Adventures

What Am I Doing Here? (Literally)

After a lovely month back in the US, which included a family reunion for Christmas in Hawaii, quality time in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, and a week in Chapel Hill to see college friends, a recurring question I received while I was home was, “So…..what do you actually do?” I realized that even though I send out a (somewhat) monthly newsletter, a lot of my friends and extended family still didn’t really know at all what life was like for me here in Malawi. While it’s impossible to share every detail of my life here, I’ve put together a short blog of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that I hope gives a little more information as to my work across the pond.

Q: What are you doing?

A: I am working with HOPE International, a Christian micro-finance organization in Malawi. Depending on the financial metric used, Malawi is about the 8th poorest country in the entire world. I have seen far too many NGOs and other non-profits throw aid at a country like Malawi when I’ve learned that the predominant need for this country is development. HOPE International has this mentality engrained in its model as we seek to assess ways in which “helping can hurt” and strip people of their dignity. We instead ask them to look at the assets they already have in their life, how they can steward them well, and receive a sustainable hand up from poverty, not a hand out.

In Malawi, through partnerships with the local church, we set up savings groups that act as banks to the materially poor around the country. An enormous issue in poor countries is the lack of a safe place to save money and the lack of access to loans with a reasonable interest rate in order to make larger purchases to improve businesses, purchase assets like livestock or a bicycle, or buy more land for farming. HOPE neither puts their own money into the savings groups nor takes any money out to show group members that they can accomplish much more through the communal power of saving than they may think. Our savings group members then offer loans to each other from the collective savings based on an interest rate decided by the group.

Q: Where is Malawi?

A: I am working in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, and although it has a population of about one million people, it has a very suburban feel to it. Malawi has a total population of about 16.5 million people and is well known for Lake Malawi, the 3rd largest lake in Africa and the 9th largest lake in the world. Nicknamed the “Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawians are known for their friendliness and “warm” personalities. Below is a map for the many people who asked me where Malawi is located. While preparing to leave last year, a girl told me I was going to have such a great time because Hawaii is “sooo wonderful!” (thinking I said Maui). Not many surfers here, dear.

Malawi looks tiny on this map, but it's about a 14-hour drive from the northernmost point to the south!

Malawi looks tiny on this map, but it’s about a 14-hour drive from the northernmost point to the southern tip!

Q: What does your daily life look like?

A: My title here is SCA Programs Fellow, which basically means do-whatever-gets-thrown-at-you. I’m kidding, I really enjoy my job, but my work certainly varies a lot day-to-day. I need to point out that most assignments take much longer here, mostly because the idea of customer service is non-existent, especially at the bank, and also because of the slow pace on which everyone operates. While in the US, two visits to the bank to deposit a check, withdraw money, check your balance, etc. might take a total of 20 minutes, but a bank visit here can take up to 2 hours. Although the lines can be quite long and slow, the only consolation is that they show Premier League soccer highlights on the TVs. The other day I got to watch the hour-long highlight show twice! Unfortunately I made it to the front of the line after the second viewing, so I couldn’t watch it a third time. I’m considering putting “catching up on emails, sending text messages, and reading my Kindle while standing in a massive line” on my resume. 🙂

HOPE International has only been in Malawi for a little over a year and a half, so a lot of my responsibilities would be typical of any start-up company (submitting paperwork for a Post Office box and a landline, purchasing a whiteboard and bulletin board and hanging them in the office, organizing our file cabinet in preparation for our first audit, etc.). I also do small amounts of financial reporting to manage our local cash as well as some other special projects, like ordering audio Bibles for our operation in the largely unreached and predominantly Muslim population in the southern part of the country (which is really exciting!). I do enjoy that no two days are exactly alike here and through attempting to have an open and humble approach to my work, God has taught me a lot about servanthood and truly putting the needs of others before myself.

Q: How can I get more involved with this incredible company? (Okay, maybe this isn’t a frequently asked question.)

A: You can check out HOPE’s website -> http://www.hopeinternational.org OR, HOPE has a number of GREAT internships/fellowships available for all you soon-to-be post-grads or even you fellow Class of 2014ers out there.

If you want to be on my email newsletter distribution list, please let me know! I’m always available to Skype as well and it really helps me feel connected to home.

While this wasn’t a very deep blog with personal insights, I hope it gave a better picture of what I’m doing here. I’m hoping to post more reflections about my time in Malawi soon.

To those of you that read this entire blog, my email, AND newsletter, you get a gold star and 100 Malawian Kwacha (about 21 cents).

Thanks for reading!

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We All Want a Sneak “Peak” at Our Future

About two months ago, I had the opportunity to climb Mount Mulanje in the southern region of Malawi. Although I was ill-equipped for this adventure – turns out a pair of jeans, 4 jars of peanut butter, and a giant study Bible are heavy, who knew? – this was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Malawi thus far.

The stunning natural beauty of our upward journey made the experience very memorable, but I was amazed at how much fun I had with my group of climbing buddies. I don’t throw around the phrase “Dream Team” lightly, but I think that label is an understatement when it comes to this group of dear friends. Pictured below are (clockwise from me) Lauren, Kaja, Jason, Rebecca, Brett, and Marcus. *Spoiler alert* we made it to the top, but by all means, keep reading.

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The first day of climbing was scheduled to be our hardest and most physical day. I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting ourselves into when we agreed to climb this 3003 meter mass of rock. Although we would often talk among each other, there were chunks of time filled with silence, (other than our huffing and puffing) as we all focused on the seemingly insurMOUNTable task ahead of us.

