Alice’s Story

As the car rolled up to the large gated entrance of Malawi’s statehouse, Alice stared out of the window. She, along with Children of the Nations (COTN) Founders Chris and Debbie Clark (and several others from COTN), were meeting Malawi’s First Lady, Gertrude Mutharika. To herself, Alice thought, “How has this happened? Why out of all the children in Children of the Nations, did they pick me?” Alice recalls. “I couldn’t find answers, but in my heart, I said ‘thank you to God’ for helping me reach this far. I never dreamt of this happening.”

Alice had never experienced anything like this before. The guards greeted them by name, they walked through security and Alice did something she’d never done before—ride in an elevator. “I got in the elevator the wrong way,” Alice says laughing. Every moment of their visit was scheduled and full of formalities. When the First Lady arrived, they addressed her as, “Madam, your Excellency.” Alice was here to share her story with the First Lady.

After her parents died, Alice was sent to Mtsiliza to live with her grandparents, in a deeply impoverished village on the outskirts of Lilongwe. They couldn’t provide for her and the other six children living in their one-room mud-walled hut. Alice explained how she was often sick as a child. There was no money for doctors or medicine. She couldn’t go to school. She was always the last child to eat in the family. Her grandparents told her she could never hope to become anything.

Alice’s life changed dramatically the day she moved into COTN’s Children’s Homes.

But when COTN learned of the conditions she was living in, Alice was invited to live in COTN’s Children’s Home. Her life changed dramatically. Suddenly, she was part of a loving family and was given the physical, spiritual, emotional, and educational care she so desperately needed:  she had food daily; she went to school and became the first in her family to graduate from secondary school. Soon afterward, she graduated from university.

“You can list goals or accomplishments,” says Debbie Clark, “but when a child tells the depth of their story and where they’ve come from, that’s what brought so much life and what touched [the First Lady’s] heart.”

Alice explained that she looked up to the First Lady for her leadership and generous heart. When Alice finished, the First Lady stood up and gave her a hug. “The meeting felt so formal, except when Alice and Francisco (from COTN) began to share,” says Debbie. “It went from being so formal, to real.”

“Malawi’s First Lady is someone who is not easy to touch.,” says Alice. “She didn’t know much about COTN before this. She thought we just came from a nice place. When I mentioned my village, she said, ‘How can that happen? You don’t look like someone who has come from there. Wow, Children of the Nations is really doing a great job.”

“Alice did an incredible job,” Debbie says. “She was eloquent, but real and personable.”

To everyone’s surprise, the First Lady had one more request for Alice—she asked her to share her story again at a nationwide girls’ education event. Alice shared her story again in front of 300 girls, the President, the First Lady and the Chinese ambassador. Alice encouraged the girls to work hard and gave glory to God for her own success.

Alice is grateful and overwhelmed for these amazing opportunities to share her story. “This gave validity to her journey,” Chris Clark says. “Sometimes when you come from that background, you think you’ll never overcome.”

“I think God is showing me His greatness and how He makes good things from hard things,” says Alice. “I’m learning to trust Him.”

This summer, Alice Williams interned at CRISTA Camps as a camp counselor along with a fellow COTN Malawi University program graduate, Ndaona Chauluka. Alice and Ndaona are keynote speakers at COTN events throughout the USA until they return to Malawi in November.

When Neighbors Notice

August marked the beginning of Vacation Bible Study (VBS) on the street where my teammate Alison and I live. This year, we experimented with VBS to see if there was interest in starting art classes here. Our teammates, who live nearby, have been doing art classes with their kids for a number of years. Their art classes integrate Bible stories so kids have a safe space to create, play, learn more about God and form relationships of trust with other neighborhood adults committed to their long-term flourishing.

The art classes are a huge hit with the kids in my teammates’ building. As I began to form relationships with neighbors and a new group of “kiddos,” the team realized we could start art classes with the kids on our street too!   There was only one problem: Where to do it?

Unlike my teammates’ apartment complex, there was not a big, open space available where a large group could easily gather. The only place was across the street on a long patch of grass that hugs the backside of the police station. Neighbors often use this space for gatherings, parties and play as it is safe and conveniently close. We didn’t know how things would turn out gathering in a public space, but decided to give it a go.

As we progressed, our space “problem” became one of the biggest blessings. Being outside, neighbors and passers-by could observe what we were doing with the kids. Parents chose to watch and linger in lawn chairs on the grass (just out of the splash zone of our water games).

And then came the comments and questions:

“It’s so beautiful what you’re doing with the kids. Were you sharing the Word of God?”

“Watching you outside reminded me of when my boys were younger… they used to have time in the park like that, too. I loved it so much as they were growing up. Thank you for doing that for the kids now.”

“I came home from work and thought, ‘What kinds of shenanigans are happening over there?’ It was so much fun to watch the kids playing and having a good time. It’s really cool to see what you guys are doing.”

Having neighbors notice this work was amazing. It even sparked some long conversations with people who had always had questions about faith and now felt comfortable to ask.

Hope tangibly saturated the air. Ripples of excitement and joy spread throughout the community as neighbors volunteered and even brought homemade food so we would all have something to eat.

