Friday, October 8, 2021

Upcoming Surgeries

John and I are going in for surgery just days apart from each other next week. His is from a car accident that happened New Year’s Eve, when someone rear ended him at a stop light. His shoulder and neck have been causing him pain and just keep getting worse, so he’s having his shoulder repaired first and may have to address the neck later. Mine started just after I got over COVID in June. When my other symptoms finally disappeared, I started to bleed and never stopped. I’ve tried four different hormones and even had a biopsy to check for cancer. It was negative. Now I have a hysterectomy scheduled and some internal reconstructive surgery at the same time. That last part is apparently thanks to my three boys, according to the surgeon. Either way I’m glad for modern medicine and the possibility to fix what’s broken. 

I tell you this because our health issues have become fairly invasive and have affected all areas of our lives, causing us to change our routines and activities. We haven’t been ourselves. If that has affected you in any way, we’re sorry. We also want to ask you to pray for our recovery. We have high hopes that all will go well and that we’ll be able to get back to Malawi for an extended visit soon. There’s so much going on there, and we feel like we need to check in as soon as possible to encourage our friends on the ground and visit the kids. I should be able to resume normal activities, with limitations, in a couple of weeks, but John will be out for quite a bit longer. We hope to plan a trip after the holidays. 

Our church and our friends have graciously offered to help us through this period of recovery, especially since we’ll both be out of commission at the same time. And, we have two of our boys at home to help. It’s really the least they can do for having a house party in my womb and knocking everything around. In all seriousness, they’re good kids and we don’t plan to go without. 

Thanks for your prayers and for your patience. We want to continue to do our part for this ministry, but God seems to be doing fine with us on this side of the ocean and now with us convalescing for a while. Please keep doing your part in prayer and financial support. Together we are raising over 125 children in Malawi who would otherwise not have a chance in this world. Thank you for making a difference!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Super Star

The little preschool God started through us in a small village in Africa has grown to over 125 kids and isn’t so little any more. We can’t educate them all, but we do feed them each morning. After breakfast, forty-five of them stay back for class. Until recently that was only preschool, but those kids have grown and we’ve added an unofficial kindergarten class. Unofficial because we are not registered with the government, so anything we do won’t count toward their public education should they leave us and go into the public school system. Unless we add higher grades they will have to leave us sooner than later. Kids that move on to public school will be forced to start over since our school is not recognized or accredited. Even first graders who have had preschool and kindergarten with us will have to go back to kindergarten and start from there. We want all of the children to stay with us through graduation, but we need more teachers to add higher grades as they advance, and we need government approval. We’ve been praying fervently for a remedy to this situation, and God has begun to answer. 

Last week the ministry of education came to our school and was pleased with what they saw. They said they would register us as a private school, allowing us to legally educate all ages, if we complied with a few licensing rules. We need more bathrooms and an office space, for instance. Snoden is already working on the upgrades, but he is just one man and there’s so much to do. He helps Susan feed the kids every morning, educate the students, tend to their medical needs by taking them to the local clinic, and buy them clothes when they need it. He also talks to the people in the village about our program and the God we are serving with it. There is more to do than one family can handle, especially since they have three small children of their own. Through a miraculous turn of events, however, God has made this impossible task something that has gained the attention of the villagers. People are asking questions and want to be a part of it. The village is favorable towards us and wants to see the school grow. Apparently the government does too. 

It’s still hard for us to understand why God saw fit to bring us back to the States when the program is growing and they really need more hands, but we’re beginning to see His wisdom in this move. If we were there now people would surely think the school and feeding program were results of our efforts, but we are not there and they only see people like themselves involved. They relate to Snoden’s family in a way they could never relate to us. Snoden believes the village sees great hope in this for their own future and the future of their children. As he put it, “No one else is doing anything like this. The people are saying the education we offer is better than any other school for miles around. They think we’re super stars!” What a great position to be in to share the gospel and news about the real super star—Jesus. 

