Tuesday, May 29, 2018


We have been visiting three different villages lately to see how we might fit in. This is a picture of the children in Tambalale Village. They run along side our truck each time we slowly drive down their treacherous dirt roads to get to the house where everyone meets up for Bible study. Sunday, John baptized four people in a pink bathtub we bought and transported on top of the truck. (There is no other available water source but to fill the tub from a hand dug well.)

I sat on a reed mat next to a little girl who had her feet stretched out near me. (She is the one to the far right in the photo, wearing the yellow skirt known as a chitenji. Her name is Riana.) I looked down to see a nasty boil near her ankle. After the study I asked if I could look at it. The mother was happy to let me, and Riana was shy but compliant. The mother showed us more spots on her back. She said they started about a week ago. I asked if I could take photos to show to a medical professional. She had no problem with that and seemed grateful.

Our friend at Blessings Hospital, one of the other places we have been regularly visiting, was kind enough to look at the photos and tell us that Riana certainly needed immediate attention. We sent money and instructions for Riana's mother to take her on a bus to the hospital, which offered to treat her on our word that we would cover the cost. Our friend assured us it would be nominal by our American standard.

We later got word that, not only did Riana have a serious skin infection, but she also tested positive for malaria. She is now being treated for both. All we can say is, "Thank you, God, for allowing us to notice the little wound on her foot."

According to UNICEF, malaria kills a child every 30 seconds. Thankfully, Riana won't be one of those. Praise Him for four new souls added to His church and for saving Riana from a life-threatening illness. It was a good Sunday.

Saturday, April 14, 2018


We met Snoden in May of last year when we came to visit Malawi. He was the gardener for Wellspring Ministries. John said at the time that he felt good about him and wanted to keep him on staff. They’ve been studying the Bible each week since shortly after we arrived, and I have been working with Snoden in the yard to plant an heirloom garden. Both endeavors have gone well and now Snoden is not only an employee but also a friend and brother. 

Recently, while they were reading Scripture, Snoden asked John about baptism. He felt like the sprinkling he received when he was a baby was not what he was reading in the Bible. John gave him some more Scriptures on the subject to read at home, and he came back with the conviction that he needed to make a decision to follow Jesus and to be baptized on his own volition. We met him at the swimming pool where the boys go to school. His wife and son accompanied him.

Snoden with Susan and Arthur
Since Snoden’s baptism, Susan has been sharing the Gospel with their neighbors. She was baptized when she was a young girl but has a newfound passion since Snoden obeyed the Gospel. They go to church in their neighborhood but are learning new truths about God through Scripture reading and are eager to teach what they’re discovering. They’ve even asked us to come talk to some of their neighbors who want to know more. We’ve only just started Chichewa lessons, so Snoden will have to translate, but he doesn’t think that will be a problem. We asked if their church leaders would be threatened by our being there, but he assures us they will not and may even join the discussion.

We have been praying about what specific ministry we should be involved in here. In the meantime we always seem to default to personal Bible study and discipleship. So, maybe it’s not going to be about what we do in Malawi but about what Malawians are going to do in Malawi after they’ve been introduced to the Gospel. We’re very excited to see how God will use Snoden and Susan in the coming months. Thank you for your prayers and support. We hope to have news of our visit to their town very soon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Giant who Brought Down the Stone (Part II)

Though John was facing possible kidney failure and his health was my priority, it was, unfortunately, not my only concern. We had only lived in Malawi for four months, and I had relied on John to lend more than fifty percent to every decision outside of what to make for dinner. Suddenly I was fully responsible for planning an emergency evacuation and all the details involved in long-distance maintenance of the home front until we returned. If I agreed to the Medevac flight the church had so graciously scheduled, I would have to pick up the kids immediately and tell them we were leaving the country within hours. Alternatively, I could tell them we were leaving the country without them in a few hours. Neither sounded like a good idea, which is why I jumped on the opportunity to buy more time.

