Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Team Member: Steve Bixler describes his trip to Malawi, Africa

This post is written by Steve Bixler, a 2011 Malawi team member.  He spoke at our annual Ripple Effect Banquet and agreed to share his talk on our blog.  We appreciate Steve and all those that put their trust in us and believe in the mission of service to the "others". 

Thank you for your willing heart.  Enjoy.
Diane Bouchard
drops of grace - Malawi Team Lead

Steve with Home Based Care workers in Mgona

Teaching Desires how to level bricks in Kalimbira

Lake Malawi FUN!

Muli Bwanji -

3 years ago, I had the opportunity to go to South Africa and Swaziland for 3 weeks to work with Chris McLain and Richard Bosart. That was an incredible experience, so when I heard drops of grace was putting together a team to go to Malawi, I jumped at the opportunity.

When I tell people that I went to Malawi this summer, I usually get 3 questions:

1. Where the heck is Malawi?
2. Did you see any Lions?
3. What did you do in Malawi?

--Malawi is located in south/east Africa, on the banks of Lake Malawi (the 3rd largest lake in Africa, 360 miles long and 25 miles wide). Malawi is surrounded by Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, and it is known as “the warm heart of Africa” for a reason - the people are wonderful - peaceful and happy.

--Then I explain that I didn’t see any lions.

--Then I get to talk with them about why I went to Malawi & what we did.

There is a 2 hour version of why I went & what I did, and there is a 10 minute version. Tonight I’ll give you the 10 minute version.

In late July, our team of 13 traveled 12,000 miles over 40 hours to get to Malawi. We stopped in Johannesburg to pick up Chris McLain, and then headed over to Malawi to work with Somebody Cares - Malawi.

As Gregg Bouchard mentioned, Somebody Cares was founded by Chief Theresa Malila about 10 years ago. Their mission is to empower local churches to reach out to the poor and vulnerable, orphans and widows, and to those affected and infected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some of you may have met Chief Theresa when she visited Austin early this year – it was a pleasure to work with her and her team, and to support Somebody Cares.

Chief Theresa has a staff of about 20. They do amazing work supporting the rural communities in central Malawi, and they do it all from their home base…which happens to be Chief Theresa’s house.

That staff of about 20 has a big impact on the communities they serve. To add to what Gregg shared with you earlier, and to give you a feel for the scope of what they do, they:

• work with 148 teachers & caregivers
• oversee 24 Feeding Centers

• partner with local leaders in the communities – each having 5 Traditional Authorities and approximately 131 Chiefs

• They coordinate over 500 volunteers who work with over 600 Home Based Care Patients

• Support over 6000 orphans and 2000 widows

• And they work with over 200 pastors, 45 churches, 70 youth leaders and ~1500 youth

Somebody Cares has a big job, and they do big work, and they are Proof that God is Big Enough!

Our group of 13 people was organized into 4 sub-teams: Education, Sewing, Medical, and Construction. Most days, each team worked in different communities, but….

• On the first day, we all visited Mgona, one of the largest communities (think of a slum – dirt paths, no electricity or water, mud huts/small brick houses).

• In small groups, we went into the homes of people who were very sick or nearing death to provide Home-Based Care. We went to give comfort to people who really needed someone to just sit with them and pray.

• My team visited several homes, including the home of Magdelena, a young mother of two who has HIV/AIDS and is not doing well. We talked with her and prayed with her and her daughters, and helped her with some small chores like fetching water and sweeping the dirt floor. They got a kick out of watching us try to sweep with their brooms! It was a powerful experience for all of the teams, and a good way to start the trip. After that,

• Our Education team spent days working with teachers and kids. They worked in classrooms, helping with activities and projects with the kids. They provided teacher training in 3 communities, and they shared information on how to manage a class of over 200 kids, compared to the 20 or so in our classrooms at home… There were lots of games, smiles & laughter with this team!

• Our Sewing team (in Malawi they are called Tailors) taught widows in several communities how to make things that they can sell; income generating activities. They taught them how to hand sew and to use the sewing machines, and gave them skills that will help them earn money and begin to break their cycle of poverty. They also donated 5 sewing machines to the communities, and formed some great friendships.

