A letter from Martha Sommers in Malawi
Dear Friends and Family:
Friday, September 21, Salome Chasnoff’s documentary, Brink of Survival, previewed in front of a packed auditorium at the Chicago Cultural Center. Salome’s preparation for this film, which puts the life and work at Embangweni hospital on center stage, included two extended visits to Embangweni with her film crew, falling in love with the remarkable people she lets tell their stories, observing the beauty in the sorrow mixed with joy, and spending many thousands of hours in the studio. I am still emotionally overwhelmed by the experience. My main emotion is gratitude. My next is vulnerability. Then there is sadness. Then joy seems to sprout through the cracks in the sadness.
Early in the film I am on the screen, talking about how the hospital and so many of the patients are on the brink of survival. I cry as I see the words I chose to describe the situation mirror my own emotional state at the time of the interview. I cry as I know the hospital and the people of Embangweni were brought closer to the brink since the filming, having to survive the foreign exchange crises, fuel crises, and loss of their phone exchange, and now they are trying to cope with the crashing of the local currency. Joy sprouts through the cracks in the sorrow when I think of how PC(USA)’s health office is working with Embangweni and Ekwendeni hospitals and the Synod of Livingstonia’s health department to deliver $50,000 to each of these hospitals to help them recover from these crises. Thank you for your generous donations and for your participation in this long-term partnership between the PC(USA) and the Synod of Livingstonia.
Near the end of the film Dr. Douglas Lungu tells the interviewer that she must have seen the people laughing and singing and dancing. He says the people will tell her that they have problems…yet they are still here. Now I am traveling in the U.S.A., visiting with so many of you, many who have problems, including losing houses, jobs, health, and loved ones since we last met. I see how you are so much like your brothers and sisters in Malawi: acknowledging your problems, and still persevering, laughing, sharing, assisting others, as we all journey together. Joy does shine through the cracks. God is with us. Candidate Romney’s statement that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as victims is wrong. We are people with problems, and we are so much more than that.
Not to get lost in politics. One of the aspects that I love about my months of mission interpretation in this and many election years is how I am a guest in the homes and congregations of so many of you throughout the country. You, my friends who vary in your views, informed by your varied experiences, remind me not to dismiss or demonize those I disagree with, but instead to respectfully listen, dialogue, and journey together. My next journey, leaving tomorrow and returning to Wisconsin in early October, includes Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Before the end of the year, I will also be visiting Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. My mission interpretation time ends December 2012. I will then be on unpaid leave from the PC(USA) for 2013, and then resume as a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Malawi January 2014. During 2013, my unpaid leave time, I will be working as a doctor here in the U.S.A. I am still working on the details of that. I will let you know once that is settled, where I will be, and how available I will be to visit the congregations I cannot squeeze in a visit to before 2013.
I so much treasure the visits I have with each of you. So many memories: singing “Morning Has Broken” in the Colorado mountains during the worship service to end this year’s Malawi Network meeting. Playing a violin with the children of friends, and nieces and nephews at various houses. My high school forensics coach, who is slowed down by long-term lung disease, introducing me to her congregation. Walking along Lake Michigan’s crashing waves.
Thanks for the joy,
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 106