By Rev. Martha Ward*
Our involvement in Malawi began 2008 with the interest of our Associate Pastor Mike Gudka who was passionate about involving our congregation in an international mission effort. The UMC is young in Malawi (established in 1994) and growing rapidly especially in the rural areas. It is a provisional Conference and the current Conference Superintendent is Daniel Mhone (brother of our guest, Lester Mhone.)
Our first AFUMC trip to Malawi was an exploratory trip by Mike Gudka and Dennis White in 2008. We have sent teams each year since 2009. Ours is a "ministry of presence." We have been able to supply some resources for various projects in Malawi, and when we travel there, we visit the projects we support to encourage the UMC's there. The UMC in Malawi particularly likes to get us out into their newer rural churches to help the people know that they are part of a world-wide church which really cares about them. Malawi is called the "Warm Heart of Africa" and over our five years of involvement with them, we have come to feel not just like partners in ministry but like extended family.
We were drawn to their agriculture ministries, in part because Iowa is an agricultural state. Lester Mhone, their Agriculture Person in Ministry, was doing early work in helping congregations develop gardens next to their boreholes and in other areas with ground water, in order to help sustain the local church. In 2011, the Malawi UMC approached us about helping them purchase a 59 acre farm in central Malawi. We provided $5000 for the land and $8000 for the borehole on the farm. Since then we have paid for construction of the farm house, a storage building (under construction) and given funds for other start-up costs and farm inputs. The goal is for the farm not only to be self-sustaining, but also to provide income to support the work of the Conference there.
We are very excited about how the farm is developing. In their first growing season, they planted 18.5 acres in soy beans. They did this using day laborers they hired from neighboring villages. Being a new employer in the area was an unanticipated blessing for that region. Lester wrote at the time, "You cannot avoid shedding tears when you see and hear of kids having eaten nothing for days except for potato roots. It was a relief to them to do our piece work, and after paying them, they went to buy food. I have seen the hand of God providing for these people through the MUMC farm."
We are also excited about the new UMC which came into being shortly after the farm was established. We did our morning Bible School for them - and the pastor already had 80 children on the books - plus many others from the neighboring villages who joined us out of curiosity.
We are not the only Iowa UM's interested in Malawi. Mike Gudka continues his active involvement through his church in LaPorte City. In fact, this year he arranged to give a Malawi student from Africa University, Kelly Ngwira, a one-year internship with him. In 2011, Mike Gudka invited other Iowa pastors to join him in Malawi - Ed Kail and Lane Riggle made the trip. Knoxville UMC supported the construction of the office building on the MUMC farm.
Dennis White, an AFUMC member, sometimes calls our partnership with the Malawi UMC a relationship of "unintended consequences." Pam Heilskov, one of our members who first went to Malawi in 2009, decided to spend a year in Malawi being helpful on the farm. She traveled over with us and will return with our 2013 group. She is staying in the guest room with Lester and his wife, Rose. Another of our church members who traveled with us to Malawi in 2010 was so moved by the sight of one of the 5 year old Malawi orphans with a club foot that he arranged for her to come to the States for corrective surgery at the Shriner's Hospital in Minneapolis and has since adopted her.
Lester Mhone and Kephas Mtambo have come to the US this summer to attend a two week training at ECHO, a sustainable farming training program, in Florida. The ECHO slogan is "Farming God's Way". They were sponsored by Church of the Resurrection which began its involvement in Malawi in 2010. We work cooperatively with them, GBGM and a few additional congregations around the U.S. who are involved in Malawi.
*Rev. Martha Ward is the co-lead pastor of Ankeny First United Methodist Church