• Our Medical Team was busy! These ladies held health clinics in numerous communities – they even held an impromptu health clinic at the doors of our bus one evening as we were working late in Kalimbira. They saw over 1300 people in 8 days. They provided healing, pain relief, caring, education and hope to people with all kinds of sicknesses – ranging from minor aches, pains, and illnesses to far more serious conditions. They worked tirelessly, and they were awesome. What an inspiration!

• Our Construction team. Well, let’s see…we provided some manual labor for Chief Theresa. We built things, improved things, and repaired things around the office and her home

o We laid carpet in a small room, and we used lots of glue….

o We built beds to house future teams. We built those beds out of the most crooked, rough lumber you’ve ever seen, we did it mostly without power tools, and without plans….and they turned out great!

• More importantly, though, we worked side by side with the youth who were interested in learning a skill. The youth are critical group in Malawi: ½ the population is under 15 years old!

o In a community called Kalimbira - we sifted the clay soil, added concrete mix and water, and using a manual Brick press, we made bricks with the youth

o We used those bricks and taught them how to build a brick wall to complete their community center

o We worked with the youth to repair a concrete floor, replace window glasss, hang doors, install door hardware, and many, many other things…

o In a community called Chikudzuliri (chik-a-chik-a-boom-boom ), they have a vision of having a rec center where tournaments can be held among all the communities. We helped them get the rec center started by laying out a Net Ball court (it’s like basketball, only without the backboard or net, played by girls)

o We were told that this was the 1st time anyone had worked side by side with the youth and taught them what to do, and they were all excited!

o The youth were eager to learn, they took pride in their work, and they worked hard. Everyone in the community pitched in, from the tiniest kids to the elders

o Thanks to the donations of some of you in this room, we were able to provide a set of tools to some the youth who worked hard and had an interest in carpentry or masonry.

While we were in Malawi, the country was dealing with a massive fuel crisis. As you can imagine, moving around a team of 13 plus the Somebody Cares staff and volunteers requires multiple vehicles and a lot of fuel. Our drivers had the tough job of finding fuel, and waiting in long lines for fuel - sometimes overnight, so we could work during the day.

Some days we weren’t sure about our plans because we weren’t sure if there would be gas to drive us 30km - 40km into the various communities where we were working.

Some days we had to deal with power and water outages. Some days we had to deal with schedule changes and uncertainty about where we would work or what we would do next.

Throughout it all, the team stayed flexible, and patient. We learned how to wait, wait, wait, and then sprint to get things done.

Our two weeks in Malawi flew by.

I was truly impressed with my teammates. Our team was made up of people of all different ages, who all had different backgrounds and experiences, and all brought unique talents & passions to the team.

Even with all the differences, one thing was consistent – all the team members truly had a servant’s heart, and we were blessed by the people we met and the experiences we had on the trip.

So in closing…let me leave you with this: As you talk to people who went on this trip, ask us about:

The People We Met: people like Memories, Blessings, Desires, Hudson, Magdelena, and others

The Places We Worked: Kalimbira, Chicuzdulire, Mgona, and others

The Singing, Dancing, and Praying: entire communities sang & danced to welcome us, to say goodbye to us, and to celebrate with us. We had fun attempting to sing & dance along with them, and rumor has it that there are now youth in some communities who know how to 2 step… ;^)

Ask us about the Worship Service that we attended in a mud/stick building in a community called Nadzunuwa. We were blown away!

So, on behalf of the entire team, we appreciate your support and your prayers, and I would ask that you continue to support drops of grace so they can carry on their work with Somebody Cares in Malawi. This trip was the beginning of something much bigger…and there will be more trips in the future.

I would encourage you to consider coming along when those trips happen! THANKS!!

/Steve Bixler
2011 Malawi Team member

Our Domestic Program - Karah Ricketts talk at 2011 Ripple Effect

edited for readability: Karah Ricketts - VP Domestic Missions talk at the 2011 Ripple Effect Banquet on September 24, 2011

Hi, thank you for being such a great group tonight.

