door representing the coice of life and free will

God’s Unsung Gift to You-Free Will/ Spiritual Meditations

The agony we feel when we see loved ones or friends ruining their lives, or, at least, making bad choices, often brings us to our knees before God. At times we worry about the unknown and fear the worst. Even years of ceaseless prayer may appear to prove useless. What does this say about God? My friend, Lisa, describes just such an experience.

Separation

My family lived in a small town where everyone went to church. My mother was the church organist so we were the first family to arrive and the last family to leave on Sunday. We were a typical Midwest American family. There were 4 children in my family; 1 boy and 3 girls. My father was a farmer and my mother was a stay at home mom.

As I was starting high school, my older brother, Kevin, left to join the Navy. I expected he would do a lot of cool things and see interesting places, but I was also sad because I knew I would rarely see him. I knew the importance and power of prayer and I prayed for him often.

As the years went by, my parents seldom mentioned my brother. After I left home for college, I was busy with my own life and made fewer inquiries about how he was doing. Did he have a wife, kids etc. My mom would say “Oh you know your brother; he’s married to his job.”

The truth was that 6 or 7 years had passed and I no longer knew my brother. Every time I would drive to my parent’s house for dinner or a holiday, I would see his photos on the wall, but nothing recent. I was told he frequently traveled to different countries and my mother sometimes wasn’t clear on where he lived. I thought this was just how the military was but also thought it odd that he was in the navy for so long. There weren’t cell phones then and I was told he had no home phone to call.

I finished school, began my career, got married, had children, bought a home and never spoke to my brother. My mother’s conversations with Kevin were always repeated at holidays. I can remember the phone ringing at Christmas one year and I prayed it was him. My heart stopped for a moment at the thought of hearing his voice again. But it wasn’t him. What if he just walked in the door? That would be a glorious day for my family.

In later years, my dad told us that Kevin was working in Alaska on a new pipeline and would be out in the uninhabited free land zones. I felt my family had lost him.   The distance and lack of communication had taken its toll and I had stopped praying for him every day. The days of praying with my parents and siblings sitting around a table holding hands was becoming a very distant memory for me. I missed that and I missed my brother.

My husband and I taught 1st and 2nd grade Sunday school. As the children talked of their brothers and sisters, I would get a glimpse of Kevin again in my own life as we grew up. That ache in my heart and the hope that my brother was OK would come rushing back.

When the family gathered at my parents’ house, my sisters and I would express concern that my mother’s only comments regarding Kevin were “Haven’t heard from him in a while”.  We heard the same comment many times.

Frustrated, I asked my mother for the name of the company Kevin worked for…. or was he still in the military. She said it was a private company and gave me the name. I called the human resource department to get an office phone number or a supervisor name. The lady I spoke to was very kind to me and understood how anxious I was to speak to Kevin. She said she would look up his contact information and call me back later that afternoon. When she did, she simply stated that he was unreachable. This made no sense to me but she had no details. The ache I had was very palpable now. My prayers to hear his voice were not going to be fulfilled. I prayed that afternoon for his happiness, and his mental and physical health wondering if he still prayed or missed us.

On a busy Monday morning at my hospital. I received a page that my mother was trying to reach me. Initially she asked me to just listen. She explained that my brother had become homeless and had been addicted to heroin for the last 2 years. He had been found in a shelter, very ill, and had been sent to a hospital. That was all she knew that morning. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t want to believe that our God had forgotten about Kevin and left him this way.

I left work, went to my car and cried harder than I ever had in my life. I remembered my scripture in Deu. 31:6; “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”    I prayed out loud asking God ‘why?’. How did I not know that Kevin needed help? I was so mad at myself for being so involved with my own family that I didn’t try harder to find him. I could fix all my patients at work, but not my own brother. I was also mad at God. “Lord, why did you leave him?” How could this happen to an educated man from the Midwest with a good family?

