Settling In To Zomba
Hey folks! It has been a busy month - my drive south to Zomba went well, and then began the overwhelmingly large task of learning a new city, a new team of coworkers, a new role, and getting moved into my new home. I am living with another single lady who arrived a few months ago and is also in the stage of learning the culture and language.
As of today, half of my belongings are still in boxes and suitcases... because for the last month, we have been working on painting the house. Yesterday I finally unpacked my food into the pantry, and hope that the kitchen cupboards are dry enough that my pots and pans can get unpacked today! Thankfully, some missionaries lived in this house previously, and left quite a bit of furniture for my housemate and I to purchase and use.
Once again, I am re-learning how certain tasks (seemingly small) can be time-consuming and energy-draining in this culture. For instance, ordering a couch... it was already completed when we visited the carpentry shop - but we asked for it to be varnished, which took over a week and three visits to check the quality of work before we were able to bring it home. Then came the funny part - my housemate and I could not get the couch around the corner of the hallway and through the doorway into the room! One of our colleagues came over and helped us figure out a way, but for about 24 hours, we thought we might have to resell our new couch!
We were incredibly grateful to have the international supervisor of new missionaries come for a few days to lead us in reflection about the many changes we are experiencing. It was great to talk with someone who has experienced the frustrations of cultural change and language barriers. I did not expect to find much new when I returned, but the complete change of setting has proved full of new challenges and blessings. I am loving the greenness of this city (there is a ban on cutting any trees without city approval - even on your own property).
I am slowly finding my feet here. I am enjoying learning about my new role and the many strange little quirks of the Malawian systems that we need to work with. For example, the local water board comes to shut off your water if you haven't paid your bill in three months - but my co-workers most recently received their bill for July! So, you go and pay a small amount every month even without receiving a bill. I am visiting churches in the city and enjoying seeing the different ways that the body of Christ practices their faith.
I am impatient to finish putting my household in order, find a home church, build friendships... but those things take time, so I am reining myself in. As the supervisor of new missionaries said during one of our sessions - the first while in a new culture, 80% of your time and energy is spent dealing with daily life, and 20% is spent on your job. How wonderful it is that my mission recognizes this reality, and gives new missionaries time to settle into their new home and learn the local language and culture before asking them to begin their official jobs.
So, that is a basically what I've been up to for the last month! I am trying to post one picture a day to my Instagram and Facebook, so feel free to check in there (links on the right under my author profile)! Internet has not been the most reliable and I haven't always been able to match my available time with working internet to get a blog post up. Thank you for your prayers and well-wishes as I begin this adventure.
Reflections of 1 Week Returned
My flights went well and all my bags arrived in Lilongwe with me last Friday. I have spent the past week with my former housemate and her two kiddos, and greatly enjoyed being able to catch up and spend some time with them. And the sunsets, you guys – just as stunning as I remembered them!
Of course, in true African form, my timeline went sideways once I landed. I had hoped to pick up my working car on Monday, get the insurance sorted out, and drive south on Tuesday. But the whole country was shut down on Monday for a holiday! My belongings were locked in storage while I was gone, and the keys were 5 hours north in another city, and wouldn’t be returning until Wednesday. And I also found out that my car was not yet running.
So, on Tuesday, I went downtown and tried to sort out getting my Malawian driver’s license. I arrived an hour before the office opened, so sat in the plaza gardens and read a book… which resulted in me being asked multiple times by security guards and passers-by if I was alright. This attempt to get a license was foiled by the fact that I had misplaced my Malawian road traffic ID card *which I had just managed to get before leaving 2 years ago, in another attempt to get my license*. They informed me I needed to get an official police letter stating that it had been stolen or lost, and then they could reprint one for me (of course, you have to pay for both the letter and the reprint).
As I was downtown on foot, I decided against walking the few kilometres to the police station, and did some work sitting in a café until my ride home came. There, a vaguely familiar man sat down across from me and began a conversation – turns out he was my language and culture teacher the first week I was in Malawi with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). In perfect (Godly) timing too, as my phone was about to die and he offered to charge it using his cable while I waited for my ride.
