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Joy Amid Challenges

A letter from Janet Guyer in the U.S., on Interpretation Assignment from service in English-speaking Africa, based in Malawi

December 2015

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A few weeks ago we lit the Advent candle for Joy.  In some ways it seems so complex to consider joy in the midst of all that is happening in the world.  However, the bottom line is that although there are many things that bring us joy, especially in the Advent and Christmas season, our deep-down joy comes from knowing that whatever is going on, God is Immanuel…with us.

What I hope may bring you some joy at this time is that I am in the U.S. for several months and would very much like to visit with you and share with you about the life and work of our partner churches, especially as it has to do with women and children, in my region, which is Ethiopia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, my home base.  It has taken so long to be able to let you know this because I was trying to schedule knee surgery.  That will not be happening this year so I am free to travel any time now.  I do apologize for the short notice. Please contact me at

One of the things that has become very apparent to me is how much the issues that I work with, those having to do with the education and health of women and children, are issues that impact my life every day.

Let me begin with Anna.  Anna is a single mother who lives near me in a two-room shack with five children, four of whom are elementary school ages.  For Anna life is very difficult. Her children have not been in school for two years now because she cannot afford to pay for their fees or uniforms.  It is a challenge to know how to help her and the children without demeaning her or creating dependence.  This is a scenario that plays out over and over again throughout the country.  The challenge becomes how to help keep children in school.

Our church partners are also very concerned about this issue of keeping children in school.  There are some scholarships in the church schools, and the church’s Women’s Guilds (like the Presbyterian Women) seek to find scholarship money for many children orphaned by AIDS.

The children it is most challenging to keep in school are the girls.  If you look at school statistics, in the early grades there is almost parity between the number of girls and boys.  By the end of high school, often less than half of the graduating class are girls.

Health issues are also a serious problem for the women and children of Malawi and have affected my colleagues as well.  In the past year any number of people I know had to take a few days off because they had come down with malaria.  Malaria is just part of life and in too many cases, especially among the very young, the pregnant, and those with poor immune systems, it can be a cause of death.  For those of us who can afford it, there are drugs that can help prevent malaria. When in Africa I take malaria medicine and by the grace of God have not come down with it yet.

Malaria prevention is also a concern of our church partners.  The Nkhoma Synod public health program has a project of Indoor Residual Spraying.  The spray is not harmful to anything except mosquitoes.  It works by spraying all the houses in a community, which provides protection for the entire community as the mosquitoes do not like the spray residue.  When visiting the Nkhoma mission compound one evening I was amazed that there were no mosquitoes there.  My memories were of fighting off vicious mosquitoes in that area.  Although everyone benefits from the lack of mosquitoes, it is in the saved lives of women and children that the residual spraying has had the most benefit.

I could go on and on about how the issues I work with are more closely intermingled with my life in Malawi than in times past: the daughter of someone I know who is a 15-year-old mother with a husband more than twice her age, or the young man who just learned that he is living with HIV.  However, it would not be right to not mention the joy and faith of so many people who are living in difficult times.  One woman said, “Just because I am poor does not mean I can’t be happy.” Malawi is a country of challenges and also a country of joy.

Please pray for

• Anna and the women and families like hers who are struggling just for survival

• The children who should be in school but aren’t

• For me as I plan out my time here in the U.S. to be able to visit as many places as possible.

Thank you for your interest in my ministry in Malawi and other countries and in the people with whom I work.  That ministry would not be possible without your prayers, your concern and your financial support.  I look forward to seeing many of you in the coming months so that we can catch up.

Rev. Janet Guyer

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 156

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