The next day I received another call from my mother letting me that Kevin had passed. I learned much more of my brother’s life after his death; not much of it good. Throughout my life, the power of pray was amazing and worked. I’d seen it many times with my church family. My only hope is that now God is holding him close so Kevin feels his addiction was not the heart and soul of his being. Addiction had taken over his life and my hopes to see him again, to hear his voice, to hug him, dissolved.

This is a scenario repeated in far too many families. But as stated in Romans 8:28, for those who are God-conscious and listening to His Spirit, some good will develop from it. In this case, Lisa was drawn to take on the organization of a large street ministry at her church, feeding hundreds of people each month.

The street ministry from Oakhurst United Methodist Church is the perfect way for me to lift up my brother by feeding the homeless. I think of him while I’m there. The faces of those being served each have a story. They may be there due to addiction, health reasons that prevent work or a financial crisis in their life. I see my brother’s face in them. When I pray with them, I feel I’m praying with my brother standing next to me.

Free Will

Due to the lack of communication with his family, it isn’t possible to know what Kevin’s relationship was with God during his adult life. The choice to take drugs, which then turned into an addiction, doesn’t mean Kevin turned his back on God. The addiction may have been a battle for him that he lost.

However, if Kevin did give up the faith of his youth, this is the option that God provides which we call Free Will. God wants us to have communion with Him by our own choice. He is not going to force anyone to value their life more, to act in a certain way, or to use their resources reasonably, even if many others pray that He will.

A thorough discussion of Free Will delves deeply into philosophy and there are many well developed as well as vague views on the subject. Below are abridgements of a few of them that may give you some insight.

The Catholic View of Free Will

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church asserts that “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will”. It goes on to say that “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel, so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” It concludes with the role that grace plays, “By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world.”

Catholic Christianity’s views on free will and grace are often contrasted with predestination in Reformed Protestant Christianity, especially after the Counter-Reformation, but in understanding differing conceptions of free will it is just as important to understand the differing conceptions of the nature of God, focusing on the idea that God can be all-powerful and all-knowing even while people continue to exercise free will.

Oriental Orthodox View of Free Will

The Oriental Orthodox church explains that the more one follows one’s conscience, the more it brings one good results, and the more one follows one’s arrogance, the more it brings one bad results. Following only one’s arrogance is sometimes likened to the dangers of falling into a pit while walking in pitch darkness, without the light of conscience to illuminate the path.

Eastern Orthodox View of Free Will

Some Eastern Orthodox Christians use the parable of a drowning man to plainly illustrate their teaching regarding free will; God from the ship throws a rope to a drowning man, pulls him up, saving him, and the man, if he wants to be saved, must hold on tightly to the rope; explaining both that salvation is a gift from God and man cannot save himself, and that man must co-work with God in the process of salvation.

The Methodist View of Free Will

Christians who were influenced by the teachings of Jacobus Arminius (such as Methodists) believe that while God is all-knowing and always knows what choices each person will make, He still gives them the ability to choose or not choose everything, regardless of whether there are any internal or external factors contributing to that choice.

The Lutheran View of Free Will

Lutherans adhere to the teaching that Humanity is free to choose and act in every regard except for the choice of salvation. Luther used Jesus’ image of “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). Like the bad tree that can only produce bad fruit, before a rebirth through faith, people are in bondage to the sinful desires of their hearts. They only want to do bad. Luther concluded that, without a spiritual rebirth, the “free choice” that all humans possess is “not free at all” because it cannot of itself free itself from its inherent bondage to sin.

The Anabaptist View of Free Will

The Anabaptist movement was characterized by the fundamental belief in the free will of man. Denominations today representing this view include Old Order Mennonites, Amish, and Conservative Mennonites.

The New Church View of Free will

As an example of one of the deeper philosophical views, Emanuel Swedenborg, upon whose writings the New Church is founded, argued that if God is love itself, people must have free will. If God is love itself, then He desires no harm to come to anyone: and so, it is impossible that he would predestine anyone to hell. On the other hand, if God is love itself, then He must love things outside of Himself; and if people do not have the freedom to choose evil, they are simply extensions of God, and He cannot love them as something outside of Himself. In addition, Swedenborg argues that if a person does not have free will to choose goodness and faith, then all of the commandments in the Bible to love God and our neighbors are worthless, since no one can choose to do them – and it is impossible that a God, who is love itself and wisdom itself, would give impossible commandments.