On Wednesday, I was able to get into storage and look through my boxes. There were 2 break-ins while I was out of the country, so some things were stolen… all of my dresses and skirts and trousers, my underpants (!), cooking spices, blankets, and pillows. There may have been more, but when I packed up I was ill and so I have little memory of what was left behind. The things I love the most… my handmade Malawian pottery dishes, and my many books, were left behind. Yay!
My friend who owns the garage that stored my car and fixed it up for me, picked me up on Saturday and first took me to a police station to get a letter sorted out, and then helped me sort out getting the car certified as fit for the road, and renewing my insurance. Both of these things must be done every year, and can take days of sitting in various offices. With my friend, who has connections at all these offices because his daily work revolves around these offices, it took 3 hours! I almost wasn’t able to complete it at all, as the car’s transfer of ownership was never fully completed (a few years ago, it involved an office mailing off all the important original documents to another office for verification, and I was not about to do that and chance them losing any of them!!). Today, it is computerized and much quicker, so I am looking forward to completing the transfer soon! Anyhow, the computerization also means that the owner of record must be present to provide their fingerprint in order to complete the certification for road fitness. The former owner very graciously, after having gotten little sleep (she was at a church prayer meeting until 4 am), came out to help me. So, so very thankful.
Enough drama for you? Well, there was still more to come… to finish off the day, we stopped at a bank machine so I could get out some money to pay the garage for fixing up my car. It declined my transaction and then swallowed my bank card! Eeek! The person after me also had their card swallowed, so we think it was malfunctioning, and hopefully I will be able to retrieve it tomorrow when the bank offices re-open. Another bank machine and another card, and I was thankfully able to retrieve some cash and pay for the car repairs.
Today I have packed up my car with my belongings, and tomorrow morning, after getting my bank card back, I will head south to Zomba to begin my new role with Liebenzell… about a week later than expected… which, is actually right on time here haha!
What I have seen this past week has been amazing though – the amount of development and change that has happened in the last 2 years is huge – a whole new subdivision, new shopping mall, computerized and networked government procedures are a huge improvement, and a main road being widened to 4 lanes. And yet, Malawi still holds onto the important things – the value of relationship. The things I actually accomplished this week were all due to relationships. Without those friendships, or the cultural importance of relationship and being there for one another, I would still be sitting and waiting in offices for weeks.
And that is why I so love this country. Yes, the slow speed at which things happen can drive me a little crazy, and yes, there is a long way to go for the overall development of the country. But, the culture of being there for one another – be it a family member, friend, acquaintance, or even a stranger, is what gets into your heart and keeps you in Malawi or longing to return.
Thank you friends and family in Canada, Germany, and the US – you have made it possible for me to return to where my heart feels at home, to do the work that God has set out for me with the Liebenzell Mission. I am so grateful to you all for supporting me in this adventure of following Jesus wherever he leads me.
On the Road Again...
The day has finally arrived. My bags are all packed and checked in. I have said goodbye to family and friends. And I have conquered the first leg of travel. Sitting in the Paris airport waiting for my next flight that will take me to Ethiopia, and then a final one into Malawi. It feels so unreal... it didn't actually sink in until the plane took off last night, that I am really going back, right now!
It has been hard leaving Canada and my family this time... there is so much going on between my brothers all getting married (2 down, 1 to go + an international repeat) and a funeral for my Opa in Germany. But God has arranged everything so very perfectly. The past few weeks have been full of surprise gifts and assistance that covered my needs and wants and some things I had forgotten I needed! And I am officially at 95% monthly support! That is absolutely astounding to me. Thank you to everyone who is supporting me through prayer, financially, and encouragement. I love you all.
Tomorrow afternoon I land in Malawi after nearly two years of being gone. I will spend a few days catching up with friends, re-registering my car, and packing it full of my stuff. Then I will take the long drive south to my new home, Zomba. Please pray that my car *after sitting for two years* will function perfectly all the way south!
I'll move into my new home, a semi-detached house rented by Liebenzell, and begin to settle in sometime next week! And my fellow single lady missionary, Silvi, will join me and live on the other side of the duplex (coming into the city from one of the village projects) shortly thereafter.
