Ongs in Malawi

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I'm so not the PTA type...

Posted on September 19, 2012 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (1)

So I went along to the kids' school PTA (Parent Teacher Association) annual general meeting tonight.


I hadn't planned on going, I was at school for the 'meet the teacher' info night. At the end of it, one of the Malawian mums (of a friend of Teaghan's) asked if I was going to the PTA and, keen to make friends, I said sure! 


And so I found myself sitting with two other Malawian mums in the PTA meeting, and let me add: I'm not the PTA type. Oh no, not me. But here I was.


This was one of the few times where I've really felt culturally left out and I hate being left out.

You'd think that being an international school, you'd fit right in...

At St Andrews, it is 60-70% Malawians, the rest Indians/Pakistanis/caucasians. And as far as I've seen, we're one of the only two Chinese families at the school. There are a couple of Asian-Caucasian families too, one of whom is the owner of the local Chinese restaurant.


Anyway, back to the PTA. The Malawian mums were really nice, but every now and then they would bump into their Malawian friends and break into Chichewa and so I would stand awkwardly like an idiot beside them while they chatted away in a language I didn't understand. 


It's not like we have not been in contact with locals. For the past two months, we have been in constant contact with Malawians. There could be up to 9 locals on our property on any given day (3 carpenters, 3 guys working on the mozzie screens, 1 house help, 1 guard, 1 language teacher). But I realised tonight that up until now we've always been in the position of the employer. They work for us. They needed our help. A position of seeming superiority.

Tonight I found myself in a position of inferiority. I was standing in the midst of upper class Malawians, in their culture. They didn't need my help. I needed theirs. 


Being foreign and 'rich' in resources, skills, and education can so easily lead one to feel superior. To feel like we have all the answers. Tonight's experience was a good reminder  for me that as we begin to learn about the Malawian culture and language, that we are the learners and they are the teachers. Despite being rich in resources, it is important that we approach our time here in Malawi with humility and a learners heart, to learn , not just from senior missionaries, but from the wisdom of locals so we can better understand the culture in order to build friendships and reach them with Christ.


So with that, I'm prayerfully considering joining the PTA. Anyone want to join me in prayer? :)


Suffering missionaries... ?!?

Posted on September 5, 2012 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (3)

Missionaries are poor.

Missionaries live with limited resources.

'Good' missionaries live in mud huts.

'Good' missionaries suffer.

.

.

.

Or so some may think. Or expect.

Sure, we have had to give up a lot to move here to Malawi. Some we have slowly learnt to live without, and some our hearts still ache for everyday. Living here in Malawi has come with sacrifices but let me share a secret with you - God has been blessing us tremendously since we got here, way more than we could ever have imagined. 


So much that sometimes we feel a bit spoilt and underserving!


The temptation is great to try to uphold this 'poor missionary' image, to hide times when God blesses us immensely with things that we may even feel guilty about, esp living in the midst of poverty. Hey, we don't want people to think we're having a holiday, right? People expect to hear stories of suffering, right? They'd be more interested in praying for us if they thought we're doing it tough, right?? Why are we enjoying ourselves? Aren't we supposed to be 'suffering for the Gospel'?? The more suffering they think we're going through, the 'better' a missionary they'll think we are, right? WRONG.


The more I reflected on God's blessings over the past 2 months, the more I was convicted that it is not right to share selectively, to share only the sufferings but not the joys, or up-play the sufferings and down-play the blessings, because that would not be an honest account of how God is blessing us. Small blessings, big blessings, they all help paint a beautiful picture of the awseomely generous and gracious Father that he is. Imagine if the writers of the Bible kept all the best blessings a secret. I think we might all be in a bit of trouble! 


Don't get me wrong. There are defintely times of trials and 'suffering', It is all part of the life of someone who follows Christ. I have had my bad days, days where I wished I was back in Australia, I have had my cries. But above all, God sustains us and he is good, and for now, I just want to give him the glory for that!


We want people to know how awesome God is and how much he has looked after us here, way beyond our expectations. All glory be to him!


