Climbing For Christ

TAKING THE GOSPEL TO MOUNTAINOUS AREAS OF THE WORLD WHERE OTHER MISSIONARIES CANNOT OR WILL NOT GO

Articles by Gary Fallesen

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Dispatches: Malawi 2023
Gary Fallesen

Dispatches: Malawi 2023

Mission: Malawi 2023

By GARY FALLESEN, Climbing For Christ

Wednesday, Aug. 23-Thursday, Aug. 24

Our team (Pastor Kirk, Elaine, and Gary) at the gate waiting to fly out of Blantyre, Malawi mid-day Wednesday. Below, Damson and his wife Sellina waiting outside to watch our plane (in the background) take off.

Pastor Kirk, Elaine, and I flew for 32 hours – going from Malawi to Mozambique to Ethiopia to Ireland to Washington, D.C. to Rochester, NY, USA – marking an end to this Evangelic Expedition. It was a blessed trip, crammed full of God moments as we shared, surveyed, taught, preached, prayed, celebrated, and continued to deepen relationships. There was a great deal of joy on this trip. Many people with little to their names showed us what matters most: the love of Jesus. May we continue to be blessed to bless them.

Tuesday, Aug. 22

Elaine and Damson’s wife Sellina weave the cord of three strands (Ecclesiastes 4:12) as an illustration for Elaine’s message on marriage and ministry. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

Elaine was teaching the guides and porters and their wives how Aquila and Priscilla, friends of the Apostle Paul, did ministry together in their homes. “Just like these couples,” Kingdom worker Damson said after translating. “They do ministry in their homes, too.”

All of the 16 guides and porters, original members of Climbing For Christ’s Mulanje Massif Chapter, lead small groups. Some have more than 50 in their weekly Bibles studies, others number in the 30s and 40s.

We graduated this group from our third disciples-making-disciples study, “Discovering the Bible” (DTB). Three members are on track to become pastors now. None of them would have thought this possible when we started the chapter in 2016.

“Being with C4C, my life has changed completely,” Landson Story told us. “Things were going worse and worse. But when I understood how God was speaking to me through C4C’s studies, I started following Jesus.”

This confessed drunkard, womanizer, and chain smoker (and not just cigarettes) came to Christ through our chapter meetings. Once when our group was climbing Mulanje Massif together, Landson shouted at us from afar. Not pleasantries. He was high at the time. Not altitude-wise.

Now he is married with a sweet little boy and preparing for Bible school. “I thank God for changing my life,” he said. “If not for C4C, I don’t know where I’d be now.”

Story’s story repeats itself throughout the Mulanje Massif Chapter.

David Chitlyoka was also a drunkard. This is not uncommon among mountain workers – in Malawi, Tanzania, Nepal, and around the world. Wages earned on mountains often never make it home to families as guides and porters go directly to the bar and drink their earnings.

“I used to go to church, even though I was a drunkard,” David said. This is unusual in the majority world, where drinking usually means you are not a true believer. “Someone at church told me, ‘You can share the Gospel.’ I thought, ‘How can I share the Gospel?’”

He knew the story of Jonah and he called himself “Jonah” because he was hiding from God’s calling. Then, through involvement with our chapter training, he surrendered his life to Christ. He gave up drinking and smoking. He started a small group that has outgrown his house. The pastor at his church has even asked him to preach for him.

David’s wife Nita said, “My husband was not really a Christian (when they married). I was trying to make my house in order, but my husband was a problem. He came home one day and told me about C4C. ‘Oh make heaven grow’ (she said to herself). I was fasting and praying for my husband. Thank God for this ministry.”

Gary hugs David Chitlyoka after his testimony while David’s wife and daughter look on. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

Husbands and wives gave testimonies like this after a day of more teaching – lessons on abiding, putting God first in your life, doing marriage and ministry, and the start of this group’s next study, “DTB, Book 2: Communicating the Bible.” There also was praise, worship, and prayer.