To start, I'll shadow Michael Volz, the missionary who has been doing the team administrator role and bookkeeping. I'll also be searching for a friend or two in the city who would be willing to partner with me to teach me Chichewa, the local language. I am so excited to begin!!
Probably the best short-term gains (in my view), is that I am trading -30° C for +30° C! I will finally be warm again!
Thank you to all in my circle for sending me out and loving on me - I am so grateful to have each of you in my life.
Strawberry Picking Thoughts
This week my younger cousins are in town to attend the Vacation Bible School held at my home church, Woodside. In the afternoons, I have been keeping them busy with swimming, trampoline jumping, and berry picking. On Monday, we drove out to a strawberry farm and picked a ton to freeze. And we chatted about everything under the sun.
One of the interesting conversations that happened was sparked by the fact that the farm was owned and operated by an Old Order Mennonite family. Now, although I have lived in Elmira for most of my life, I haven't yet grasped all the minutiae of differences between the groups, so I may have gotten some stuff wrong. But the boys wanted to know, why did this family dress differently, and why did they speak a different language, and a lot more whys. We talked about wanting to stand out from our culture and be visibly different from those around us, and that this was one of the ways that Mennonites make sure others know who they believe in. We talked about the fact that some of those choices made it more difficult for people to talk to them - and maybe that there were too many differences. And we pondered whether we look different to the people around us who don't believe in Jesus.
While we were chatting, we picked away, and soon discovered, that due to our later season adventure, most of the strawberries were very tiny.... until we came across a few that had grown into each other and became, as we affectionately named them, Teenage Mutant Ninja Strawberries. Yet more differences and whys to ponder on.
Now, the boys and I have gotten used to standing out due to skin colour (I usually live in Malawi, and they live in Toronto in a very multi-cultural neighbourhood). But what we realized in our discussions, is that seeing our 'Jesus Difference' isn't immediately visible. So I asked them about it... how do you think people will see Jesus in you? It's not in our Batman t-shirts, or the way we style our hair. We talked about the Bible and the lessons in it that teach us how to treat others and show them God's love, the skills God gives each of us, and how Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci (makers who were featured at VBS this week... and also names of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...) made such beautiful things to honour God. At VBS, they have been learning about the amazing plan and purpose God has in mind for their lives.
I ended up thinking back through my own life, and how it hasn't always looked like I expected. In high school, I was certain that I wanted to be either a professional musician or a landscape architect. Then I went to Rwanda on a short-term mission trip through Woodside, and met a young boy with special needs who wasn't in school because of them. I ended up sponsoring a child through those missionaries, to get him onto a school that could accommodate his needs. And that spun my overall direction right around - I had a passion for Africa and helping children with special needs reach their full potential. I ended up going to university for international development, and landed in Malawi - supposedly to work in the refugee camp with an agricultural group. But God rewrote that for me, and I ended up setting up a classroom in the refugee camp school, specifically for children with special needs instead. I can't wait to see the way God works in my new placement in Malawi!
P.S. Those Teenage Mutant Ninja Strawberries tasted just as good as all the rest! In fact, the boys would argue that they tasted even better than the normal ones! :)
LM Day 2017 - Commissioned to Go!
Well, the Liebenzell Mission Day of 2017 was a lot of fun! Pastor Ken Davis, the leader of retreat ministries and outreach gave a wonderful sermon on Colossians 1. The worship was led by a team of German students who are studying at the Liebenzell University in Germany, and are doing a term abroad. We sang the yearly German hymn, written in the 1950s, "Vergiss nicht zu danken dem ewigen Herrn", or "Do not forget to thank the eternal Lord". I've put a translation below - it is a beautiful reminder of God's love for us.
Do not forget to thank the eternal Lord
He has done you a lot of good
Remember, in Jesus, he forgives you
You can approach him as you are
He is merciful, patient, and gracious
Much more than a father can
He threw our sins into the outermost sea
Come, pray to the Eternal One
You can trust him in the dark night
When everything seems lost
He loves you, even when you give Him sorrow
He is closer than ever
Through gratefulness new things enter into life
A wish that you never knew
That everyone like you would want to be the child of God
From the Father appointed as an heir
Through man, Jesus builds the eternal world
To prepare his community
He placed them in his church
And made them ready for service.