I am Karah Ricketts. Tonight, I am talking about our Domestic program.

Back in 2008 when we first started hearing God’s call to “Go..” we knew we were going to work internationally, but our hearts have always been right here at home too. We grew up doing local mission work and knew that we would need to keep that part of drops of grace alive and vibrant.

We began our Domestic program working on hurricane torn areas on the coast of Texas: working in LaMarque and Beaumont.

While on the coast, back in Williamson County, Texas, tropical storm Hermine was pouring down...
In September 2010, Tropical Storm Hermine sat upon Williamson County and dumped more rain than what it would take to get us out of the drought now. Over 600 homes were affected in one way or another. Unfortunately, for many home owners, FEMA did not declare this area a Federal Disaster.

drops of grace partnered with VOAD, Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster-Williamson County to begin the vetting process of assisting the local homeowners here. This was a great opportunity for drops of grace. We were able to work alongside some of the finest nonprofits in Williamson County. Weekly meetings took place for months as we worked on and narrowed down the list of homeowners and marked them off as they finished each house. Many homes were bulldozed and only 8 homes came to the table for assistance from the county. Many homes were partners with local churches and only a few fell into the cracks where drops of grace would be able to assist. We worked with ADRN, Austin Disaster Relief Network, The Serving Center, United Way, the First United Methodist church of Round Rock as well as the county OEM (office of emergency management).

Here we are, a full year out, we are almost complete with the wrapping up of these homes. Over $60,000 was raised to put toward the rebuild of the 8 homes but the man power was almost 100% donated. I will estimate that we, as a community, have logged in a huge number of hours. There are several of us in this room tonight from the various agencies who alone have logged in more than 100 days of over 8 hours each day in the past year and I know I have seen many of you working on these homes. We were privileged to host a young ladies birthday party, her 18th birthday at that, at one house in which she and her friends painted the entire home in one day! They celebrated with the owner; had cake and then continued painting. This is part of what drops of grace is all about. This young lady was such an inspiration that others have come forward wanting to do the same for their graduation party & birthday party - this is a true ripple effect!  She is off at college, still doing mission work, helping others and placing drops of joy everywhere she goes. There is no doubt in my mind that her ripple will be in constant motion for the remainder of her life and will cause others around her to produce their own ripples in ways we might never know.

In Joplin, Missouri -

In April and May of this year, the United States took a hit of tornados all over. April alone produced 1032 and May added another 200 and 4 reached F5 categories.

drops of grace immediately called in to UMCOR to get on the list of rebuild groups willing to come and help. I knew we would have groups wanting to get together and go and help out and that is just what happened. We took many calls and inquiries about what and when drops of grace would go and help. Remember, the mission of drops of grace is to:

"hear and act on God’s call to partner with communities around the world to provide safe water, sanitation, health, education and shelter."

What does that mean with domestic response? What it means is that we are compassionate caring people who want to jump right in and help, but first, before we jump, we have to know what we are good at. We are good at relief & recovery.  As you heard Gregg Bouchard say, we are not first responders. We are relief & rebuilding and while we want to go and do, we “first hear & act on God’s call” we must be still and know that He is God, He will direct us where we need to be and when. In June, we received word that Joplin was ready for teams to begin coming in to rebuild. They came online sooner than Tuscaloosa, Alabama which was hit a month prior to Joplin. Off we went, on a mission…a mission to find a group to partner with.  Remember our mission statement…to partner with communities.  We went and we interviewed several agencies and we decided to invest our time and resources with a group called Relief Spark.  They are a group who are based in New Orleans, formed after Hurricane Katrina, but the founder is from Joplin. This group hit the ground running in Joplin the first week after the tornado hit. Ben Tarpley is a volunteer who runs this group on the ground. He began working with over 500 volunteers a day, not only doing case management, but finding groups to rebuild and fundraise.