Dr. Smith offered to insert a catheter directly through John’s side into his kidney. He said it would offer instant relief from pain and pressure, bringing him back to coherency so he could be a part of these major decisions. He suggested that we look into commercial flights to get to South Africa as soon after the procedure as possible to have the stone removed in a place with all the necessary technology for surgery and aftercare. It was Monday and he needed one full day to order the necessary equipment to be driven up from a nearby Malawian city. I agreed, and we planned the procedure for the following morning. John stayed on Demerol and IV fluids for one more night, waking only to walk to the bathroom or ask for more pain medicine. I didn’t feel safe leaving him at the hospital alone, so I was very thankful to have good friends offer to sit with him when I couldn’t be there. 

Tuesday morning came and I was at the hospital immediately after dropping the kids off at school. Dr. Smith was there, and so was the equipment he ordered. We were just waiting for his assistant. I sat with John and talked to him as he was in and out of consciousness. One hour later the doctor popped his head in to remind me that it’s very Malawian to be late, a fact I know but was not aware applied to doctors scheduled for surgery. Another hour passed before the assistant showed up, saying he was in a hurry. Within minutes they had John’s railless bed careening down the hallway towards their brand new operating rooms—an addition that brings the hospital into the twenty-first century, rivaling any modern heath care facility in a first world country. I wasn’t sure how I felt about christening an operating room with a potentially serious procedure, but the doctor I trusted assured me he had it under control and that the room was sterile. 

Dr. Smith told me it would only be a matter of minutes. As an aside, I must mention that I have learned to accept miscommunication with Africans as my fault. I realize I am not yet familiar with the nuances of their culture and assume the bulk of responsibility when any bit of information is misconstrued. However, when an American--anywhere--says to another American, “It will just be a few minutes,” by all estimations, I don't expect that to mean more than about forty-five minutes at most. So, you can imagine my concern and borderline panic when two and a half hours had passed and I had not heard anything from anyone about how John was doing. I even approached one of the nurses on duty who dismissed my concern by telling me she didn’t know what was going on either but was pretty sure I would hear if something was wrong. I realized that hours had passed since I had a friend pick the kids up from school and drop them off at our house. Not wanting to leave them alone any longer, I called another friend to see if she could take them to her house. She said she could but reminded me that her kids had to study for exams and that they could not play. Exams! Oh no. I had forgotten that it was midterm week. I didn’t know how in the world our kids could pass exams after coming into the school year so late and now facing this upset. I promised her they would study and called to fill them in on the plan. 

Dr. Smith emerged into the hallway with the pleasant smile he wears for all occasions and explained that the assistant had left halfway through the procedure to pick up his kids from school. I can’t be sure but I think I laughed out loud. It wasn’t a ha-ha-funny sort of laugh but a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me laugh. He said the catheter and the guide wire he received didn’t match, so he had to “rig” it. He assured me it had done the trick and wasn’t going anywhere but said it took a lot more doing than he had anticipated. He couldn’t leave to tell me that because he was the only one in the room with John. As soon as I processed that my husband was fine, I called my friend to cancel the pickup and went to get the kids myself, hoping to get back before John woke up. 

When I showed up to the house, the boys were standing at the gate with their back packs. They were not happy to see me. I had forgotten to notify them of the change of plans. I thought they were upset because they weren’t going to get to play with their friends. After my rant and lecture about putting first things first and how it can’t always be play time, Jonah and Andy informed me that their concern was over midterm exams and not play time. They were actually looking forward to getting some attention from their friends’ parents. I’ve been too busy on the phone and Internet to be available for them. They were afraid they were going to fail. At that moment I realized I was being a horrible mother. Then John called and inadvertently reminded me I was also being a horrible wife. “Where are you? I need you. I just woke up and you’re not here.” Finally, Ben chimed in from the back seat to round out my guilty mood, “Mom, I’m really hungry. Can we please get something to eat?” Jonah and Andy are going to fail because of me, John is alone after surgery in a bed without rails, and Ben is starving. Now would be a good time for the world’s largest pothole to open up in front of me and swallow up this car. I pulled up to a stoplight with a beggar and handed him some pocket change, wishing I could hand him my place behind the wheel instead. I couldn’t hold back the tears, and the car grew silent. 

