Malawi Trip January 2022

Our senses were once again open

Having waited for over three years to return to Malawi, Phil and I were so thrilled to see the restrictions lifted at the beginning of this year and our much overdue visit become reality. Our senses were once again open to life in Malawi – the song and laughter, the beauty, oh and the overflowing kindness, and the gratitude. We were also confronted by a tension amongst the people, brought on by the late and poor rains. The concern was tangible, with each days topic being that of “the rains” – would they come and how heavy they would be? Managing the impact of unpredictable weather is a harsh reality people are learning to live with and this trip exposed us to some of this – just two days after we left Malawi storm Ana hit. 

Shine Village bear hugs!

Mr Damiano, Shine’s caretaker/groundsman and now old friend, bustled us eagerly through the familiar, and slightly rusting gates; his enormous smile saying it all. “Wait till you see what we have done!” His “bear hug greeting” was just as heartfelt as the airport welcome, we had earlier from Suzen and Hastings. It was so good to be back! Seasonal weather had brought Shine Village forecourt to life with a display of luminous green palms and numerous flowering shrubs which set against a brilliant blue sky full of heaped up clouds took your breath away. (Note to self- must make more visits in January!) The place was unusually quiet, the usual sound of nursery children singing was missing, just a new sound, the faint sound of water coming from the solar pumping station. Two gigantic green storage tanks now framed the entrance to this the first new area. With sunshine powering the system, a constant flow of “free water” quietly traced its way across the moringa fields, beside the livestock pens, out towards the distance hills, finally filling our newly excavated fishponds. The little “brook” seemed to me a beautiful picture of God’s provision – gentle and steady, once hidden away, now surprisingly and miraculously released to flow freely for all to see! Who would have believed we had a lake beneath our feet!

An interesting red roof in the distance caught my eye, then another to the far left of the site. These were the roofs to Children’s House and the new Feed Mill, both new structures built to a very high standard. Later in the trip we had the joy of blessing both buildings with what seemed like the entire community moving in and out, clapping, singing and dancing as they went!
I was glad to get some time with three of our eight girls still at Shine Village; the older five girls had left the previous week to begin a new academic year at St Josephs Primary and Domasi Mission Secondary schools. Both schools are full board and very different to their more “playful” life at Shine Village. It’s a time of change for all eight girls who have lived together for nearly three years.

M, E and A are looking forward to starting this school and they know hard work is needed to gain the high results required. All the girls attend Mwanje Primary School but unlike other pupils they attend extra lessons helping them catch up on the missed years of education. Life at Shine Village with house mothers Grace and Agnes seems relaxed and the girls are very content. Both women are long term members of Shine Ministry along with Rebecca Forte their teacher.

The four girls B, M, A and P had moved to St Josephs Primary just a week before our trip. Phil and I had visited the oldest of the girls since she was three years old in her village setting. She had moved with the three girls to Shine Village in 2019. This was the first time seeing her together with her “new sisters” under the care of Shine. It really was wonderful to meet in person.

Earlier in the week Suzen and I supported the eldest girl, D, who had sadly failed the entry exam to the local secondary school. Losing both her mother and father before her fourth birthday and raised by her older siblings (themselves only 8 and 11) D missed out on most of her schooling. Her only option was an expensive private mission school. This new chapter of her school life did seem quite daunting; with a full timetable beginning each day at 4.30am with chores and bible study with all interactions and lessons led in English. We prayed together after her school-shopping spree, reminding her of God’s care for her. We are hopeful that her learning environment will give more one to one learning interactions which she after being a class of 300 pupils.

It was nice to talk to the Mwanje Primary School Headteacher during the Early Years Graduation held at Shine Village. He praised Shine Relief for the early intervention and increasing children’s readiness to learn. Children can often be found working in the fields from a young age. Shine Relief’s role in sensitising the locals, persuading them to enrol their little ones into the Early Years programmes is key and the annual graduation to primary school plays a significant part in this. Speakers from the Early Childhood Development Council ECDC as well as both the District Social Welfare Office and the Area Development Committee Chair attended this years’ service. It was wonderful to see the mothers joy as their child received their graduation certificate and gift. This year’s ceremony was a particularly grand affair with the “international visitors” returning after the two years of lockdown.

Later in the trip and away from Shine Village at Songani intersection we met with our two new staff members at the launch of our second Shine Community Business (SCB). Shine Mill, which was purchased by licence in 2021 had long awaited a suitable site. Close to the roadside and connections with Zomba city and Mozambique, this position was the site of our dreams with both local trade and wholesalers it is a very busy spot, milling both rice and maize in large quantities. Piles of by-products, both bran and husk, were taken for animal feed and bedding at Shine Village site. Some will be used by the ladies’ group for briquets production. Plans to provide a collection and delivery service to rice farmers in the neighbouring district will be worked out in the future. During this trip we made our first visit to the main rice producing area which was really exciting as the rice fields stretched as far as the eye could see!