We took a group of 10 individuals, 3 of whom have never participated in mission work prior to this, to Joplin in September for the Labor Day weekend. We were able to work on and provide a loving touch to 4 families. We put a new roof on the Kruegers’ house in less than 13 hours. We worked with Jennifer Morris, who is a young military girl who during the storm was helping people to safety in the local Walmart – where 8 died – she then spent the next long hours helping to pull people from the debris, all the while not realizing her own home and neighborhood was destroyed. We helped her sheetrock her home, yes – she worked right alongside us - something we learned a lot about right here in Round Rock.  We pulled down a 60 foot fence with only 4 sets of hands and worked with the Coss’s, a determined family who refused to let the tornado take away their home. 

We are set to return on Dec 17-232011 that is right! the week before Christmas. Are you looking for an alternative gift to give or get? What better way to spend your vacation at Christmas time then helping someone else celebrate with a gift they will never forget.  [please contact us at: info@dropsofgrace.org for more information]

We are happy to arrange trips for you and your friends, your church or even just your family. The rebuild phase to bring Joplin back is expected to take many years. We have developed great relationships with the people of Joplin. They are true survivors with a deep sense of community – something drops of grace connects with. We plan to continue doing work there for several years.

BASTROP, Texas -

And finally, Bastrop, the wildfires of just a few weeks ago. While we were in Joplin, fires were burning here.  Bastrop will take several years to rebuild from these fires, as you heard earlier – it will take nearly 5 years! to get back to a semblance of normalcy, if they ever can. We are in current talks with ADRN to see where drops of grace will help with the rebuilds. Right now they are still in the response phase with movement to relief, the fires are contained. There are many places taking donations of property, but what they are asking for is money and gift cards to places like Home Deport or Lowes. I would like to encourage you to seek a place for you and your family to help in our area. There are places now that are sorting the items that were donated, trashing the items which should not have been donated and setting up a center for people to come and shop for what they have lost. It is unfathomable to many ofus what it would be like to loose everything! 

If you have items you want to donate please consider bringing them to the drops of grace garage sale, where we will sell the items and use the money to help with the domestic program right here. [If you are interested in future mission work here, please email us at: info@dropsofgrace.org]

drops of grace is here to help our neighbors. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought that we would be working so hard in our own backyards, but I am so grateful to have the support of our community, our church, our friends and our family, I want you know we will continue to represent you and your money with honor and hard work. 100% of your donations go towards our mission programs as we are a 100% volunteer organization. 

God Bless.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is it Possible?

The wonder & joy of a floating bubble

Malawi: A small country in Southern Africa about the size of Pennsylvania.
Landlocked, Malawi ranks among the world's most densely populated and least developed countries.
Population: 15.6 million (UN 2010)
Income: more than ½ live on $0.32/day
Children: 51% are under the age of 15.
Life expectancy: 44 male/51 female
                    Data source: UNICEF & WHO

Is It Possible?
If you want to walk fast, go alone
If you want to walk far, go together
Zulu Proverb

The one thing we will vouch for is that ideas can be a reality. drops of grace was an idea that turned into something real. Our partners - who we are helping on the other side of the world, Somebody Cares-Malawi, has an idea that started with one person’s thinking for an Administration/Education facility. Can this idea be a reality? It is possible that everything can be made possible!

We met Chief Theresa Malila, Executive Director & Founder of Somebody Cares-Malawi a couple years ago on a visit to Malawi. The African Mother Theresa, as the people call her, started her ministry to comfort, feed, care, and pray for the sick, dying, elderly, widowed, and orphaned in communities in & around Lilongwe, Malawi. Of its 15.6 million people, 85% live in rural areas (as subsistence farmers) where the population density is one of the highest in Africa.

Today, Somebody Cares ministers & supports 24 communities with over 6,000 orphans & nearly 1500 widows. As well as provide care to over 600 patients in their Home Based Care program. It is astounding the amount of care that Chief Theresa & her small staff give on a daily basis.

