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A letter from Jim and Jodi McGill in Malawi

March 2, 2010

I (Jodi) am writing this from the Brackenhurst Conference Centre in Limuru, Kenya, outside of Nairobi. I am attending the Christian Medical and Dental Conference to obtain the continuing education units I need to maintain my nursing and family nurse practitioner licensure, as well as to reconnect with people from the previous conferences, make new friends, and get some physical and spiritual rejuvenation. It is a beautiful and perfect setting and I always come away with increased professional knowledge, generational wisdom for family life, and a healthy dose of enthusiasm for work and family. Of course, Jim is left with the role of single-parenting our six kids, running the house, and managing his work load. He does a fabulous job of it all, and he can use your prayers for continued health and guidance as he starts week two.

The conference is over March 18. Michael and Jason are now 12 years old and are taking their first flight by themselves on the 19th when they will fly to Kenya and we will visit together the Rift Valley Academy (RVA) in Kijabe, Kenya, to explore/plan for the start of their boarding school career. The boys are in Standard 7 and the school they attend in Mzuzu offers nothing further. This is a significant transition period for them and for all of their friends as many will be leaving Mzuzu for boarding schools throughout Malawi. Please pray for their safety while traveling, our visit to RVA, and the final decisions that need to be made.

There has been much progress in the planning of water and sanitation programs with which Jim is involved. Of most importance is the establishment of a Center of Excellence in Water and Sanitation at Mzuzu University. This Center will connect implementers like ourselves in the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia to researchers from academia around the world and experts throughout the Region to answer the questions that have tremendous impact on the lives of the people with whom we live. Part of the funding will purchase tools for surveying and mapping areas where people do not drink safe water or have proper sanitation facilities. The information will lead to a better understanding of the circumstances within which we are working. We will work through primary schools and build up capable individuals to work together towards the goals of 100 percent use of safe water and 100 percent access to safe sanitation facilities. Now that the funding is available, there is much work to find and hire staff to implement the work.

The common thread during these past months is the phrase, “God is ahead.” We have heard it repeatedly, and it is that belief that lessens the many disappointments, frustrations, and worries that seem to have plagued Malawi and the northern region. The prayers, emails, cards, and financial support that have poured in through so many different sources have given credence to the hope the statement proclaims.

As was mentioned in our October newsletter, the government abruptly stopped subsidizing the funding of nursing students. Since then there have been prolonged and severe fuel shortages (for diesel, petrol, and kerosene), transport shortages, and water and electricity outages. The government re-instituted the previously used quota system which selects students along regional lines for entry into university and secondary education — a court ruling in 1993 led to it being dropped — restricting the number of qualified applicants from the northern region and favoring entry by the possibly less qualified central and southern students — creating new and fueling old regionalism.

Then the Ministry of Education abruptly changed the academic year, so instead of primary and secondary school ending in November 2009 and starting in January 2010, the schools had a two week break and were told to start in December 2009. The new academic year is to end August 6 and then begin September 2. This decision was complicated by its abruptness, by the institution of the quota system, and by a simultaneous closure of about 600 of the 800 private primary and secondary schools in Malawi by a division of the Ministry of Education. The changes also had, and will have, an impact on the Scholarship Fund of the Synod because a large part of our funding comes from churches and individuals as part of their Christmas giving which had yet to happen in 2009, and with school beginning in September 2010, it will yet to have happened in 2010.

Towards the end of the year, Karonga in the more northern part of Malawi experienced a series of earthquakes damaging much of the infrastructure and causing displacement of thousands of people, yet thankfully causing the death of very few.

Then several departments throughout the Synod experienced dramatic financial crisis. One such crisis led to the closure of the College of Commerce. Through all of these changes and difficulties, what we continued to hear over and over again, after and in the midst of the turmoil caused by the shortages, educational changes, financial shortfalls, and natural disasters was, “God is ahead.” At this conference I have met people who serve in more dangerous and less hospitable places than Malawi; who have suffered through wars and destruction of hospitals, clinics, programs; who have lost family and friends and health; and yet again, I keep hearing in different languages, dialects, and phrases — “God is ahead.”

So, although this newsletter may seem like a litany of complaints with no rosy or as yet miraculous ending, it really does have a hopeful and astounding conclusion — God IS ahead and we thank God for that profound and eternal promise.

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 59

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