Phil and I were thrilled when restrictions lifted at the beginning of this year and our overdue visit became a reality. It had been over three years since our last trip and our senses gladly reopened to life in Malawi. The singing, the laughter, the beautiful faces expressing overflowing joy despite tensions regarding the late rains and concerns of poor harvests. The daily topic would surround the rains coming and how heavy they would be. Would floods wash everything away? The unpredictable weather has become a harsh reality which people are learning to live with and this trip exposed us to some of this – just two days after we left Malawi Tropical Storm Ana hit causing food shortages and homelessness across our region.
Touch down at Shine Village
The caretaker/groundsman and now old friend Mr Damiano bustled us eagerly through the familiar, slightly rusting gates; with his “bear hug” greeting and enormous smile communicating “Wait till you see what we have done!” It felt so good to be back!
Seasonal warm, but light showers had brought Shine Village forecourt to life. The luminous green palms and flowering shrubs set perfectly against a brilliant blue sky full of brilliant white clouds heaped up high. I made a mental note to make more visits in January! The place was unusually quiet, only a new sound of trickling water filled the air. The sound came from the new solar pumping station at the foot of two gigantic green storage tanks which now framed the farm entrance. With sunshine powering the system a constant flow of “free water” traced its way beside the livestock pens, across the moringa fields and out to the distant newly excavated fishponds.
That little “brook” conveyed to me a picture of God’s faithfulness. Psalm 126 came to mind, particularly verses 3-6
“The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, LORD like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. Those who go out weeping carry seed to sow, will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with them. “
Later in the trip the community displayed such joy as we asked the Lord to bless the newly erected Children’s House. Three of our eight girls joined the celebration as over forty people moved in and out, clapping, singing, and dancing around the newly decorated four bedrooms, shower room, kitchen and lounge area! The footage captured is worth watching!
The five older girls were unable to attend as it was the start of the last term of the year at St Josephs Primary School. Each had successfully gained a place in 2021 however restrictions had held up their start date. This welcomed time of change will be felt by all eight girls as they have become very close hiving lived together for three years. Aged between nine and seventeen each girl has a story behind their missed school years spent caring for a sick parent or younger siblings which continues to impact on their educational capacity.
The girls (M, E and A) understand the importance of this school year and the good results which will pave the way to a good Secondary School. The girl’s previous school Mwanje Primary School which they attended whilst living at Shine Village is a typical village school- poorly resourced with large classes and without adequate teaching staff. This is the main reason why Shine has paid for the girls to learn in a boarding setting and the main factor why many children do not finish this basic level of their education.
Long term Shine Ministry members Auntie Grace and Auntie Agnes provide a stable, loving environment together with our resident teacher Rebecca and this lifestyle at Shine Village provides opportunity to learn, something they did not have whilst looking after their families.
During our visit we met with the girls in their school setting- it is normally forbidden to have visitors during the settling in period so we all greatly appreciated the opportunity. Having known the eldest girl since she was three years old and we had seen her move with her sister to Shine Village in 2019 this was an important and overdue visit . It was the first time seeing the newer girls in person.
Our eldest girl sadly failed the entry exam to the local secondary school leaving one option which involved advocating for a place at a private mission school. After losing both her mother and father before her fourth birthday she was raised by her older siblings who were just 8 and 11. She missed out on a lot of schooling. This new chapter of her school life is daunting with a full timetable beginning each day at 4.30am, long quiet times, chores, bible study periods and all interactions including lessons to be in English – she was rightly apprehensive. We prayed together hopeful that the learning environment would become familiar and that the one-to-one learning interactions would work well.
Shine Early Years held a belated graduation service during our visit for those now at Primary school and speaking with Mwanje Primary School Headteacher we learned how many children still did not attend preschool but went to the fields or were left home alone. Early Years intervention increases the children’s readiness to learn in school and after witnessing the joy expressed by mothers and children receiving a simple graduation certificate, at the graduation service it was clear to see how this program plays a significant role in sensitising the community to Early Childhood Development.
Shine Business launch
Generating income in-house for Shine Village has always been our ultimate aim so it was an incredible joy to travel to Songani intersection, a 20 minute drive from Shine Village to witness Shine Mill start its first day of milling! This our second Shine Community Business (SCB) was purchased by licence in 2021 and had been awaiting a suitable site. Close to connections with Zomba city and Mozambique, with both local trade and wholesalers it is ideal and a very busy spot! Milling both rice and maize in large quantities produces piles of by-products, both bran and husk, which are to be turned into animal feed pellets at Shine Feed Mill at Shine Village site. Some is used for and chicken bedding and the rest for briquet production. Plans to provide a collection and delivery service to rice farmers in the neighbouring district will be worked out in the future. The regions main rice producing area is local to the mill and stretches as far as the eye can see!
Launched after a period of outreach in 2018, it continues to build on a 14 year partnership between Malawi, UK and New Zealand churches. It is always the highlight of our trip to join in worship with the churches in Zomba District. Shine Centre hosted a ZOOM call to join a live Global Prayer hosted by Regions Beyond Euro to pray for church planting in Europe and in Birmingham UK.