The problem: they work directly out of Theresa’s home residence. Can you imagine people coming and going 24/7 at your home? Can you imagine never having a moment alone in your home; hosting not just one stranger but groups of strangers who come daily to your home and walk in and out all day? Can you imagine? Theresa manages Somebody Cares directly from her small home and she does this with a glad heart knowing that the end result is helping those she cares so passionately about – orphans & widows.

We saw this and we couldn’t believe it! So we decided that we would like to help Theresa and the Somebody Cares staff with their idea, their dream of a multi-use facility where they can continue to transform entire communities in Malawi. Where widows can come and learn income generating programs so they can feed their families; where youth can come to be trained in a trade to earn an income; where teachers can participate in training so the orphans can have a quality education and where Theresa & her staff can work in conditions conducive to growth & development and continue their efforts of transforming lives & giving back hope to people who thought there was none left to give.

This multi-use facility will cost approximately $75,000 to fully complete. We are 30% there, but we have a ways to go. Together, with your generous donations, we can help build this facility on land that is already owned by Somebody Cares. Is it possible? Absolutely! Let’s do it together!

Please DONATE. Thank YOU!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just Around the Corner

     We can plan all we want in this life, but the reality is that we simply don't know what is just around the corner. I've seen this truth played out in so many ways. Sometimes the thing just around the corner is wonderful and joyous. Other times it is heartbreaking and devastating. Other times it is neither good nor bad, just unexpected. But ALWAYS, it is part of a grander plan than we can't see or fathom, and ALWAYS our Heavenly Father sends his Spirit and His Son to accompany us through it.

     Today, July 24, 2011 drops of grace landed back in Malawi with a group of 13 people who are seeking the wonders of - just around the corner.  It took us 4 planes and 2 days (okay we stopped off in London for a quick 8 hour visit - that was neat) along with us came 28 suitcases filled with amazing items that our friends & family provided.  Do you know that we even have a wedding dress? It is beautiful.  A sweet young lady who is getting married to a wonderful Pastor didn't have a thing to wear.  A sweet young lady married to a wonderful Youth Pastor in the US had the perfect dress.  They are a match made in heaven. 

     In addition, we were given much needed prenatal vitamins and infant tylenol (an much more) and baby blankets, we developed 2 full weeks of early childhood education lessons, crafts, songs, and more.  We will be teaching the youth who are interested in carpentry as a trade how to build so we brought tools for them to have their own kits to start out with.  And we are going to be teaching the widows to hand sew, and create things for the early childhood centers so the children can learn to write their names while learning their ABC's.  

     You can see we will be busy.  Through your generous donations to us, drops raised some funds to support an Administration building where Theresa and her staff can provide futher training and education to the youth.  Did you know that over 60% of the Malawian people are 18 years old and younger!  Alarming right.  Who will be teaching these youth their values and skills to get a job to create a living for their families?  This Administration building can provide that.  We are excited to get this facility started.

     I am tired.  I think I will join the team and crawl under my mosquito net for some much needed sleep.  And then begin a journey with you tomorrow that together will bring us to see what is - just around the corner.

Be Blessed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Keep an Eye on the Prize

It's been a while since I posted to the blog and that's all my fault. No excuses. Life goes on in the good ole U S of A and we tend to take for granted the blessing of being an American and forget or ignore what goes on outside of our bubble.

The unrest in the Northern Africa and the Middle East, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan remind us that it is a big world and there is plenty of need all around.

We all have our missions and drops of grace is no exception. Lately, drops of grace has been working on several homes in Round Rock severely damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Hermine.

We are sending a team to Malawi in July to kick off the work in partnership with Somebody Cares Malawi, and of course, the water system project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. drops of grace and our friends are making an impact in Texas, in the Congo, and in Malawi.

Although I have been delinquent on reporting it, great progress is being made on the dam at the Diengenge Mission Station. This week I talked to Paul who is in the states spreading the word about their ministry. In fact, on Sunday, March 27th, he and Marty will be at the First United Methodist Church in Marshall, Texas. I and a few other drops plan on making that trip to see them and here their message.