The Islamic View of Free Will

Disputes about free will in Islam began with the Mu’tazili vs Hanbali disputes, with the Mu’tazili arguing that humans had qadar, the capacity to do right or wrong, and thus deserved the reward or punishment they received, whereas Hanbali insisted on God’s jabr, or total power and initiative in managing all events. Schools that developed around earlier thinkers searched for ways to explain how both human qadar and divine jabr could be asserted at the same time. Ash’ari develops a “dual agency” or “acquisition” account of free will in which every human action has two distinct agents; God creates the possibility of a human action with his divine jabr, but then the human follows through and “acquires” the act, making it theirs and taking responsibility for it using their human qadar

The Hindu View of Free will

In Hinduism the Advaita (monistic) schools generally believe in a fate-based approach, and the Dvaita (dualistic) schools are proponents for the theory of free will. The Bhagavad Gita also states: “Nor does the Supreme Lord assume anyone’s sinful or pious activities (Bhagavad Gita 5.15).  From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self (Bhagavad Gita 6.26)”, indicating that God does not control anyone’s will, and that it is possible to control the mind.

The Judaic View of Free will

In Judaism, the belief in free will is closely linked with the concept of reward and punishment, based on the Torah itself: “I [God] have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore, choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). God exists outside of time, and therefore, his knowledge of the future is exactly the same as his knowledge of the past and present. Just as his knowledge of the past does not interfere with man’s free will, neither does his knowledge of the future.

Conclusion

If you so choose, there is much to ponder and study regarding free will  and you may even develop your own thought.

Relevant Scripture

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”  Luke 13:34 (NKJV)

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord,
And He will repay him for his good deed. Proverbs 19:17  (NASB)

He who]is generous will be blessed,
For he gives some of his food to the poor.  Proverbs 22:9 (NASB)

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 Berean Study Bible

References

http://www.theopedia.com/free-will

https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/Free-Will?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-Ijlg-7L4wIVC5-fCh2mMwmdEAAYAyAAEgIfyPD_BwE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will_in_theology

 

Behind the Scenes, God at Work With Us | Spiritual Meditations

“God laid it on my heart to feed the homeless”. “God urged me to write a spiritual blog”. “We were convicted and called to become foster parents”. “I feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit to be a missionary in Honduras”.  What do these statements mean?  Is God really talking to people?

God Speaks to Us Individually

When we develop our listening skills through prayer and meditation, we find that God talks to us in a way that is individual to each of us.   In a way that each of us is most likely to understand and be receptive to.  He knows how we think and what will get our attention.

It may be a spoken word, especially in an urgent situation. It may be an unusually strong urge to do something outside of our normal sphere.  It may be a sequence of events that continually point us in a particular direction.  Or it may be a feeling of overwhelming peace saying to us “yes, this is what I’m supposed to do”.

Following God’s Guidance

My friend, Deb, has discovered her gift, and in the last few years, God has shown her how to use it.  Her experience is one of being continually pointed in one direction.

I sailed all over the South Pacific and helped people in their villages and travelled all over the worldI really enjoyed different cultures and peoples and found that I connected well with them.  I look back and see this was a gift and that God was leading and teaching me, even though at the time I was not giving Him the glory and was not going to church.  God never let me go, in fact He continually blessed me and led me without me even knowing it.

Many years later Deb joined Oakhurst United Methodist Church that supported her spiritual development and aspirations.

As I was doing the Lay Minister course, I found out that one of my strongest spiritual gifts was ‘missionary work’.  It was confirmed to me in that class that God wanted me to be a missionary and I realized that He had been preparing me my whole life for this.

I was moved by the Holy Spirit to begin committing my life to God as a living sacrifice each day and as I continued to do this, God started to work more and more in my life.  The Spirit confirmed many things to me through scripture, two of them being;  Romans 12:1-2 ….”present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God….do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Also, Romans 11:29  “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”.