So with that, let us share two paticular special blessings with you: 


...Gelato Carnival. A place like no other that has given our kids something to look forward to on Saturdays, something to distract them from missing ther usual Saturday-with-Grammy routine. They have delicious gelato there (the dark chocolate gelato is so good that I have no choice but to go off my sugar-free diet on Saturdays!). They have kids rides (mini-train, mini ferris wheel, 'flying dinosaurs') for 200MKW a ride, less than AUD$1. They have a jumping castle and a playground.

In a city where there's not a whole heap for little kids to do to have fun (no Westfields centre court shows, no holiday shopping centre kids crafts, no Lollipops playland, no parks with playgrounds, no McDonalds, etc), it has been a massive blessing to have this place nearby (5 mins from our house). We discovered it not long after Teagan said: "I want to go back to Australia, there is nothing fun to do here". This has been a real God-send. A huge blessing. Such a great feeling to see the kids laugh and enjoy themselves again.


... The kids' school - St Andews International Primary School. There weren't many options when we were looking for a school for the kids. We chose SAIPS because a lot of the other SIM kids also go there so would make carpooling easier when there is a fuel shortage. We didn't know a lot about the school but we trusted God with it and left it in his hands. One of the things that we were sad about when leaving Sydney was the thought that our little Aussie kids won't have the opportunity to learn to swim here in Africa, either due to the lack of facilities (our ignorance!) or our lack of funds. We counted that as one of the sacrifices of serving God in Malawi and left it with our heavenly Father, knowing he knows our hearts and our desires. Little did we know that SAIPS has two swimming pools! A lap pool and a beginners pool. Swimming is part of the curriculum with Lucas having one lesson a week in nursery and Teaghan two lessons a week in Year 1. WOW WOW WOW! A blessing way beyond our dreams! The kids are loving school and have not cried a single tear - most uncharacteristic of our kids! A huge blessing and huge answer to the prayers of many.


Do we want to satisfy people's expectations with stories of 'suffering missionaries' or surprise people with stories of God's goodness?

Some say that living as foreigners here in Malawi is like living like a king.

I say living anywhere as servants of Christ is living as children of the King! He never fails to care for our every need with lots of surprises along the way :)



I hope that has added a stroke or two to your own painting of our awesome provider God!


~Jo

Ching chong China-man

Posted on August 31, 2012 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Just another day in the life of the Ongs:


Caya: "heyo!! Heyo!!" (hello hello)

Shop assistant: "She speaks your language?"

Jo: "Uh... yes. She speaks English"

Shop assistant: "Oh!! Not Chinese?? You from China?"

Jo: "No, we're from Australia."

Shop assistant: *surprised look* "You run a shop?"


Having grown up in Australia, sometimes we forget that we look different. So here in Malawi, we have had to adjust to being Asians in Africa. They do not view us as the same as 'asungu" (white foreigners). We are Chinese.


In a Western country, you generally wouldn't get asked "You from China? You run a shop?" just because you look Asian, but here in Malawi, it is all they know. There are actually a lot of Chinese here, mostly here to run restaurants and shops. Most do not speak Chichewa or even English and generally keep to themselves. So it is totally understandable that the average Malawian would also assume the same of us. Sometimes they eye us with suspicion until we greet them in Chichewa, sometimes they don't seem to notice that we're different, sometimes they look down at us, sometimes they are just curious and ask questions.


We were a little discouraged at first when we realised just how differently locals view us. We kind of knew we would confuse people a bit being 'Chinese Australians' but it still caught us a little by surprise. We knew that meant we'll need to work extra hard to build relationships with locals because we need to first break down their perception of who they think we are before we can minister effectively to them and share Christ's love with them.


Sometimes I wonder why God has called us here, but we know by faith that he has and he desires for us to serve those in Malawi, so with his enabling we know we will form the friendships we need in order to reach people with Christ. 


Teaghan and Lucas with our new friends from across the street

How are we going?

Posted on August 27, 2012 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (1)

So how are we going?


