Celebrate!

A celebration of God's goodness and provision

In America, we love to celebrate birthdays. For Malawians, birthdays are not usually cause for balloons, cake or celebrations. Many Malawians don’t know their birthdate and when the need arises (i.e. getting a passport), many have to travel home to their village and inquire from the chief the day and year they were born.

In preparation for going to Malawi in May, we asked sponsors to send letters to their children and some small gifts. We wanted to plan a birthday party for the children in Timothy’s and Patricia’s Homes. We also wanted every child in our school to receive a letter from their sponsor. It was a big task but we managed to get to Malawi with a lot of letters and gifts for the children.

Regretfully, the night of the robbery, many of the gifts were stolen.

As we recovered from the event, still shaking in our shoes, we grieved that one of the things that we had lost were the gifts for the kids. A few days later, when the trauma was a little less, a group of team members gathered all the gifts and letters that were left and began to sort through them one-by-one. Part way through our searching, we found a whole bunch of draw string backpacks that were leftover from a previous summer. We labeled the bags and began sorting cards, letters and gifts into the bags.

birthday5.jpg

The day of the party arrived and we gathered the children at the Big House. They were full of excitement and joy. They had no clue about presents or parties, they were just happy to be together, singing and laughing with their friends. When our staff had the meal ready, they called us around to the kitchen to get our food. Our staff cooked everything they could think of: popcorn, vegetables, spaghetti, 2 kinds of pasta, rice, meat, eggs! It was a feast!

 In true COH form, our celebration involved tons of yummy food! 

In true COH form, our celebration involved tons of yummy food! 

After the meal, we invited the children into the house to play with balloons and have their birthday cakes! I don’t know how many times we sang Happy Birthday to you, but every child was celebrated and EVERY child received a bag filled with gifts!

In the past couple of months, we have faced a lot of hard news and difficult situations, but with every step God has proven his amazing goodness and faithfulness. I am honestly in awe of our amazing Father who loves us so exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can imagine. He multiplies birthday presents for children and pours out joy in the midst of pain.

birthday2.jpg

Will you celebrate with us? Just a simple “Praise God!” or “Thank you, Jesus!” is all that’s needed!

Thank you so much for your prayers and your support. I pray that in the difficult places of your life today, God’s presence will bring peace, his provision will bring relief and his faithfulness will bring joy. May you know the blessing of following Jesus even when it leads through the rocky places!

All Things- An Inside View

 

At 3:00am on May 9th my phone alarm went off.  I woke in excitement as my 30-hour journey back to Malawi, Africa began— a place that I fell in love with the previous summer.  I travelled with a non-profit organization called Circle of Hope International, who has partnered with the Grace Alliance Church to build an amazing place known as the Grace Center.  The Grace Center consists of a boys and girls orphanage, church, school, feeding program, and soon to be medical clinic and maternal center.  It has grown tremendously over the years and continues to grow despite the many obstacles that stand in the way.  

Almost all research companies rank Malawi as a top-5 poorest country in the world and some even have it ranked as number one. Most kids only have a couple articles of clothing and do not own shoes. Most kids eat the same thing for every meal: beans and nsima. Nsima is maize flour mixed with water and it literally tastes like nothing.  Many of the kids who live in the orphanage have lost one or both of their parents; others were abandoned and some were rescued from abusive situations.  But you will not hear them complain.  In fact, these kids are the most joyful kids I have ever been around.

FALLING IN LOVE

It doesn’t make sense to fall in love with a place that I only spent 3 short weeks in.  To fall in love with people who don’t speak the same language as me and who live a life that is so different than mine.  But I did.  And so have so many other people.  I would say it’s rare to find someone who experiences The Grace Center and doesn’t want to go back.  My wife, Karly, is on the board of directors for Circle of Hope and this year was her fifth trip to Malawi. She spends countless hours collecting and organizing medical supplies to send each year. To say Malawi is her passion would be an understatement. Our Chicago condo is completed covered with pictures of the kids of the orphanage. I really didn’t understand why she loved it so much until I went myself.

Because of unfortunate circumstances, my wife had landed in Malawi about a week before I did.  Pastor Phiri, the man who was in charge of the daily activities of the Grace Center, suddenly passed away.  Because he did so much for the compound, the future of the Grace Center was very uncertain.  My wife, along with a small team, had to get to Malawi as soon as possible.  They arrived during a memorial service and were greeted by members of the community, weeping about the loss of Pastor Phiri. The kids of the orphanage were heart-broken once again. They had already lost their real parents, now they had lost their father figure who provided them with a home, food, security, and schooling. Over the next several days, the children were reassured many times that they would still be cared for despite experiencing another devastating loss.

