Back To School

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To quote You've Got Mail, "I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address." 

It's that time of year! Freshly sharpened pencils, new backpacks, and shiny, school shoes fill our homes to kick off a new school year in America. 

Though it looks a little different, students, teachers, and parents are gearing up for a new school year in Malawi as well. This year we are excited to have preschool through 6th grade on our Grace Center campus! Classes start TODAY, September 18, and the excitement is running high. 

Our teachers have been working tirelessly since school let out to fine tune and polish their skills and our schools with our education team this summer and within their own grade levels and schools since. 

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What is next for the Grace Center schools? 

This year, we will continue our school lunch program, feeding our children TWO hot meals per day. This makes a remarkable difference for the families we serve! Our children will be fed and ready to focus.

Our instruction time will be structured and our discipline will be intensional and consistent. We are excited to see how this combination will give direction in our grade levels which will each have a qualified teacher (equivalent to a certified teacher in America).

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Also new, 6th grade! We added the 6th grade to our schools in Malawi this year! We completed one new classroom but we still need more structures to provide the needed space and literal structure for our kids! Our next building products include:

  • Additional 1st grade classroom
  • Kitchen/ Dining hall
  • 3 more classblocks for our growing school

The extra training, extra structure, and new classrooms are starting our new school year out in a very exciting place for learning, laughing, and loving for the children God has given us to teach!

We pray you and your family are having a positive start to the school year and we ask that you pray that over our staff and students today also! Stay tuned for more ways to spread love in our schools this week! You may not be able to send bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils but you CAN send prayers and support for our new school needs!

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Posted on September 18, 2017 .

Anna's Malawi Diary

Anna and Clever

Anna and Clever

Anna Stock traveled to Malawi in May 2017 with our Medical Team. She has shared parts of her diary with us to give you a sneak peek into some of the fun, crazy and amazing experiences God brings to us in Malawi at the Grace Center! It's a little long, but worth your time so come back often to visit and read to the end.

May 19th
I missed 90% during peeing the first time in a squatty potty. I made 100% the next time.

When it got dark, the stars here are AMAZING! They’re literally one of the most beautiful sights I have EVER SEEN. You can see them so clearly and even the Milky Way. This sight is such a blessing.     

For dinner, we had white rice with an egg and tomato sauce topping with bananas as a side. It was SO GOOD! I don’t think that anybody enjoyed it as much as I did, but I loved it! 

I met about 20 people today, but I don’t think I got a single interaction correct in Chichewa.

Anna Williamson, Shae Jansen and Anna Stock (author) pictured left to right. The famous "chitenje" mentioned throughout Anna's diary is the wrap around cloth the girls are wearing for skirts.

Anna Williamson, Shae Jansen and Anna Stock (author) pictured left to right. The famous "chitenje" mentioned throughout Anna's diary is the wrap around cloth the girls are wearing for skirts.

May 20th
My feet are ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING.

Words that were used instead of Chetenge (however you spell it): chechanga, chechunga, churro, chimichanga, choo-choo, zzzzzzchenga

When we were walking away from Patricia’s home, after meeting Janet for the first time, Sydney told me that she is HIV+. This kind of shocked me because I have been so scared about HIV and AIDS in the past, but this little girl who I just fell in love with is HIV+. I feel like if I had known that before holding her, I would have looked at her differently.

May 22nd
I dropped a pill on the ground in the pharmacy and Kelsie said, “Pick it up, this is Africa, hun.” That really put things into perspective…but that was also nasty.

Eunice didn’t have her Hb tested when she came into the nurse’s station, so I took her back out to that station. In the fingerprint book at Abusa’s house, it said that Eunice was healed of HIV after a team member prayed for her. I feel like every child I have connected with here so far has some type of connection to HIV. Janet is HIV+, Timmy Too’s mom had it, and Eunice has been healed from it. God is kind of freaking me out with this. I feel as though God is really helping me to overcome my fear.             

I made Timothy say my name every time I saw him—I will force children to know who I am.