Of course we still pray for more help and we pray that we can return soon to be directly involved in the planning and development of the growth of the school. They simply don’t have the resources the education or the training to continue on their own, but we are content to accept whatever role God has for us in this. Thank you for your support and for your prayers and for your patience. We realize there are fewer photos and videos than when we lived there and we hope to visit soon and stock up on images for you to be better informed. In the meantime, we will post whatever we get from Snoden and do our best to keep you updated on the progress. Know that God is blessing this ministry and these children through you and that great things are happening because of your faithfulness. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

The Kids Are Back

        The kids are finally back from quarantine! This news brings so many positive implications that I thought you might like to hear some of them. First of all, Snoden doesn’t have to take parcels of food door to door to feed them any more. Now they’re coming as a group each day. Susan makes a huge pot of breakfast porridge and they sit on mats eating together. This is a significant time saver since there are ninety of them. It also means the preschoolers can have class again. When they’re not in school many of them stay at home alone. Now they’re spending their days at Snoden and Susan’s house again. One little girl is actually living with them. Her uncle died, and the village saw the Kagalu family as next of kin. High praise indeed! Also, now that Snoden is not spending his time driving from house to house, he can focus on finishing the wall around the property. 

You’ll be seeing videos on raising money to recommit each child to our feeding program for another six months. We do this at intervals in case the price of food fluctuates or one of the kids moves, both of which happen. This time around, we’re asking for $25 more per child in order to offer a more varied diet. We want them to have eggs and milk, for example, and we would like to add more vegetables. 

We’re also raising money to buy new uniforms for each of the preschoolers. This is about much more than just giving them new clothes. It also means their security. Because most of them walk to school alone, the bright orange and blue uniforms identify them as ours and sends a message to would-be predators that these kids are cared for and protected by someone. Snoden has also pointed out that the orange shirt helps the adults find a lost child. They sometimes wander off the path on their way to school and get lost in the tall maize. When this happens, it’s much easier to spot a bright color among the stalks. They get new shoes with their uniform, too, which guards against infection and critter bites. 

As always, thank you for supporting these kids. We constantly have in mind not only survival but a bold and promising future for each of them. We don’t want to just feed them but to give them a well-rounded diet. We don’t want to just educate them but to teach them God’s ways. We don’t want to just raise them up but to equip them to be future leaders. Through Christ, we are making this happen together. Thank you!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Thank You, Team Malawi!

        Malawi is still Malawi without our presence, but we’re involved now more than ever in the development of one small village and the care of ninety of its children. Your prayers, encouragement, and monetary gifts remind us that we are a team and that God is still very interested in using us all to serve these precious souls halfway around the world. Thank you for looking outside yourself and your own problems. Our world has never seen a crisis quite like the one we’re in right now, but we believe God is doling out special blessings on those who choose to trust Him with their own lives and continue to help others. 

Thanks to you, we recently bought a car for Snoden to transport the children to and from the clinic when they’re sick. Because of the government mandated quarantine in the village, he was also able to use that car to efficiently deliver food parcels directly to the kids’ homes. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have eaten every day. That car was broken into right outside Snoden’s house during the night in an attempt to steal it. Thankfully, his dog barked and the thief ran off. There’s a brick wall that has been started to surround the perimeter of the two-acre property where the preschool and Snoden’s home sit, and we’re working to finish that as soon as possible. This is a huge project for the ministry and we are still needing funds to complete it. The school has since reopened and the kids are coming back to the property—all the more reason to finish the wall and protect the children from harm. It won’t necessarily mean an end to criminal threats, but it will certainly help.

Snoden and Susan have been running the program by themselves since we left, and they’re tired and sometimes discouraged. Feeding ninety children and educating forty is a monumental task for anyone, but these two also just recovered from malaria. They’ve expressed feelings of being overwhelmed. We recognize they need encouragement, and John started planning a trip to visit them. He was going to travel alone since our kids are in school right now and desperately need a period of stability, and it would be cheaper, quicker and easier to make that trek alone. But, it doesn’t seem to be time yet. Apparently, the COVID scare has the locals spooked. Snoden believes we wouldn’t be welcomed right now. They think white people coming into their village are bringing the virus. We’ll give it more time and keep praying for discernment as Snoden tries to educate the people in the village about how the virus is actually spread and the relatively low threat it poses. 

