Dispatches: Malawi 2020

Gary Fallesen

Dispatches: Malawi 2020

Mission: Malawi 2020

By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ

Sunday, March 22

Our Malawi team (left to right): Gary, Elaine, Laura, and Steve – wearing some of the gifts from widows at the widows’ celebration Friday. (Photos by Damson Samson)

God’s timing is perfect. We did everything we were sent to do in Malawi – preached, taught guides and porters as well as orphans, visited and celebrated with widows, and encouraged our workers and ministry friends – and then we returned to the United States uneventfully.

We returned home tonight after more than 40 hours of travel from Phalombe, Malawi to Canon City, CO and Rochester, NY, USA. Elaine and my Rochester afternoon flight was cancelled until evening. Our travels included 17 hours on the same plane from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Dulles in Washington, DC (thanks to a stop for a crew change in Dublin, Ireland). We landed at a nearly empty Dulles, where only Steve and Laura were (briefly) screened medically. Neither Elaine nor I were checked, despite having filled out forms on the flight. (The same happened in Addis Ababa both going and coming back.)

It’s too bad the same drastic measures being taken for coronavirus are not applied in other areas of life – like poverty and hunger in majority world countries. We left a place (Malawi) where people can’t even get basic medicines and treat things like high-blood pressure to return to a privileged country in panic. People don’t know how blessed they are to be able to hoard unnecessary items like toilet paper and wipes.

We were on a plane full of Americans who had been called home by various organizations, such as the Peace Corps and USAID. There were missionaries returning from Africa, too. We leave behind a people who could be devastated by a COVID-19 outbreak. We pray that God will protect those in need. We put our trust in God alone.

Brick delivery at Lydia’s house.

Before we even arrived home, Damson was already at work on two of the houses we gave him money to build Friday night. He called this an answer to a prayer he’d lifted on behalf of 90-year-old Lydia Namonde of Nasiyaya village.

“Today we have just started bringing in the bricks for the new home to Lydia Namonde,” Damson reported. “Asking her if she accepted the gift she had no words to say for the blessing is great to her and (she is) not able to understand.”

To God alone be the glory!

“Wow!” Laura said from Colorado after receiving the news of the brick delivery. “That is amazing. What a wonderful way to end a mission that God’s hand has been on from beginning to end.” Amen.

Saturday, March 21

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued its highest possible level of travel advisory (Level 4: Do Not Travel) because of coronavirus and urged Americans to “arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”

We’d already made arrangements. On Monday, our travel agent Kathy emailed to say: “Because of the uncertainty of what may happen next, it might be a good idea to head home. Please let me know how you want to proceed.”

We prayed about it and decided to take it day-by-day, waiting on the Lord. Kathy went ahead and checked flights and we could not depart any sooner than today, when Steve and Laura were already scheduled to return to the States. Originally, Elaine and I were traveling with Damson tomorrow (Sunday, March 22) to Tanzania for the start of Mission: Kilimanjaro 2020. I decided to postpone that Evangelic Expedition and return to the States with Steve and Laura.

On Tuesday, I informed Damson of our decision to postpone the trip to Tanzania, where at least five cases have been confirmed. (At this time, no case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Malawi.)

“No matter what happens, even if it seems negative, God is in control,” Damson said.

Amen to that.

This brings us to today: We are flying from Blantyre, Malawi to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to catch a connecting flight to Washington Dulles. Our scheduled arrival at Dulles is Sunday morning. God willing, Steve and Laura then fly to Denver and Elaine and I fly to Rochester, NY, presumably arriving home Sunday afternoon. Please pray for our travels – and for the travels of all Americans trying to return to the States.

Friday, March 20

Damson and Gary doing introductions before preaching the message. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

We came to celebrate with the widows and celebrate we would with about 450 widows for more than eight hours at the Phalombe Teacher Training College in Migowi. I was honored to deliver the message, “God is Faithful,” based on Psalm 136, which we read responsively. I spoke about God’s love for us (1 John 4:7-10), how everything comes from God (Romans 11:36), and how we can never say “thank you” enough (Psalm 92:1-2).

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His faithful love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:26 (NLT)

We also talked about God’s command to love – Him and our neighbor (found in Mark 12:30-31). This is a lesson the widows have taken to heart since Damson started serving them in January 2016. He (along with Climbing For Christ) has not just delivered material blessings, such as sleeping mats, blankets, jackets, food, and houses. They’ve also been blessed spiritually.