This has been 4 years now and I see God changing me from the inside out. It is incredible how He works in us.

God’s Will for Her Life

So where has all of this led Deb?  It has led her to Kenya.

I have been in Kenya 3 times now and from the very first visit, God showed me that I would be living there and that I would be involved in some sort of children’s home or school.  I have faith to know He will equip me for the job He has called me to do and the courage to overcome my fears.  I have tried, over the last 3 years to fight against God on this but He is winning!

God provided a stepping stone on her path via another local Methodist church that was starting a medical clinic in Kenya.  Through another church member, Deb was able to obtain medical donations from a local hospital, which she took to Kenya in May of 2017.

In that region the majority of people live on farms and usually have an outside building for cooking, using stone fires with wood or charcoal. The people who live in small villages or towns, cook with gas, using a single gas bottle inside with no safety device. A small percentage use electricity for cooking

kenya typical homeThey have wood or concrete block homes with dirt floors.  There is a lack of treated water in rural areas and residents have to walk down the road to where there is a community water tank with a faucet or get it directly from the river.  Thus, the high incidence of dysentery.  The systems of 2-jugs with a water filter between them is just coming into the area.  There is no electricity or refrigeration in rural areas.  The town of Equator is the nearest location of shops and looks like the temporary shanty towns depicted in US westerns during the gold rush.

kenya produce marketThe region subsists on an agriculture economy. Farms are called ‘shambas’.  Bananas, avocados, macadamia nuts, coffee, tea and vegetables are grown.  The farmers sustain their families with their produce and sell the excess at the markets.  What they don’t grow they buy there.  The government is working to install irrigation.  Currently some farms have it and some don’t.

There are rough dirt roads and small buses called Matatu’s, as well as motorbike taxis called Boda-boda’s, that run between neighboring towns and villages, but everyone walks because they cannot afford either, as they range in price from $1.50 to $3.00, depending on the distance. Schools can be miles away from home, nonetheless, children walk there.

kenya Ruiga girls school exteriorThrough a pastor of the Methodist Church in Kenya, Deb has connected with a boarding school for high school (secondary) age girls in Ruiga. Recent laws state that if a child passes the final exam at the end of primary school, they must go to secondary school.  As a result, the census at Ruiga went from 350 to 500 girls in January of 2019. kenya Ruiga girls dormatoryDorms are packed and classroom attendance has risen.  Parents have funded some repairs to the kitchen and bathrooms, and the building of an additional dormitory. Governmental funding for school textbooks and stationery etc. was very late this year which meant the children got a slow start to the year.Kenya girls classroom

The people who traveled with Deb on her initial trip continued to support and encourage her in mission work. And she is invited to preach at one of the local village churches whenever she is in Kenya.

One of Deb’s recent projects has been to provide the girls with panties and sanitary feminine pads so they don’t miss any school.  Deb’s church, Oakhurst United Methodist, bought enough pads and panties for 18 months, as well as a commercial water filter for the school, providing the girls with clean drinking water.

Future projects that Deb will be involved in:

  • The Methodist Church of Kenya, who Deb has been working with over the last 3 years, has been given a 2-acre parcel of land. The buildings on it, will be Kenya child in walkerrenovated into dormitories, classrooms, a kitchen and bathrooms to provide education for disabled children who are currently neglected mainly due to lack of education and their families being too poor to look after them. This project began in April 2019 and they hope to have the home and school running by the end of that year.
  • Working with the Bishop of Methodist Church Kenya, Nkubu Synod in a Discipleship program to train lay leaders and the congregation to spread Jesus’ story of salvation.

Conclusion

“Each time I have been in Kenya,” Deb says, “I have felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the calling within me gets stronger and has been confirmed each time.” God works with those who are listening, to use their gifts and talents for good.  Although, Deb’s calling to Kenya has been a recent development, you can see how God has worked in her life to bring her to this point.

If you feel called, convicted, urged or led to help with this project, please leave a comment that will be passed on to Deb.  Your comment will not be published and shared only with her.

