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A letter from Jim McGill in Malawi

Advent 2010

I love the Advent season and getting ready for Christmas. The chance to (1) play Christmas music (some of it completely unrelated to life in Malawi — few here are “dreaming of a white Christmas”), (2) decorate the house with occasionally garish, unskilled but always lovingly made decorations, (3) teach my Sunday school class about the miracle of Jesus’ birth and do special activities with them and (4) eat chocolate with a minimum of guilt!

The younger kids are looking forward to a few weeks off from school and the older two are looking forward not only to time off from classes but also to being home from boarding school. This is a good time for us to re-establish what it means to be together as a family. Recovering our Christmas traditions is a great way to reaffirm those bonds.

One of our family traditions is to read a short devotion, light an Advent candle and read just a tiny part of the story of Jesus’ miraculous conception and beautiful birth. There are always comments and questions, especially from the younger ones for whom the story is still new. How did Jesus and his family celebrate his birthday? Or did they? Would there be stories told about the journey to Bethlehem? And maybe a joke or two about incidents along the way, like how Joseph didn’t make a reservation for accommodation in time? The appearance of the star and shepherds would certainly have been a highlight.

What I think is amazing about Christ is that although his life was so astounding from beginning to end, he understood and spoke to the mundane daily issues we face as humans. His words, actions and stories encourage us to emulate his life and constantly to seek a closer relationship with God through him. When we light the Advent wreath and read the Bible passages that reflect the hope, peace, love and joy of Jesus, we understand that his love is proffered to us as individuals, families and communities, whether small or large. We are then to exhibit that same example to our own families and churches as well as to the larger church family and the world. Through the support given to us and to our many activities and projects, we see His love in action.

Because of donations by congregations and through the Medical Benevolence Foundation, we are seeing improvement in the nursing staff situation in the Synod of Livingstonia’s hospitals. One nursing student who recently completed her training at Ekwendeni College of Nursing has started fulfilling her bond at David Gordon Memorial Hospital at Livingstonia and three others complete their training in 2011. Three medical students have had site visits to the hospitals to which they are bonded and by 2013 and 2014 will take up their posts, together with three clinical officer students and one pharmacy student. It is of great help in recruitment and retention of staff for them to be involved in so much training.

A child wearing white clothing rolling in grass.

A child teaching others how to stop, drop and roll if clothing is caught on fire.

An exciting development is renewed funding of Child to Child Health Clubs, this time through the new “Healthy Women, Healthy Families” initiative of the PC(USA)’s International Health Ministries office. The initiative got off the ground with money from the Women’s Thank Offering; it is now able to expand to other areas. The photo is of a child teaching others how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches on fire. Considering that the majority of Malawians cook on open fires outside and that children are always around the fire, this is only one of the important lessons that the children learn in the Club and then share with other children in their homes and communities.

Jim has been busy introducing both state-of-the-art and ancient technologies to increase access to safe water and sanitation. He has used Android cell phones to conduct a household water-use survey and methods developed with the invention of steel in the 1600s to drill boreholes by hand. The Android phones can save a file that includes answers to a touch-screen questionnaire and the GPS location of the water-point as well as photographs. The file can then be uploaded from the water site to a Google server through the cell phone. The data from these very remote locations are then immediately available to anyone who has access to the Internet. We can then plot these data and recognize where people are drinking from unsafe sources.

The older hand-drilling technologies are significantly cheaper than our current drilling rigs, allowing for more safe-water points to be installed as well making it possible for some individuals to purchase their own private wells.

The first short course of the newly established Centre of Excellence for Water and Sanitation at Mzuzu University was held in November. The course focused on increasing incentives for improved sanitation in primary schools. Since the majority of students only use school toilets for urinating, the design and construction of both boy and girl urinals were presented. Special attention is made for the girl-child facilities to provide necessary privacy so that adolescent girls will attend school when they are menstruating. The urinal design allows for urine collection, a valuable fertilizer because of its high nitrogen content. We then work with members of the school Environmental Clubs so that students can set up experiments to demonstrate that, depending on the quality of the existing soils, the use of urine can increase growth of trees and yield from gardens of up to 700 percent.

Thank you for continuing your financial support of our ministry during this difficult economic period, for your prayers and messages of support, for living Christ’s example by sharing God’s love through us, and for allowing us to be your emissaries.

Jim and Jodi

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 67

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