Our team left Malawi on August 1, which means I’m quickly approaching one month back at home. I’m continually amazed at the impact such a brief trip has had on my mind and heart, my thinking and believing.
Today, I have to tell you about a boy I met.
We spent Friday in the village of Mgwayi, for what COTN dubs “Cultural Immersion Day.” Our team split into pairs, and each pair was matched with a family. We spent the morning with a little girl named Aida and her mother, plus a rotating cast of cousins and neighbors who made their way in and out of our circle that morning. Our mission that day was to simply spend time with this family, learning a bit about the rhythms of their life. We helped draw water from the well, mud the front porch, wash dishes.
As the afternoon approached, we left the village to buy food for dinner. We were sent to the market with a list of ingredients, written entirely in Chichewa, and we went into the market hoping to translate our list, negotiate prices, and come away with the makings of a meal.
On that list? Nkhuku. A chicken.
You should have seen us, wrangling these chickens on the bus back to the village. I wasn’t brave enough to hold the chicken. I completely wimped out. I admit it. So, other team members held their chickens by the feet or placed the chicken in a bowl (had they been smart enough to purchase a bowl with their leftover kwacha). Occasionally, a chicken would “flutter” (as my friend Joanna kept calling it), which would send feathers, dirt, and excrement flying. I rode the whole way with my feet up in the air, afraid of being pecked by the chicken sitting beneath my seat.
Travelling with the chickens was only half of it, because as you might expect, the chicken was meant to be eaten.
My brave partner that day, Stephanie, took one for the team. I stirred nsima over a fire while she bravely did the deed.
(I think the COTN staff, all native Malawians, may include the chicken simply because they like watching a bunch of American’s squirm.)
Eventually, a teenage boy walked over to the hut and offered to help us with our chicken. With excellent English, he introduced himself as Steven. He helped defeather the chicken and he swiftly, deftly cleaned each organ, leaving a full pot of meat ready to be cooked. While our pots boiled away, we began to talk.
“Do you know cat and lion?” he asked.
“Cat and lion?” I was thoroughly confused. Was he asking if we have cats and lions in Florida? Was he wondering if I had seen one since arriving in Malawi?
“Yes, Cat and Lion! And their son, Emerson. They sponsor my brother.”
I almost jumped for joy at the moment, because I suddenly knew what he meant. Steven was asking if I knew Kate and Ryan. (Many Malawians constantly interchange their “l” and “r” sounds. Our team members Lori and Rebecca, for example, quickly became Rori and Labecca.)
Ryan is the middle school minister at our church, and his wife Katelyn works for COTN. As I prepared for Malawi, Katelyn told me to look for the cutest kid in the village. “That’s Mphatso. We sponsor him.”
Sure enough, an adorable little boy in a red COTN t-shirt was standing nearby, playing with the crowd of kids that had gathered. Mphatso.
And this teenager, so patiently and graciously helping us clean a chicken, was his brother.
We talked for a long time that afternoon about football and the Bible, family and friends. I showed him pictures of Evan & Ian, and he asked if I would ever bring them to Malawi. I was so grateful to find a friend in the village from whom I could learn about Malawi and COTN without a significant language barrier. We could talk about more than our age and the number of people in our families.
When I complimented him on his English, he replied, “Oh, thank you! What Chichewa do you know?”
“Me? Oh. I know ‘muli bwangi,'” I said. (That Malawian greeting means, “How are you?”)
“Yeah, yeah,” he replied, “Everyone knows ‘muli bwangi.”
I saw Steven 2 more times during our stay in Malawi, and each time he would walk with our team down the long path from the village to COTN’s ministry center.
“Lindsey,” he said to me one afternoon,” “I want to go to university and be an engineer. I am afraid that if I do not have a sponsor, I will not be able to go to school. Every day, I pray that Jesus will provide me a sponsor, but I do not know what else to do.”
Steven has a dream, but he seemed to lack hope that it would happen.
Joanna ran into Steven and Mphatso later in the week while walking through the village. She started up a conversation with them, and Steven immediately began talking to her about Kate and Ryan. He even pulled out their picture.
Kate and Ryan are so diligent about sending Mphatso letters and gifts often. They are building a relationship with him, reminding him that they love him, pray for him, and think of him daily. When I talked to Steven, his love for Kate & Ryan oozed from every pore. He asked how their son was growing, and did we go to church together, and would I send greetings on his behalf.
And they were not his sponsor.
Steven taught me that sponsoring one child benefits the entire family.
When you sponsor a child, your generosity provides meals, school fees and workbooks, a mosquito net, and more. I’m not sure, however, that resources are the most significant things that sponsorship provides.
When you sponsor a child, it communicates that he or she is valued and chosen.
Sponsorship provides hope.
Steven wants to be an engineer. My friend Michelle was his math teacher for eight weeks this summer, and she will tell you: this boy is sweet and studious. He doesn’t complain when he doesn’t have food or shoes. He dreams and he works.
Almost every day since coming home, I have browsed through the pictures of children waiting for sponsors. Today, Steven’s face was no longer there. Katelyn and Ryan have decided to sponsor Steven, and I am praising Jesus because of it. I know that Steven is praising Jesus as well.
Sometimes, you need hope to keep a dream alive.
That’s what sponsorship provides.
You can browse the list of children needing sponsors, including Steven & Mphatso’s sister, by visiting COTN’s web site here. I can’t even express the hope you will provide to a child and his or her family.