We talked about loving one another (1 John 4:11), be it family members, friends, neighbors, even enemies. I told them our “neighbors” are everywhere in the world, and then I shared the news about the attack in Pakistan by Muslims on our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thirty-five churches and 93 homes of Christians were burned Wednesday in a Christian colony where one of our ministry partners serves. We prayed for those victimized by these attacks.

The Mulanje members know about suffering – from hunger, lack of work, and most recently Tropical Cyclone Freddy. Three of those who gave testimonies at the end of the day received new houses through Climbing For Christ support. Each expressed heartfelt thanks.

“When I called Damson to tell him about my house, I never thought he would give me a new house,” said Sidreck Mulaniwa, a porter, who was the first to get a house built after Freddy.

“Though time is so short today, my wife and I could have danced for you all day,” said John Mollen, a guide with whom I climbed on Mulanje Massif in 2018. His new house was recently finished.

The cover of ‘The Climbing Way’ (Volume 45, Dec. 2018-Feb. 2019) featured John Mollen leading Gary’s descent off Mulanje Massif. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

“All who are here were affected by the flood,” said Samson Khalani, a guide and one of the chapter leaders. “When we were hit, we went to Damson. Then he came with maize flour (purchased from C4C relief funds) for all of us. We praise God. It was needed. It was a hard and sour time. Even maize mills could not mill flour so to receive this maize flour was a great blessing.

“My house also collapsed. By God’s grace we were told we were to have a new house. We were camped out at a school for a month. Even the government did not provide paper or plastic (to help with temporary shelter). Now my wife has been blessed to enter a new home.

“Whenever you hear us crying,” Samson said to me, “you always give a hand.”

Samson gave us many hugs today. When we met, when he shared, when we distributed Bibles for small groups, and when we gave each person a bag of food (cabbage, pigeon peas, potatoes, and millet re-gifted from our widows’ program on Saturday) at the end of the day.

However, when I gave him his certificate for graduating from the DTB, it was his wife who received the love.

Samson Khalani kisses his wife to celebrate graduating from our third DMD study. Gary’s wearing a shirt that was given to him by Damson’s sister. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

Our chapter members were grateful for this time together. There are so many more stories to tell about lives transformed, families saved, villages seeing the Light. We are honored to be used by God in this way.

Chapter members wave goodbye as Damson’s brother drives them back to their villages. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

Monday, Aug. 21

On their knees: Damson leads Mulanje Massif Chapter guides and porters in prayer. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

I was talking about seeking Jesus and lavishing more time on Him each day – through reading God’s Word, praying, and being still and listening for His voice. The latter might be the toughest to do. “Sometimes we’re so busy following our own path, our own agenda, we fail to see the direction He wants us to GO,” I told 60 guides and porters who are members of our second Mulanje Massif Chapter disciples-making-disciples training.

Then I used the example of guiding clients up Mulanje Massif, a 245-square-mile mountain rising outside our meeting room at the Gateway Lodge in Mbewa village. If clients think they can climb to the summit of Malawi’s highest point, 9,849-foot (3,002-meter) Sapitwa Peak, they might stop listening to their guide.

“That happened!” Kingdom worker and translator Damson exclaimed. “A lady said she didn’t need the guides and went off climbing without them. She got lost. They never found her.”

This experience drove home my point about listening to our Guide, Who is God. Because apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Gary calls Damson a “Martha” as he tells the Mary and Martha story from Luke 10. “He’s been running around trying to get things done since we got here on Thursday,” Gary said. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

I taught about abiding in the Lord. Elaine did her jar demonstration about putting our lives in the right order when we put God first, which fit perfectly with my lesson. And Damson taught from Chapter 4 (“Understanding Prayer”) in our DMD advanced textbook, a resource provided by The Timothy Initiative. This, too, was woven together perfectly by the One Who put all of us in that meeting room today.

There was plenty of prayer throughout the day. This was our first time with this group of guides and porters. Damson started meeting with them on a regular basis after our last visit in 2020, when we did training with our original class (who we meet with tomorrow).

