A letter from Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch serving in Malawi
April 2016 - The Gift of Presence
Bessia Mboma, my language helper in Malawi, comes to our house three or four times a week to help me practice Chichewa. Some days we sit together and do “look and listen”—a technique to help learn new words. Other days we go on walks around the neighborhood and talk. Walking together in the neighborhood helps me to practice putting new words into sentences, which opens up a whole new world of grammar!
In December Bessia’s grandmother died after a short bout of illness in the hospital. In Malawi when someone dies the community gathers at the home of the bereaved. In the city the men sit outside under the trees and the women gather inside, where the body will be laid for viewing. The women sit together and sing hymns, many from memory, as they wait for the body to arrive. Many women will stay with the family, singing hymns all through the night until the body is taken for burial. The day Bessia’s grandmother died I joined with other women in her community and sat inside the house, singing hymns, sharing words of comfort with the family, and hearing brief snippets about “Granny.” One song Bessia asked us to sing was 12 verses long and not particularly upbeat. About 6 verses in, the singing petered out and the women declared that it was too long and surely no one could sing the whole song. Bessia commented with a chuckle, “Granny used to sing it all the way through.” I found a great peace at being able to be present with Bessia in her grief.
Bessia is studying Education at the African Bible College, which is just a 10-minute walk from our house. She is in the same age range as my two younger sisters and really has become a sister to me. Before we left Malawi I had one last work trip up to Mzuzu in the northern part of Malawi, and I took her and our son with me so Jeremy could focus on packing without a 2-year-old “helping.” Bessia had never been to the northern part of Malawi and it was a joy to watch her face as she saw the incredible beauty of the north. At one point we stopped on the roadside to buy fried cassava and she got back in the car and exclaimed, “It’s like I’m in another country, they don’t speak Chichewa!” (Chitumbuka is the primary language of the north).
During our long car ride Bessia and I were able to share more about our lives together. Bessia and her two younger brothers were orphaned when she was 13. She and her brothers were taken in by various family members, sometimes together, sometimes split up, and not always sure with whom they would be living from year to year. As with all people there were joys and sorrows in this experience.
In reflecting on her story I realized that I often think of orphans as being poorly cared for by their extended family, and that the best they can hope for in life is to survive. But Bessia was well taken care by her family—her uncle ensured that she finished high school, a powerful testimony in a country where most parents struggle to send all of their children to high school and where girls, especially a niece, would not have been prioritized. And yet, even with the care Bessia received, I heard her say that the loss of her parents never disappears. In hearing Bessia’s story I saw even more clearly how deeply she reflects the love of Christ for her family and for those around her,
because her own love of Christ is deep and wide. She has been a challenge and an encouragement to my faith.
Our relationship with Bessia is not one of ‘work,’ or ‘ministry’—she is not a colleague from one of our church partners, but when we think about our time in Malawi she is always in our minds. The gift of presence is one of the greatest gifts we can give to people, the sharing of ourselves. We learn this through Christ’s example. The disciples traveled with Jesus and learned through his teachings, but also through his presence. He set an example through his behavior that showed what mattered: healing the sick, caring for the needy, advocating for and protecting those who were vulnerable to oppressive governments and systems. Jesus’ verbal lessons often needed interpretation, even for his disciples. But his presence spoke for itself. This is the essence of mission co-work: walking alongside, mutually being present together.
We are so grateful to you that, because of your prayers and your financial support for our ministry, we are able to be part of God’s mission in Malawi. We are grateful that, during this time of transition in our lives, with a new baby on the way, we are able to spend some time in the U.S. for a few months. Please pray for us as we share about this ministry with local congregations here in the U.S. Being present in people’s homes, in Sunday lunches, and in worship gives us a powerful sense of being connected with our family of supporters. Our continued service depends on your continued support. Thank you!
Ambuye akudalitseni (God bless you),
Luta (for Jeremy and family)
Bessia playing “cooking” with our son