Pastor Phillip Mkweza, the spiritual coordinator for Damson’s Praise Foundation, said when Damson “asked us to start weekly Bible studies, I was reluctant. I didn’t know how many would show up if we weren’t giving them something.”

But they came. Now at least 75 percent of widows in the many villages in the Phalombe District of southern Malawi are Christ followers. Even those who don’t walk with Jesus, like a chief in attendance who is a Muslim (for now), has two Bibles in her house. One Bible is for the widows’ weekly study and the other is for her to read.

One chief, above center, delivers a goat and another, below, brings a turkey as gifts of thanksgiving. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

Caring and giving to others was again put on display as the widows paraded onstage to present us with hundreds of kilograms of maize and pumpkin (squash), two dozen live chickens, a turkey, a goat, and many pieces of cloth. Most of the food will go to the orphans in Pastor Duncan’s care. We did eat the turkey for dinner at Damson’s house after the celebration.

We also gave each of the widows a piece of cloth, used by the women to wrap around them like a long skirt. We have done this twice previously so now many of the widows have multiple pieces to wear.

Laura, left, and Elaine wrapped in cloth by the widows, congregated around Steve. The table at left was covered in bags of food.

“We did everything we set out to do,” Elaine said, as we reflected on a busy week that included medical clinics, spiritual training of Mulanje Massif Chapter guides and porters, the teaching of orphans, and visits to widows with whom, in the end, we spent a day in celebration of God.

Steve agreed, saying, “It was a sweet, sweet week.”

We give thanks to the God of heaven; His faithful love endures forever.

Thursday, March 19

Inesi Chisteko, with Damson translating, tells her story and gives thanks to God for using Climbing For Christ to help her. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

“It was a very wonderful thing that you provided the maize for us to eat,” said Annie Mulimbibka, the daughter of a widow and a widow herself, who live in Manasi village. Annie got up and did a little thank-you dance as she spoke. “It was a very hard time,” she added.

We were visiting the homes of 10 widows that God has used Climbing For Christ to help – most recently with three months of food. Annie’s mother, 85-year-old Inesi Chisteko, remembered receiving a sleeping mat, blanket, warm jacket, “and the cloth we wrap ourselves in” (the traditional African skirt).

But recently Inesi’s house collapsed in a rainstorm and she moved into the little shelter that housed her grandsons, who, in turn, were forced to move outside. This is not uncommon. Another widow, 90-year-old Lydia Namonde of Nasiyaya village, was sleeping one night when heavy rains made her house start to sway. She escaped outside as it collapsed. “I stayed in the bush all night in the rain,” Lydia told us. Volunteers came to help rebuild her house, but it is again threatening to collapse.

After our walk through four villages, Steve and Laura asked to commit funds they brought from donors in Canon City, CO to build houses for Lydia and Inesi. We thank God for this generosity.

Through the years, Climbing For Christ has been used to build more than three dozen houses for widows, who are regularly served by our Kingdom worker Damson. Damson expanded our Project 1:27 (based on James 1:27) to caring for widows as well as orphans.

Today was a James 1:27 day. After five hours with the widows, we went to see the children who are sponsored by Climbing For Christ and my home church, Hope Lutheran in Rochester, NY.

Project 1:27 group photo.

Elaine checked the prayer journals she distributed to the orphans yesterday and again made the always-popular, edible (marshmallow-and-pretzel) sheep. Laura then taught several lessons: a fingerprint-making craft that taught how each person is uniquely made; fun with Play-Doh to teach how God molded each of us; and an M&M prayer exercise (example: if you take a green M&M out of the bag, thank God for one gift or good thing you have received).

The sweet theme continued with Elaine teaching about how God works on hardened hearts using a Tootsie Roll Pop, based on Ezekiel 36:26. Then the kids got pops. Followed by gift bags brought by Laura from her church’s youth group and primary school Bible study.

Elaine prayed for the children and then tearful farewells were said, especially by Laura, whose family sponsors Ethel and Vincent. She was grateful for the opportunity to meet them in person after loving them from afar through prayer and financial support.

Damson praising God in front of the Praise Maize Mill, funded by Climbing For Christ to start a tentmaking project that will benefit Damson’s Praise Foundation.