Before distributing Bibles and handing out one-third of the food donated to us Saturday at the widows’ program (bags of potatoes and pigeon peas), several members from this newer class spoke about the impact Climbing For Christ has had on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Arbert, a porter from Fort Lister (one of the gateway villages to Mulanje Massif), talked about growing his small group to 25 and reaching out to unbelievers in his village. Recently, God used him to lead six Muslims to Christ.

Faduweek, another porter from Fort Lister, said: “I was a drunk but because of this group I am no longer drinking.” He has a small group that has swelled to 52 members, and he uses lessons from each chapter training to teach the others during Bible study.

Alexander from nearby Likhubula said our training sessions have taught him to love his neighbors, and he has begun caring for widows in his community.

Bignosi of Mnesa village confessed, “I wasn’t a nice person.” Now, he said, people are asking him, “What has changed you?” He is leading two small groups with a total of 65 members.

Batumeyo, an older brother from Mnesa, praised God and the power of prayer for all of the transformations that have been happening through the Mulanje Massif Chapter. “We were ignorant people,” he said. “We had done bad things in life, as the others have expressed. We have changed. Our families are better for it.”

One of the discussion groups, above, answers questions, “Why pray?” “What to pray for?” “Attitudes of prayer?” during the lesson on understanding prayer. Below, members pick up bags of food re-gifted by us after Saturday’s widows celebration. Some food went to the orphans, some to today’s training class, and some will be given out to tomorrow’s training class. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

Sunday, Aug. 20

Selfie time: Gary and Damson with the church at Msema.

Pastor Kirk started at the church at Kambona and I started at the church at Msema – Pastor Duncan’s two churches in the Phalombe district. PK preached on Revelation 2, “The Message to the Church in Ephesus,” and talked about our first love. I shared about “The Year of Living Difficulty,” including Tropical Cyclone Freddy’s washing over southern Malawi, and words of encouragement from God’s Word during hard times.

Then we switched churches – with Duncan taking Kirk to Msema and Damson taking Elaine and me to Kambona, where we both preached a second time.

Kirk shared these observations from his day:

“It has been a wonderful time in Malawi. No matter where I go or what I do, God has a way of surprising me and getting my attention to remind me of what is essential. This morning on our drive to preach at two churches there happened to be a funeral procession marching toward us on the road. Hundreds of people covering the entire road. We pulled over. As the procession walked by, we saw the body being carried by loved ones, wrapped in burial cloths. My heart went out to all those who were grieving.

“I don't know if that person was a believer in Jesus Christ or not. I was so humbled and grateful that just a few minutes later I could proclaim a Savior who knows all about burial cloths. He was able to leave His behind when He walked out of the tomb on Easter morning defanging and defeating death for us. What joy and hope that gives whether in America or Malawi. What a privilege we have to share the only news that is essential when a funeral procession marches down our street. Whether with our neighbor or around the world may we continue to proclaim the greatest news the world will ever hear. He is risen!”

Sunday best: Elaine in her Africa dress, a gift from Damson’s mother, with Damson’s daughters, 7-year-old Elaine and 5-year-old Hayley. Damson’s daughters are named after Elaine and Hayley Fallesen, Damson’s American “mum” and sister. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

In the afternoon, our team met with the orphans who are sponsored by Climbing For Christ’s Project 1:27. This project began in Malawi in 2011 and later expanded to Nepal. Sponsors send monthly support for the 16 children still in Duncan’s care. Elaine delivered letters to the children from their sponsors and then had them write a letter back. She does this on every visit to Malawi and Nepal, sending an update photo and note from the children who are supported and loved from afar by sponsors in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, and Australia.

She then did a demonstration called “Putting Your Life in the Right Order” in which she uses a jar (your life) and fills it with ping-pong balls (God), marbles (your priorities: family, school, work), and water (all the rest of the stuff we pour into our lives). When she filled the jar with water (i.e., stuff) there was no room for the ping-pong balls (God). But when you put the balls in the jar first (God in your life) all the rest fits around it.

Elaine has taught this lesson in Tanzania, Nepal, and now Malawi. She also re-taught them how to make Gospel bracelets, another lesson and craft that has been done around the Climbing For Christ world. Then gift bags full of goodies were handed out to the children.

