Friends, family, colleagues and supporters –
It was nearly a year ago that we wrote to say that we would be extending our mission in Malawi beyond our initial commitment of one year. It is time again to share our next steps.
We find ourselves at a crossroads. Our options are to continue as Individual Volunteers in Malawi for another year, transition to Standard Support Missionaries with a three-year commitment, or return home to Nashville to reflect, regroup and consider the next phase of our call and our mission with the Malawi United Methodist Church.
After months of prayer, discussion, tears and soul-searching we have decided to return home to Nashville on July 13, 2011 (following annual conference and the round table meeting) for the foreseeable future.
Our discernment rests on several factors – financial, personal and missional.
First, while we recognize the value of our presence in Malawi and are honored to have served as volunteers, we wrestle with accepting donor dollars for a third year for our own survival when those dollars could be used for ministry within the conference. To extend our mission beyond July would mean a massive fundraising effort for tens of thousands of dollars that could be used for vehicles, administration and projects within the church.
Second, while the transition to Standard Support Missionaries would alleviate some of this financial burden, it would require a commitment as early as March to remain in Malawi for the next two to three years. As we considered this option we realized how significantly different it would be to live as missionaries as opposed to volunteers.
We followed this call to Malawi as short-term volunteers. While we have developed deep and enriching relationships with the church and individuals here in Malawi, our family of four is still planted in Nashville. We have not pulled up roots and transferred our lives to Malawi, but followed a call as short-term volunteers. Therefore, our extended family is anxiously awaiting our return, we have worked very hard to maintain our friendships in the USA, and Jeff and I have both retained some type of employment or professional connections knowing that we would need to support ourselves after this journey.
With the volunteer mindset we have not invested time in creating a sustainable life here. We have not developed relationships outside of the church. We have not found ways to live on the resources that exist within the country but rely on care packages and holidays to the US and South Africa to buy those things that we need for daily living. While it may seem insignificant, we have not taken the time to find the practical things that everyone must seek out when they move to a new place, like a pediatrician, a dentist, a hairdresser, babysitters. So to apply and accept the position of Standard Support missionaries would be starting over in many ways – to build a life here and not just a temporary shelter. This is not a commitment we are prepared to make within the next few weeks.
And while this experience and mission has provided more blessings to our family than we can even realize now, it has also put a significant strain on our family, immediate and extended. We need time, in some ways, to heal and to examine our lives in light of all that we have learned and the many ways that God has changed and transformed us on this journey.
Finally, our discernment includes a concern for the part we play in the mission of the Malawi United Methodist Church. We have come to appreciate the contributions and the dangers of volunteers stepping into the life and ministry of this indigenous church. On our first visit in February 2009, the bishop said that if we came, our charge was to empower the indigenous leaders. In the first year we stood along side the leaders, learning, teaching and offering support as we could. In this second year we find ourselves doing more of the work ourselves and less training and empowerment. This raises a red flag for us and it plays a part in our decision to step back from our current position and to partner with the conference from Nashville for now.
This decision is not easy. We will leave parts of ourselves, body, mind and soul, here. We know that this news will be received with great joy by some and with great sadness by others. And we fear that some will be disappointed, nervous, or even angry because they have come to depend on our presence here. But we believe, and have been reminded by others wiser than ourselves, that the Malawi Missionary Conference is God’s mission. We cannot be, or view ourselves, as critical to this mission. God is already supplying and raising up new partners and leaders in the church with different gifts to move the mission forward.
This transition home will be as difficult as the move we made in July 2009 because we find ourselves leaving home again. We ask for your prayers during the next six months. There is much work to be done and we still need your support to complete our journey with grace, humility and wisdom.
May God richly bless you,
Kara, Jeff, Claire and Carter
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