1972

This post is from a March 2016 trip to the Dzaleka Refugee camp in Malawi by our Executive Vice President, Tim Barnes
IMG_1310

What were you doing in 1972?  Can you remember?  I imagine that some of you were not even born yet.  In 1972, I was in the eighth grade.

During my visit to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, I was asked to participate in a leadership seminar for the various leaders of the Dzaleka Pentecostal Churches Community church (PCC).  I’ll share more about the seminar in a subsequent post.  As part of the seminar, we had to go around the room and introduce ourselves by sharing where we were from (our country of origin), telling about our families, and the role we play in the church.

I was taken back a little, when two of the leaders (one women and one man) introduced themselves by stating that they had been refugees since 1972.  The current average time of displacement is 17 years, which in itself is a long time.  But these two have been refugees for 44 years.

After the service on Sunday, I was able to meet with them individually to hear their heart and pray for them.  Both feel forgotten and sometimes, without hope.  Yet, they continue to serve faithfully in their roles at the church.  May God hear their prayers and give them a place to call home, after all these years.

Pastors

This post is from a March 2016 trip to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi by our Executive Vice President, Tim Barnes.

PCC Pastors

One of my favorite parts of visiting the Dzaleka camp is spending time with pastors of refugee churches.  We are greeted warmly with big smiles, handshakes, and embraces. We laugh, we pray, we share our stories, we encourage each other.  Besides our two Kanisa Ndugu (partner) churches, I have also begun meeting with the leadership of the Dzaleka Churches Union.  These are pastors from some of the more than 50 refugee churches in the camp.

Refugee churches play a vital and important role in the camp, helping to bring hope and strength to many in a very difficult situation.  Being a pastor can be challenging in any situation but even more so trying to lead churches of people who have experienced much brokenness, suffering, and trauma.  And attempting to minister to people when you, yourself, have experienced the same circumstances.  When members of their congregation show up at their door hungry and helpless, it is overwhelming when you as a pastor are also hungry and have no food to share.

A pastor told me his story of escaping from his country with his family. Those who wanted to do him harm came at night while they were sleeping.  In the chaos of the situation and trying to escape quickly, two of his four children became separated from the rest of the family.  That was nearly 5 years ago and they have not been able to locate them.   The pastor and his wife have taken in some orphans who have arrived at the Dzaleka camp but the longing for their children is something that doesn’t go away.  Yet he continues to strive to bring hope to many who feel helpless.

These pastors are heroes in my book…people from whom we can learn much.

PCC Community and Creativity

Yesterday’s art class at Pentecostal Churches Community was a joyous time of teaching, learning, and relationship. Not knowing quite what to expect going into the experience – who would show up or what they’d be interested in doing – I was surprised to be joined by more than fifteen church members, leaders, and even pastor Shadrach. Men and women of varying ages and languages came together to participate in personal expression, and not only to learn from me but to teach one another. Similar to last year when I was inspired to equip the church members to complete most of the mural project themselves, I quickly realized that this art class was filled with many talented, artistic minds, and I wanted to provide them an opportunity to develop and share their skills.

ClassroomThe morning began with a lesson on drawing 3-D ‘bubble letters’, a technique that could be helpful if the church, or someone’s business, desired to create a sign using bold and unique lettering. I had done most of the teaching until we got to step four in the process, which is to add a shadow to one side of the letter. When I saw that a young man had already finished his beautifully, I asked if he would take over and teach step four on the blackboard to the class. What I expected to be a quick demonstration turned into a thorough lesson on light and shadow – how the sun hits objects in certain places causing shadows to be cast in particular, but not always predictable, ways. The class then went outside to observe how the sun cast shadows on a brick and how each person, from where they were standing, saw something slightly different.

 ArtAs we moved through the rest of the class together, discussing the elements of art and finishing with a still-life drawing of a drum, I was continually struck by the vibrancy I saw permeating the faces of these men and women in moments where they realized their knowledge and abilities. A man smiled generously after he was able to differentiate, in English, between horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. A young woman shone with dignity as she helped her friend correctly draw the shadow cast by the drum. Teaching and learning became equally important as we began to understand that everyone had something valuable to share.
DrumIn a place like Dzaleka Refugee Camp, unheard of by much of the world, it is imperative that the people dwelling there are granted opportunities to be seen, heard, and valued. I was honored to be surrounded by immense talent during our art class, talent that I hope the world will begin to pay attention to. Each soul possesses something special to share with us, to teach us, to inspire us with. I pray God will bring these souls to the light.

Dreams

Lumbadzi Church PCCWe stood on the hillside underneath two trees where Pastor Shadrach of the Pentecostal Church Community told us the dream began. The spot on which we stood is about a 40 minute drive from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp and overlooks the Malawian village of Lumbadzi.

Pastor Shadrach pointed to the dirt between his feet. “Here is where we began to pray, underneath these two trees.” They planted the trees to give them shade as they prayed over the land.

These pastors had a dream to share the Message of Hope beyond the boundaries of the camp. The thought of this kind of dream fills me with wonder. These are people who have little in terms of financial resources, they have fled their homeland, yet they have not outrun the borders of God’s Kingdom. Their faith in God is overflowing.

“God heard our prayers and we were able to build this small building for a church.” The building he pointed to is about 20’x40’ with a simple roof. It stands just below the bigger answer to prayer.

“This is the first church we built here. From here we began to pray again for a bigger church, one that could reach a greater number of Malawians.”  Pastor Shadrach said with a grand grin.

front steps of Lumbadzi churchGod certainly answered their prayers. Without aid from American sources, refugees and Malawians worked side by side, digging out and laying the foundation, making bricks by hand on sight—Not easy when you have to pump and haul the water over 500 yards. God provided as they prayed and worked together. The completed church stands out on the hillside, it’s dwarfs the first building they built and also serves as the denominational headquarters that the refugee pastors started, but have since turned over control to Malawian nationals.

