A letter from Luta and Jeremy Garbat-Welch serving in Malawi
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Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“I don’t work in projects, I work in initiatives”; these were the words spoken to me (Luta) by Ms. Mphatso Nguluwe, director of the Livingstonia Synod AIDS Program (LISAP), a program of our church partner, the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP). As an AIDS program LISAP focuses on building community capacity—empowering communities to identify their problems, and then identify and initiate sustainable interventions to these problems. One such initiative is based in Karonga District where “kupimbira” is commonly practiced. Kupimbira is when parents arrange for their young daughters (as young as 7) to be married to older men in exchange for money, goods or to pay off an outstanding debt. Among other issues, kupimbira puts young girls at increased risk of HIV/AIDS. In 2009, when LISAP first entered the community, Ms. Nguluwe was told there was nothing she could do; other organizations had already tried and failed. LISAP approached the issue from an educational position—through many community meetings the community identified that the reason girls weren’t in school was because of kupimbira. Training on the importance of education and life skills were provided throughout the community—to church members, to community members, to parents, to teachers and to children—so no one could say, “I didn’t know.” Mother/father groups were formed to monitor girls who were not in school and to speak with the parents about making sure their daughters were in school. To date over 600 girls have been brought back to school and away from their marriages. The primary success of this initiative is that the community themselves chose to change their by-laws to prevent early marriage—it is now against the laws of the community for early marriage to take place. This is transformation indeed. The Malawi government has chosen the work LISAP is doing in Karonga as a success story that will be highlighted at the Conference on the Status of Women that will be held in New York. Ms. Nguluwe’s words stood out to me—“I don’t work in projects, I work in initiatives.” This philosophy is the key to sustainability; working in community initiatives empowers communities to identify and meet their own needs and ensures that when LISAP leaves, the initiatives are community-owned and sustainable.
Orientation to my (Luta) ministry work has begun in full force. As a family we have traveled to visit with all three of the CCAP synods in Malawi—Blantyre Synod, Nkhoma Synod and Livingstonia Synod. With each of the synods I have met with several of the various departments—the health department, the youth department, the women’s department and the evangelism department. I have learned about safe motherhood projects, malaria reduction campaigns, family planning programs, nutrition programs, HIV prevention projects, home-based care initiatives for those living with HIV/AIDS, economic empowerment and vocational skills training, sexual reproductive health education, and discipleship and Bible study programs—all efforts by the CCAP to address the needs of their congregations and the wider community. I have met people who are working under challenging circumstances who continue to persevere to live out our calling to “love our neighbor”—people like Rev. John Gondwe, head of the Livingstonia Youth Department, who is trying to find ways to encourage the youth to remain in the church; people like Ms. Elida Mphedwa, a social worker at Nkhoma Synod Hospital, who is strategically thinking through how to empower the local Community Health Evangelism (CHE) trainers so that CHE takes root in the community; people like Ms. Linderabe Gareta, who has just taken on the role of Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission director and is praying for a renewed spirit and vision for her team; people like Mr. Sangster Nkhandwe, Director of Health for Livingstonia Synod, who has the momentous task of keeping the three Livingstonia Synod hospitals running in a climate of extreme financial difficulties facing Malawi as a whole; and, of course, people like Ms. Mphatso Nguluwe, who lives and breathes community ownership and empowerment. These individuals are a testament to the stirring of God’s Spirit to love our neighbor.
This first quarter of 2015 has been quite a busy one. In addition to all of the travel as a family in Malawi, Luta also made solo trips to Ethiopia and Zambia (Jathniel has been very excited to have her back). In all of the busyness of traveling it becomes easy to lose focus on why we are here. We strive to remain learners: learning language, learning culture, and learning about the ministries our church partners are doing. We strive to remain open to God’s call in how we can walk alongside our partners who have so much to teach us in engaging God’s people. So we ask that you would continue to pray for us as we learn about how we can engage and support God’s ministries here in Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As we strive to remain attentive to God’s voice and prompting in knowing how to engage the many possibilities for partnership here in Africa, we hope you will also remain attentive to how God might be asking you to partner with us. We are blessed to be able to be here now, but that does not mean we have all of our financial support. And while finances are an easily measured need, we also always need more prayer and friend support! We are blessed each time we see the various ways people support us, and it helps us know we are not alone.
In Christ’s Service,
Luta, Jeremy, and Jathniel
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 156
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