During the course of the day, Damson and I snuck away to visit the finished structure for his tentmaking project, a maize mill. It is our prayer that this will be completed in the next few months. Maize is just starting to be harvested and mills will be busy through July. We hope this mill will bless Damson and his ministry in southern Malawi.

Wednesday, March 18

Mulanje Massif Chapter members in DMD training with Gary and Damson. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

We reviewed giving our testimony (“My Story”) and then turned to a lesson on “God’s Story – God’s Way” on the second day of Mulanje Massif Chapter training. Several guides and porters shared about telling their story Tuesday night and we assigned more storytelling between now and the next chapter training at Likhubula Lodge on the mountain.

Our 18 members are on fire to share Jesus with family, friends, and the tourists who come to southern Malawi to trek on the beautifully unique Mulanje Massif. We provided instruction about using the Roman Road – Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9 and 10:13 – to communicate God’s story.

Damson had guides Dickson Ngunda (God) and Wells Mishon (a rich man) role play our separation from the Lord because of sin. Porter David Chithyoka then entered as Jesus to bridge the gap. Each of the chapter’s guides and porters knows that though there are many trails to the top of a mountain there is only one path to salvation.

We also discussed the essentials of evangelism (using the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4:28-30): immediate obedience, personal testimony, Gospel presentation, and an introduction to Jesus.

David, center, role-plays Jesus as Damson, left, teaches how the cross of Christ bridges the gap between man (played by Wells, second from left) and God (Dickson, right). Below (left to right), Dickson, John and Samson dancing during a time of worship. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

After praying with and saying our farewells to the guides and porters, we headed to Pastor Duncan’s Share Hope Foundation to see the Project 1:27-sponsored orphans. Elaine taught the children about prayer and gave them journals to keep track of what they ask God and how He answers (“yes,” “no,” or “wait”).

We also delivered letters from sponsors and had the children work on cards that we will take back to North America to deliver to their supporters. Not to be forgotten: the always-popular making of edible sheep using marshmallows and pretzels.

The team will see the children again tomorrow along with some of the many widows served through Malawi-based staff member Damson.

Elaine and Damson teaching about prayer journaling and taking your needs to the Lord.

Tuesday, March 17

Damson, right, leads our Mulanje Massif Chapter members in prayer after they sang and danced around the room to the song “Jesus is coming around the corner” during a time of worship. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

John Mollen, a 36-year-old guide and one of the leaders of the Mulanje Massif Chapter, thanked Climbing For Christ for “coming here to teach these guys how to trust Jesus. We want you to teach us more about Jesus.”

That’s what we’re here for.

Damson and I met with 18 graduates of our first-year TTI (The Timothy Initiative) study on disciples making disciples to start the second-year study. As Damson prayed “may they share (Jesus) without being ashamed.”

This is the same TTI program we’ve done with the Kilimanjaro Chapter guides and porters in Tanzania. Today was the first of two days of training at the Likhubula Lodge on the Mulanje mountain.

I did the introduction to this more in-depth teaching on sharing the Gospel, planting churches, and discipling other believers. I told how our association with TTI began at a Vision 5:9 assembly – the Abide, Bear Fruit gathering in Thailand in 2017 – when I had coffee with C4C member and then-Vision 5:9 network director John Becker. John, who also is a leader of the Africa Inland Mission, suggested us connecting with TTI for resources that could be used on and around Kilimanjaro. We then replicated it here in Malawi with the first Chichewa translation of these invaluable studies.

We did the first lesson, “My Story,” which focuses on how to share your testimony. Damson taught and then I gave my story. In turn, we heard the testimonies of 10 members, more than half of whom came to Jesus through Climbing For Christ.

Peter Kolokombe, a 37-year-old guide, shared how he “met Jesus after coming to the first Climbing For Christ meeting at this place (Likhubula in 2016). Mr. Man (Gary) was preaching about evangelizing in the hard places. I thought, ‘If Jesus can protect them there, why can’t I trust Him?’” Peter decided that day to put his trust in the Lord. Thank You, Jesus!

Laura presents a new basketball at the Mothers & Babies Clinic, above, and our medical team prays over a young woman with a badly infected wound on her inner thigh, below. (Photos by Elaine Fallesen)

Meanwhile, back at the Singano clinic, the rest of our team was conducting the second and final day of medical exams. Laura presented a new basketball to the women of the Mothers & Babies Clinic, who are devoted netball players. Delivering a new ball to these women has become an annual tradition for C4C, and it is one that is deeply appreciated here. (Netball, which is similar to basketball, is the women’s favorite game.)

