Saturday, November 25, 2006

Reflections from my time in Malawi

I was in Malawi the first week in November -- my 3rd time in the last 12 months. For those of you who don't know, Malawi is one of the 20 poorest nations in the world. Per Capita income is less than US$1 a day, and 50% of the population lives on US$120 a year. Life expectancy is about 37. There are 1,000,000 orphans -- more than 50% of those are as a result of HIV/AIDS. More than 15% of the adult population is HIV+.

In the middle of all of this, there are Malawian believers and Christians who are doing incredible ministry to the sick and dying, the women and grandmothers and the orphans and vulnerable children. We are trying to walk alongside the Malawian church as it ministers in communities devastated by the AIDS pandemic.

AIDS in Malawi is all-encompassing. Every aspect of society -- family, economics, education, religion, business -- everything -- is touched and affected by HIV/AIDS.

From this trip I have two images burned into my heart and mind. Let me briefly share them with you.

The other day I was taking a shower, and in the middle of that lovely, warm shower the following two pictures came to mind.

The new borehole/well in Matanda, Malawi

Carrying home the precious gift of clean water!

These two pictures tell a story. The Matanda area, on the outskirts of the capital city of Lilongwe is a typical Malawian community. There is no electricity. There is no running water. Until we dug this borehole/well this summer, there was no clean water available to the people in the area. This young girl walked at least one kilometre to get to this well, fill up her pail and walk home with her precious gift of clean water. She can't do what I do -- have a shower everyday with hot water. She can only dream of something like that -- if she even knows it is possible. My life and hers are unbelievably different. The question that I ask myself often is simply this -- what can I do to make the life of this young girl, and millions like her more human? What is my responsibility to see her life become more like God would want it to be? How can I help the Kingdom come to Matanda and to Malawi?

My second story is also about a young girl from the Lilongwe area. Her name is Matilda.


Matilda is 12 years old. She lives in Ngona -- a very poor community in Lilongwe. Matilda's mother is dying of AIDS. Matilda lives in a small, one-room mud-brick house with her younger brother and her 17 year old cousin. Her cousin often gets drunk and becomes violent. One night her cousin will come home and may very well beat and rape Matilda. If her cousin doesn't do this, then one of the other men in the community probably will. The beating and rape of young girls is an everyday experience in Ngona. Women and girls have no rights, and the men who abuse them rarely suffer any consequences. Matilda represents thousands of young girls in Malawi and millions in sub-Saharan Africa.

But, unlike many other orphaned girls in Malawi, Matilda has something going for her. She knows a woman named Theresa. Theresa is looking for ways to help Matilda -- to find a safe place for her to live, to help her get an education, and to find a way to get her adequate food and clothing. Matilda has hope. Millions of other young girls and women don't know a Theresa, and there is little reason for hope.

As my friend George Snyman from South Africa says -- the fact that millions of girls and women in Africa live in fear of getting HIV/AIDS through no fault of their own, and that they are subject to beatings and rape as a regular part of their existence, and that they have no rights when it comes to sex or education or so many other things that western women take for granted -- all of this is simply UNACCEPTABLE if there are Christians in this world.

And, if this is unacceptable, then what am I doing about it? What am I doing to love my neighbor across the street or in Africa? What am I doing to see the Kingdom come to Matilda and the girls and women in her situation? What are we doing?


selasi said...

i live in Malawi and hate it when westerns come to Africa and try to paint a grim picture of it. yes we are dying of Aids but so is everyone around the world. if your governments were to pay us what is truly due to us for our produce we wouldn't be in this situation, so stop feeling high and mighty like you making a difference. you come and go, we live with it everyday.
most of the NGOs are just here to make themselves rich and not help people, Even churches that come in the name of religion. its all about self self self. as if there ain't no poor black folk in America, ha what a laugh

Karl Mueller said...


I love the people of Malawi and the country. It truly is "the warm heart of Africa".

While it is true that millions of people around the world are HIV+, the fact is that 70%+ of all AIDS cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. The per capita HIV rate in some parts of southern Africa are in the range of 30%+. In Malawi about 1 million people are HIV positive -- the same number as in the USA -- but Malawi has only 12-13 million people, while the USA has 300 million.

AIDS exacerbates poverty in Malawi, and poverty exacerbates AIDS.

It is true that western nations do not practice fair or just trade with developing nations. That needs to stop, but the challenges faced by Malawi and many other African nations go far beyond agricultural policy. I agree, it is time that the west stops it's unjust trade practices -- but at the same time the governments of many African nations must stop the way they are robbing their own people, mistreating them, failing to provide even some of the most basic services.

As someone living in the west, who desires to walk alongside Africans in their struggle for social justice, the last thing I want to do is come across as someone "high and mighty". I'm sorry if that is how many westerners make you feel.

I know both western and non-western NGO's who really do want to serve the people of the countries that they work in. Are they perfect? Definitely not -- but I personally know Malawians and westerners who at great personal sacrifice are giving their lives for the people in Africa.

I also know many Christians who are in Africa to serve. They are not perfect, they have made mistakes, but they love the people of Africa. Skin color has nothing to do with their desire to serve, or their heart to help.

Are there poor people in America? Yes there are. Many NGO's and churches are helping them as well.

I go to Malawi at the invitation of Malawians. I go only with a desire to walk alongside them in their struggles and life. If I was not invited, I would not go.

May I ask a question of you? How are you involved in helping the poor in Malawi? I would be interested in hearing how you are helping the people of your nation.