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A letter from Jodi McGill on home assignment Malawi

April 2012

Installing a rope pump on a new well at the ‘Smart’ training center

Throughout this past academic year in the States we have heard and felt much uncertainty and fear at many levels—as a church, as a nation, internationally, globally, and even as a family. While visiting with congregations to share the work of the church in Malawi we have heard concerns from individuals for their congregations and for the leadership and decisions within the PC(USA).  We hear and read in the news and through personal stories the uncertainty and fear of the unknown as the nation of the United States continues to face economic problems and as political lines are drawn as the country revs up for the presidential elections. Internationally political strife, wars, natural disasters, weather changes, economic crises, and predictions for the end of the world seem to abound.

As a family, although we are gladly returning to Malawi the end of July or early August, we are returning with several uncertainties. We again need to find a house, figure out how to finance and find a car, our work responsibilities are in flux, Michael and Jason—our eldest twins—are to start boarding school about eight hours south of us, and the schooling for the younger four remains unclear.

The country of Malawi has gone and is going through significant trials and changes this past year. Prior to Thursday, April 5, 2012, the country was spiraling downwards economically, politically, and with regard to human rights. The fuel crisis that Malawi had been experiencing for the past three years had continued to escalate so much that people parked their cars for a month at a time waiting for fuel, and the cost for a gallon of gasoline was over $8.00 legally and double that from the black market. The lack and cost of fuel was impacting the cost and availability of items such as sugar—the price of sugar went from K 100 last year to K 300 mid-March and K 500 in April.  People are queuing for staples like bread and sugar.

One of the significant reasons for the lack of fuel was a shortage of foreign currency to purchase the fuel for import. Related to the lack of foreign currency, the major car companies like Toyota and Nissan announced they were closing their shops and the airline companies that flew into Malawi were requiring payment for tickets in only hard currencies. 

Personal and political freedoms were suppressed with political opponents of the president arrested.  The British ambassador had been told to leave the country in 2011 because he reported negatively about the president.  The freedom to gather and protest peacefully was denied.  The judicial system of the country was at a standstill as the judges were on strike. There were protests that turned violent and calls for the president’s resignation.

However, on April 5 President Bingu Wa Muthaika died suddenly from a heart attack.  Then there were 48 hours of complete governmental silence as discussions and negotiations took place over whether to follow the 17-year-old constitution of Malawi or not.  The pro-constitution supporters won, and the decision was made that, per the constitution of Malawi, the vice president, Joyce Banda, became the new president of Malawi. The government called for a 10-day period of mourning, but President Banda is already at work talking to governmental representatives of the UK, U.S.A., European Union, and others to reinstate Malawi back into good standing with the international community.

Coupled with uncertainty and fear is the certitude and conviction that local and global missions are imperative, first, as a living example of how we as followers of the Christ are reaching out to people; second, as a way to maintain and build bridges within the PC(USA) denomination and the global church; and, third, it reminds us all of the many times we are told to not be afraid but be at peace: John 16:33 and Psalm 56:3-4.

In a letter this month Hunter Farrell, director of PC(USA) World Mission, wrote: “In 2011 more than 300 congregations who had not supported us in 2010 decided to financially support our work! We give thanks to God for the increasing connection with Presbyterian congregations, even in a time of significant debate within the denomination. A growing number of Presbyterians believe that God’s global mission is something that we do better together and trust World Mission to help them engage in it faithfully and effectively.”

One example of what Jim will be continuing to work on is the establishment of a "Smart Centre"—offering "Smart" solutions to the water and sanitation problems that face many Malawians.  The Smart Centre will be a training facility to train and certify people in the proper techniques for hand drilling and hand digging wells, for fabrication of pumps, and for building of latrines, as well as linking financing options for both buyers and sellers of these technicians’ products.  This Smart Centre will be a direct link to the Centre of Excellence for Water and Sanitation in Mzuzu, which collaborates internationally to research many of the issues that are keeping safe water and safe sanitation from being available and used by all Malawians.  The church is able to partner with these Centres as implementers and to use their knowledge of the community to direct the long-term vision of such work in water and sanitation.

We thank you for continuing to walk with us and helping us and the partner church in Malawi, CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian), to fulfill a spirit of reaching out to others.

Jodi McGill

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 106

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