Willie, left, and Phillip, right, who work with the Project 1:27 children, help Patrick and Vincent write their letters to sponsors. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

We finished with a dinner of goat, rice, and sodas – treats for the children who normally eat mostly nsima, the staple to diets in Malawi. This was a celebration postponed from March when an attack on Duncan’s property while we were in Tanzania caused us to push back Mission: Malawi to August. Then Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit on the day Damson returned from Mission: Kilimanjaro 2023 – the day we would have arrived in Malawi. We were spared being trapped in the storm and were able to immediately begin assistance for those here who suffered greatly.

As Damson observed on Friday, “The support you sent was very timely. Not like other organizations. They sent money when it was drying (after the floodwaters receded). The money you sent back with me from Tanzania was used to buy food that was needed.”

We continue to help those in impoverished southern Malawi buy food – as well as get an education, like the Project 1:27 kids in boarding schools and college – while also delivering the Bread of Life. That’s the greatest gift of all.

Saturday, Aug. 19

Gary preaching with Damson translating to more than 800 widows and grandchildren. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

More than 800 widows or grandchildren representing widows jammed into the large rented cafeteria at the Phalombe Teachers College with overflow sitting outside on a patio as we held the day-long program that always accompanies a mission to Malawi. Damson’s widows project, which dates back to 2016, has expanded to include 18 villages.

There was music, dancing, and praising God from the time three trucks started picking up the widows at 7:30 a.m. until early afternoon. The celebration paused only long enough for me to preach “The Year of Living Difficulty,” which talked about the many calamities that have struck the Climbing For Christ world in 2023, including Tropical Cyclone Freddy in Malawi. The message was not all death and destruction as I shared words of encouragement pulled from Scripture that I have received during the darker moments of 2023.

Bottom line: Christians have been empowered by the Greatest Power the world has ever seen – Jesus. He is with us through persecution, attacks, natural disasters, and personal suffering.

That gave the widows something to sing and dance about, which they did through the gift-giving part of our program late into the afternoon. For years, Damson has taught the widows to share what little they have with others. He has shown them how God will bless them in their giving, and it has come to fruition.

So, 863 widows (or their grandchildren) lined up, village by village, and danced across the stage to give me whatever they could bring. Elaine, in turn, gave them a piece of cloth, which is a great gift for Africans.

Elaine gives one of the widows a piece of cloth which will be used as a wrap like the skirt the woman is wearing. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

Damson said he is often asked by the widows, “What should we give?” He answers, “Give what you feel you can give.” For all of them this is truly sacrificial giving.

When you enter a house built by Climbing For Christ for a widow, there usually are two or three rooms. The rooms are small and there is very little in each one. A sleeping mat and a blanket tells you which room is the bedroom. They do not sleep on beds. They may have a few articles of clothing. There are no refrigerators, stoves, or appliances. No sofas or easy chairs. They sit on the ground. They cook what little food they have over charcoal.

These are the people who handed over to me nine sacks of sweet potatoes, three bags of pigeon peas, two bags of millet, 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of maize flour, three bags of cabbage, two big buckets of tomatoes, 23 live chickens, eggs, rice, beans, salt, sugar, tea leaves, and 700 Kwacha (65 cents USD).

Praise Foundation volunteers bagging all the gifts from the widows. (Photo by Damson Samson)

We then distributed more than $1,400 USD of cloth to them. There was much ululating – a joyful noise made with the tongue that sounds like “lulululu!” – as the widows both gave and received. There was also food prepared for them. Some ate at the event, and some took it home to other family members who would be hungry. It was another memorable widows’ celebration.

Friday, Aug. 18

Esther, a widow, in front of her new house built on higher ground. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

The widow Esther was born and lived all of her 60 years along the Sombani River in the Phalombe district of southern Malawi, and never saw flooding the way Tropical Cyclone Freddy caused flooding. Hers and hundreds of other houses were under water in March.

“When the water came, we just ran,” Esther said from inside the new house Climbing For Christ built for her. “We had nowhere to stay.”

