Building Roofs and Relationships in Malawi

09/04/14

I have been in Malawi for four days, and it is now time for our team to begin our assigned project: replacing roofs for families in the village of Mgwayi. I am straggling behind our team when I arrive at a roofless home a little larger than my living room.

 
My team members are already busy planning and assigning tasks. I exchange smiles with a woman, who I assume is the lady of the house. She is putting water on to boil, while her preschooler is sticking close to her and eyeing me cautiously.   
 
I am naturally drawn to relationships, and because I have a degree in Child and Family Development, my interest is automatically piqued to learn more about the people we are serving. Who are the members of this family? What are their various roles? How do they feel about all of these strangers invading their home, their safe place? Can I make them feel more comfortable? 
 
I felt awkward invading this family’s home and stumbling through their language
I felt awkward invading this family’s home and stumbling through their language to get to know them. But in the end, I was so glad I made the effort.
 
On one hand, I want to get to know this family, to love them well, to love them like Jesus does. On the other hand, how are we to communicate? Do they want to get to know me? What if I say the wrong thing? What if it is awkward? But, if I am here to really love people, I realize I have to push past my awkward feelings and uncomfortable notions. One step at a time.
 
I start small by introducing myself to the woman, her preschooler, and her school-age daughter who has since walked up. After I attempt the woman’s name several times, with her laughing at each attempt, I finally have a sliver of success. Her name is Felesta, and the two girls at her side are Esime and Rosie, the cautious preschooler. This seemingly small thing of knowing a name holds power, and gives dignity. God created us all in His image and each person deserves to be recognized as such (Genesis 1:27). 
 
Felesta, Esime, and Rosie before we started roofing                                                     Felesta, Esime, and Rosie before we started roofing.
 
Throughout the morning, Felesta and I would smile as we passed one another, each doing our different tasks. I would attempt to learn what she was doing, and we would laugh through our broken communication and awkward interactions. Rosie, the preschooler, continued watching me trying to figure out if I was “safe.” On one occasion I engaged Rosie in a silly game of peek-a-boo/tag, earning a couple of smiles and giggles until she remembered I was a new person and became shy again. 
 
As I gathered my bag and began walking back to COTN for lunch, I heard Rosie crying while standing next to her mother. One of the other children waved her over and she immediately grabbed one of my fingers and accompanied me all the way to COTN. A big step of progress!
 
It took a while, but Rosie eventually warmed up to me
                                                It took a while, but Rosie eventually warmed up to me.
 
When our team returned to Felesta’s home after lunch, the relationship flood gates were opened. Felesta introduced me to her sisters who live in the village, invited me to sit on a mat with her family, shared her roasted corn kernels, looked at photos of my family, and laughed at my broken Chichewa. Rosie, who decided we could be friends, was eager to play, laugh, hold hands, and even help carry supplies to and from the community center. She was my shadow.
 
Our team spent a relatively small amount of time with this family—their roof was completed in a day and a half. During that short time, the Lord allowed me to show love to Felesta and her family, whether through broken communication, silly games, or just sitting in silence together. As the week came to a close and our team said our goodbyes, Felesta was sure to seek me out and speak gratitude and God’s love over me. What a blessing! 
 
Even if I hadn’t spent time getting to know them, the family would still be grateful for their new roof. But we would have missed out on the God-honoring process of developing a relationship.
 
It would have been so easy to busy myself with very important roofing tasks, and avoid the awkward moments of learning how to say small words or sitting in silence with a new friend. Even if I hadn’t spent time getting to know them, Felesta and her girls would still be grateful for the new tin roof on their home. However, we would have missed out on the richness of relationship, the blessing of loving someone you just met, and giving dignity by recognizing their uniqueness. It is a beautiful (and, at times, awkward), God-honoring process. 
 
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