A very creative, responsive prayer was led by a Liebenzell missionary, Markus Gommel, who works with Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto. He wrote specific prayers for Liebenzell missionaries, staff, and projects, and had each one prayed for in a different language! I was blessed to be prayed for by one of my missionary candidate teachers, Rita Mattmueller, who used to be based in Malawi, and prayed for me in Chichewa.
At the close of the service, the Liebenzell Canada leadership and the other Liebenzell pastors and missionaries that were present for the day, prayed for and commissioned me to serve as a long-term missionary in Malawi. It was led by my other missionary candidate teacher, Daniel Mattmueller. You can watch a video of the prayer below. I am so thankful for the amazing people who serve with Liebenzell globally, and that I am being included in that number.
After a potluck luncheon, I got to share about Malawi and the work that Liebenzell does there... stay tuned in the next while to get the lowdown on the various projects Liebenzell Malawi manages, and the lives that are being changed!
Liebenzell Canada Mission Day 2017
Once a year, Liebenzell Canada hosts a missions service and potluck. I will be one of the presenters at this year's event, happening on Saturday, June 17th! It is out in Moffat (near Guelph), at the LMC headquarters, and you are all invited to join us! The day starts at 11:30 AM, with coffee and visiting, followed by a short worship service. Then everyone enjoys a potluck lunch together (if you come, please bring a salad or dessert). Following lunch, there are missions presentations! This year, the team leader from Ecuador will be the keynote speaker, and the other presentations will be from a missionary serving Bangladeshi immigrants in Toronto, and myself. There is usually a children's program of some sort, a soccer game on the field, and sometimes some frog catching in the pond! Check out the info by clicking here. I'd love to see you there!
This has been a difficult year for me healthwise. So today, I want to talk about what it is like to have an 'invisible' illness.
This is not my first go-round with an invisible illness. About five years ago, I over-stressed myself, causing adrenal fatigue and a candida overgrowth. Strange words, I know. What they mean is this: my adrenal glands worked too hard for too long, and ended up not able to supply me with enough adrenaline and stress-adapting hormones anymore. I had too much candida yeast in my gut, which caused other problems. Overall, I had a list of symptoms as long as my arm, the most frustrating of which were crazy bad brain fog, migraines, dizzy spells, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep and waking up, trouble regulating my body temperature, and a weakened immune system.
At the time, I was a full-time (+) university student, and working forty to fifty hours a week. For a long while, I just thought that these symptoms were normal for any millenial. It eventually got bad enough that I went to see a doctor. With a very restricted diet, a boatload of supplements, and lifestyle changes to reduce my daily stress, I was thankfully able to recover.
Well, you'd think I had learned my lesson, but nope. About a year and a half ago, I spent six month running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Seriously - I ended up doing three people's jobs and also was given additional responsibilities at work, had to move three times, and basically, was extremely dumb about keeping myself healthy. I ended up stressing my body out to the point where I was laid out flat on my back for a week with a double lung infection, and then eventually got diagnosed with a thyroid condition that was brought on by the stress. I will now have that thyroid condition for the rest of my life, and will have to regularly go the to doctor to ensure that my medication is at the correct level to keep me going. Since the thyroid controls your metabolism and energy levels, many of the symptoms of my thyroid condition are the same as what I experienced five years ago.
It is surprisingly difficult for a Type A perfectionist, do-it-all, take-care-of-everything kind of person to say no to something - especially when you are in a place and situation where (a) you have the skills to help; (b) you see the needs around you are vast; (c) you are a missionary worker and feel that your time and energy should be used for God's kingdom; and (d) you are single and therefore technically have more time than people with spouses and children.
I have learned a lot since then, though. Really. I promise. Self-care is not a luxury - it is a necessity. Guarding my time to recharge and take care of my health, my relationship with God, my involvement with my church, my time with friends, and making allowances for my introverted self are super important to me being able to serve long term as a missionary. I have learned that not everything has to get done, and that if I can't pick up the slack, there are often others who can.