Anna and Janet, seeing HIV/AIDS with new eyes and understanding.

Anna and Janet, seeing HIV/AIDS with new eyes and understanding.

May 23rd
I AM SO TIRED I ALMOST FELL ASLEEP IN THE WICKER CHAIR OUTSIDE THE CLINIC.

I talked to Henry about Chichewa and English at the clinic today while sitting on bean bags…like literal bags of beans. He kept pointing to things asking me how to say them, but I don’t even know “bean” or greetings, there is no way I am going to know “window” or different body parts even if he keeps pointing at them.  And then they kept trying to get me to sing head and shoulders in Chichewa. Singing isn’t going to magically put Chichewa words into my mind. It was funny to watch him laugh at me struggle.

I sat down at Patricia’s and had Eunice sitting by me resting on my lap. Eliya was on my lap closest to me and then Janet was on my knees. My lap and heart were so full.

I am pop-quizzing children about my name so that they learn it and remember who I am. Poor Timothy knows my name I think now, but he probably avoids me now to not get pop-quizzed.

Adorable moments—when I would take a temperature of a small child at the clinic and I would kneel down to get to their level and then THEY WOULD KNEEL DOWN WITH ME. Then we would both just be chilling on the floor.

Anna with her lap full of precious children! Dolini, Anna, Clever, Eunice and Evasi

Anna with her lap full of precious children! Dolini, Anna, Clever, Eunice and Evasi

May 24th
I will murder a rooster.

God is changing me so much in this season. I feel like I’m learning so incredibly much about love. I have never had someone break down my walls and connect with me as quickly as these kids have. Their love is INCREDIBLE. I thought I was coming here for a medical trip mostly, but now the clinic is just kind of part of it and I look forward to leaving it every day to go play with the kids. I just never thought in a million years that this would happen. I don’t particularly like kids, but now I just LOVE THESE KIDS. I’m so confused. God is trying to push me and grow me and change me and I’m getting annoyed…but it’s good and I’m happy.

May 25th
I gave 2 shots today. The first was FLAWLESS to an old man. The second was to a child and it bounced off of his skin. I made him cry. I felt bad. I had no idea that you dart it to get the needle to go in and I literally asked right before giving the first one, “So how do you push this in?” and Karly said “Like a dart”. I HAD NO IDEA. But then I through about how was he going to get his medicine and so I darted the heck out of that shot. I AM SO UNDERQUALIFIED.

Timothy sat by me at lunch today. I think he likes me and the pop-quizzing of my name is going very well.

I gave Eunice some of my hand sanitizer that smelled like flowers. She was wearing a purple headband that all the girls shared. It had flowers on it and she rubbed the hand sanitizer on the headband so that the flowers smelled like real flowers. It was literally the most adorable thing I have seen in my life. It was so innocent.

May 26th

While the girls were waiting to shop outside of Abusa’s house, they started singing by themselves. You don’t see that kind of RAW joy in America. I don’t usually have that kind of raw joy in my own life.


"You don’t see that kind of RAW joy in America."


May 28th
During one of the songs at church today, they had a portion of the song about not being able to walk in hell. To portray this, they had a man convulsing on the ground. I thought I was going to witness an exorcism. Not gonna lie…I was pretty excited… but turns out it was just part of the choreography.

During the prayer times in one of the songs, the word VESSEL kept coming to mind. I think God is showing me that I need to fully surrender.  I’m not completely being a vessel. I’m being a puppet for Him with a string on only 1 hand and 1 foot, when I need to give over all of that control.

Esther J’s face is PRICELESS.

Esther J., the life of the party!

Esther J., the life of the party!

May 29th
We went up to Abusa’s house to help the boys shop after clinic and KUMBUKANI SHOPPING WAS THE ABSOLUTE FUNNIEST AND MOST ADORABLE THING I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. He salsa danced in and out of the dressing room.

It was so nice to see so much happiness from all of the boys and their different personalities really come out during that time.

