It had been years since I had attended a chapel service at Drew Theological School. A seminary student invited me to chapel in December during World AIDS Week to hear a Children’s Choir from Uganda sing and Dr. Michael Christensen speak about Global AIDS. He invited volunteers to go on a mission trip with him to Malawi in March, and much to my surprise I found myself calling him later for additional information.

In March my 13-year-old daughter Libby and I were headed to Malawi. I wanted her to see firsthand the daily challenges many people face just to survive, and to learn that there can be joy in struggle.

During our two weeks in Malawi, Libby learned more about joy, hope, faith, and Christian community than many people learn in a lifetime. Everyone we met, whether in Orphan Care Centers, hospitals, or prisons, expressed gratitude for our being there to learn about the joys and challenges of the people living in Malawi.

I was especially moved at Nkhata Bay Prison where over 100 men are housed together in small rooms with cement walls and floors. There is no furniture and only one toilet. I did not see a sink. Their few belongings were hung on the walls in small plastic bags. We were told that they had to sleep sitting up because there was not enough space for them to lie down. We delivered soup, toothpaste and tooth brushes to the prisoners. We also reminded them that the fortified vegetable soap they eat was provided by the United States and delivered by CitiHope; and that the gifts we brought today were a reminder that God and the world had not forgotten them. We concluded our time together by praying for them and singing “Amazing Grace.” The prisoners responded by singing an African song to us. One prisoner prayed the most wonderful prayer, asking God to bless us. It truly was a holy moment.

We had many holy moments throughout the mission trip. I would encourage others to visit Malawi to see what God is doing in Africa. Also, I would like those who support CitiHope to know that I was impressed by what responsible stewards they are of the resources that they distribute. This is the first time that I saw a model for ministry that encouraged ‘mutuality’ rather than ‘entitlement’. I am looking forward to using this model in the local church. I plan to share with my congregation what I have learned about the root causes of poverty in Africa. I also hope to help others understand that children of God are suffering from AIDS in Africa.

Rev. Clarissa Holland is Pastor of the New Vernon United Methodist Church in New Jersey, where she also acts as chaplain at her local fire department. Clarissa participated in mission work in Haiti, which gave her an appreciation for the challenges involved in trying to improve the day-to-day life of folks in impoverished communities, as well as the hope and joy that Jesus Christ can bring to them. She looks forward to sharing this mission experience with her daughter, Libby.