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I’ve always liked baskets. Many of them are pretty, most of them useful. I have one next to my bed holding my Bible, journal, and pens. Some people collect them. Some sell them in garage sales. They’re ordinary and unassuming. At least, that’s how I used to see them. After visiting our six World Vision sponsored children in Malawi, baskets have become symbols of great sacrifice and love. They carry the message of the cross.
A white truck bearing the World Vision logo takes my four colleagues and I away from Lilongwe on wide dirt roads into the mountainous countryside. We pass women dressed in bright fabric carrying water on their heads, babies on their backs. Men on bikes carry stacks of firewood six feet high and children run barefoot, clouds of dirt rising from the ground in their wake. It feels like we’ve traveled to a place where time stands still.
We work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry on 590 campuses, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where our chapter of 250 college students work together to send letters and financial support to our six children in Malawi. The roads become more winding and narrow as the elevation increases, and two hours later we arrive in Nkhoma, the community where our children live.
Toko, our guide for the day, explains that 4,500 of the 5,000 children in Nkhoma have sponsors! New wells have been dug, schools have been built, and families have land to grow crops -- life is full here in Nkhoma. Toko explains that he and other Malawians are employed by World Vision to implement the strategies that are helping to increase the quality of life here. I’m amazed.
As we head into the community, children playing alongside the road notice our white skin through the windows of the truck, and we’re suddenly involved in a game of tag. At first, a few children begin to chase us through the dust cloud, calling out, “Azungu! Azungu!” which means “white person” in Chichewa, the language spoken here. When we arrive, more children come running to join the game, and out the back windows, I see 30 children running, laughing, waving.
The truck stops, and so does our entourage. We step out into the sea of smiling faces, and I notice the girls staring wide-eyed at my blond hair and pale skin. They look at one another, giggling amongst themselves, leaving me to wonder what they’re saying. I’ve never felt so warmly received while lacking the appropriate language. We walk through the dirt, passing one-roomed houses made of clay until we stop at one -- the home of Maliseni, one of our sponsored children.
Some children with us break into a run down the dirt path to let Maliseni know we’ve arrived -- he’s down the road playing with friends. While we wait, we meet Maliseni’s father and practice Chichewa: “Muli bwanji? Ndili bwino, zikomo!” ("How are you? I’m well, thank you!") He invites me to sit on an intricately woven mat that he’s laid out on the front steps of his home.
Maliseni runs up with his friends, and I can tell that he’s unsure of what to make of us. His father pushes him toward us and he hesitantly reaches out his hand. Maliseni sits next to me and we ask what sports he likes to play and what he likes about school. He answers with eyes lowered to the ground -- stealing quick glances at us every once in awhile. He loves playing soccer with his friends.
As we begin our goodbyes, Maliseni’s father presents me with a basket. It’s large and intricately woven, much like the mat we’re sitting on. It’s beautiful. With bright eyes and a smile on his face, he pushes it into my hands while my breath catches. In my hands sits the primary source of income for Maliseni’s family. This is not simply a token of gratitude. It is an offering of themselves. Suddenly, the message of the cross is written on every woven reed, speaking loudly to my heart. This empty basket is full. Full of sacrifice, generosity and love. A symbol of Christ.
I experience Jesus so profoundly here with dust on my feet, the wind in my hair. This priceless gift reminds me of what Christ has done for me, for Maliseni, for the world. I pray that this holy moment will become part of me so that I too can give joyfully, with bright eyes and a wide smile. To embody Jesus, like Maliseni and his family did for me -- like Christ has done for us.
Sponsoring a child like Maliseni helps provide him or her with life-saving basics like clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, education, and more. Consider sponsoring a child in Malawi today!