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Overflowing With Gratitude

A Letter from Martha Sommers, currently in the U.S., serving in Malawi

June 2019

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Dear Friends and Family,

I so wish that you could be with me during this last month of my service as a mission co-worker for the PC(USA). I am in Malawi, enjoying precious goodbyes and mutual encouragement. Let me take you to Embangweni Hospital’s chapel last Wednesday morning, where Medical Director Dr. Khondwani Zgambo asked me to preach for morning devotions. I arrived early to confer with George Shaba, an HIV counselor at the hospital who was the presider for the morning service. As we talked, the chapel filled with staff. There were some old friends from when I worked at Embangweni Hospital from 1997 to 2000 and from 2003 to 2008, and others who were new to me.

When 7:00 a.m. arrived, the chapel choir led us in singing a capella harmonizing hymns. So many memories flooded my consciousness of work days started here, and of the voices of longtime choir members who had died. Most on my mind was Grace Nyirongo, who poured out love to patients and her family and often expressed her love through singing. She died of cancer this past year. The previous afternoon, I had visited her village and condoled with her family. I said a silent prayer in thanksgiving for her life and prayed for help to keep me in the present moment.

I had chosen the gospel text Luke 17:11-19:

“Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ So when He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when He saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any others who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?’ And He said to him, ‘Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.’”

The text was read in English and Chitumbuka. Then, as my Chitumbuka is too rusty from not using it for some years, I chose to preach in English, and Hospital Secretary Gladys Zimba interpreted into Chitumbuka. She has many years of practice understanding my accent and makes great use of hand gestures.

I shared that as we work in hospitals caring for patients, there are times when patients and families are difficult, and we feel unappreciated. This story reminds us that God understands, and like Jesus, we are called to do our best to heal everyone. Next I focused on the last line, where Jesus tells the man who came back to say thank you that his faith had made him well. All were cured of leprosy, yet only the one who practiced gratitude became holistically well. I confessed that even though I would like to see myself in the story as the one who came back and said thank you, perhaps 90% of the time I am like the 90% who fail to say thank you.

Then, I proceeded to thank this Embangweni community for continually inviting me to be part of them. They had invited me to work and worship, play and pray, mourn and celebrate. Their continued prayers and friendships continue to heal me.

In addition to being grateful for Embangweni, I also feel gratitude for the communities of Ekwendeni and Nkhoma and friends throughout Malawi, and for those who cared for me when I served in Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar. Also to each of you and your congregations. Your prayers, friendship and support fill me with joy. My prayer is that you will welcome and journey with the doctor who will fill my post once the candidate is found. As I will receive benefits from World Mission until September 30, please support my ministry both prayerfully and financially until then. After that time, you may support this position and the person who fills it through continued gifts to ECO E200526.

Love to you all,

Martha


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