Relevant Scripture

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  (Romans 8:28-29)

 

boy in sleeveless T with hand at mouth brick background

A Shocking Number of Children are Vulnerable | Spiritual Meditations

“It takes a village to raise a child”. This African proverb means that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to experience and grow in a safe environment.  My friends, Amanda and Nathan, took this to heart….then didn’t think it was enough.

Convicted by Their Faith in Jesus

My wife, Amanda, and I have been reading, learning, thinking, and praying about the great need that children have for a loving home, a stable environment, security, and support. Our hearts break when we see children enter into our “spheres of existence” who lack these things.

After getting to know a number of people, in very personal ways, who became foster parents, we found ourselves naturally reading about it. All of this noticing, learning, and reading led us directly to praying about it. Praying, “Lord, please raise up enough stable families for these children. Please call people who are willing and able to love those who need to be loved…”.

We started moving in directions that would lead us to a more direct influence on the lives of the children we know. Through our participation in youth sports leagues, Amanda’s job move to pediatrics, kids we know through the church, and mentoring at the high school, we noticed even more need. We had started to do something about it.

Yet in our reading, learning, thinking, and praying, we still felt this wasn’t enough. After doing everything we could think of to be involved and give back to the lives of the children who need it, we were finally convinced and convicted that we were called to do something more.  We then arrived at the decision to become foster parents and are nearing the end of the process of certification now.

When I talk about active discipleship, I like to think I’m talking about something I’m endeavoring to live out. I’ll be honest, there are times I preach something and it is born more out of self-examination than experience. Yet this is a time when I see a clear parallel in my life, because my wife and I both view this calling to fostering as being connected to our journey as disciples of Jesus.

Following Jesus, to us, means caring for the most vulnerable, feeding others, providing clothing for those who cannot clothe themselves, and so on. Is there a more tangible sign that we believe these things to be true, than fostering children….the children who Jesus cares for a great deal?

Active discipleship, to me, means putting the beliefs and faith I have (about who Jesus is, who Jesus loves, and what the church should believe) into action in my life at home. I don’t always get it right (just the other day I apologized to someone for not being gracious), but sometimes I hope I do. And I believe this might be one of those times.

Fostering isn’t for everyone. Heck, after we care for a few children it might not even be for us. But we all have ways in which we can be more intentional about putting our faith into action, about living out our faith while “on mission” in the world. I encourage you to examine yourself and ask how you are living your life on mission or how you might start in some area.

What would it look like to put some component of what you’ve learned and believe about Jesus into action? You might be surprised where it leads you, and you might just change a little part of the world to look more like heaven.

Pastor Nathan

Orphans – a Worldwide Crisis

This is one busy family making a difference in the lives of several vulnerable children. “It takes a village to raise a child”, so there is room for all of us to contribute and our village has become worldwide.  The IHH Humanitarian and Social Research Center produced a lengthy report in June 2018 that is overwhelming in its scope and implication.  Here are a few excerpts:

Wars, invasions, conflicts etc. are all crises which lead to an increase in the number of orphans. Currently, the crises prevailing in Eastern Turkistan, Syria, Nigeria, Iraq, Somali, Mali, Sudan, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Arakan, and Pattani leads to ever increasing numbers of orphans in these areas. Natural disasters also leave behind many orphans. The tsunami that hit South Asia, the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan, and the drought in East Africa, have all left millions of children orphans.

11 countries with most orphans

Children account for one of every three asylum seekers in Europe. In 2016, more than 63,000 unaccompanied children reached Europe.  Since the outbreak of the refugee crisis following the war in Syria, 480,000 children have crossed the border into Greece. 5,174 of these were not accompanied by any adults.  During these exhausting journeys, the children are exposed to many problems such as violence and sexual abuse, whereas the greatest danger is that posed by human traffickers. According to studies, tens of thousands of the children, who had arrived in Europe after overcoming such major obstacles, were lost.  96,465 of all the children who filed asylum applications in European countries in 2015 are now unaccounted for.