I couldn’t help but smile inside and out with these men as they gave us a tour of the grounds and buildings. They had—what to some would be an impossible dream—but in the hands of God, it’s a reality.

God’s people here have learned to exercise one of God’s greatest gifts to us, prayer. I have much to learn from these people about faith, about prayer, about having dreams that only God can fulfill.

PCC Pastors, Tim, and Joel outside Lumbadzi Church

Seeing, Hearing, Remembering

How precious reuniting is. A year’s worth of days, hours, minutes, suddenly fade into memory as this moment, the only truly existing moment, grasps all of my senses and pulls them into reality. Standing inside Pentecostal Churches Community, the first Sunday of our 2015 trip spent at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, I tune my ears to the youth choir bellowing harmonies I’ve only dreamt of since being here last year. I take note of familiarities – faces of children who’ve grown inches taller, new mamas and expecting ones, windows being shut during prayer and opened anew as worship begins, sunlight flooding upon the cement floors that were provided not too long ago.

Pastor

Pastors Tim and Joel share stories, both personal and biblical, to an encouraged congregation. Following the service we gather outside for greetings and remembering one another. A few young boys approach me and ask if I can extend Tuesday’s art lesson into the afternoon to accommodate their school day. We plan on learning the elements of art, observing our surroundings through drawing, and studying typography, specifically “bubble” letters. On Friday we’ll paint educational murals on their second preschool room, just as we did last year. We praise God together as we reflect on His many provisions.

A few of PCC’s deacons prepare a generous meal of rice, savory beef, sautéd greens, peas and fried potatoes. The hospitality shown by our brothers and sisters is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Afterward, while Joel and Tim participate in a men’s group seminar, I am honored the opportunity to experience the youth choir practice. We introduce ourselves, the boys and girls adding “singer”, “drummer”, or “guitar player” to their names, followed by a modest smile or laugh. In my eyes, they’ve no need to be modest in addressing themselves as such – this choir is comprised of unbelievably talented human beings. I sit for hours in a swirl of rich tones, powerful vibrations, sweet harmonies. We dance, we sing, we praise our Creator to the rhythm of a child’s heart as she beats on a leather drum to keep us all in sync.

In the midst of a situation that only seems to deepen in complexity, a place where comfort must be cultivated in the mind when it’s difficult to find in reality, where community and faith are both necessary and interdependent, these children find strength in their hearts to make joyous sounds. They thank their Lord for this day, for a life, for an opportunity to sing. May we all seek to find that source of hope in our own hearts, the will to live boldly and gratefully, selflessly and graciously, in this moment and the next.

Sunday Worship with EFG

Aly preaching

Aly preaching

On Sunday, Aly and Tim were invited to preach at our sister church, Emmanuel Full Gospel, in Dzaleka. The church listened intently as they spoke. Aly started by telling the church it was her first time to preach. The church leaders later enthusiastically affirmed her gift of teaching/preaching – both to her and behind her back. Tim and I agree.

Painting Walls

2014-10-pcc-dzaleka-mural Aly invested a lot of time with one of our sister churches (“Swedish”) in the camp – helping them paint the walls of their new refugee preschool room. The kids are taught many things – including English – so the teachers asked Aly to help them add images related to their English lesson book. Pastors and church members picked up pencils and paint brushes to help. The project brought everyone a lot of joy. By the time we left, the walls were covered with a visual alphabet, numbers, body parts, animals, a color wheel, and more. Several refugees asked if it would be possible to have someone come and teach some basic drawing/art lessons.

How are you?

2014-10-dzaleka-camp

Dzaleka refugee camp

Dirt paths winding by hand made mud brick homes with thatch for roofing. Children everywhere. They are quick to make us feel welcome – running up to us with big smiles yelling “How are you? How are you?” When we return the question, they laugh and answer “I am fine, thanks!“.

They were born refugees and have never known life outside of the camp. Their clothing is worn out and covered with the dusty red dirt of Dzaleka. They spend a big part of their day fetching water from the wells in the camp. Older children can often be found pumping water and washing clothes at the wells.

They have little. Life is tough. Their options are few.

I suspect that they’ve memorized this question and answer ritual without knowing the  meaning of the words. And yet, to some degree, their smiles tell me that in spite of their unacceptable living conditions, they have found a way to rise above their suffering and smile.

Goodbyes

Tim with a brother from PCC Church in Dzaleka

Tim with a brother from PCC Church in Dzaleka

The afternoon sun was slowly fading and the breeze was becoming fresh and cool.  We knew if we did not leave soon, our drive back from the camp would mean driving in the dark….something we had been working hard to not do.  Avoiding the people walking, people biking, and animals crossing over the road is a major challenge after dark.

But the service continued.  We felt like we were no longer visitors but we were friends. Stories of deep pain, fear, and loss had been shared.  We had meals together.  Hugs and handshakes had been given.  Smiles had been exchanged. Walks over dusty paths had taken place.  Gifts had been presented.  Prayers and blessings had been spoken.  And none of us wanted it to end.

But with final goodbyes said to the people, our friends, our brothers and sisters of one of our partner churches, we hop into the van and start the journey back to Lilongwe in what little light is left.  God is merciful on our drive, and we arrive safely back to our host home.

Faces, smells, smiles, laughter. Dancing, singing, crying, praying.  All these I will not soon forget.  God, I pray, give them a home to call their own.