In the meantime, many of you here have joined us in supporting the children of Malawi. It’s been amazing to watch how God puts our situation in the United States into perspective when we focus on kids on the other side of the globe. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we recognize that having food to eat every day is a blessing and we are thankful. Instead of worrying about getting the virus, we recognize that we have access to clean water and medicine and we are thankful. Instead of fearing that someone will break into our home and steal from us or accost us on the street, we recognize that we are secure in our strong houses and cars, and we are thankful. Praying for others in poverty and need allows us to see clearly the many blessings we have been given. Thank you for agreeing with us that we have enough to share and don’t need to fear or hoard our resources. God bless you for your faithfulness and trust in Him. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Ridiculous Grace

        When I consider what’s going on in the world today, I have some strong ideas about how most of it should be handled. Am I alone in thinking this way? With the internet and social media, we can see what’s happening in most parts of the world at any given moment, so it’s easy for us to criticize the way situations are being handled. We might think we have the corner on the market for making good decisions because we’re Christians and we have God’s best interest in mind. But what if God is the one making these decisions we don’t like? The news serves to highlight the great chasm between what’s taking place and what we think should be. God has a word for us in the book of Jonah—another human being who thought he understood world events and how they should be handled. 

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to warn people of His impending wrath. Because he hates the Assyrians for their ungodly living and doesn’t think they deserve the opportunity to repent, he ironically refuses God’s mandate and instead takes a boat in the opposite direction. A cataclysmic storm rages, causing the men on board to discuss whose god must be offended, while Jonah sleeps like a baby below deck. They wake him, and he identifies himself as a Hebrew who worships the very Lord who made the sea and the dry land. (That seems like an interesting proclamation for someone who’s directly disobeying the One he claims to serve.) After some deliberation, Jonah offers himself up to be sacrificed overboard for the greater good of the crew. The big fish comes along to swallow him, not as punishment from God as many children’s accounts portray, but as a provision of God’s sovereignty. God isn’t finished with him yet and uses the fish to preserve his life. Make no mistake about why Jonah is eventually spit up onto dry land. He doesn’t repent. That’s not the reason. Again, there’s great irony in the fact that he’s running from God because of his disdain for God’s grace towards disobedient people. He grudgingly goes to Nineveh, after all, and sounds the warning. Then God does what Jonah dreads most; He forgives the Ninevites. Not surprisingly, Jonah sulks off to a lonely place, mourning the fact that the world doesn’t make sense and God isn’t doing what He should. Even less surprisingly, God graciously causes a huge vine to grow up and cover him with shade and comfort while he feels sorry for himself. Then, in a gesture that reveals the essence of the whole quirky narrative, God takes the vine away and reveals the ugly truth about Jonah’s callous heart and our sinful human nature, namely that we tend to trust more in our own sense of justice than in what God says is right, and we tend to care more about our personal comfort than the destiny of lost people.

So, I ask myself, “Do I really trust God to do what’s right with this world, with this country, and with my family, or do I believe I know better?” Also, “Am I willing to let Him use my life to reach the lost, or do I feel entitled to the comforts and routines I’ve established for myself?” And, possibly the most difficult question, “Do I identify myself as one who serves God even when there’s a limit to what I’m willing to do for Him?” The good news—and there’s always good news when we’re talking about God—is that the theme of the Jonah story is God’s enduring patience and ridiculous grace for mankind. We may not be able to understand why things are the way they are or what God is doing about it all, but we can be sure that it certainly comes from a place of love. God has a plan for this world, and He is perfectly capable of achieving it. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Malawi 2021

        The work in Malawi continues to thrive, though our family will have been away for a year in March. With help from friends and real-time video, we moved out of our rental in Lilongwe and sold or donated most of our things. It was an emotional process. We stored several trunks we expect to eventually retrieve. I’d like to say we’ve rolled with the changes, but much of the past year has been spent grieving the abrupt transition forced on us when the borders closed. Malawi was our home, and we had planned to stay to see the work through to the end—whenever that might be. 