Approximately 33% of the people in question in Germany, the country hit hardest by the flow of refugees towards Europe, are children.  According to a report published in 2017, more than 350,000 children who applied for asylum in Germany are housed at unsafe locations while reviews are pending, and many may be exposed to physical, psychological and sexual violence during that uncertain period.

In the first half of 2016, approximately 26,000 children, who reached the border of the US, were found to be unaccompanied by any adults.  In the US, approximately 3 million children strive to maintain a life without parents. Each year approximately 22,000 babies in the US are abandoned in hospitals, while 2,000 to 3,000 kids are left as orphans due one of the parents killing the other. 60% of these kids are assigned to foster families as a result of exposure to domestic violence and abuse, while a further 17% are assigned to foster parents due to the death, imprisonment, disability or illness of the parents. These studies reveal that the children living under such conditions have difficulties in adapting to the society, and often face violence, abuse, and ill treatment sometimes at the hands of foster families. As with the case of any orphan, these children also have difficulties in many areas of life, such as education.

Today, 153 million orphans are registered around the globe. Yet, estimates of the actual figure range above 400 million. This is because it is impossible to get an accurate count of the children who live on the streets or who have been kidnapped or conscripted.

street traffick soldiers graph

The Magnitude of Child Abuse

A UN report published in 2014 on global child abuse states that one out of every 10 girls suffer sexual abuse.  (See also Generations of Women Endure Abuse)  The report is based on data from 190 countries, and notes that in 2012, 95,000 children and teenagers were murdered.

This is the leading reason of death of boys aged 10-19 in Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama, and Venezuela.

Reports produced by the UN again reveal that in 58 countries, 17% of children face severe physical punishments. Another noteworthy point raised in the report is the fact that three out of every 10 adults consider such punishment as a necessary element in raising a child.

child abuse stats

Conclusion

The numbers are overwhelming and make us feel helpless to make any improvement.  However, we are many and like the Butterfly Effect if we each make an effort to enhance the life of one child, it can result in a large difference overall.

The impact of child poverty, which is an alarming development for any country,  unfortunately, is usually permanent.  Consider the impact of many permanently damaged children, now adults, on our communities.  Like Nathan and Amanda, we can all do something to help grow healthy people.  If you are interested and unable to find a volunteer opportunity to make an impact in your community, please consider UNICEF.

Relevant Scripture:

1 John 3:18
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

2 Esdras 2:20
“Guard the rights of the widow, secure justice for the ward, give to the needy, defend the orphan, clothe the naked,

Matthew 10:42
“And if, as my representatives, you give even a cup of cold water to a little child, you will surely be rewarded.”

Matthew 18:10
“Beware that you don’t look down upon a single one of these little children. For I tell you that in heaven their angels have constant access to my Father.

Mark 9:37
“Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming my Father who sent me!”

Generations of Women Endure Abuse But There is Help | Spiritual Meditations

She has been tending he sick husband for months. His decline had been slow in spite of having no medications to ease the pain and extend his life. He died of AIDS. She dragged herself through the customary death rites and funeral, while taking care of her 5 children and 2 grandchildren. Her daughter and son-in-law died of AIDS the previous year. Now she’s waits to see if her husband’s family will take everything in her house, as is their right by custom, but not by law.

Custom says the possessions are theirs to use to take care of her and her children, but as poor as they are, she isn’t expecting any care to come her way. Although there is a law against property grabbing, she has no money to hire a lawyer. Even if she did, her case would have little chance of being adjudicated quickly by the undersized court system.

She will be lucky if her family has a roof over their heads. She will have nothing…except hungry mouths to feed. The children will work the fields with her, but it won’t be enough. Before her husband became sick, the younger children went to school, but the funds are no longer available to make that possible…they will work the fields as well.

She will fall into extreme poverty and will be challenged to meet very basic needs like food, firewood and shelter.

This is MaMalawi on globelawi

This is a common life in Malawi, a land locked SE African country about the size of Pennsylvania. The population is 18.6 million and it is one of the poorest countries on earth…bottom 10. Depending on the source, some say up to 74% of the people live below the poverty line of about $2 a day with an average per capita income of $310 per year in 2016. The average life expectancy is 47.