Shine Ministry, launched after a period of outreach in 2018, continues to build on a 14 year partnership in the gospel between Malawi, UK and New Zealand. It is always the highlight of our trip to join in worship with various churches we support. One such service held at Shine Centre combined a live Global Prayer hosted online by Regions Beyond Europe using ZOOM at Shine Centre. It was a great blessing for all gathered to pray for church planting in Europe and Birmingham in UK!

Phil and I visited Pastors Kumvera and Joseph and their vibrant congregation of around 180 members which has grown from amongst a Muslim population in a neighbouring district.  Machengawedi church members had impressively worked together over a five year period on a new structure to replace the small venue made entirely from bamboo and straw.  Gathering rocks and moulding bricks happened every Sunday for months after each service until the structure reached roof level in 2021. We had the joy of presented a gift of £1,000 towards the purchase of the iron roofing sheets to help with the final stage.  Phil preached and afterwards led a time of training in evangelism; their wholehearted response saw many receiving the Holy Spirit.

A visit to Pastor Wilfred’s church in Chilanga later the same day was another wonderful time together and financial gifts raised by Jubilee Church Hull were distributed. Pastor Wilfred will enrol in carpentry school and his church members will have resources to help rebuild one of their homes.

During our final days in Malawi we visited Lake Malawi. It was a stark insight into the impact of Covid 19. This incredibly beautiful lakeshore, which we last visited in 2016, and was the first place I encountered back in 2010, was disserted.  The once vibrant tourists spot, stood silent with guest houses closed and connected community project workshops empty. Strangely the “curio sellers” still had their stalls beautifully laid with paintings, carvings, and jewellery, but without the rich obliging tourists on their “holiday of a lifetime”, it was over to us, and we were hounded! We were given grace to listen to their stories.  Each seemed genuine. Life on the lakeshore really has many opportunities which have not been tapped into so we used our wi-fi access to play documentaries detailing successful farming projects. We shared our faith journey establishing a community farming business which led into times of prayer with each of them. Handmade earrings, paintings, curios, wood-carved fridge magnets and personalised bracelets did still accompany us back to Zomba along with fruits and freshly caught catfish!!

A carefully carved wooden plaque which read “In Memory of Joseph Kuria Waithaka” was to later find its place on the door of the Children’s House on the last day of our trip. As we honoured the life of a dearly loved friend, Husband, Father and Grandfather and his legacy in Malawi, I did puzzle over God’s mysterious ways. Speaking at the ceremony, Chief Chilambe blessed all involved in establishing the Shine Relief and connected businesses in his village. He spoke about faith in Jesus, and his experience of Christian prayer. A handwritten letter of thanks presented to the UK board listed each development and the community’s gratitude. He spoke about one of their biggest challenges – a main connecting bridge, damaged by heavy storms making it too dangerous for use . It was in need of urgent repairs. A child had been swept off the bridge on their way to school. We agreed this was an essential but large project that we would need experts . We are currently working on a re-construction plan.

It is true that Jesus assigned each of us “good works“ in advance to do ( Ephesians 2v10). Obstacles emerge but staying focused on God’s precious promises, treasuring relationships, remaining committed to prayer and dedicated to the gospel, brings lasting change. We have seen it on local and international levels. People in this region were fragmentated and without a desire to work together. This caused stagnation. The gospel message has realised conflict resolution and healing. Community restoration is tangible, so much so, the chief gave public testimony saying “Only God could do this!”.

Looking over the beauty of the Malawian landscape as our plane left the runway: the hills, mountains, the scattered villages with their faint smoke curls and then the gigantic “The Lake of Stars!” glistening, true to its name, left me pondering over “how much Malawi gives!” I can never leave Malawi spent and feeling poor, but rather incredibly enriched in numerous ways. Yes it does cost and it is not easy, however the blessing is very real and remains.

Shockingly, two days later our departure Blantyre airport closed and for two days no one flew in or out. A tropical storm now named “Ana” hit the country. The destruction of the main hydroelectric plant threw Malawi into chaos and the flooded areas resulted in loss of life, homes, crops and businesses. Amongst the areas touched were the southern regions Fish farms established by Hastings (our dear friend and Co-founder of Shine) They were all but destroyed. The loss of fish was simply devastating. It has caused a despairing which I’ve not seen before. The grace to bounce back and remain positive which I admire greatly, appears to be have been lost to a real and heavy disappointment. It could take hold and so we shall pray and act….

The delivery of relief is only achievable amongst the small groups in our catchment area, organised through Group Village Headmen and our team. The delivery of food is already going to hundreds and this is just in our small area. We do find ourselves standing in the gap, and looking to support those living in camps in the neighbouring district. .

For me, having walked recently on Malawi soil and now being so far away, this time is incredibly hard. Knowing our staff face two-day power cuts and food shortages yet still come to work to deal with other people’s problems and overwhelming needs, causes me to question why I am not walking through this with them. It leaves me feeling numb at times. The loss faced is heart-breaking and so we continue to commit each day into the Lord’s provision of grace. We know that it is sufficient.

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.

Our relief program and the latest updates are found here     

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