Our community came closer together in those few days and it was an absolute blessing. Our street was filled with art, love and joy, in a public testimony to the beauty of God’s kingdom. Kids are already excitedly asking about when art classes will start again. I can’t wait to see what happens this fall and how God will continue to work in beautiful, surprising and unexpected ways on our street, in our hearts and in our lives.

 

Annie Aeshbacher is a BelPres missionary serving the marginalized neighborhoods of Los Angeles through InnerCHANGE.  InnerCHANGE is a Christian ministry that works among the poor around the world.

Irma-It Could Have Been So Much Worse!

At one point, Hurricane Irma was projected to track exactly along the edge of the Haitian coastline where we live. At the time, the storm was at 185mph with gusts well past 200mph.

All of the reports aren’t in yet, but in Northwest Haiti, we know that all the crops are gone, blown away by the wind.  Many animals are also lost.  Now we are wondering for future storms how we need to shelter the animals.

In Passe Catabois where we live, we know of four roofs lost among the church community. Results from other neighborhoods are still drifting in. The damage at higher elevations was much worse. We are waiting for news from churches like Margo which is above 3000’ elevation. We know there is damage to many houses, but we don’t know how much, who was impacted, or more details yet.

In two places, we went ahead and took the tin roofs off knowing that if we didn’t remove them, the storm would. And I also lobbied for the men to take all the satellite internet dishes down. They wanted to leave two installed. In the end, they brought all the satellite dishes down…and were very thankful they did. Engineer Sadrack said that he had never seen the wind blow like that in before in his lifetime.

After Hurricane Matthew, we repaired some houses that had the mud walls washed away by horizontally driven rain. They were fine. But a lot more houses had the wall panels washed out this time.  It was a scary moment to be in your home in the darkness with rain blowing in through the holes in the walls and no place to get out of it. Or being in a house when, all of the sudden, the whole roof picked up and blows off to crash down outside in a big heap.

But, it could have been a whole lot worse! The final track of the storm took a turn 150-180 miles north of Haiti. At that distance, Hurricane Irma which was a powerful CAT 5 storm still lashed our part of Haiti with 100mph gusts. Judging by the damage that we have heard about so far, had it been any closer, the damage would have been more devastating.

Thankfully, we are talking about damages and not deaths. We don’t know of any fatalities in our area, praise God. However, for several months following the hurricanes, everyone is going to be hungry until we can replant and gardens have time to recover.

Last Monday, we got news that our boat would sail but wait until after the storm passed. It looked bleak with our ship (Slingshot-which holds our cargo for Haiti) at the dock in Miami in the direct path of the hurricane that was projected to make landfall as CAT 4.

People we know in Miami report that the city got beat up and they still have no power. But the storm went west of Miami, and it wasn’t near as bad as it could have been. We are very thankful and have appreciated your prayers. When I called to find out about the ships, I interrupted one friend who was using water from his swimming pool in the backyard to shower. The other ship we use is okay and getting ready to leave as soon as practically possible. We were advised today that the Slingshot seems to be okay. Personally, I can’t imagine that the tarp covering the boat is still there, but they are talking about sailing next week.

Please continue to pray for the people in Northwest Haiti as they are working hard to set up plans shelter and food for the next few days. Please pray for us as we have to determine where to help first and when the recovery work we were doing from the hurricane last October can start again. Please pray that the Slingshot will be ready to go and that they can really sail and get the cargo to us in Haiti soon.

And please remember our friends at First Presbyterian Church in Bonita Springs, FL near Naples. They have been very active in helping in Haiti. They were planning on the church being a shelter and recovery center for this hurricane. We don’t have any news yet but know they were in the crosshairs.

Thanks for your prayers and notes of encouragement.

In Christ,

Bruce and Deb Robinson

Crossworld    10000 N Oak Trafficway   Kansas City, MO 64588

ODRINO US  20332 Hacienda Ct.  Boca Raton, FL  33498

Who is Your Neighbor?

We organized neighborhood potlucks for years when our kids were younger and then every year afterward, we would say, “We need to do this again.” Somehow, 10 years slipped by.  Last year, we promised this would change.

In the dark, cold winter of 2016 walking door-to-door to 25 neighbors with an invitation for a potluck dinner, we were met with surprise and delight.  Several neighbors had lived in the neighborhood for years but had yet to meet others.  Others had intended to organize such a gathering but never got around to it.  And one young child greeted us at the door with joy and excitement to receive an invitation.

The neighborhood potluck was a smashing success.  22 households brought a great variety of food and drink.  As the evening progressed, conversations bubbled.  We became aware our neighborhood had become more international over the years.  It was a delight to see the comradery among neighbors and a surprise by how easy it was to bring everyone together.  All that was really required of us was extending the invitation.

As this summer neared its end, we again reached out to neighbors by hosting a Saturday evening barbeque. Again, our neighbors greeted us with joy and excitement.  We have seen these gatherings bring neighbors closer together, helping all to feel like they belong and are a community.  We intend to find more opportunities to gather as a supportive community and to help all feel welcomed.

Join the Justice & Reconciliation Team and BelPres folks to reach out to their neighbors for Welcoming Week Sep 15-24, a nationwide celebration of immigrants and refugees’s contributions, and community’s role in helping them feel at home.Host a potluck, barbecue, coffee or brunch in your neighborhood to build understanding and support between long time residents and newcomers to our land.