Mission in Malawi
Before the pandemic firmly took its grip, Missio visited Malawi to witness first-hand the vital impact the Church is having. As we drove towards the Lisanjala Health Clinic to meet Father Vincent and Sister Nilcéia, we were in awe of the stark beauty of the countryside. Bright blue sky framed against blood-red earth. But however spectacular the landscape, scorched earth does not a bountiful harvest make. Poverty in the region is widespread, and supplies of maize are constantly in short supply as people anxiously await the rainy season. Life expectancy is low, just fifty-eight for men and sixty-one for women. Malaria is the constant threat, and it can kill in just one or two days. This is why Church-run services like the Lisanjala Health Clinic are so important. They offer a beacon of hope.
An all-embracing Church
When we arrived and stepped out of our van it felt like we were walking into a sauna. Under trees, groups of Malawian women had taken refuge from the heat. They eyed us warily until Sister Nilcéia appeared with outstretched arms and her infectious smile. As she walked towards us she scooped up a small child and rested him on her hip. She told us that today’s clinic was full, ‘many of the women have walked over three hours carrying their sick children’, and on other days, ‘pregnant teenage girls might walk almost six miles to get help from our clinic.’ But today is Tuesday, the day when boys and girls up to five years old are seen. In the all-embracing nature of the Church, the small team of health workers at the Lisanjala Health Clinic welcome all – no matter their religion, who they are, or where they are from.
Sorrow in this broken world
Although the rewards far out-weigh the challenges, missionaries experience much sorrow. Sister Nilcéia, many miles from her home in Brazil, shared this sad reality ,‘I remember delivering a little boy called Blessing. His mother Linda was only fifteen. She had been abused by a much older man. Not long after he was born Blessing contracted malaria.’ In time, Blessing went to live with his grandmother, ‘we provided milk for him every week’. But when he was just ten months old Blessing died. He was malnourished. ‘It turned out his grandmother had been giving the milk to another child.’ ‘I cry when I think of Blessing. He didn’t have to die. But this is a broken world. Our only hope is in God, who is with us through the sadness. It was our privilege to love Linda and baby Blessing when it mattered most.’
Sr. Nilcéia then led us towards the small brick building that houses the Lisanjala Health Clinic. Here she showed us the medical supply room, just some boxes of Malaria medicine and eye ointment, ‘we’ve not had paracetamol for two years. We are unable to treat the children’s fever and pain.’ This seems to be a normal occurrence as we had only recently heard a report that the hospital in Zomba had run out of paracetamol too. We silently observed that we probably had more medicine in our Missio First Aid kit than the whole clinic.
Many stirring moments
Our visit to the Lisanjala Health Clinic was just one of the many stirring pastoral moments we experienced in Malawi. We could mention scores more. Like when we meet Father Charles, a priest from Lisanjala Parish. He proudly showed us his cow. The milk from that one cow keeps him and fellow priests fed, while every Friday he donates much needed milk to the local nursery. Or Christina, who we met during a visit to the Kumpatsa Outstation Church. Now in her eighties, she was blinded by cataracts at fifty-five and spends her days being tended to by her extended family. The natural warmth of Father Vincent when he visited Christina was both humbling and heartening. Or the elderly Grandmother who cradled her three-month old Granddaughter, Praise, in her arms in the crowded waiting room of the Pirimiti Health Centre. Tiny Praise, orphaned due to HIV, may be a carrier too? We never found out.
Gratefully, support from Ireland is not lost on the likes of Fr Vincent, whose pastoral visits to the sick and aged are vitally important in the Diocese of Zomba. As one elderly lady told us, ‘having the priests here is like a visit from Jesus.’ Fr Vincent told us that he truly doesn’t know how they could go on without the support of the wider Missio family and his brothers and sister in Ireland, ‘It sustains us mentally, spiritually and financially’.
By being on the ground it is glaringly obvious what the Catholic Church is doing to help combat the huge challenges people face in Malawi. Sister Nilcéia’s and Father Vincent’s faith and charitable actions offer far-reaching and long-term solutions in a region that is desperate for help. As Sister Nilcéia put it, ‘the need here in Malawi is great. But the Lord is faithful and we continue to serve. We take courage from knowing you are with us in this mission’.
Missio has been aiding the work of missionaries in Malawi for many years, and because of people like you we can keep doing so. By supporting Missio Ireland you are helping the Catholic Church share the love of God not only in Malawi, but with everyone.
Thank you for your ongoing prayers and donations.