Dr. Steve then went to work on the sick, the injured, and the aged, including one man who needed to be sent to the hospital for a possible appendicitis. Steve, Laura, Elaine, Rabson, and Chimwemwe saw as many patients as they could until running out of medicines. In all, several hundred sick and hurting people were ministered to the past two days. Climbing For Christ continues to serve those in physical and spiritual need.

Monday, March 16

Mary, one of the widows Damson has helped through Climbing For Christ, gives her praise to God after being treated by Dr. Steve and receiving the gift of a blanket. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)

Dr. Steve – assisted by his daughter Laura and my wife Elaine – saw more than 100 adult patients and numerous children and babies on the first day of medical clinics in Singano. Climbing For Christ helped build the clinic where Steve & Co. worked for more than seven hours. We dedicated the building on Mission: Malawi 2017, when Steve first came here to serve.

Damson and Pastor Duncan’s sidekick Rabson were the translators and government clinician Chimwemwe Baluti worked alongside Steve. Children with the flu, a 13-year-old boy with a broken wrist, and old people with old joints and sore bodies from hard lives were among the people treated.

Steve makes a cast splint on a young boy’s broken wrist.

Laura and Elaine also distributed blankets quilted by women at the First United Methodist Church in Canon City, CO; baby blankets donated by people at the Christian Family Fellowship (CFF) in Canon City; widows bags – each containing a towel, band-aids, toothbrush, comb, mirror, and wooden cross – prepared by the youth at CFF, and cards for the children made by the CFF youth and Laura’s Rise & Shine group from school.

Damson and Rabson prayed for every patient, including a 3-year-old girl named Melissa who had a developmental disability. Damson prayed for healing that would glorify Jesus.

Coronavirus is not an issue here – yet. Malaria is a much bigger problem. Esnart, one of the Project 1:27 children (sponsored by Steve for years), is suffering with malaria.

Sunday, March 15

The church at Msema in worship. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

I was honored to preach at both of Pastor Duncan’s churches – in Msema and Kambona. The message was about being a “Nobody.” I told how I’d been ill for three days before coming to Malawi and going with my wife Elaine to a Casting Crowns and Matthew West concert a week ago in Albany, NY was an elixir for my soul. Especially when the band closed with my current heart song, “Nobody.”

“I’m just a nobody / Trying to tell everybody / All about Somebody who saved my soul / Ever since You rescued me / You gave my heart a song to sing / I’m living for the world to see / Nobody but Jesus.”

I shared from Psalm 85:8-13; a psalm about restoring our love and joy for God. “I think that’s one of the things that happened last Sunday night when I was listening to that Christian band play the song ‘Nobody,’” I told them. “I realized again how much I love Jesus and how much joy I get from God.”

I talked about how God provides for our needs, and how we must be obedient and trust in Him alone. He loves to bless us. We turned to Matthew 6:25-33 and read the words of Jesus. Then I told the story of Gilbert in Haiti, how God snatched him back from the jaws of death (Psalm 9:13) and how today he is in medical school and leading C4C’s New Generation. “He doesn’t live for himself; he lives for the ONE Who saved him,” I said. “He lives for God.”

He is a nobody. If we’re living for the Lord, we’re all nobodies.

Gary preaching with Damson translating at the church at Msema. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)

Our team – Laura, Elaine, Duncan, Steve, Damson, and I – spent a few hours in the afternoon taking a “Spirit Walk” together. It was a journey through four chapters in the Gospel of Matthew, starting in chapter 25. Matthew 25:40 is a theme verse for our work in places like Malawi: “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

We started using the late Steve Smith’s book Spirit Walk as preparation for Evangelic Expeditions on Mission: Kilimanjaro 2018, when Laura’s husband Adam went with us. This gets us all on the same page and aligned in the purpose of the mission. Our team will continue to use the Book of Matthew this week to start each day.

Saturday, March 14

We walked off our plane from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia onto the airport tarmac in Blantyre, Malawi and were met by a sign to wash our hands before entering the terminal. A nurse then used a thermometer wand on each of our foreheads. For the second straight airport, we had to fill out coronavirus paperwork. Then we got our visas for Malawi.