There was a nurse sitting beside John when we arrived. I was surprised to see her there. She told me she couldn’t leave, because he might roll off the bed. I thanked her and we all sat down, the boys opening their school books. John woke up and talked to us. He didn’t remember calling me. He grabbed my hand, and the boys asked questions about their upcoming tests. I gave Ben a cereal bar from my purse. Everyone was content for the moment. I breathed. 

John came home the next day and was soon up to discussing the details of our trip to South Africa. It was miraculous, really, and I was thankful to have his help. The hours I had spent all week on the phone and computer were less than fruitful. Our Internet only worked intermittently, electricity was spotty at best, and cell phone service came and went. Because communication with anyone outside of Lilongwe required a combination of the three, I lived frustrated. Most attempts at getting John the medical care he needed, went something like this: Someone gave me a lead on Facebook for a doctor in South Africa. I dialed the number to hear my cell phone service was not working at the moment. I drafted an email instead to find out that there was no Internet connection to send it. Later, I sent the draft and received a return email requesting a phone call. I called and was disconnected three minutes into the conversation because my prepaid minutes had run out. I decided to switch my focus to researching lodging. I went to a website that had been suggested but the electricity went out as I was looking at the details, so I lost the connection to my router, which kicked me off the site. I gave up for the day and went to take a shower. There was no hot water. I prayed and cried and cried and prayed some more.

How were we going to arrange plane tickets? Who was going to perform John’s surgery? Where would we stay? Who would go to the ATM every day on our behalf to stockpile cash for the rent that was going to be due on our house when we returned? How were our employees going to be paid and our dogs taken care of? Who was going to watch our house and pay the bills, which have to be paid in person? How were the kids going to keep up with their school work? How was I going to stay sane? I took the whole jumbled mess of questions and dropped them on God like so much clean laundry onto a couch.   

It took many hours for John to come out of the haze that is anesthesia, but we were sitting at a coffee shop the following day to discuss the answers to these questions in a neutral environment. I had as many calls and emails out as I could possibly juggle. The most promising lead was a urologist in Johannesburg who had agreed to do the surgery for cash without the safety net of insurance. He wanted to talk to me personally before scheduling the procedure. He called as we sat outside, enjoying the nice weather and planning our evacuation. He explained to me that the situation was much more serious than we had imagined. According to his assessment of the information we sent him, John was going to need a much more complicated battery of surgeries and at least a month in South Africa. His finding was that John only had one working kidney, and that was the one being blocked by the stone. In fact, he said it was an absolute emergency that we get to Johannesburg right away.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Giant who Brought Down the Stone (Part I)

John was losing at ping pong and seemed fine with it. That should have been my first clue that something was wrong. We were at the weekly campus potluck at the boys’ school. Most of the teachers were there and many of the students. We’d stayed later in weeks past, but John said he wasn’t feeling well, so we rounded up the kids and left. By the time we got into the car, he was throwing up. It was Friday night. 

Shortly after arriving home, John was in bed, shaking and moaning and as cold as ice. It seemed like an infection, and I begged him to get into the car so I could take him to the hospital. He adamantly refused, saying it was kidney stone pain and he would be fine by morning. He just needed some ibuprofen. He took a prescription dose and suffered through the night. It was a long one. By morning, he was up and about, and I insisted on taking him to one of the few private hospitals in town with a good reputation for weekend care. Despite feeling better, he had not been able to keep anything down—including water—since the night before. By the time we arrived, the pain had returned with a vengeance.

