September 2020 Southern Malawi Ministry Centre Update

So it is impossible for God to lie for we know that his promise and his vow will never change! And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time—an unshakeable hope!  Hebrews 6:18 The Passion Translation.

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[Iris family in prayer concerning the pandemic and challenges in Malawi.]

As Coronavirus began to hit the news all over the world, Malawians were very much occupied with the approaching election rerun, in which the nation chose a new President. We are thankful for a safe and fair election without the usual unrest. Amidst election excitement, Malawi schools were closed on March 23 and our family suddenly grew significantly bigger as our secondary and post-secondary students made their way home from their various boarding schools.   

There is always an adjustment when all the ‘big kids’ come home, but this transition was intensified by the unknown length of their stay and added COVID-19 precautions. We realized we needed structure if we were to get through this extended ‘holiday.’ Fortunately, the timing was right to get the whole family involved in a more intensive farming program than we have previously undertaken. Many mornings all the Iris children were in the garden by 5:30 am, working and singing, laughing and chatting. Removing termite mounds and cutting back trees added to the fun and helped us to harvest a good supply of firewood for cooking. Working together proved to be a very important catalyst for becoming a family again.  

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[Iris family weeding the maize field.]

We quickly organized all the children into groups for home schooling. Our post-secondary students enthusiastically jumped in as tutors for our secondary students. Our Iris Primary School teachers prepared home school materials for children during school closures. Educators are our front-line responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping children and youth to keep their minds active during such a prolonged period of school closure. Most of Malawi is rural, without access to online learning or even books and paper, and the radio learning programs have not been consistent. Students on and off the base have been making great strides in reading and mathematics.

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[Iris secondary student using the classroom blackboard as a tablet to practice his mathematics.]

As Easter approached, churches were informed that they could not gather in large groups. God went before us, and we had planned for a different Easter before coronavirus. Our churches usually gather for a big conference in Bangula. For years, we had felt that this was ineffective, as many people cannot afford to travel to the conference. Pastors would come to the conference, leaving their churches without leadership on such an important day. So we had put together a package for our pastors to use, including drama, Scripture, and even sermon notes. This program was introduced through our overseers in geographical zones and was a great success. Our Bible School teachers, also on forced break, have been spurred on to provide further teaching materials for our rural pastors to use in their congregations.

In the community, we have had to adapt some of our programs to comply with government regulations. Our monthly gathering of children with Cerebral Palsy and their mums has had to be simplified, but still the mums and children have enjoyed being together even for a shorter time. There is so much comfort in simply being with others who walk the same road, and for some that walk is literally very long. We were able to send each family home with MannaPack fortified rice meals and blankets and warm clothes in the colder season. After our July meeting, I drove 8 of the families home and was surprised to discover some had walked 15km to be with us!

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[Joanna distributing MannaPack meals and warm blankets to the members of the Cerebral Palsy support group.]

Through our Children of Hope program and the generosity of a Canadian family, we were able to build a house for a family we have known for a long time. They had four girls and then they had triplets. Remarkably, all three children survived their first two years, and then their diligent, loving father died. This family desperately needed a hand up, and it is a delight to see them settled into a home that is theirs forever.  

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[Iris carpenter and staff assembling the front door on the new home near Bangula.]

Our Iris children have enjoyed some variation in their school program. In July, Chara Lafleur (one of our missionaries) put her day camp training to work and directed our first-ever Iris Day Camp. Our grade 7/8 learners led activities in four different subject areas: math, writing, art, and sports. They showed wonderful creativity and initiative in leading their younger siblings and the two-week program was a great success. It was so successful that our Primary School head teacher had the kids do a model ‘Day Camp’ to inspire our primary school teachers when they returned from a holiday.  

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[Chara Lafleur coaching the Iris grade 8 learners in preparation for their national exams (supposed to have been written in May 2020, but new date yet to be determined). ]

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[Iris Primary School Day Camp learning activity.]

We decided to have our annual Sports Camp the following week, led by our Form 4 graduates, even though they haven’t actually written their final exams or graduated this year. Each day begins with a warm-up before the teams head out to compete in various sports. In the afternoon, we gather for a story, and then back out to the field for more healthy and sometimes intense competition. This year’s favourite sports were dodge ball and bucket ball, though obviously nothing can top football in Malawi.

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[Dodgeball event at the Iris Sports Camp.]

Everyone is now back into their home school groups for another round of study and exam preparation. The secondaries have been enjoying a creative writing program, which solidifies their very detailed English grammar curriculum. Though there is no news of schools opening again yet, we are thankful that education has continued on the base, and our children have benefited from being together while they work, farm, study, and play.  

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[Some of the younger Iris boys huddling together to stay warm during a cool Malawi winter morning (17C).]