A People Ravaged by Disease

About 11.9 percent of Malawians have contracted AIDS…fewer in rural areas and more in the cities. TB and malaria are also prevalent. In a society where men are the bread winners and women tend to the home and children, an ill husband results in a shortage of funds at the same time that medical bills become due. To provide the necessities, belongings are sold, food is cutback and school payments are withdrawn.

The AIDS epidemic has left millions of orphans and widows in its wake. Many widows adding to their own burdens by taking in orphans.  The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 17% of children do not have living parents due to HIV/AIDS.

A People Ravaged by Hunger

Farming is a major source of income in Malawi. Whenever there is drought, crop production drops or may fail altogether. The following years may also result in lower production. Farmers cannot produce enough to sustain their communities and their income plunges.

Between 1990 and 2006, in Malawi there were 33 weather-related disasters (drought and flood), a rise from the 7 that occurred between 1970 and 1989, according to ActionAid.

During the peak of the food crisis, from April to May 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a health assessment in Malawi. It found that between October 2001 and March 2002, there was an average of 1.9 deaths per 10,000 every day. There was a cholera epidemic with 33,150 detected cases and 981 deaths; a fatality rate of 3%.

Yet, the number of people seeking aid at health facilities decreased by 25% in that same period. The study suggested that the health facilities were crippled by shortages of staff and drugs, as well as poor communication and transportation systems. As people began to prioritize food security over all else, health and seeking treatment at poorly maintained facilities fell to the wayside.

Starving people began to eat unsafe roots, maize cobs, sawdust, and boiled fruits and many contracted food poisoning and other stomach illnesses

In 2016, droughts, driven by El Niño, devastated the entire southern region and badly affected other parts of the country. As a result, an alarming 6.5 million people out of a population of 17 million were in need of food assistance. This means more than one in three people faced having little to no food for months on end.window kids rice house

In 2018 there are still 3.3 million people struggling to get food.  Under advisement from countries providing foreign aid and the UN, the Malawi government has developed a National Nutrition Policy aimed at coordinating food security programs and USAID training is increasing the productivity of farmers and has increased access to high-quality health care.

Violence and Exploitation of Women and Children

malawi childrenFor many reasons, including accepted customs, women and children are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, poverty and disease. Two in five females (!) and one in five males aged 18 to 24 believe it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she goes out without telling him, if she neglects the children, if she argues with him, if she refuses to have sex with him, or if she burns the food.

Throughout the last several decades, Malawi has consistently had some of the poorest development indicators, including poverty, food insecurity, and HIV prevalence, in sub-Saharan Africa, circumstances which have the potential to increase the vulnerability of all children and young women.

In addition, there is a large population of children who are orphans, work in agricultural or domestic settings, and/or do not attend school, which constitute an unusually large proportion of children who might be particularly vulnerable to violence.

Although there have been no nationally representative data on violence against children in Malawi to date, available studies have uncovered high rates of physical and sexual violence experienced in childhood, particularly among girls and very young children.

The findings from the survey indicate that violence against children is a serious problem in Malawi:

One out of five females and one out of seven males in Malawi have experienced at least one incident of sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 years.

In addition, almost half of all females and two-thirds of males experienced physical violence prior to 18 years, and approximately one-fourth to one-fifth experienced emotional violence.

Nearly one-fourth of all children experienced multiple forms of violence.

The results of this survey have significant implications for the design and implementation of Malawian- specific prevention and response programs and policies to address abuse and violence against children.

Ending violence against children and young people is especially important because violence against children affects the entire society.

If sexual violence against girls is not addressed, there is very little hope of stamping out the spread of HIV.

If children are not safe from violence in schools, the goals of providing quality education for all will never be attained.

If the violation of Malawian children is allowed, there is little prospect of breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence.

The UNICEF report

Governmental Regulation Alone Will Not Be Enough

Reacting to the UNCEF findings regarding abuse and exploitation, principal secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Esmie Kainja, said in an interview that it is not government’s responsibility alone to stop violence against children and adolescents.

