A letter from Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch, serving in Malawi
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On my (Jeremy’s) first visits to three different prisons in the Southern Region of Malawi, the needs caused by overcrowding and underfunding were obvious. At Chichiri prison, about half the prisoners were not even wearing uniforms, because there was not enough money to buy them. At Chichiri and Mpyupyu prisons, inmates waited in long lines in order to get their lunches for the day, which consisted of nsima (cornmeal porridge) and beans, but no vegetables. Those who had vegetables had gotten them from other sources, such as their shift out in the farm fields, or from family and friends. At Zomba Central Prison, the doors of the toilets had broken down, resulting in a total lack of privacy. Lack of nutritious food, soap, clothes, and other basic items were common complaints. In addition to the evangelism and counseling ministries led by Chaplains Rev. Stanley Chimesya and Rev. Matero Msatithe, I observed a number of activities being done by, or on behalf of, “well-wishers.” These are people or groups who come to address a particular need, usually by supplying money or physical objects. While I was there, I was able to see the new doors for the toilet stalls that one well-wisher had funded, and Rev. Chimesya had organized the carpenters. The same well-wisher had also provided a large amount of food, soap, and Bibles to the various prisons. Rev. Msatithe was organizing a day when the local churches would pool together resources to bring large quantities of rice and chicken to the inmates.
The needs are immense, and the resources provided by the government are insufficient to meet them. The efforts of Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) chaplains and congregations are key to meeting the needs of inmates, but their resources are also limited. The CCAP chaplains are largely dependent on the funding of well-wishers to provide anything beyond basic visitation and counselling ministries, because their budgets are meager as well. Yet even when well-wishers come and give significant physical resources and money, it seems to be just a drop in the ocean of needs. And whatever needs were temporarily met by the gift soon recur. What will resolve the needs is a change in how things are done. Possibilities include larger budgets from the country; innovative prison programs that would do more to provide resources for the inmates; sustainable and long-lasting outreach and support programs in the communities that would offer additional support to the inmates and prison officers; programs targeted at reducing crime; and training to teach people how to implement such programs and how to look for permanent, change-inducing solutions.
A fed belly goes hungry again. Providing rice for a meal solves hunger for one meal. Setting up sustainable farming practices in the prison and nearby area would provide food for more than one meal. Providing soap improves hygiene for a short while. Initiating soap-making projects would provide soap indefinitely, as well as additional financial resources for the prisons and job skills for the inmates. Well-wishers are often needed when resources are low, but simply providing the resource as a gift only guarantees that well-wishers will be needed again.
As of September 1, I have officially begun work as the facilitator for the CCAP Chaplain Training Program. My first step is to learn more about what chaplains are doing, what support and resources they have to do their ministries, and what training needs they hope to address. It has been tempting to get drawn into a well-wisher approach: teaching seminars or classes for the current chaplains and getting them trained as quickly as possible. In fact, I have been invited twice to help teach training seminars on counseling skills to prison chaplains, and every chaplain and minister I have met has asked when I will be doing a training seminar in their area. Teaching at these seminars has presented good learning opportunities for me that challenge me to convert my experience back into theory and teach it in a way that will help create new experiences for the attendees. While I have experience as a chaplain, I am very new to teaching, so it is good practice and learning for me!
But the seminars feel to me like the well-wisher approach: meeting the immediate expressed need, and hoping somehow systemic change happens on its own. This is like a doctor in the emergency room stitching knife wounds on the same patient week after week, without ever wondering what can be done to help the patient avoid getting knifed in the first place. The reverends assigned to be chaplains change regularly; newly assigned reverends are not given training particular to the role of chaplain. Conducting seminars for each one will be a never-ending task, meeting a never-ending need that is recreated every year, just to make sure current chaplains have basic pastoral care skills.
Another solution is needed. Training lay leaders and congregational members will help guarantee that hospital and prison ministries are more ongoing and sustainable. But seminars cost money and take time, and many people will not have the money or time needed. Getting funds from well-wishers will meet the need temporarily, but it forces people to rely on the good intentions of outsiders who may run out of funds, lose interest, or just die off. Another solution is needed.
While teaching seminars is good practice for me and does help alleviate immediate needs, I am looking for something more. I am looking for a program that will unify the chaplains and synods that will not need to be recreated from scratch time and time again. I am looking for a program that can be done anywhere, and at low cost, so that the travel, time, and financial needs of any interested person can be addressed. I am looking for a program that not only teaches counseling and pastoral care skills for use in hospital and prison settings, but also encourages change in ministers’ hearts. I am hoping not to be just another well-wisher who is giving his time and resources to help meet a need, but someone who helps instigate long-lasting and systemic change. I am encouraged by the chaplains and programs that are already attempting to do this. I look forward to learning more about the chaplaincy ministries of the CCAP and working alongside such efforts.
Our presence and ministry here in Malawi with the CCAP is not possible without support. As the “giving season” approaches, please remember us in your gifts and budgeting for the next years. And as always, please keep us in your prayers.
We will be in the USA for our Interpretation Assignment (IA) during the summer of 2018, primarily during the months of June and July. It is not a very long period of time, and there are many people and churches we would love to see! So please check your calendars now and let us know when in the summer would work for you for us to come and visit and share about God’s work in Malawi.
In Christ’s Service,
Jeremy, Luta, Jathniel, and Azai
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Tags: Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch
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