I was playing a soccer/keep away game with Arnold and I needed to get the lid that we were using as a ball from him so I slide tackled him. He did NOT see it coming. My chitenje really gave me some momentum and helped me slide across the porch.

May 31st
I was with Dr. Rick in the clinic today. It was really neat because he let me do most of the assessment and even pick the meds (of course he oversaw it all). The language barrier is very evident in a setting like this. Innocent was a WONDERFUL translator.

I was chasing Josiah and Clever for a while at Patricia’s, but having trouble catching them because of the whole chitenje situation, so I told Kumbu to help me and he literally walked over and MAN HANDLED them and brought them back over to me. I love Kumbu.

Brian flew the drone at Patricia’s house which was HILAROUS because all of the kids were trying to touch it and he would just mess with them and almost let them touch it and then lift it up again. Then the kids started grabbing each other to get higher.

June 2nd
I was sitting on the wall outside of Abusa’s house watching the sunrise because it was absolutely beautiful… and something really substantial hit my leg and ran away. I’m guessing it was a mouse, but I don’t know. After that, I decided that I was done watching the sunrise.

I ate my last trail mix yesterday. All I have now is like 2 packs of cashews. It’s a struggle.

June 3rd: Lake day
One of the house moms took Evasi (cerebral palsy) to the water edge and sat him down in the sand so that the waves could barely touch him. He doesn’t really show much expression, but when a wave came in the first time, a little smile came across his face. Then the next wave came in and he smiled a bit more. The house mom with him was beaming when she saw him smile. It was so amazing to see her light up and show him so much love even though she isn’t his biological mom.

June 4th
We were walking down to church and I heard a boy yell “Anna, Anna” but NOBODY WAS ANYWHERE. I was really confused. Then I heard it again. I looked up in the big tree outside of Timothy’s home and it was KUMBU at the top of it!

Eunice and Clever got in a fight over my lap at one point during the popcorn/tangerine party. It was scary, but made me feel loved.

When the little kids came out in their dresses and suits it was the ABSOLUTE CUTEST thing in the world. All of the other kids were SO HAPPY. Timmy Too was standing on the edge of the group photo. He had his hands in his pants, but it kind of looked like he was doing the typical guy pose with his hands in his pockets. He looked like a little man.

Dressed to the nines! From left to right: Leya, Janet, Esther C,, Esther J,, Laban, Jachai and Timmy Too.

Dressed to the nines! From left to right: Leya, Janet, Esther C,, Esther J,, Laban, Jachai and Timmy Too.

June 6th
The safari was really neat, but I feel like the whole entire time I was thinking about all of the kids. I was so preoccupied with these feelings that I didn’t really enjoy the safari even though it was amazing.

Dingie was by far the most incredible tour guide. He got super excited when he realized there were 2 warthogs and not one…like he had never seen a warthog before.

At one point, Dingie drives into a swamp area to see a crocodile. We see one. Then he turns off the jeep, GETS OUT (again, we just saw a crocodile), goes to the back, pees in the dark, gets back in, off-roads, almost flips the vehicle, drives through literally a jungle…like literally straight jungle…branches flying everywhere, somehow hits a path, and then continues on the safari.

We were almost done with the safari and he gets a call that someone found a leopard. So Dingie SPEEDS back where we just were, off-roads, and gets us within 15 feet of a leopard…just chillin’…just sitting there MAKING EYE CONTACT WITH US. I was very glad that I was not on the cat side of the vehicle. Very thankful to Matt for that.

I tried to shower but there was no hot water or soap, so I skipped it…I live for bucket showers anyway.

June 7th
When we got back to the Grace Center, I go SO excited. We stopped at the bottom of the hill and I asked if I could just get out there because I didn’t want to waste any time. As soon as I got out, a group of kids ran up to me! It was so sweet. It was like a mini-welcome.

Clever wanted to play with a ball he had. He threw it to me and I threw it back to him and he is so uncoordinated that it hit him in the face. I felt kind of bad, but hopefully it will inspire him to get better at sports. He is so adorable. I love him.

