Progress in Malawi

    “Progress in Malawi,” New Era, Nov. 2004, 40

    Progress in Malawi

    I was leaving for Malawi, Africa, in less than six hours, and my bags still weren’t packed. I had purchased the biggest suitcases available at the local thrift store and crammed my belongings into the smallest space possible. I had saved the bulk of my travel allowance to buy school and medical supplies that Malawians desperately needed.

    Staring at piles of books, pencils, medicines, and bandages, I agonized over what items would improve the quality of life most for the people I was going to serve as an English teacher. What would make the greatest contribution toward individual and national progress? I packed and deliberated through the night, finishing just moments before my ride to the airport arrived.

    Forty-three hours and thousands of miles later, I arrived in Malawi—the “Warm Heart of Africa”—a country known for its generosity in accepting refugees from neighboring countries plagued by war, famine, and floods. Although I was not a refugee, I experienced the same warmth and acceptance from nearly everyone I met. This was especially true within the Church.

    After a long day of bus rides, I was greeted by two brothers who had borrowed bicycles to transport me the remaining miles to the Sitima Branch. We bumped along a red dirt path past baobab trees and mud huts. Upon our arrival, the branch members literally greeted me with open arms. On the Sabbath day, the branch held sacrament meeting under a canopy of thatch with the congregation seated on woven grass mats. The meeting place was humble, but the Spirit was rich.

    I was enjoying a similar spirit in the Blantyre Branch when Sister Frampton, a senior missionary, approached me with a big smile and a Personal Progress book.

    “We just received these!” she said. “It looks like a wonderful program, but it wasn’t around when I was young. It would mean so much to the girls if you could share your experiences with Personal Progress!” She squeezed my shoulder and bustled off to greet someone else.

    During sacrament meeting I stared at the book like a long-forgotten but familiar friend. I traced the letters on the cover: P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S. Malawi’s constant contrasts of poverty and rich traditions forced me to consider this word daily, but never in this light. I opened the book and pored over the words I once skimmed as a Beehive. The introductory message burned with new clarity and brightness, as if I were discovering it for the first time.

    As I addressed this group of Malawian young women, I knew something momentous was occurring, and the girls sensed it too. They received the books with such reverence and gratitude that I felt a twinge of guilt remembering my own tattered book, stashed in a dusty box.

    For most of these girls, these were the first books they had ever owned. They opened them tenderly, and I read aloud, “You are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Father, prepared to come to earth at this particular time for a sacred and glorious purpose” (Young Women Personal Progress [2001], 1). My voice cracked, and the words on the page blurred as my eyes filled with tears. The Spirit was unmistakable as it testified of the truthfulness of this message.

    I remembered the supplies I had packed and delivered months ago. The people had accepted them graciously and put them to use immediately, but I felt frustrated I had nothing more to give.

    I looked into the shining eyes of these beautiful Malawian young women. There was no second-guessing, no frustration, just an overwhelming sense of peace and hope for genuine, lasting progress. Here in a tiny room in the Warm Heart of Africa, a few of Heavenly Father’s daughters were embarking on a journey that will bless their lives and countless others with opportunities for eternal progress.

    Photography courtesy of Amy Bush Kirby; photography of flora by Don Searle

    Their first Personal Progress books were precious possessions for the young women in the Blantyre Branch in Malawi, Africa (opposite page). Now they have copies of the new books. Relief Society women gather after church meetings (above). Primary children meet in the shade of a tree.

    Members of the Sitima Branch in Malawi gather for sacrament meeting.