Paul reports that the construction is going well. In Paul's absence, Pastor Kitambala is overseeing the construction conducted entirely by local Congolese labor and supported by the generosity of the friends of drops of grace. The people of Lodja and the Diengenge Mission Station are invested with their labor and resources and that means they will sustain the water system for generations.

The ukulunga core is almost complete, they are diverting the stream around the every rising dam while it's under construction and will begin working on reinforcing the backside of the dam very soon.

What seems to be a million miles away and on the other side of the planet, women and children are still spending much of their day carrying water up that steep hill that Kip and I struggled with just carrying a camera. Let's not forget what they deal with every day and how your prayers and generosity will and already is improving their lives.

Paul and Marty will be back in Lodja by the middle of April and we can look forward to many more pictures.

Let's not forget what is out of our sight.

God Bless and please keep our friends in the Congo, Malawi, and those suffering from natural disasters around the world in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down...

 Gregg, Phil and Karah at Mrs. Williams House

Imagine leaving the water running in the bathroom tub while you run to the kitchen to make a nice cup of hot tea. Then the phone rings and it’s your friend wanting to chat…so you do. You remember the water was left running in the tub, you rush back to find the water overflowing…water everywhere. What do you do to clean up the water? Grab a few towels, maybe a sponge, and quickly unplug the tub to let the water drain away, right?
Imagine now it’s raining and raining and raining, a tropical storm stalled above your community, above your home, and the rain doesn’t stop. Now imagine your home alongside a creek and the water keeps rising and rising. You can’t pull the plug and let water drain. The water rises quickly. What do you grab before you leave your home? Do you even have time to grab anything? You are helpless.

Now, imagine not having any or not enough insurance to clean up the mess; tear out the old and install the new walls, cabinets, floors and furniture. This is the predicament many folks are facing in Williamson County, Texas this year. The flood waters rose and receded but Tropical Storm Hermine left behind devastation and shattered lives.

Ms. W. of Round Rock, Texas backs up to Brushy Creek. She has lived in this home for over 20 years and had never had any flooding. But in the early morning hours of September 8, 2010 she had over 3.5 feet of water enter her home.

The mud was left on her floors, inside the cabinets, on her bed and in her dresser. Her walls were soaked. Everything had to come out. EVERYTHING! She has been living with her loving and supportive family but has not been able to sleep in her own home for over three months.

Volunteers from many agencies have banded together to begin the rebuild one home at a time. Through Wilco’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), drops of grace has partnered with Austin Disaster Relief Network (ADRN) and the First United Methodist Church-Round Rock (FUMC-RR) to help rebuild Ms. Ws’ home. The sheetrock is now up, putting walls back which have been gone since the first week in September. Kitchen cabinets and flooring will be next and soon Ms. W. will be coming back to her own home.

On Dec 18, 2010, students from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, arrived a mere 18 hours after their last final from college, not for a vacation break, but to work with ADRN and drops of grace in the rebuild of Ms. Ws’ home. These incredible young adults are taking time from their Christmas break to come to Round Rock to volunteer. To give as Christ asked us to give, to give from their heart.

The students, led by Aaron Preston, Titan Christian Fellowship, organized this mission outreach just a few short weeks ago and put the word out that he was going to come to Round Rock. Abby, Anna, Mark, Mike, Jordan, Kyle and Matt all responded with a resounding YES...

Tired from their long trip; they hit the ground running and began hanging drywall as soon as they arrived. They did this with a smile on their face, joy in their heart, all side by side with and for people that were total strangers.

They attended church at FUMC-RR on Sunday and were recognized by Reverend Lee Trigg. He commended them all for hearing the call by Christ, to go and do, to say YES, to not only do good work, but to do Holy work.

We are each called by God to go and do. Saying yes is what God wants us to do.

drops of grace is proud to be able to assist in rebuilds after hurricanes in the gulf and to now be working right here in literally our own backyard. If you are interested in participating in the relief effort, with your hands, prayers, or financial support, please send an email to info@dropsofgrace.org to find out how you, your family or your organization can work with us to help rebuild Round Rock.

God Bless,