On May 10th, I arrived in Malawi. I was definitely excited to see the kids that I had formed great relationships with last summer. Our team had a productive first couple of days. We painted and prepped the clinic before the rest of the medical team arrived and I played a lot of soccer with the kids in my free time. Last summer, I did a fundraiser to get the school's soccer team new uniforms and cleats (thanks to all who donated)!  This may not a big deal to you and me, but most of these kids have never owned soccer cleats and usually have to play barefoot. On my second day, they held a special school assembly to present the uniforms to the kids. It was a great day to experience with them!

 

NEVER FORGET

May 12th is a day that I will never forget.  Just before midnight, Karly and I woke up in our tent to a horrible noise. We had no idea if it was person or an animal. I thought to myself, “this is Africa, you hear noises at night all the time.”  But there was something different about this noise. We then heard the metal front gate violently clang back and forth and soon after we heard glass break from the pastor’s house. It confirmed our suspicion that something was terribly wrong. Loud pounding from the house followed. People yelling. We could see lights and shadows outside our tent. We heard quick footsteps run down by our tent followed by the sound of someone being beaten. They finally stopped and went back inside the house. The man was Len, the husband of the director of Circle of Hope.  Eventually he limped by our tents saying “we are getting robbed, hide yourselves.” Karly and I sorted through our belongings in the dark, trying to find anything that we could use as weapons.  We decided that a small pair of scissors and Karly’s stethoscope was the best that we could do. In that moment, the thought of dying became real. My wife was next to me and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were in the tent next to us.  Karly and I turned to each other and said, “I love you.” I remember I closed my eyes and prayed over and over for God to protect us. I could still hear noises coming from inside the house. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do. Do I stay in my tent? Do I take off running in the pitch black and try to get help a mile a way? After the noises stopped, we continued to stay quiet in our tent.  It felt like forever but the whole robbery and waiting time ended up being about 45 minutes.  Following the silence and some whispered phone calls to other team members, we ran to the house. 

One by one we gathered in the living room.  For every person who entered, a brief wave of relief hit, but we were still missing some people and the tension was thick.  I’m sure it was only minutes before the three pastors supporting Len came to the door, but each second seemed to drag on.  As he entered through the door, the visible evidence of the beating he took knocked the wind out of us.  The medical people in the room tended to his wounds, while others barricaded the broken house door with the kitchen table. We were still missing one more person— Isaac, one of the Malawian men that was staying with us. Eventually there was another knock at the door. The room fell silent and I called out asking who it was. “Isaac” he replied.  The room filled with sobs of relief.  Isaac had run a mile down the hill in the dark to get help and returned with some villagers.  Over the next hours, more villagers gathered around the house and eventually the police came and took statements.  They left two armed police officers at the house for the rest of the night but no one went to sleep. 

We quite literally counted down the minutes until daylight.  That morning, our team met to decide what to do next.  There were 12 additional team members on their way to Malawi, including my dad.  They would land in a few hours. Do we go home? Do we stay? Where do we sleep at night? We were all a combination of dazed, traumatized, and in shock. We decided to stay at a hotel in Lilongwe, about an hour away. Although it was much more expensive, safety was our first priority.  As we left the Grace Center to go to Lilongwe, we met with our kids.  We told them that we were going to Lilongwe for the day but that we would return tomorrow.  The children gathered in a circle and prayed for us to send us off.  When we picked up our team, we broke the news to the team in the airport parking lot. We had to give them the option of turning around to go home. All but one person decided to stay. 

After putting all of our stories together, we discovered that 15-20 masked men had robbed us. They broke into every room of the house except the room that our director was staying in. That was the room that had our passports and money in it.  There were 6 tents surrounding the house, and 5 of them were occupied. The robbers sliced through the only empty tent with a machete—a tent that we had set up about 5 hours before the attack. If they had come to any of the other tents they would have found people, money, and valuables leading them to check all the other tents. Also, there is typically a light on the house that shines down toward where our tents are set up. However, a team member turned it off that night, and she doesn’t know why she did it. Although it was a traumatic experience, it could have been far worse. As we prayed to be hidden, we believe God blinded the men to our five occupied tents.  If the attack happened one night prior, we would have probably cancelled our team’s flights to Malawi and we would have all gone home. If the attack happened one night later, there would have been people in the tent that was slashed open. God’s timing was perfect. And He protected us that night. 