Pastors Kumvera and Joseph and their vibrant congregation of around 180 members in a neighbouring district have been friends of Shine for ten years. It has been a joy to witness Machengawedi church grow over a five year period whilst working on a new structure to replace a tiny hall with mud seats made solely from bamboo and straw. Gathering rocks for the foundations and moulding bricks to be fired happened every Sunday after each service for years until the structure reached roof level in 2021. We had the joy of presenting a gift of £1,000 towards the purchase of the iron roofing sheets. Phil has preached here many times before and gladly led a time of training in evangelism. Their eager, wholehearted response to continue reaching out to their local area (a predominately Muslim population) was truly inspiring, with many on their knees crying to God for their neighbours.
The Pastor of Chilanga church in the neighbouring district of Kuntumanji also welcomed Phil to preach and teach. The congregation which included children and young people received empowerment from the Holy Spirit as they prayed to go forth and share the good news. An offering raised by the people of Jubilee Church Hull for Pastor Wilfred’s enrolment in a local carpentry school also went to help a church member rebuild their home destroyed by recent bad weather.
During our final days in Malawi we visited Lake Malawi. This incredibly beautiful lakeshore was disserted. The once vibrant tourist spot stood silent with guest houses closed and community project workshops empty. The “curio sellers” stalls, beautifully set out with paintings, carvings, and jewellery, were without the obliging tourists they had hoped for. Whilst purchasing goods we listened to their stories of business decline over the past two years. We discussed the lakeshore opportunities which were much greater than in rural Zomba but appeared invisible to them. Our wi-fi access helped view successful farming projects and we shared our faith journey establishing Shine Village.
Their handmade earrings, paintings, curios, wood-carved fridge magnets, personalised bracelets, along with fruits, fresh catfish and a carved wooden plaque all found homes in Malawi or the UK. The plaque, which was in honour of a special person read “In Memory of Joseph Kuria Waithaka” . It connected the two countries and was placed on the door of the Children’s House in honour of the life of a dearly loved friend, who was first and foremost husband, father and grandfather to a special family in Hull, whose life was tragically cut short in Ethiopia. His legacy in Malawi through the establishment of Shine Community Business , a new Children’s House and a Student Award Scheme.
Speaking at the Children’s House Blessing ceremony Chief Chilambe shared his experiences over the years helping Shine Village become established. He spoke passionately of faith in Jesus which had changed his community and also the way he prayed. A list of developments which taken place in his region, once just been a dream, had restored hope to his people. He a handed letter listing them all along with a request for help with their biggest challenge which was that of the main connecting bridge, damaged by years of heavy storms rendering it no longer good for vehicles nor bikes. It needed urgent repairs. Her told us of a child who had risked crossing the bridge to be swept off on their way to school. As this is a large project and expert work is needed, SRT is looking on a re-construction plan with engineering students in Durham. The community is ready with materials so we pray the needful can come together and give them a safe bridge to school.
“Malawi- how much you give!”
As our plane left the runway the scattered villages with their smoke curls into the hills, the vast shimmering lake with the odd carved boat and the distant mountains together formed this beautiful Malawian landscape. I felt such deep love. It was the people and their experiences.
Jesus assigned “good works“ in advance for us to do ( Ephesians 2v10) and working alongside dear friends in Malawi has been such an incredible blessing – yes, not many get to do this! We have all been enriched greatly and despite obstacles constantly emerging God’s precious promises, his relationship and commitment to his people brings such beautiful and lasting hope. I recalled Suzens words to me during our celebration describing the change she had seen over the past 12 years. “Once people were fragmentated and just had no desire to work together. This caused a long stagnation. We have seen the gospel at work and conflicts are being resolved and healing occurring. I have seen the first fruits of community restoration.”
This has been a joint effort, a labour of love, sowing in prayer and care – together with the Shine family in the UK and NZ -a people have become a people of God with a chief declaring “Only God could do this!”
The aftermath of Ana
Shockingly, two days later our departure a tropical storm now named “Ana” hit and Malawi was thrown into chaos for months. Blantyre airport was closed for two days – no one flew in or out. Floods caused widespread destruction and the main hydroelectric plant was destroyed. Excess water flooded through fish farms established by Hastings (Shine Co-founder) The loss of fish was devastating.
The nations capacity to remain positive appeared to be sapped – after years of floods this was the worst yet. Relief efforts were hampered, and large areas saw great losses – to life, homes, crops and businesses.
SRT delivers relief in such times of nation disaster which is achieved through the small groups in our catchment area, organised with Group Village Headmen and our team. The delivery of food is going to hundreds in our small area.
The proximity of the disaster to our visit has been difficult to process and did leave me feeling numb as I read reports on the food shortages and then the cholera outbreaks. Why did it seem I was spared? Why Malawi again?
It is indeed heart-breaking to know work has been in vain – the loss – the field that will not yield crops and the people will face even greater hunger. Each are seen by God Almighty.
As we commit each day into the Lord’s hand of provision, I am challenged by what is my sufficient and what do I give away?
Deborah Irvin. Co-founder
Please do pray for the recovery effort across Malawi and in Shines region. Pray for the Zidana family as they manage the support whilst dealing with their own family’s needs at this time.