Plastic sheets – along with bedding, clothing, and food – were distributed by C4C through Damson in the days and weeks after Freddy. It provided temporary housing for some and help for others forced to stay in churches and schools. More than $60,000 in aid was sent in relief, first, and then recovery. That recovery has included the building of 13 houses. Many more are needed.

We surveyed six villages to see homes built before and after Freddy. A previous tropical cyclone, Gombe in 2022, also caused flooding and destroyed houses. In all, C4C (with help from our home church, Hope) has built 77 houses through the years.

Most of the houses were for widows with some for guides and porters in our Mulanje Massif Chapter. We stopped at the house built for one chapter member, Rescue Chapola, to meet his wife Grace and 1 ½-year-old daughter Princess. We’ll see him again next week for chapter training.

Two villages – Nampinga, where Esther lives, and Sumahile – were hardest hit. Boats were required to reach these places, which we drove to today along dry, dirt roads.

Pierson, his brother Jairus, and sister Alindine had houses next to each other near the bank of the Sombani. He was sick when the rain came and the waters rose. His siblings raced from their houses for higher ground – only to realize Pierson had been left behind. A friend went back for him and carried him to safety. Then the friend tried to retrieve things from his house. Knee-deep water quickly turned to waist deep and then to neck deep. Soon the houses were gone.

Pierson and his sibling are still waiting for help.

“It is very difficult to choose (who to help),” Damson explained. “There is so much need. But sometimes it’s where your heart speaks most.”

That’s the Holy Spirit talking. The Spirit led Damson to move Esther to a new plot of land away from the river and higher up – in case of future floods. Another widow, Suzanne, also was moved to higher ground and a house built for her.

“What you have done to me, I couldn’t do myself,” Suzanne said. Her daughter then echoed something we heard repeatedly throughout the day: “We ask what you have done, you extend to others.”

More help is needed – to the tune of at least $1,500 USD per house. A pittance compared to our home country.

After dedicating the Praise Maize Mill to the Lord, Damson offered milling for free for the rest of the day.

Later in the day, Damson took us to his Praise Maize Mill. Climbing For Christ funded the building of this mill in 2019 and it went into operation in late 2020 – after our last mission to Malawi. Damson asked us to dedicate the mill today and he had a surprise for us.

I shared about being blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3) to about 250 attending the event. I explained that God blessed me to start Climbing For Christ and I in turn am honored to bless others, like Damson. Damson in turn has blessed the many people he serves in this part of Malawi.

The maize mill is turning a profit. So much so that he is using funds from the mill to build a youth center next door to teach young people skills such as carpentry, welding, and computers. Many young people are orphans who live with widowed grandparents. Those grandparents cannot afford to send the children to school, so the vicious cycle of poverty continues from one generation to the next. Malawi is one of the 15 poorest countries in the world.

But Damson’s Praise Foundation youth center will teach skills that enable young people to get jobs and support grandparents. It’s all part of his program to develop care for the hundreds of widows he and his team have been ministering to for several years with C4C’s support. We’ll be spending the day tomorrow with about 600 of those widows. As is always the case, this program will include a giving of gifts – from us to them and from them to us.

Damson has taught them if they are blessed they must share the blessing with others.

The widow Esther must be paying attention. She and another widow, Mary, both gave us chickens to say, “Zikomo” (thanks). They also thanked and gave glory to God.

Mary gives us a chicken. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

Wednesday, Aug 16-Thursday, Aug. 17

Pastor Kirk, Gary, and Elaine arriving in Blantyre, Malawi this afternoon. (Photo by Damson Samson)

Elaine and I were doing our daily Bible study on Tuesday and reading Romans 13:8-10 from The Abide Bible. Under the heading “Exhortation to love neighbors,” we were praying Scripture. “Ask God to show you how to love the people around you in tangible ways,” the study said. “Look for needs and find ways to help.”

I wrote, “Malawi” in the column next to this.