In a German-background family where output is valued almost as much as family, it has been difficult to explain my lack of energy, and to word it in ways that my go-getters understand, especially when I don't LOOK sick. Sometimes, what I perceived as judgement from others and my own high expectations made dealing with my illness even worse. A while back, I came across 'The Spoon Theory' by Christine Miserandino (click the link to read the original story), and found it helpful in explaining an 'invisible' illness to family and friends. Basically, each of us is given a handful of spoons that are our currency for what we need to accomplish in a day. A healthy person might have fifty, while I may only have ten, depending on the day. This means that every action and choice is preceded by a lot of thought - can I budget that into my energy for today? If not, when can I do that - is it even possible? Some days, I have a big energy budget and can behave like a "real boy", to quote Pinocchio. Other days, making dinner might be more important than having a shower, or replying to some emails. When your limbs feel like lead, and you can't keep thoughts straight in your head, molehills become insurmountable mountains. (I flooded our laundry room last year when I got the steps confused... just in case you needed proof that the brain fog was strong in me!)
I have had to reteach myself that my output is not where my value lies - as a creation of God, I have intrinsic value simply by being. And there has been a lot of good in rest and recuperation. I have had a wonderful year of relationship-building with family and friends (some new in both categories!). Thankfully, my supporters, church, mission, family, and friends have been so kind and understanding. This has been huge for me - I am so judgmental of myself, and came home feeling like an abject failure - why couldn't I see that I was overdoing it and save myself from it, why couldn't I just push through and keep going, was anyone going to be willing to back me as a missionary in the future? And every time I have voiced my concerns - be it to my counselor, family, friends, church leadership, or mission director, the same answer has come back...
"We believe in you and the call God has on your life - we want you to go back fully healthy and supported and we are backing you every step of the way."
I feel so very grateful and unworthy. And I think that this is progress, and the right place to be. When my heart is humbled, my spirit is chasing after Jesus, and my body, broken as it may be, continues to fight to move forward on the path the Holy Spirit is guiding me down, I am right in the middle of where God is working.
So, once again, I conclude my post with a big thank you. To all who have lifted me up in prayer, given me encouragement, continued to support me financially, helped me with fundraisers, cheered me on, and loved on me with the unrelenting, unconditional love of our Father, THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Looking Forward To The Future....
I have a tentative timeline for departure, a job description, and a budget in the works! Woohoo! This is getting real!
The LM Canada director, Mark Outerbridge, and I have been pursuing a missionary placement for me with LM Malawi. It looks like I will be going to work in the southern city of Zomba as the Malawi team administrator. This will involve bookkeeping, budgeting, reporting, government office stuff such as visas, and project/missionary support for the village-based team members i.e. purchasing materials. I love organizing things, running around the city doing errands, spending time driving in gorgeous Malawi, and visiting people! I am so looking forward to this job! It will also equip me perfectly for a lifetime of service in Malawi - knowing which government office to go to, who to speak with, and where the office is located are all crucial to making sure that missionaries can continue to operate effectively.
My first year back on the ground will be essentially shadowing the missionary who is currently doing this role, Michael Volz. I actually got to visit the Volz family in Zomba a few years ago on an Easter break trip. I will also be focusing on language learning. I am excited to get to know a whole new city and find my place in it.
We are looking at a timeline of me leaving for the field around the early fall, after my brother's wedding. Before that happens, I will spend a month in Germany being trained in the specifics of Liebenzell accounting and bookkeeping, attending the huge fall Missions conference that Liebenzell hosts, and squeezing in some visits with family.
My date of departure is contingent on my health being back to normal, and completing my fundraising. On the health side of things, I have been encouraged this month - I switched medications, and a whole list of symptoms have disappeared! So we are on the right track - now just to get the new medication to the correct levels. In regards to fundraising, that is a huge goal that I am confident my God will make possible to reach! At this point, my monthly support (salary, flight costs, ministry costs) is at about a third of what I will need. I will also most likely be fundraising for a vehicle (a big truck... I might require a stepstool to get into it!), as my tiny RAV4 will not survive trips to the village missionary sites during rainy season.
Thank you, thank you, thank you all for your support and prayers throughout this lengthy process of getting healthy and ready to go back! I have been so blessed by family and friends while in Malawi, and even more so while here recuperating. I so appreciate each of you being a part of my life, and am blown away by the kindness and generosity of the people who support me.
