Most of us have heard the saying, “It can be hard to understand someone’s struggle until you walk a mile in their shoes.” I had the privilege of visiting the Prison Fellowship team in Malawi and they invited me to walk with them both physically and spiritually as the led me through how they serve the children in The Child’s Journey®.
Our day began at 6:45 am, as we would be heading out to visit some of the children and see what a typical home visit looks like for the Malawi team. Home visits are conducted at least once per quarter for each child in the program in order to allow staff to inspect the home and ask the family about any targeted support that they may need. After driving for more than 3 hours, we came to a side road riddled with pot holes. We slowly followed it for a few miles, grateful that we hadn’t lost a tire along the way. Finally, we stopped in front of a brick hut and saw Chimwemwe (Program Coordinator), Kelvin (Sponsorship Coordinator) and James (Caseworker), getting out of their car. Chimwemwe held colorful chitenges, multi-purpose fabric that women in Malawi tie around their waist, for us to wear. “You are now Malawi women!”, she beamed as we finished tying them.
I was relieved to have arrived before I noticed that they were beginning to walk down a dirt path adjacent to where we parked. Kelvin yelled back, “We will park here and it is a short walk to the children.” The short walk to the house turned out to be 2.5 miles of washed out mountain roads – over streams, gullies and loose rocks. After more than an hour of walking – exhausted, sweaty, and bug-bitten – we finally turned into… a corn field. How they knew which row of corn to turn inside, I will never understand. Kelvin said it’s because they have “God’s GPS” in their brains. In a way, I guess that is true. If we listen to Him, He will lead us to those we can show His grace to.
The corn field opened to reveal a small brick structure with a thatched roof. Children were playing in the dirt in front of the house while a couple of neighbors were nursing their babies. Their mother had gone to harvest some food from the surrounding fields. While waiting for her, Chimwemwe introduced the children, who stared at us shyly. “What is your favorite part of the program?” she asked the oldest son. “Juice” was his succinct reply. Slowly they came over to shake our hands or sit.
When the mother returned with her harvest, Chimwemwe and James went through the questions on their home visit form: Had the children been sick? Do they need additional food supplies? How long do they anticipate their harvest will last? Are the children attending school? The responses were noted with care. After the initial questions were asked, Chimwemwe asked the mother how many people lived in the single-room home – seven. She then spoke with the family about how they could help them create an addition to the structure to give the children more space to sleep and fix leaks in the roof. The mother’s face lit up with joy as they began preparing the plan to bring those improvements to fruition. Next, Chimwemwe and James measured each child so that they could get them new school uniforms, as uniforms are required for all schooling in Malawi. As we were leaving, the mother grabbed our hands, squeezed them and quietly said, “Zikomo, zikomo.” – “Thank you, thank you.”
The trek back to our car was somehow more difficult going the other direction. We stopped multiple times to catch our breath and have relief from the blazing sun. During one of these rest stops, I realized this was the path that the children walk every day, twice, to go to school. When they say that they walk miles uphill both ways to go to school, they mean it. No buses or cars could possibly reach anywhere near their home. How do they do it? I asked Kelvin if this was an example of one of their most remote families – surely they didn’t have to walk hours for each one when they serve more than 500 children through their program. He responded, “This is a typical journey to see our families. After their family member commits a crime, they want to hide in a remote location, away from judgment. They don’t want people to find them.” The work didn’t stop once we finally got back to the car. The Malawi team began unloading backpacks, food supplies, and a Bible in the mother’s heart language. These were given to the grandfather of the children we had just visited for him to give to them the next day.
That visit showed me the true amount of work that each member of field staff puts into serving the children – and it is incredible to see. Chimwemwe described it best when she said, “Being a part of The Child’s Journey is not a job, it’s a calling. If I saw it as a job, I would always be tired. But it is my calling, so it brings me life.” We hope that you will keep our field staff in your prayers. They are so grateful for the support given by child sponsors in order to enable them to live their calling and provide care to the children of prisoners.