soup mix, and not to forget them. I cannot describe the full experience of entering a remote village and meeting hundreds of kids whose nutritional needs were being met by CitiHope, who otherwise would eat only a starchy maize paste without nutrition, and thus remain malnourished.

Beyond these encounters of providing daily bread and raising hope, I experienced the profound gratification of organizing the PACCT event and seeing the delight of those who benefited from the AIDS training program (see previous blogs).

But mostly, what made this trip different than the others, was feeling the full burden of responsibility to somehow continue the relief and development programs that CitiHope began.

I have been entrusted with a program budget to manage and a need to raise $350,000/yr this year for CitiHope Malawi. If successful, our efforts will literally save 10,000 lives—AIDS orphans, hospital patients, school children and prisoners. I feel uniquely gifted and equipped for this kind of work, and spiritually called to the task. Many others have joined me (you’ve read some of their reflections) and together, we are making a difference.

In the words of Mother Teresa, “we’re doing something beautiful for God.” More accurately, God is doing something beautiful in Malawi and we have the awesome privilege of participating in God’s good work. “All we do for God only amounts to a drop in the ocean of need,” Mother Teresa said. “But without that drop, we would be missed.”

I know the work of God will continue. I know that those of us who went on the March Mission Trip are forever changed by the experience. And I know that I will return to Malawi with other mission groups in the coming months and years. I am humbled by such a privilege, and overjoyed to be called to mission in Malawi “for such a time as this.”

Thank you for taking this journey with me, offering your prayers and support, and doing your own work for God in your unique place of ministry and service.