We flew out of Rochester, NY at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Our 23-hour route was ROC-Chicago O’Hare-Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-Blantyre, Malawi. We arrived Thursday afternoon and were met at the airport by Damson, Pastor Duncan, Rabson, and Isaac, a member of Duncan’s church and the friend whose car was destroyed when a mob attacked Damson’s property in southern Malawi. (See “Madness in Migowi.” The ringleader of that attack is one trial next month and several people already have been sentenced to one year in jail.)

Pastor Kirk will spend the next five days with Duncan and his Share the Hope Foundation surveying the work that has been and is being done in partnership with our home church, Hope Lutheran in Rochester, NY. Elaine and I will spend the five days with Damson – visiting some of the 13 new homes as well as villages destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Freddy in March; dedicating his maize mill; holding a special program with the 600 widows ministered to by Damson; preaching along with Kirk at Duncan’s two churches; holding a program for the orphans sponsored by Project 1:27; and training Mulanje Massif Chapter guides and porters for two days.

Mostly, we’ll be looking for needs and prayerfully finding ways to help. We are here to love our neighbors. As our greeting committee said many times, “Welcome home.” Our neighbors are everywhere in the Climbing For Christ world, including Malawi. Paul wrote in Romans 13:8-10, summing up God’s commandments under “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” May our love be tangible.

Introduction

Mulanje Massif guide John Mollen and his new house in Phunduma village, Malawi. John’s house is one of 13 built with Climbing For Christ relief funds in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Freddy. (Photos by Damson Samson)

John Mollen’s smile lights up the room. I will always remember walking with this Malawi guide on Mulanje Massif and his ever-present gap-toothed grin. Sheer joy.

But that smile was washed away when Tropical Cyclone Freddy struck his southern Africa country in March.

“My house is falling,” he declared, recalling the floods that resulted from that storm, which destroyed homes and uprooted the lives of so many in one of the world’s poorest nations. That storm also postponed Mission: Malawi 2023.

On Wednesday(Aug. 16), our home church pastor (Kirk Dueker), my wife Elaine, and I are scheduled to fly to Malawi to complete this unfinished mission. We will visit Freddy damaged areas and some of the new houses built through Climbing For Christ relief-and-recovery funding.

John Mollen has one of those houses.

“Because of this house my family is safe,” John told us in a video sent our way by Kingdom worker Damson Samson. “I sleep in this house with my family, and I want to thank you very much. We are happy.”

John’s beaming smile is back on his face.

Damson Samon, above right, leads a day of fasting and prayer on the Thichila side of Mulanje mountain three weeks ago. Below, teaching about Discovering the Bible.

Damson prepared our original Mulanje Massif Chapter’s disciples-making-disciples (DMD) class for Mission: Malawi at their July training session. The group covered the last part of our Discovering the Bible study at a two-day meeting that included a sleepover in a lodge in Migowi.

We will be graduating this original class of DMD students from its third study and introducing them to Discovering the Bible, Book 2: “Communicating the Bible,” during two days of training on Aug. 21 and 22. We’ll also meet with the second class of guides and porters. In all, there are nearly 90 guides and porters being discipled.

In addition to Mulanje Massif Chapter training, this trip will include a day-long widows’ program – with the 600 widows ministered to by Damson; Elaine will teach the 16-to-21 children in our Project 1:27 program; and we will visit Freddy damaged areas and see the new houses God used us to help build. We know more houses are needed.

Pastor Kirk will be surveying the ongoing work that our home church (Hope Lutheran in Greece and Brockport, NY, USA) has been doing with our long-time ministry partner Duncan Nyozani. C4C was used to birth the partnership between Hope church and Duncan’s Searchlight Ministry (renamed Share the Hope Foundation).

“Throughout the years many people have been spiritually blessed by C4C and Hope church,” Pastor Duncan said. “Clean water has been brought closer to us, homeless have been given homes, the hungry being fed, the orphans taken care of, the elderly being cared for, and development projects implemented.

“There is a lot of transformation in the lives of people and our communities. We really thank God for C4C and Hope church.”

We thank God for the smiles He puts on the faces of His believers no matter how hard life might be.

Mission: Malawi 2023 is Climbing For Christ’s eighth Evangelic Expedition to Malawi and our 122nd short-term mission overall.

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