By Peggy Mahlstedt [October 23, 2012]
In July of 2012, I took my first mission trip. Fifteen of us from Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, California embarked on an intense ten-day trip to Blantyre, Malawi – specifically, to compassionately serve the 150 children at Malawi Children’s Mission. Little did I know what I was in for. One of the top reasons for my participation in this trip was my own hunger for a new experience in life – providing medical care for a population in desperate need, so unlike my daily care for the privileged who live on the Peninsula.
We arrived at the mission and were joyfully greeted by not only the teachers but a crowd of beautiful preschoolers welcoming us as we stepped out of the van. Shaking hands with these wide-eyed innocent children brought me to tears within minutes of my arrival. I was overcome by their obvious desire to touch and be touched. Their eyes reached me, telling such stories.
Our team spent some time setting up the “medical room” at the mission, adding supplies we brought with us to those already there. Shortly thereafter, the head teacher, Phoebe, brought a nine year old little girl named Tiya to me to have a look at an infected deep wound at her heel. Though I’ve never seen a wound quite like this in my 32 years of practice in the U.S., I knew it warranted much more care than I could provide in this setting. Candace, an RN on my medical team, helped me clean and dress Tiya’s heel, each of us aware that this was just a temporary fix for a serious problem. Tiya’s cries were heard by all as we did our best for her, concluding with a small sweet treat as I held her, distracting her with a book.
When we checked her again the next morning, we knew it was critical to get her to the local hospital where she was admitted for surgery to be performed the next morning. Upon her discharge from the hospital after less than 24 hours, she returned to her home, bandaged up, taking antibiotics and in good spirits. As we continued to soak, clean and re-dress her wound each day, her cries became a part of the mission experience for me, heart-wrenching but soon-to-be-followed by her little hand slipping into mine as she sought me out later each day, wanting to be with me.
The days passed with caring for lots of wounds, especially on the legs and feet of these precious children who have no shoes and injure themselves during outdoor play. Their wounds become infected and without accessible medical care, can easily become a major problem like Tiya’s.
Our team had fun going to the local ShopRite, purchasing a pair of shoes (either flip-flops or Crocs) for each child at the mission. Our hope is to protect their feet but we realize that, without access to medical care and without the modern convenience of warm running water to keep wounds clean, this is just a temporary band-aid. In addition, many of the children are HIV-positive and don’t receive antiviral medicines. This means that it is only a matter of time before many of them will progress to AIDS, suffer and ultimately, die.
For me, the orphaned children of Blantyre, Malawi are no longer them. They each have a face and a beautiful smile and one in particular has captured my heart. She has a name and I love her and want to help her. This ultimately, is what “mission” is about – discovering others with whom we become one.Sharing their burden, participating in their emancipation from needless suffering. Our hearts are forever changed by our experience. We each, in our own unique way, must contribute to the “weaving of the net” to support those who have been drowning. We must not lose the passion that fires up within us as we interact with these beautiful children of God. The net still has holes through which children slip and are lost unnecessarily. Only together, can we create a sturdy, life-saving net for all.