I found Eunice and we walked up to Patricia’s. She was eating a tangerine but she was also holding my hand which was very sticky and wet, but I didn’t mind. I missed her while I was on Safari. She said something to me in Chichewa at the top of the hill. Usually she just kind of rattles things off in Chichewa, but she really said this to me, so I asked Lontia to translate it. She said that she missed me. It was really sweet to hear that because I had had such a hard time being away while I was on safari that to come back to a mini-welcome and the kids who I love saying they miss me was so sweet.

June 8th
Clever came up behind me when I was sitting on the ground before chapel and all I felt was a HUGE tummy in the back of my head. He just stood there pressing into the back of my head repeatedly. After eating, he hid behind a tree and I went over to catch him and he ran away through the field. He was actually really fast, and my chitenje was really holding me back, but I caught him and picked him up. It was so adorable because he just gave up and took a nap on my shoulder.

Karen came up to Patricia’s in the minibus and got everyone together to pray and sing and out of nowhere, little Esther C hits us with the vocals and leads the song.

I started crying during the prayer.

We all said our good-byes. Eunice was by me most of the time, but I wanted to say good-bye to her last. Once I had hugged everyone at least once, some twice, some three times, I hugged Eunice and struggled through saying “I love you” and “I will miss you” in Chichewa. Actually letting go of her hand and walking to the minibus was weird. It wasn’t that that moment was the hardest part or super emotional by itself, but it just felt wrong and awkward, like it wasn’t supposed to happen. I turned around once I got to the minibus to wave and she was just standing there watching still, kind of blank. It just felt very weird to walk away.

The boys didn’t show a lot of emotion, but it was a good transition from crying a lot at Patricia’s to going back to Abusa’s house.

They were all good good-byes

I had my last bucket shower. I will miss those.

June 9th
Breakfast was HUGE buns and eggs…my gluten free cleanse I was attempting before getting on the plane went right out the window. I didn’t even eat the eggs…just the bread.

Sydney took me to see Eunice’s picture book in the office before Chapel. It was amazing to see her transformation. She is literally the living representation of overcoming one of my worst fears.

I cried like 3 times on the plane.

The more I think about all of this, the more what Karen said resonates with me “It’s okay to have to come back here to visit this piece of your heart”. That piece of my heart is more than there. It is weird to have that split because I don’t think I have ever really allowed myself to have one in the past, at least not to this extent. But it’s not a piece that I want back. I want those kids who poured out their love to me for 3 weeks to have it. I don’t think they have any idea the extent of their love that they gave me and in the moment, I know that I had no idea the piece of my heart that I was giving them.

The medical team outside the clinic.

The medical team outside the clinic.

June 12th
The plane ride home was very difficult for me because I felt like that moment, leaving, was literally the farthest I would be from those children and that place. I was literally going in the opposite direction and that was really hard for me. I also think that that time was one of the best times of my life because I don’t think I have ever felt something THAT deeply or been that shook up and kind of broken, I guess, about an experience. But it was such a sweet sadness. I wouldn’t want to not feel that way after leaving.

Sydney told,me, “Let yourself feel all those emotions.” It is definitely a hard thing to feel. It’s not completely comfortable to come to the realization that your heart will never be whole again, that all the pieces will never be in the same place at one time again. But this is something that I want to feel. I think that through this breaking God has shown me so much about His character and His love that I want to fully experience this emotion because it is bringing me closer to Him. I know that I have absolutely no idea how to make the transition back to the States or how to put into words the emotion I have felt this trip, but I know that God has an incredible plan for it all and that He will give me words that I need to glorify Him through this whole experience.


"I think that through this breaking God has shown me so much about His character and His love that I want to fully experience this emotion because it is bringing me closer to Him."


Each summer Circle of Hope sends team members to bridge gaps and further the development of Malawi. Anna's diary is one of many perspectives and shows growth and connection from her, as well as, the kids she went to serve. Pray with us today for our staff, kids, friends, supporters, and team members...each little laugh and big spiritual revolution impacts our lives.  

