Living in Malawi provides plenty of opportunities to have your heart broken by incredibly apparent physical needs. As of 2015, Malawi is the poorest country in the world according to the World Bank's GDP rankings. So if you want a tangible picture of what poverty looks like
and what it really means, come visit a village in rural Malawi.
On Saturday I was out at Bright Vision to visit eight of the ten child-headed-households that we help support in the Chamadenga area. For the past two years, we have been giving each of these families fertilizer and seed for their fields, school fees for their kids, plastic paper to use as waterproof roofing, and maize to supplement their insufficient food supply. So I was visiting homes doing a needs assessment with Stanley, Patricia, (one of our secondary school sponsorship graduates), and Mphatso (and ABC graduate). Each home we visited was a bit different, but the general profile is: grandmother with 3-6 grandkids, no parents, teenagers serving as primary care providers, serious poverty indicators.
The main question we had for them: "What do you need from Bright Vision this year?" Without exception the first answer was FOOD. Explanation: Malawi's rainy season (November to March) was not good this year: started late, rained very hard (resulting in disastrous flooding in parts of the country: check previous blog post), and ended early. What that means is that even if people had fertilizer to help their maize crop, their harvest was far below what was hoped for or needed. Forecasts for food security this year are bleak with maize reserves and budget allocation for food relief falling far below estimated national needs.
Back to the day: Visiting these homes, my heart was breaking. This is poverty that can result in fear, suffering, and the loss of hope. It's terrible and I think it breaks God's heart. He doesn't want any of his image bearers afraid of what happens when their food runs out. He doesn't want them suffering from hunger pangs or shivering with fever because of malaria. He doesn't want his children living without hope that it could someday be better.
The second house we visited was difficult. Grandmother and grand-daughter sat outside their house that is really just a room roofed with thatch/plastic that has a grass mat for a bed that is about 7 feet by 9 feet that is home to 6 people, a chicken and all of their earthly belongings. Their maize from this past season (that should last them until March) is gone and the older children spend their days trying to find cassava to eat. And this is with our help: otherwise they would have run out of food long ago, had a leaky roof, and the kids wouldn't be going to school.
We visited Esau's house and it was both the most hard to see and the most encouraging stop of the day. He's 15 and responsible for taking care of his siblings and grandmother. I had my head in my hands asking God, is bright, clever, and hopeful. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up and he said he wanted to be an agricultural expert to help people in the village farm more effectively. So I'm thinking, "What are we going to do to make this dream a possibility?"
That's what we're trying to do at Bright Vision. The need in the area is tremendous. We know that these aren't the only ten homes that are in terrible need, but we're committed to helping. As a result of the day, we're tripling the budget line item for this child-headed-household program. We need to do more and we're going to. Along with this financial commitment, we are going to increase monitoring and visitation with these families. We will provide short-term relief while also trying to take steps to help them in the long-term: education, agricultural training, adequate housing.
If our heart breaks when we see these things, that's probably good. But if we don't do anything about it, then it is pretty much worthless. That's why I like these adjoining lines in this worship song we sang on Sunday. A commitment to doing something to mend broken hearts. I'd appreciate your prayer for wisdom and purpose in our efforts for these child-headed-households and the provision of the financial resources that we need to abate fear, alleviate suffering and provide hope for kids like Esau.
I hope you caught my can inclusion earlier. I didn't say anything up there, because I have seen the people of Malawi confront poverty with bravery in the face of fear, patience in the face of suffering, and indomitable hope for the future. Poverty can paralyze, but in many cases it does not. God is good and working in the hearts and minds of the poorest people in the world. I know, I've seen it firsthand.