The Saturday on-call doctor was a Malawian radiologist. He listened to John’s symptoms then ordered a CT scan. After running a blood test and urinalysis, he determined that John was too dehydrated to withstand the contrast dye needed for a scan of his kidneys. He asked us to wait while he called in the head doctor, who was taking the day off, to confer. Within minutes Dr. Smith, the son of lifelong missionaries to Africa, was greeting us in an American accent. He was very pleasant and didn’t seem to mind at all that it was his weekend. He and the radiologist talked openly in the hallway where John and I sat waiting, and finally decided the first order of business would be an IV to rehydrate him enough for the scan. Nothing could be done without more information. In the meantime, they would start a regiment of pain medicine. Dr Smith turned to me and asked if I wanted to keep him in the hospital overnight or take him home. (John’s vote didn’t really count as he was drifting into a state of semi-consciousness from the intensity of the pain.) I didn’t know anything about IVs and wasn’t sure administering narcotics was a good idea, so I voted to keep him in the hospital. It wasn’t until the next day that I began to understand why that was even an option. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned that the word “nurse” carries a different meaning around here.

The room was old but clean. There were two hospital beds, without rails. The nurse asked if I wanted them both made up so I could sleep in the room with John. I didn’t want to leave the boys at home alone, so I said no. There was one large window with a tear in the screen. A cotton ball plugged the hole in such a way that only the most eager mosquito would find its way in. Malaria is always a concern. There was a fan and a fluorescent light and a water jug in the corner, that I didn’t feel completely comfortable drinking from and wasn’t sure we were supposed to. The bathroom had about a six-inch tall threshold step, which vanished into the all-white tile it was made from. I tripped on that many times over the course of the following few days.

After John was comforted with Demerol and was sleeping—although not peacefully—Dr. Smith came in to check on him and talk to me about his situation. He brought books for John to read should he wake up, and even offered the leftovers from his dinner since the kitchen had closed. He treated John more like a friend than a patient and that helped lessen the blow of facing a life-threatening illness in one of the poorest countries in the world. I learned that he lived on hospital property, which is how he was able to come and go so often. He assured me we simply needed a scan to know how to proceed and that the IV should hydrate him enough to get one in the morning. I left John to sleep by himself, assuming the nurses would care for him overnight.

The next morning, instead of going to church, I brought the kids to the hospital to find that John had been up at night, throwing up IV fluids. There was no one there to get him water or take him to the bathroom, because the few nurses on duty were sleeping and there is no call button. It was a miracle that he made it over the bathroom step to get to the toilet while on pain meds. I could barely do that completely sober. When he told me that he walked down the hallway, carrying his IV bag to find someone to give him more pain medicine, I thanked God for His grace and knew I had better not count on Him hanging around to do my job any longer. I wasn’t upset with the nurses as much as I was surprised and embarrassed that I had assumed too much. It’s not that they weren’t doing their jobs, but that their jobs are not what I expected. They have been trained to perform certain tasks at certain times and not to truly care for people. We’ve been told that many of them have been thrust into their positions because they desired higher education and the government funding that they needed to pay for that higher education mandated their course of study. I don’t know if I got the facts of that completely straight, but I have been here long enough to see that there’s an apathy that can only be explained by the fact that no matter how hard you try, there are simply not enough resources to make up the difference to save a life. Caring that someone is starving when there is no food to give them or dying of a disease without medicine to administer can make you crazy—if you look at it too closely. Nurses do not cater to a patient’s every whim as they do in the States, which is probably why Dr. Smith had solicited my help in taking care of John at home and why the nurse offered to make up the bed beside him. 