These segments of silent time were actually greatly appreciated by me because it allowed for some much-needed self-reflection. However, whenever we would stop and take a water break, I would look up and see a view like the one pictured below and wonder aloud how we were ever going to survive this excursion and achieve our goal of summiting.

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We kept asking John, our guide, if that *as we gestured to the tallest mountain we could see* was the peak. He would quickly say no, the peak is behind that (giant) mountain. The running joke in our group was that you can never see the peak, or the summit, since it was always hiding behind another massive mountain. In other words, you can never see where you are ultimately headed, and are only able to see what is in front of you. Isn’t that how it is in life as well?

I equate this situation to the question that we are asked all too often as recent college grads (and really at any stage in life): “So, what’s next?” We get to one “peak” and realize that there is still just as much uncertainty about which way we’ll go from there, even after we reach this destination that we thought would bring us peace. I’ll come back to this point shortly…

After our grueling yet enjoyable first day of hiking, the next morning we reached the summit and made sure to confirm with John we had actually reached the very top. He confirmed we had and we enjoyed a well-deserved nap as well as a panoramic view of other rocky ridges fading into the horizon as our line of sight couldn’t contain the majesty and splendor of the mountain range. That night, when we got back to our hut at the base of the summit, an awe-inspiring and powerful thunderstorm rolled over us. For about 2 hours, we laughed and trembled at the deafening cracks of thunder and blinding flashes of lightning. We even experienced 15-20 minutes of hail! Needless to say, we were grateful to have an (almost) waterproof roof over our heads to keep us dry.

The next morning, I woke up just in time to see the valley outside of the hut fill with fog in a matter of 5 minutes. While previously we could see all the way out to the horizon, the foggy mist kept us from seeing more than 10 feet in any direction. It was quite a surreal experience as we began our descent down from the mountains into a cloudy abyss.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the situation (or I am just milking these weather situations to get material for a blog post), but I think God provided us with three distinctly different environments that can represent the uncertainty of the future.

Clear conditions: At the beginning of our hike, we could clearly see the path in front of us, even when the end goal was often quite daunting. That being said, we still were unable to see our ultimate destination, the peak of Mt. Mulanje. Sometimes in life, we know we want to pursue the path in front of us, but can’t see where the path will eventually take us.

Thunderstorm: Although we felt well protected during most of the storm, there were certain booming claps of thunder or electrifying lightning strikes that made me wonder if we were all going to make it through the storm safely. If I had phone service, I would have Googled “where to seek shelter during a thunderstorm when your shelter is a tin-roofed hut.” In our lives, we can be confronted with troubled periods of darkness and even unexpected “thunderstorms” that cast grim shadows over our future plans.

Fog: The dense fog was quite disorienting for our journey down the mountain. We truly couldn’t see more than a short distance in front of us and relied fully on our guide to help us arrive safely at the next hut. I think we all go through times in our lives where the future is incredibly cloudy and uncertain.

As I mentioned, we were solely dependent on our guide named John who had traveled up, down, and around the mountains “hundreds of times.” I am so grateful that as Christians, we have a Guide (Jesus) that has also been through the hardships and uncertainty we are experiencing, but on a much deeper level. How comforting it is to know that when different environments of unpredictability arise, I not only have a Guide who can relate and sympathize with me, but One who actually has the power to do something about it.

I had been going through the book of Isaiah during my devotions and happened to read through Isaiah 53 the morning that the fog rolled into the valley. What an incredibly powerful passage! If you haven’t read through that chapter in the last few weeks, I highly recommend you go through it again. Check out these verses that describe Jesus:

 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:4-6 

I guess there was a reason I brought that study Bible up the mountain after all.


A lot of my friends who are recent post-grads have expressed concern about the future. Most of us have jobs or are doing additional schooling, yet still feel extremely anticipatory and nervous about what lies ahead. When I graduated from UNC, although I was excited to be finished with school, the sea of Carolina blue robes seemed to be like a pool of ambiguity that we “young pros” were about to dive headfirst into as we embraced the “real world.” Although I don’t know what my future holds, through the haze and fog, I have a crystal clear picture of this Guide who doesn’t just serve as a role model for me, but actively interceded for my shortcomings on the cross and made a way to the Father. God, our Heavenly Father, loves His children so dearly and exhorts us, “do not be anxious about anything” with the promise that as we pray to the Lord, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Regarding what each of us does in the future, I like the way Pastor JD Greear puts it: “Do what you do well for the glory of God, but do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.” It puts me at ease knowing that I don’t have to fear messing up God’s will for my life, but also challenges and encourages me to be a good steward of the limited time I have been given here on earth, as I try to leverage my life according to the calling He has rightfully placed on my life. Even when I turn to my own way, like a dumb sheep, I still have a Shepherd who gently guides me and protects me from the different weather conditions life presents.

What if we all focused on simply taking the next step instead of looking ahead to the boulders we will face next week, or the mountains looming at the end of the month? I think we might just be surprised as we look back and see the distance we’ve traveled and the obstacles we’ve overcome. Let us not allow the daunting task of arriving at our ultimate destination to keep us from taking the next step in faith.

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P.S. This was my first blog post so I’m just a noob when it comes to the blogosphere. I welcome and look forward to your comments/thoughts/questions!

P.P.S. Believe it or not, climbing Mount Mulanje is not one of my job responsibilities for my work at HOPE International. I hope to post a couple of blogs about the work that I’ve been doing here in Malawi when I’m back in the U.S. in 5 days!!