The robbery took more from us than just physical items. It robbed us of the full African-experience. Bucket-showers, going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground, sleeping in tents, walking up a long hill everyday, eating food that most of us would not normally pick—all the stuff that we typically joke and complain about became the things we missed so much. That night also robbed us of time with the kids—time to love them after they had been through so much.  It stole over an hour of socializing and chapel with our kids in the morning and over an hour of playtime in the afternoon. Everyday before we left to go back to the hotel, an 8-year old boy named Josephe would ask if I had to go back to Lilongwe today. When I told him yes, he would walk away with watery eyes. And every day my heart broke all over again.

Circle of Hope had to cancel the trips of all the summer teams that were coming after us. Some people were robbed of experiencing this amazing place for the first time. Others were robbed of returning to a place they fell in love with. Sponsorship was also impacted—many people that come for the first time develop a special relationship with a child and leave sponsoring them. As team members tell friends and family about their trip, that leads to more sponsorship. The kids are used to having Americans with them the whole summer, something they really enjoy. This year, three teams worth of time and love was taken from them.

 

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

My trip to Africa this year was crazy. But it was still an amazing trip. From a medical perspective, we accomplished everything we set out to do. We did medical checkups for nearly 700 kids. We had a dentist and an optometrist come this year—both a first for the organization. The support we received from the Malawian community was incredible. Hundreds of villagers and chiefs demonstrated their support through standing outside the house, searching the fields to find and return some of our stolen objects, meeting together to improve community-based security, and building a fence around our future doctor’s home. A Member of the Parliament quickly started working to establish a police station at the Grace Center. He also told us that he would be able to help us out with any other future projects, such as registering the medical clinic and maternity center once they are ready. The four men that are a part of the new leadership team at the Grace Center have done an amazing job since the loss of Pastor Phiri. They are men that love God and want to make a difference in the lives of the children and members of the community. I am confident the the Grace Center is in good hands.

Romans 8:28 is the verse that God spoke to me over and over again during this trip: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It doesn’t say all things are good.  It doesn’t say that God causes all things.  But it does say God can use all things for good.  ALL THINGS.  Not just some things but all things. This verse is a promise to us, followers of Jesus. It shows us how powerful and good He really is despite the attacks of Satan and men. Through all the trials on this trip— even more than I have discussed here— it is clear that God is working at the Grace Center.  He is making it a safer place for Malawians and Americans.  He is establishing favor with a government official who will help accelerate the work being done at the grace center.  He is stirring the community to invest in the center that invests in them.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
— Romans 8:28

The men that were physically injured are all healing. I ask for your prayers for all those who experienced that night. Please pray for the men who are leading during this time of difficulty and transition.  I also ask for prayers for the kids, who have had a very tough month.

Adjusting to life after Africa is challenging. It’s hard to explain to people. I never really understood it until I experienced it myself. I miss the kids. I miss the people. I miss the joy that they express on a daily basis. There is something beautiful about living a simple life and being rid of all the distractions that we have in America—distractions of things that don’t truly matter. I miss their mindset of doing two things: Loving God and loving others.

*Reblogged with permission*
Written by: Tad Glibert
Originally published at: http://www.coachwingreen.com/blog/2018/6/12/all-things

Posted on July 16, 2018 .

CHIYEMBEKEZO: Hope Reimagined

abusa.jpg

Today, hundreds and hundreds of people are gathered in Malawi to celebrate the life of a remarkable leader, pastor, father, and friend.

Our hearts are in Malawi with them and our souls long to hug those we love who are also hurting. To lose someone as impactful and full of life as Pastor Phiri is both painful and shocking. However, we KNOW what he would be telling us:

PRAISE JESUS! 

Praise Jesus. Praise Jesus. Praise Jesus. 

If ever there was a man who exemplified 1 Thessalonians 5 Pastor Phiri did. His face shone with the pure and genuine JOY he received from loving the Lord and accepting Jesus' grace and love. 


Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Pastor Phiri was constantly striving to live out the Good News that he knew and believed in his heart. The words of Christ were lived out through him and the messages of the Bible were strengthen by his living testimony of ACTION in response to love.

Abusa2.jpg

To know Pastor Phiri meant to have experienced the power of prayer. He sat in the presence of the Lord and BOLDLY proclaimed the power he knew was his because of his place in God's kingdom. 

He was a servant-hearted leader. He served those God placed before him without wavering. He lived in a tent for YEARS to assure the orphans in his care had a home instead and were well cared for.

He gave his all for those around him because he knew a truth, THE truth...Christ had already given his all for each person and to love Christ meant to embody that as best he could each day. 