Though John was not yet hydrated enough for a contrast scan, the doctor ordered one without the dye. The situation was looking desperate and we needed answers. I drove him to another clinic in town to have the CT scan done, praying that he could walk in and out without assistance, because none was guaranteed. In the meantime, Dr. Smith called ahead and arranged the test. Two clinicians were waiting inside to open the doors, which are normally closed on Sunday. They were very professional and efficient and we had the reading in no time, thanks to their diligence in handwriting the results instead of waiting on the complete report, which would take hours to generate. On our way back to the clinic, friends from school called and offered to pick the kids up and take them to their house. Others offered to bring us dinner. I accepted on both counts, thankful to not be alone.

The good news from the scan was also the bad news. The stone was large enough to see without dye but too large to remove any other way than surgically. It was lodged in the ureter, the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder. The pain and vomiting was coming from the fact that urine was backing up in the kidney with no way of escape. Something had to be done immediately. The doctor called our insurance company to explain the situation and to schedule a medical evacuation to South Africa. The company said because John has had kidney stones in the past, they would not cover any part of the procedure or the evacuation. I called our sponsoring church in the States to explain and to get counsel. One of our elders called the insurance company and, after getting nowhere, went ahead and ordered the evacuation as if it were covered, because they planned to pay for it and were concerned only with John’s health. Thankfully, Dr. Smith had an epiphany at the same time. “I could put a catheter into his kidney to drain it and buy you some more time. It’s perfectly safe, I just need to order the parts. It will take a day to get them here, but it will get us out of the danger zone.” It was Monday and Dr. Smith was about to save John’s life. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Christmas in Africa

(Note: This may seem like an oddly-timed post, but I had it written just before John got sick. I will write all about our current situation when it's over. For now, check Facebook for updates.)

The Beautiful--and Only--Christmas Tree in Town
(at the local shopping center)
Christmas could have come and gone and, without a calendar, I don’t think I would have noticed. We planned ahead and brought a few Lego sets and superhero t-shirts, as well as plenty of made-in-China stocking stuffers, but it wasn’t enough to make the holiday. You don’t realize how much of that Christmasy feel comes from marketing and media until you get away from it for a season. The trees and lights and cinnamon smells that overwhelm every outing after Halloween in the U.S. are simply not here. And the abundance of Christmas songs that I know by heart and look forward to each year were only to be heard in my own head as I tried to make our house feel like chilly December with baking and holiday craft projects. 

I sent the boys to the storage closet to fetch the tree we brought from Texas in one of our trunks. They were gone a long time before Andy returned frustrated, holding the entire three-foot fir in one hand, asking where in the world the rest of it could have been lost to in such a short time. I laughed and told him, unfortunately, that was the whole tree. By the time we finished giggling, they had the whole thing decorated and, after plugging the lights into a 220V outlet, had to undo the whole fried mess and do it again. In the end, it looked nice on our coffee table.

My love language is not gifts, and neither is John’s, so we were more than happy to schedule a safari as our official Christmas present to one another instead of exchanging presents. We also justified the expense in two other ways: a proper celebration of Andy’s November birthday and a reason to leave the country for a few nights as required by the rules of our particular visa. Otherwise, we would have to pull the kids out of school and spend the money on travel to a possibly-seedy hotel on the other side of the border, which seemed a waste to us. This was better. So, the gallery of exotic animals I have been posting on social media doubles as our 2017 Christmas pictures. I hope you enjoyed them.

Next year we hope to report stories of lives that have been changed for the better because you sent us here. For now, we need to allow our lives to be changed by this culture and these people so that we can be useful and long term in our ministry. Having experienced our first major holiday in Malawi has given us an increased understanding of the people, and it has shown us that there are certainly things they may already be doing better than us, albeit unintentionally. It was hard to spend Christmas away from family and snow and shopping and such. But sometimes those things can overshadow the fact that Christmas really is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. It doesn't seem to be from pious dedication that Malawi doesn’t relegate Christmas to manmade, sparkly consumer goods, but for lack of resources. However, it was surprisingly refreshing to experience. Through the peace and quiet of December I was reminded that I’m not in Africa to serve myself or my family--or even to serve the Malawians--but to serve Him. My love language happens to be acts of service, so I thought it especially gracious of God to serve me with that lesson at a time when His Son deserves all the gifts. And, isn’t that just like Him?

