The Call – Lifeline Malawi
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of FOCUS.
Time for morning prayers in the Lifeline Malawi Ngodzi Health Centre in the southern part of Central Africa. It is Thursday, the 18th of May, 2017. I share the strange concept of ‘freedom of conscience’ to our hospital staff of 45 or so people. Not sure if too many people here really understand the issue we face back home. But one thing is absolutely clear – our medical brothers and sisters in Canada really need our prayers. Today. Now. Eyes closed, hands raised. What an irony – that we Christians in Malawi should be praying with such passion and intensity for our Christian brethren in Canada – for them to stand firm in their faith. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? We then all listen to the night report, shake hands, have a quick chat and drift off to our work stations. Another work day starting in tropical Africa.
The call of God brought us to Malawi, Africa 19 years ago. My wife, Heather, and I are blessed to do what we love in a country that seems to have become ours by adoption. When we arrived in Malawi in 1998, with six suitcases and our three-year-old daughter, Chloe, we really had no more than the call of God in our hearts. Nothing else. We did not have an immediate plan of action or a detailed 5 year project from the start. But we knew without a shadow of a doubt that this is where God wanted us to be. We had arrived in an impoverished country with over 10 million people. It was a country with one of the highest rates of people living with HIV/AIDS, with a life expectancy of 43, with an under-five infant mortality rate of 152/1000. It was a country with people dying from a wide array of tropical diseases. And yet, this country could boast of less than 100 doctors. The need for medical care was enormous – more than myself or Heather knew what to do with. But thankfully, the call of God was bigger than us, and it was not left up to us to procure in ourselves.
The call of God is unavoidable, and once you respond, you are on the biggest adventure of your life. The question is, will you respond? I heard the call of God on my life when I was but a boy. I was called, and answered “Yes” at the age of fifteen. But for many years I was too selfish and self-absorbed to complete the task. Fortunately, God very graciously intervened. First, He gave me a godly wife, Heather, who was fully up for a bit of adventure, whom I love immensely, and was well prepared to take on the administrative work, something at which I am inept. Second, God said “At the age of 60, Chris Brooks, it’s not too late. Are you ready now to really walk with me? I promise that you won’t regret it.”
The prompting that God had placed on my life when I was 15 was spoken again to me, not in an audible voice, but as Heather and I read one morning in our devotion – verse 6 of Deuteronomy Chapter 1: “The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country.” While this might seem like a strange prompting, it spoke to our hearts and confirmed the other sign posts that God had been placing in our lives along the way. We knew what God was saying, and if there is one thing I have learnt, it is that when you hear the voice of God, you must obey.
For us,’ breaking camp’ meant leaving much of our lives behind, selling my 1964 Mustang convertible, a nice new set of golf clubs, just about everything else of value apart from our daughter, and then off we went to do a four month crash course in Tropical Medicine in Liverpool. Well, there was a bit more than this perhaps, but not much really.
Jump ahead 19 years, and here we are, still in Malawi doing the work of God, doing things we never dreamed of. Opportunities came our way over the years to grow and develop a medical work on the sunny shores of Lake Malawi. From our first outreach clinics held under the shade of a baobab tree, the work of Lifeline Malawi has grown to become a vibrant and valued medical facility where we treat over 12,000 people each month, safely deliver approximately 65 babies, give life through ARTs and support to 2,300 people living with HIV in our community, provide AIDS counselling and testing for people of all ages, care for the dying with our palliative care program and immunize hundreds of children. Of course, there is the outpatient clinic and pharmacy, where we treat people suffering the many tropical diseases typical to Malawi – such as malaria, tuberculosis, respiratory illnesses, to name a few. And there is much more to our story as we share the gospel message of Jesus Christ with the community. We worship in the local churches, we encourage our Christian brothers and sisters. Amidst the many bumps and potholes in the road along the way, God has been the sustaining factor. He has provided for all of our needs, and has allowed our Health Centre to flourish into what it is today.
Still, Malawi continues to be a country of great poverty, having a GDP Per Capita (PPP) of $226.50 USD. There are enormous challenges in all areas of society – health care, education, economic development, transportation, and government infrastructure, to name a few. What are we to do to help transform this country? It seems hopeless from a human perspective.
Recently, we made an afternoon visit to a support group for people living with AIDS at a local village. The afternoon included singing, dancing, dramas, and speeches. I was touched by the heartfelt expressions of thanks to Lifeline Malawi. It is in moments like these that I am reminded why we are in Malawi. It makes facing all the difficulties worthwhile. The village youth choir sang a song of lament about the terrible disease called HIV which has come to Malawi, how it had made them sick and how they had prayed to God to heal them. They were asking where God is in all of this sorrow. They were still sick, they were still dying. It is very sad. But, in that moment I thought how God was there with them, how He had answered their prayers, and how we had come to this community to help them, to care for them, to bring them the much needed ART’s that give them life. I suddenly appreciated once again the call on our lives. Graciously, God sometimes allows us to have a glimpse of how we have been His heart of His love to those around us. I am reminded that this is God’s work.
When we left for Malawi in 1998, we had no idea where this call would take us. We often felt a bit like Abraham when God called him from Horeb. God really didn’t tell him much – just that Abraham was to go to a land that God would show him. So, it has been with us as we followed God. One familiar scripture passage, I suppose, absolutely sustained us from the start: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not rely on your own understanding, in all your ways put Him first and he will direct your path.” (Prov 3:5-6)
Looking to the future, people ask us about our plans for succession. This is something that we certainly talk about. Who will take over the work that we began? When will this transition happen? We are prayerful always considering this, believing that God called us to the work that we are doing in Malawi. Surely He will have a plan, a call for someone to take over our work. Perhaps today someone will read this article and feel prompted to explore the possibilities of a life in Malawi, to perhaps answer His call.
Come visit our work in Malawi. I spend half the year in Malawi, on each visit spending 6 weeks, and the rest of the time in Canada. Heather joins me along the way. I often come back to Canada feeling that my body is here but my heart in Malawi. Of course it is. When I return to Malawi, and make the 1 ½ hour drive on the potholed road to the Lifeline Malawi Health Centre, I feel that all is right with the world, this is where we belong. I praise God for this amazing blessing.