She said: “It is everyone’s responsibility. Parents and caretakers at home, teachers at school, religious and traditional leaders and care givers in different child related institutions; we are all responsible for ending violence against children.” This is the only way this deeply ingrained societal issue can be derailed.

Unicef supports government’s efforts to improve services for children affected by various forms of violence besides developing policies and legislation that protect children through practical programs like community victim support units (CVSUs) and Police victim support units (VSUs), among others.

The Nation – Christopher Nhlane

The Role of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)

There are dozens of worthy NGOs working in Malawi addressing various national needs, but I’m only going to mention 2 because of their impact on the overwhelming amount of violence and exploitation of widows and children…the poorest of the poor.

Ujamaa / UNICEF

As one way of reducing sexual abuse in Malawi, UNICEF, in partnership with Ujamaa, a Kenyan charity, has started a program that teaches schoolgirls self-defense tactics.
malawi schoolgirls

According to reports, the lessons include physical skills such as punches and jabs, running for safety as well practical skills that would distract their assailants.

Over 25,000 schoolgirls have been trained in the program over the past few years. The schoolgirls learn the self-defense lessons for two hours every week over a period of six-weeks.  Currently, the lessons are being conducted in seven districts across the country.

Ujamaa rape incidents dropped by half among schoolgirls in Kenyan schools after the training. With the self-defense training, Ujamaa trainers expect sexual assault incidents to be reduced in Malawi as well.

“In the past, girls were not reporting it but now they are indeed empowered to report abuses. Some are reporting the incidents to us teachers and others to their parents for action,” said a teacher involved in the training program. Their awareness, as well as fear of HIV and availability of services may also be contributing to the increased reporting.

Healthcare workers can provide an effective HIV post-exposure prophylaxis for immediately reported cases.

Ujamaa training also targets boys, teaching them how to intervene if they witness cases of assault.

Women of Grace Widows Organization / PantiPlus

Because the training against violence takes place in the schools, it is essential that the girls attend. A hidden deterrent to attendance is the lack of feminine hygiene products which requires the girls to stay home every month during their menstrual cycle, missing up to 20% of the school year. Even if washable pads are available, underwear is a luxury.

malawi widow sewing

The Women of Grace Widows Organization provides sewing machines and teaches widows in the Mzuzu area (the largest city in Northern Malawi) how to sew PantiPlus kits. Each kit contains 6 washable pads, 2 panties and a purse to carry them to school in. The purse also includes soap, a wash cloth and a plastic bag to hold soiled items.

The widows earn money for each PantiPlus item they make, and the finished products are donated to schoolgirls in rural villages. Each widow can earn as much as $45 USD in a year, which is a large sum for a widow. This steady income is not affected by weather or drought and allows the widow to purchase essential food and medicine, and pay school fees for her children.  With remaining funds, the widows purchase locally sourced materials and make skirts and dresses  for additional income.

malawi girls with pantiplus purses

This well-thought-out project addresses several areas of need. It provides the widows and their children with an income. It allows schoolgirls to stay in school, which, not only improves their education, but allows them to attend self-defense training against sexual abuse. The lower incidence of sexual abuse reduces the cases of HIV/AIDS. With the reduction in HIV/AIDS there are more people working, poverty is reduced and food production goes up.

If you would like to learn more about this project, click on PantiPlus Project to see a slide show and several videos taken in Malawi, which were assembled by Margot McGorman.  Margot has been involved in the Mzuzu sewing project and has traveled to the region multiple times with supplies and guidance.  If you would like to connect with Margot, please leave your contact information in the comments for this article and I will forward it to her.  Your contact information will not be made visible on this website.

How You Can Help

If you would like to contribute any amount for sewing machines and start-up sewing materials, donations can be made through PayPal at www.pantiplus.com. There is a donate button at the bottom of the home page.  Just put Mzuzu Sewing Team in the ‘Add a Note’ box, and it will get to this project specifically.

Relevant Scripture

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?    Isaiah 10:1-3

O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. (Quran, in surah 4, verse 19)

“Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves” (Quran 2:240).