Calm before coronavirus
By Gary Fallesen
Founding president, Climbing For Christ
Our celebration with more than 450 widows on March 20 would not have been permitted three days later, when Malawi’s president declared a coronavirus national disaster.
The specter of coronavirus hung over us in Malawi, but God allowed us to do all that He sent us to do from March 14 to 21: preaching, teaching disciple-making to guides and porters in our Mulanje Massif Chapter, holding medical clinics, and lovingly instructing and celebrating orphans and widows supported by Climbing For Christ’s Project 1:27.
“It was amazing!” said Laura Copper, a schoolteacher from Canon City, CO, who was on her first C4C mission trip. “God’s hand was on the mission every step of the way. We accomplished everything we set out to do seamlessly.”
Two days after we flew out of Malawi, the country’s president declared a “national disaster,” closing all schools and restricting public gatherings to less than 100 people. If this had occurred one week earlier, we would not have been able to do most of what we did.
“We thank God that He allowed you to accomplish all that you did before the president declared this national disaster,” said Pastor Duncan Nyozani, a long-time C4C member and ministry partner.
“Two days after you departed, health workers from the district came and held a meeting at the clinic to put awareness of the coronavirus to the villagers. They were happy to hear that you Americans came to give medication to the community. They were happy to see how the clinic is becoming very helpful to the village.”
Climbing For Christ helped Duncan build the Mothers & Babies Clinic in the village of Singano in southern Malawi in 2017 and, in advance of Mission: Malawi 2020, our team paid for a clinic clean-up and the construction of a new latrine. Dr. Steve Quakenbush, a C4C Board member making his second trip to Malawi, treated more than 200 patients in two days.
Dr. Steve listening to the heartbeat of a patient during our clinic. Below, some of the medicines Steve delivered to Malawi.
“I was able to pray with each person that came through the clinic,” Steve said. “I pray that they saw past me and that they saw Jesus in all that was accomplished. I don’t want them to remember me, just Jesus.”
That is the legacy we hope to leave wherever we GO. To paraphrase the words of the Christian band Casting Crowns: We don’t care if they remember us, only Jesus.
God has used Climbing For Christ to impact the villages served by Pastor Duncan’s churches and C4C Kingdom worker Damson Samson – starting with a small group of children supported since 2010 by the James 1:27-based Project 1:27 and continuing to hundreds of widows and dozens of guides and porters. Climbing For Christ also was able to connect Duncan’s ministries with Hope Lutheran Church in Rochester, NY.
Mission: Malawi 2020 was our seventh trip in 11 years to this, one of the poorest countries in the world. A team of four Americans (Steve, his daughter Laura, my wife Elaine and me) left the United States as the global health advisory was elevated to Level 3: Reconsider Travel. It reached Level 4: Do Not Travel on March 19, when the U.S. State Department urged Americans to “arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” We were visiting the homes of widows in four villages that day, and then spending time with the Project 1:27 kids.
“Despite the coronavirus saga unfolding back home, leading to the cancellation of Mission: Kilimanjaro (originally scheduled March 22-April 6), I had a great time in Malawi – much better than I’d expected,” said Elaine Fallesen, Climbing For Christ’s coordinator of women’s and family ministry, who was making her fifth visit to Malawi. “We did everything we had set out to do, and it was a surprisingly satisfying and fruitful mission.
“It was a smooth trip even with coronavirus hanging over our heads.”
Damson Samson agreed, saying, “Only to thank God for the time we had together with no hinderances. Only now (Friday, March 27) we have to be observing measures to prevent (coronavirus), as the government has said.”
Malawi had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 when we were there or even when President Peter Mutharika declared the national disaster on March 23.
“This situation is now becoming very fearful to all Malawians,” Pastor Duncan said, one week after we left his country. “We are not sure if the country is ready to fight this coronavirus if we will have cases. We need your prayers because our medical system is already very weak.”
Many of the basic medicines Steve distributed cannot be found in Malawi.
That is why The Economist declared in successive headlines: “The next calamity: COVID-19 could devastate poor countries” and “Continental contagion: Africa is woefully ill-equipped to cope with COVID-19.”
First, “social distancing” and staying home from work are impossible in impoverished countries. Washing your hands, a simple task in wealthy countries, isn’t so easy when water is limited or non-existent. There is no promise of checks in the mail – as in the case of the United States’ $2.2 trillion stimulus package – in places like Malawi. In fact, many Americans will receive more from this aid package (a $1,200 check) than the average annual income in Malawi.
Wells Mishon, one of the guides and co-leaders of our Mulanje Massif Chapter, outside his church’s unfinished building. Wells guided us on Mulanje during our first trip to Malawi in 2010 and we have since helped him with physical and spiritual needs.
The Economist states, as we know, that poor countries’ “health-care systems are in no position to cope. Many cannot deal with the infectious diseases they already know, let alone a new and highly contagious one.
“Throughout history, the poor have been hardest-hit by pandemics. Most people who die of AIDs are African.
“As past campaigns against malaria and HIV showed, it takes coordinated global effort to roll back a global scourge. It is too late to avoid a large number of deaths, but not too late to avert catastrophe. And it is in rich countries’ interests to think globally as well as locally. If COVID-19 is left to ravage the emerging world, it will soon spread back to the rich one.”
Laura Copper spoke for our team when she said, “I am very concerned for the people of Malawi if the virus spreads to the villages there. Thank You, Father, that we did not bring it! They will definitely need all the support that is being offered.
“God’s timing really is perfect, isn’t it?” she added. “That’s something we always say, but we were blessed to experience the real truth in that. Hallelujah? Amen!”
You can continue to support Mission: Malawi, providing care (especially to hundreds of widows) through Damson’s C4C-supported Praise Foundation and helping guides and porters in the Mulanje Massif Chapter. There will be no tourism in Malawi in the wake of coronavirus.
Send checks to Climbing For Christ c/o Mission: Malawi at P.O. Box 16290, Rochester, NY 14616-0290 USA. Or CLICK HERE to give online via PayPal. In Canada, make cheques payable to The Great Commission Foundation, and on the memo line add Climbing For Christ CANADA c/o Mission: Malawi. Mail your support to: The Great Commission Foundation, P.O. Box 14006, Abbotsford, BC V2T 0B4. Or CLICK HERE to give online (write Mission: Malawi in the Comments box).