Posted on August 24, 2017 .

Now what?

Our last team is heading home to America today. We have had a blessed summer filled with learning and adventure and A LOT of Jesus! 

It is hard to see Summer 2017 come to a close and to say goodbye to our precious kiddos and friends but like all good things it must come to an end. 

Our last team has said their goodbyes and is heading home today. 

Our last team has said their goodbyes and is heading home today. 

Transition times can be rough. I remember boarding the plane when I left Malawi for the first time and I was at a complete loss on how to transition from Malawi back home. When our teams leave Malawi they take lots of joyous and beautiful memories with them but they also take heartaches and hard goodbyes.

When walking around Malawi you see many of the difficulties life in a third-world country. People are HUNGRY. People are BROKEN. People are STRUGGLING. At the time, you see it and process pieces of it but the true JOY of Malawi covers some of the pain temporarily. 

Our community has many hardships, but their love of Jesus and their sweet, community spirit overcome. However, the hardships and struggles of people you've come to know and love weigh heavy on your heart when you're no longer there actively serving them. 

So, now what?

Now, we continue. CONTINUE is the word for our teams as they transition back AND for you as you support them and our friends in Malawi. 

  • CONTINUE to pray. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective and that is very most any of us can do for the ones we love.

  • CONTINUE to love. It is okay to be vulnerable enough to love. Love can be hard but it is SO worth it! Jesus' life taught us that pure love sustains us and changes us into who God intends us to be. 

  • CONTINUE to sponsor. We still have MANY kids who need sponsors. Our ministry works because people commit to our children and make a HUGE difference in their lives while building a personal relationship...there is a child waiting for that connection with you!

  • CONTINUE to talk. Sometimes when we reach the end of a phase or the beginning of a difficult transition we want to clam up and bottle those hard-to-process feelings. DON'T! Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to speak up for those who have no voice. It is a good and healthy thing to speak about your experiences in Malawi OR to speak about a passion God has given you (even if you were not in Malawi with us this summer). 

  • CONTINUE to share. We LOVE seeing pictures from our team members summers! We will continue to share pictures and we want to see yours! Even if you haven't been to Malawi we want to see your smiling face and walk through life with you...that's what community does! 

Let's pray over our teams and friends as we transition:

Dear Heavenly Father,
You ARE a good, good father! We see your goodness and your love. We realize we do not deserve your unending grace so we do the only thing we can in response to such love; we worship and adore you! 
Please be with our teams who are returning home Lord. Thank you for safe travels for everyone so far this summer Jesus, please continue that with our last team. Father, please bind their hearts to you and show them their purpose that you have for them. 
Help us to CONTINUE Lord. May we continue to serve you in all we do.
We love you and praise your Holy Name.
Amen!
Posted on July 26, 2017 .

Bringing The Light

You save the humble
    but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.
 You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
    my God turns my darkness into light.
 With your help I can advance against a troop;
    with my God I can scale a wall.

Psalm 18-27-29

Right now in Malawi, our final team of the summer, the evangelism team, is wrapping up a successful summer of ministry and fun! We are thankful for the ways God has shown himself this summer!

Singing, dancing, preaching, serving, teaching, and praying...our teams and staff have lifted the name of God all summer long and made HUGE steps to sharing the name and heart of Jesus.

However, the work is NOT complete.

The coming days have more that need to be completed and God's light needs to continue to be shown into darkness after our teams have returned. 

Sometimes, sharing The Light looks like a prayer said over children and giggles shared in love and laughter.

Sometimes, it looks like freedom obtained for a boy who had been tormented with darkness for years.

Other times, it is completing the tasks God has given us with grace and transitioning home, leaving our staff and church members to complete the good work Jesus has begun.

Join us in prayer today that The Light will continue to be shared and God will pour out his power and blessing over our team, our staff, our kids, and our community!

Posted on July 21, 2017 .