The Candidates Come North!
The Liebenzell missionary candidates are in their last few weeks of being in Canada, and we finally were able to arrange a weekend visit up north. The whole group drove up to my parents' place near Parry Sound and had a lovely few days together in nature.
It was neat to be able to arrange this, as my parents' goal is to start a retreat centre, called Kingfisher Crossing, at their place for people working in ministry - a place of rest and refreshment. So, this was in essence, their first run at hosting a group of ministry people.
We got to spend time helping out with setting up the summer-time furniture and toys, and also assisted with doing some wiring in the addition being built so that more people can visit. We also enjoyed hikes, canoeing, paddle-boating, playing Indiaca on the volleyball court (sort of a cross between volleyball and badminton), sunning ourselves in the warm spring weather, making s'mores over a campfire, and playing with the dogs. My mum led some special devotions and spiritual direction exercises, and she also spoiled us silly with tons of scrumptious food.
It really is a treasure of a place - 55 acres with a practically private lake. The group has an amateur bird-watcher who identified over twenty different kinds of bird, and others saw beavers, muskrats, otters, snapping turtles, painted turtles, evidence of deer, and of course, the ubiquitous Canada geese. On our way back to Toronto, we even saw a young moose just off the highway!
Our only regret as a group is that it took this long to arrange a trip - we all wish we could go again! So, if you are looking for a place to relax and immerse yourself in nature, let me recommend Kingfisher Crossing as the place to be!
Liebenzell Missionary Training
Liebenzell Mission Germany has an intensive missionary training program, which I have had the privilege to take part in this past year. Most of their accepted candidates come to them after having finished a degree, often through the Liebenzell university in southern Germany. Many missionary candidates come to Liebenzell Mission after having completed an apprenticeship in a practical trade (such as carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc.), and then study to become an ordained minister by the Liebenzell university. They then apply to become missionary candidates and, if accepted, are sent to Canada for nine months of additional training.
In Canada, they live together with missionary trainers in a house in Toronto. Candidates attend English school to improve their English, as that is the international language of Liebenzell missionary teams. They also are partnered with an immigrant church in Toronto and assist in their ministries. Once a week, there is a full-day training at the house, led by the missionary trainers. This usually includes: a devotion and worship time, a morning lecture, lunch together, and then an afternoon cross-cultural activity or guest speaker.
We have covered a lot of different topics in our weekly meetings - these are just the topics from the first half of the year! We covered understanding yourself - your personal and cultural history, understanding other cultures, ethnocentrism, cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural ministry, cross-cultural stress, cross-cultural leadership, multi-cultural teamwork, and spiritual warfare. We have also visited with other missionaries, ministries, immigrants, authentic international restaurants, and gone on a scavenger hunt in Toronto's Chinatown.
This fall, shortly after the German candidates arrived in Canada, we went on a retreat. We spent a few days in Red Bay (near Sauble) getting to know each other, and enjoying the fall colours and beautiful water before the snow came. It was a lovely time together.
After Christmas, new interns come to live at Liebenzell House, so the candidates move out into the city - some into apartments, and some into refugee homes to serve as resident assistants. The weekly meeting at the house continues. Candidates may participate in some additional training programs run by other organizations. The candidates also visit both the Liebenzell Canada and US branches, to build their knowledge of how each country branch operates, the differences that missionaries sent from different countries may have in terms of fundraising and other branch-specific things, and to build relationships with the branch staff.
The candidates return to Germany in May, just in time for the big spring missions festival that Liebenzell Germany holds. They are commissioned at this festival, and spend the remaining spring and summer months preparing to leave - fundraising, packing, and visiting with family and friends.
And then, at the end of the summer, the new missionaries head out into various parts of the world to serve with Liebenzell. This year's group has a couple and two single ladies heading to Malawi, two couples heading to Zambia, and a family of four heading to Chile.
I have a few more weeks to meet together with the group in Toronto, and am thankful for the time I have had with them to learn more about the German side of Liebenzell, and build friendships with my future neighbouring co-workers!
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.