Our children, at the Grace Center, were able to witness a loving father, faithful servant, humble man, and strong leader. They saw how passionately he loved the Lord and knew that he loved them from that same place of passion and compassion. 

To know Abusa also meant to witness JOY in worship. He loved to laugh and praise the Lord. He lived fully and his laugh will never be forgotten. There is balance in life between embracing the moment and planning for the future and he walked that line beautifully! 

 CHIYEMBEKEZO

As we take time to grieve today just like our friends in Africa are doing, let's not forget the message of HOPE Pastor Phiri preached. He had HOPE in life ever-lasting. He had HOPE in God's provision. He had HOPE in God's timing. He had HOPE only found in the Lord! 

He knew God had great plans to prosper his community and his children. He saw with eyes of faith and dreamed with a heart set on eternity. 

Let's pray and praise today in his honor. Let's cry and mourn in his honor. Let's live boldly today in his honor. Most of all: Let's commit today, and always, to sharing the Good News that Jesus Christ has come to Earth, lived, and died for us to save us from our sins and provide for us a life everlasting with our Father. 


abusa lake.jpg

If you wish to honor Pastor Phiri's memory with a memorial gift please feel free to do so. We are praying. Karen and the team are in Malawi seeking where to focus funds raised in memorial of Pastor Phiri to honor the memory of our treasured leader and friend. 

 

 

Posted on May 5, 2018 .

Urgent Prayer Need & News:

Abusa1.jpg

Today, as so many of us  gather for the worship of our Sovereign Lord, we come to you with deep sadness. Pastor Phiri has passed away. News from Malawi came early this morning that Abusa Phiri was taken to Salima Central Hospital where he died at 11am Malawi time. Details of the events are still unfolding but we wanted to share the news with you as soon as we heard. 

As the Board of Directors, we are in shock and mourning on the passing of our brother and co-laborer in the Gospel. As we write, travel plans are underway for several Board members to leave for Malawi to be present for his funeral. The most important gift we can give to Grace Alliance at this time is our presence. Next, we can give our mourning. Grieving is such an appropriate human reaction to the loss of a loved one. For many of us, Pastor Phiri was a role model for “Christ-likeness.” He embodied a life well lived on behalf of others. His loss will be felt by so many on two continents.  

In the hours and days ahead, we as a Board ask everyone to stop and pray for the staff of Grace Alliance and for the children at the Grace Centre. We are certain that this shocking news is spreading across the the Churches and villages throughout the Salima region of Malawi. We ask specifically that you pray for these spiritual needs. 

First, that the children at the Grace Centre, who saw Abusa as their spiritual-father will immediately be comforted by their Heavenly Father. May His Spirit wrap His arms of Grace and Strength around them creating a community of divine comfort. Shalom, true peace is found within the Presence of the Father.

Second, would you pray for wisdom and discernment as next steps are discussed. Abusa was a larger than life figure. His absence will be felt on many levels. But just as Moses passed away and was replaced by Joshua…and just as Elijah was supplanted by Elisha; the anointing passed from one man to another. This transition does not take the Lord by surprise. He has us all firmly grasped in His hand. We merely need to reach out and feel His pulse so our hearts once again will beat in perfect harmony with His. 

Third, would you pause to give thanks for the impact this man has had on so many. God dwells in the praises of His people. Remember, children have been rescued. Hungry are fed daily. Leaders have been called and discipled in the faith. Churches have been planted. Communities have been transformed in Jesus’ name. Thanks be to God that for many years we have been blessed to walk alongside and witness a man such as Pastor Phiri.

Finally, trust. If there is anything Pastor Phiri would say to us this very day it would be to live as if Christ is still on the throne. Therefore, we should boldly serve Malawi with Christ as our King and Abusa as a earthly model. We plan on all our Summer Mission Teams going out as planned. We will practice the Incarnational ministry of Abusa by sitting with the Grace Centre children and loving each one just as he loved them. The medical team will heal in Jesus’ name, just as dreamed by Pastor Phiri. We are convinced that allowing any of the ministries of Grace Alliance to atrophy in these days of mourning would not be honoring to the memory and legacy of Pastor Phiri. 

Friends, in the days ahead we will keep you informed of the news and needs of Circle of Hope and Grace Alliance.  

May I close with this prayer from the Apostle Paul to his beloved church at Ephesus. Today, imagine Paul directing his prayer to our broken hearts and the lives of our brothers and sisters in Malawi:

 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

 

On behalf of the board,

Dave Smith

Posted on April 29, 2018 .