We hope you had a merry Christmas and we certainly appreciate each and every message of holiday cheer you sent our way.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Two Months and Still Smiling

Now that we’ve been in Malawi for over two months, I thought you might like to hear the story of how we got here.

We lived in a small town in Texas, where John was the director of a non-profit rec center like the YMCA, and I was homeschooling our boys. Our house was attached to the facility, so we literally lived at work. It could be a bit invasive at times, but it was also a blessing in many ways, the greatest of which were the friendships that developed through seeing the same people every day and spending unscheduled time with them. The result was a weekly Bible study group that became our church. 

Because our group was small and had no ties to any of the locally established churches, when John and I shared our desire to return to the foreign mission field, we couldn’t imagine what the mission would be or where the support would come from. The group joined us in prayer and even committed to considerable financial support, but nobody could have anticipated what God did next or how quickly He did it.

We received a long and very detailed email from a missionary couple in Africa who had been involved in well drilling for twelve years. We met them at a missionary event in Colorado almost a decade ago. The email told us it was time for them to move back to the States, and they would like for us to consider taking over their jobs in Malawi. They explained that they had everything in place for us to step into a furnished house and to assume a non-governmental organization that had taken years to establish. They told us about the great need in Africa and said they believed, based on our stateside ministry, that we were just the people to pick up their baton. It might have seemed abrupt, except for our prayers targeting that exact subject. We called a dear friend and mentor to get some feedback. He said it couldn’t hurt to check it out and offered to pay for the survey trip. Before long, we had left the kids in Colorado with John’s family and were on a plane to Africa.

After spending several days touring the country and getting an education from the missionaries and some of the locals, we felt the need to pray about our further, long-term involvement. We were willing to come but knew it would take a miracle to get us here. We weren’t part of a church and had no prospects for long term support. After getting positive responses from our kids, we began to pray specifically about support. A couple of days after returning to Texas, we used our limited knowledge of the situation in Malawi to publish a video on GoFundMe. We knew it was a long shot, and we even had some church leaders tell us it was crazy and would never happen. Ironically, the money started trickling in.

At the time, I was facilitating paint parties like Painting with a Twist at the rec center. Because I had so many other irons in the fire, I had been looking for a replacement. One of the homeschool moms, who also happens to be an art teacher, mentioned to me that she was interested. I invited her to a party, she loved it, and voilĂ , she was suddenly the new facilitator. At the same time her husband was getting to know John through the homeschool PE program. He told John how much he appreciated the way he made it more about the kids’ inherent value as children of God and less about their athletic abilities. Little did we know this couple was part of a church that had been praying for missionaries to support. They saw our video and showed it to their church leaders, who then asked to meet us. We went to church there and were immediately at home. Five weeks later, the church committed to sending us to Malawi as full-time missionaries. Yes, I said five weeks. Amazing, isn’t it?

In defense of the naysayers, this really was a miraculously unorthodox fundraising campaign. We’ve never felt more confirmed about a calling, and we don’t want to rush into anything, so we and our supporters have agreed to consider the first year as a time to learn the language and culture of our new home—a time to lay a firm and lasting foundation. We're expecting great things over the coming months and years. Thanks so much for being a part of it.  

If you want to see the video we originally posted on GoFundMe, you can watch it here. This should catch you up to speed. Also, find us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to see what we see as we learn the ropes and settle in to our new home. We post photos almost daily, and sometimes more. We love reading your feedback. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017


In our last post, I wrote that our P.O. box is in the name of Wellspring Ministries. That was a mistake. It's actually in the name of the previous executive director, but we plan to submit our names this week. In short, the proper mailing address is: John and Samantha Jewell, P.O. Box 31615, Lilongwe 3, Malawi, AFRICA.