Developing hope - transforming lives

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Street life:  Some of the 40,000-plus refugees in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp

Dzaleka Refugee Camp lies about 10Kms out of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe. The six-square-kilometre camp was originally designed as a prison to hold 5,000 people, but today there are over 40,000 refugees from 11 African countries housed at the camp. SIM Malawi newcomers Jason and Shannon Brink have been volunteering in the camp as the settle into life in Malawi

 

For Jason and Shannon Brink, and their four children - Silas (9), Toby (7), Fiona (5) and Naomi (3) – the first year in Malawi has been a big transition from their life in their home country of Canada. Not that Malawi is their first missionary placement, as they worked with SIM Burkina Faso on a short-term basis a few years ago. Shannon worked in Burkina as a nurse and Jason at a centre for children with disabilities, which also involved helping to develop computer systems to help make tracking clients easier.

The Brink family:  Shannon and Jason with Toby, Silas and Naomi  , and Fiona in the carrier on dad’s back!

They came to Malawi to work at Partners in Hope (PIH) Medical Centre, Jason in business administration and IT and Shannon as a nurse, but as they have dived into language and culture learning they have found themselves volunteering at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp outside of Lilongwe.

“Some friends from Canada had worked in the camp and knew Pastor Safari who set up the Mennonite Brethren Church (MBC) of Malawi there; MBC in Canada is our denomination, so there was a link there,” said Shannon.

“They invited us to go and meet him, which we did. And we have become involved in a small way as we have settled here in Malawi.”

Shannon was one of a group of SIM Malawi missionaries who trained in Trauma Healing in a course from the Trauma Healing Institute, and she has used this training with a group of women in the camp, as well as helping brainstorm ways to improve the healthcare in the camp. Jason is using his business-administration skills and IT expertise to help the Church to recruit staff and also to develop a website.

In addition to building a Church which has grown from four people in 2008 to around 11,000 in 34 congregations in and around the Dzaleka Camp, MBC Malawi has also built a school and is in the process of setting up a vocational-training centre.

Bringing hope: Pastor Safari, founder of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Malawi

“We want to bring people hope and also to transform lives,” said Pastor Safari, himself a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who arrived in Malawi in 2008.

“Our focus is to plant wholistic churches which will build disciples and transform lives by giving people hope. The school is a good example of this approach because there is no other facility like it for our children.  The vocational-training centre which we are looking to open will be similar. The vision for this is to teach people the skills they need in order for them to become self-sufficient.”

When Pastor Safari was asked what denomination his church belonged to, he realised that it was  something he had not considered before. As his father was a Mennonite Brethren Pastor in DR Congo, he decided to establish MBC Malawi.

Over the subsequent years he has been given the opportunity to leave the camp to live in either the USA or Australia and both times he has refused to leave as he feels, very strongly, that God has called him to work and minister to people in the camp.

“In our work at the camp, we have met people from the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and USAid (United States Agency for International Development) and have talked about the opportunities there are for health workers and health education in the camp,” said Shannon.

Entrpreneurs abound: A low-tech sign for a high-tech business. One of many such sign of entrepreneurship at Dzaleka

“Christian Health Education (CHE) has some good materials; there is a possibility of using some of these in the camp; that is something I am looking at,” she said.

While they are volunteering at Dzaleka Camp, Jason and Shannon are also preparing themselves for work at Partners in Hope.

“Shannon is going through the process of registration as a nurse with the Malawian Health Authorities and I will be helping in the operations side of the ministry with my non-profit-business and IT experience,” said Jason. “Looking to the future, we are praying for more clarity regarding how we can continue to support the work of MBCM at Dzaleka refugee camp once we are working more fully at PIH,” he said.

“Our children are settling well at the Africa Bible College Academy and are making friends which is a big help to us.

“We are going into PIH to get to know people and to start building relationships with those who will be our co-workers. This is all part of making it ‘feel’ like this is ‘our’ ministry. Even if we find ourselves involved to a greater degree at PIH, we both hope we can still be involved with Dzaleka.”

Hope is something which sums up the Brinks’ first year in Malawi. This hope is articulated well by Pastor Safari who said: “Our hope is to see people transformed and for them to have hope for themselves. And that is the hope that only comes from Jesus Christ.”

Happy at school: Children at the MBC Malawi’s school taking a French test.