In the meantime, we’ve been communicating with Snoden and his family, who are amazed at what God continues to do to improve their lives and the lives of the kids in the program. Snoden, Susan, and their two children live on the property we acquired before we left. They currently feed ninety children every day from their own kitchen. That’s almost twice the number we had when we were there. Forty of those kids stay after breakfast for preschool, and Susan teaches them all with the help of one other lady. We’re happy to report that the city has piped water out to the village, meaning the kids can wash their hands more often and stay hydrated. Before, it was a thirty-minute walk to the nearest well. They also now have solar powered lights, so they’re not completely dependent on the sun for visibility. There is even a wall under construction to surround the entire property, which will protect the children and the ministry’s assets. Most recently, Snoden purchased a car to transport sick children to and from the hospital. We were concerned when the borders closed that the ministry would suffer in our absence. Quite the contrary! God has blessed our initial efforts and your generous donations incrementally. 

We’re so very thankful that you’re partnering in this effort with us. We’re constantly encouraged by your care and generosity towards this mission, and we believe God wants to not only continue it but also to develop and expand it. While we’re happy that ninety kids are being fed every day, we want them to eat more often and a wider variety of foods. They currently eat a nutritional porridge once a day. We’re also happy that forty kids are being educated, but that ends with preschool. We want to teach more children, and we want to be able to educate them past preschool with a quality education from a godly perspective. We don’t want to just do some good, we want to do the best we can for these kids. Our prayers are focused on growth and development. We believe God has more blessings in store for the children of Malawi, and we believe He delights in our working together towards the goal. 

Please join us in praying for development and expansion for 2021. This is not something we can do on our own and certainly not from halfway around the world. This is also not something Snoden and Susan can do without help. This is going to take a miracle, and that’s exactly what we’re asking for. If you’re up to the challenge of joining us in this endeavor—or continuing, as the case may be—the rewards will certainly outweigh the sacrifices. We expect to see great things from the small work we all started together just a few years ago. We believe God can and wants to use our faithfulness to not only change the lives of a few kids, but also the fate of their village and their country. We won’t quit this effort just because we’ve been moved to a new location, and we certainly expect to make a visit as soon as possible. Thank you, on behalf of the forgotten children of Malawi, for staying in it with us this year. God bless you!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Hard Pressed

        My mom’s wedding ring was a gold band with a single two-carat diamond. I thought that stone was the most beautiful thing on earth, the way it shined with all the colors of the rainbow in just the right light. I used to turn it around on her finger and ask if it ever got in her way. Did she take it off every time she washed her hands? What was it made of? She told me it was basically the same material as coal, just pressed harder. It was so hard, in fact, that our turntable had a diamond needle, so when my parents turned Carole King up nice and loud and the huge console shook our pier and beam house, the tiniest sliver of a diamond from deep in the ground was making that happen. In a way, I really was feeling the earth move under my feet.

One hectic day, every member of our family was involved in turning the house upside down, looking for that diamond solitaire. It had come loose from its setting, leaving nothing but little gold prongs reaching out for something to grab. We ransacked drawers, upset furniture, and dug out planters. We stripped the beds, shook out laundry and, yes, even inspected dog droppings. My mom continued searching, long after the rest of us gave up. She was heartbroken but decided it wasn’t meant to be and finally quit looking. Days went by, then weeks. Later, when my dad opened the sliding glass door that had been sticking for too long, he decided it was time to fix it once and for all. He took it off the track, oiled it, and started to put it back on when a kaleidoscope of brilliance hit my eye like a sunbeam. “It’s there! Mom’s diamond!” Sure enough, it was sitting in the track where it had apparently been the whole time. A local jeweler nestled it back into the prongs, and it was as good as new. 

The most amazing thing about that incident is that even after weeks of being stuck in the track with a heavy door grating back and forth over it, there was not a scratch on that diamond. As it turns out, that thing about diamonds being made from pressed coal is not entirely true, but it’s fair to say that coal and diamonds are both carbon based and that diamonds are created under intense heat and pressure. So, as this world heats up and we undergo pressures like never before, consider what God can do with us, carbon-based humans. Unlike a rock hidden deep beneath the earth’s crust, we have not been left alone to bear the burdens of this world. Jesus has promised to be with us. Have you ever noticed that some of the strongest people are the ones who have been through the worst situations? God can use anyone, but I imagine he finds those who stand up under the heat and pressure of this world especially useful. To gain strength through perseverance and be used by God may not be fun or glamorous, but it’s ultimately more beautiful and valuable than any diamond in the world.