We arrived in Malawi after about 19 hours of flying, grateful to be here. Especially when we hear news of panicked reaction to the coronavirus around the world.

Edwin Milla, our Kingdom worker in Peru, emailed today to tell me he has had to “suspend” scheduled missionary work. Villages throughout the Cordillera Blanca and Huayhuash are prohibiting “all strangers, including tourists – Peruvians and foreigners – into their communities to safeguard the health and lives of their inhabitants faced with the threat of COVID-19.”

Last Saturday, Edwin was confronted by locals in a village he went to minister in. “Just on the morning of March 7, the president of Peru announced the first case of coronavirus,” Edwin said. “Since that time people are in a panic.” Edwin said he was called insults, hit, and the windshield of his vehicle was broken before he left the town.

Satan is rejoicing at the actions and antics of people in the face of coronavirus. God’s work is being thwarted. But God will not be stopped. He will make good from this – as He does in all things.

Friday, March 13

Our team united in Chicago early this morning. We are on our way to Malawi, scheduled to arrive Saturday afternoon local time.

Thursday, March 12

The world facing coronavirus today – this cancelled, that shut down – is ever changing. But God is unchanging. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” we are told in Hebrews 13:8.

We were called by God to GO and so Dr. Steve Quakenbush and his daughter Laura Copper, a school teacher, boarded a plane in Denver, CO this afternoon and flew to Chicago. They’ll stay overnight in Chicago and my wife Elaine and I will fly there from Rochester, NY early Friday morning to meet them before we fly together to Africa.

God willing, we will arrive in Malawi on Saturday for a full week of work, including medical clinics. Our team financially supported the clean-up of a clinic Climbing For Christ helped long-time C4C member Pastor Duncan Nyozani build in 2017. We also funded the building of a new latrine at the clinic.

The repainted clinic, above, and a new latrine, below. (Photos by Duncan Nyozani)

We remain fluid, like the world, but are prayerful that God will guide us and protect us as we serve the people in southern Malawi.


John Mollen, left, receives a pig from fellow Climbing For Christ member Dickson Ngunda. (Photos by Damson Samson)

Damson Samson called it “the pig pass.” It was the continuation of a pig project Climbing For Christ started in 2017 with members of the Mulanje Massif Chapter of guides and porters in southern Malawi.

Dickson Ngunda handed a piglet off to John Mollen on Feb. 23. We praise God for this moment. This piglet was one of five that Ngunda has produced from the original pig that he was given by another brother.

The passing of the pig symbolizes many things, including community, Jesus’s command that we “love one another” (John 13:34), and the fruit of Climbing For Christ’s work in Malawi. At the same time, it comes as Malawi continues to struggle as one of the poorest countries in the world and Africa’s “most hungry nation,” according to a March 6 report in The Nation newspaper. The Nation quotes a survey of 34 African countries by the Farm Input Subsidy Programme, which “shows that 76 percent of Malawians go hungry with more frequency than fellow citizens in other countries on the continent.”

This is sad news; news that prompted Pastor Duncan Nyozani, a long-time C4C member, to request of ministry partners: “We need your urgent prayers and support.” Please join us in prayer for the people of Malawi as we GO to Malawi.

Our Mission: Malawi 2020 team is scheduled to arrive on Saturday. Board member Dr. Steve Quakenbush, his daughter Laura Copper (both of Canon City, CO), and my wife Elaine and I will be in Malawi through March 21. After that, Damson, Elaine and I travel to Tanzania for Mission: Kilimanjaro 2020 on these back-to-back trips that span 3 ½ weeks.

Mulanje Massif, an isolated block of mountains occupying about 250 square miles in southern Malawi. Among the numerous peaks is country highpoint Sapitwa (9,849 feet/3,002 meters).

Among the ministry we’ll be doing: medical clinics, loving and teaching the children in Project 1:27, training Mulanje Massif guides and porters more about being disciple-making disciples, celebrating the widows served by Damson.

“Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
    so our land will be filled with his glory.
“Unfailing love and truth have met together.
    Righteousness and peace have kissed!
“Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
“Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
    Our land will yield its bountiful harvest.
“Righteousness goes as a herald before him,
    preparing the way for his steps.”
– Psalm 85:9-13 (NLT) 


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