Pete:

Pete has been busy coordinating with different workers the things around the house that need to be fixed - electricals, installing masquito screens, fixing broken lights for security... as well as tidying up unfinished business back in Sydney (cancelling mobile/internet contracts, etc). He was recently initiated into Malawi by receiving a 11,000kwacha (AUD$38.5) fine for not having a Malawian licence (we have since found out that it was a bogus fine as by law we have 3-6 months to obtain a local licence). Pete has enjoyed interacting with our guard and carpenters and talking to them about their faith. He also recently visited the youth sports ministry run by another SIM missionary and was encouraged to see the Malawian youth having a real heart for learning about God's word.


Jo:

Jo has had her ups and downs over the past weeks. She hit a low 2 weeks after arriving when everything was new and she was still lacking confidence driving our manual car on African roads. But since then, God has been lifting her spirits and settling her fears (of driving). Jo has been busy setting up home - unpaking boxes, sewing curtains, shopping for household items, etc... Now that our home is almost set up, she is feeling more settled and looking forward to baking her first cake in Malawi as soon as the oven is up and running. Jo is also enjoying doing Sunday School with Teaghan, Lucas, and one other missionary kid at their new Chichewa speaking church - Bangwe African Evangelical Church


Teaghan:

Our heavenly Father continues to care for our sensitive big girl. She has really missed Grammy over the past few weeks, crying most days and screaming in her sleep. But thanks to the prayers of many, she is getting better and now able to talk about Grammy without crying. She will start Standard 1 on 4th September at St Andrews International School, her teacher's name is Miss Berry. She is excited yet apprehensive about starting at a new school. Teaghan has shown a real aptitude for learning a new language, often surprising us by using some of the Chichewa phrases she's heard us speak. She is keen to take Chichewa lessons with our language teacher.


Lucas:

Lucas is loving the dirt here in Malawi where he can play with his cars and make tracks. His behaviour has settled tremendously since first leaving Sydney, with a lot of the daily tantrums being replaced by just the usual 'boyness' - running around, being noisy, being rough, annoying his sisters, etc. He has been sucking his thumb less and not needing his speical 'alien blanket' as much which shows he is feeling more secure. He loves to roll down our car window to 'hear the cars' and say "Mulibwanji" (How are you?) to locals passing by. Lucas appears to be popular with locals here, with Malawians often wanting to stop and greet him! Maybe its his bouncey cheeks! :) Praise God also that Lucas has taken a real interest in praying and singing God-songs. 


Caya:

Caya contnues to be her friendly self, always wanting to wave and say "heyo" at anyone and everyone passing by, which is proving to be a great conversation starter. She has mastered standing up herself and can take one step on her own! She is speaking more and has a few words in her vocab not besides "Mama" and "Daddy, she now also says "I know" "uh oh" "water" and "what's that?". She is even picking up some Chichewa and says "nana!" when we say "tionana!" (bye/see you) to people. She had her first Malawian hospital experience after getting sick from eating dirt from a flower pot. Caya has taken a real liking to our day guard Dickson (father of 2 young kids) and enjoys playing with him and is happy for him to carry her around the yard.


Praise Points:

- New friendships for us and for the kids.

- Mostly settled children.

- Good school for the kids.

- That we've been able to get around by ourselves and finding out where to buy things.

- Great new SIM Malawi family.

- That we are nearing the end of our setting up home.


Prayer Points:

- We'll need to go get our Malawian licences in the coming month or two. We may need to do a road test, or we may not. It is totally random and depends on the person at the roads and traffic authority on the day! Please pray especially for Jo to increase in confidence in driving manual.

- Lucas had a bad slip in the bathroom last week which has resulted in a traumatised tooth which has started turning grey. Google tells us that is not a worry right now but should be monitored for abscess in which case extraction or root canal may be necessary. In most cases the tooth is restored to full health on its own. Please pray for that.

- We are excited that we will begin our language classes on 10th Sept. Please pray that we may have humility and patience as we learn.

- Kids start school 4th September. Please pray as they settle into the new school routine. Classes go from 7:15am-12pm with one break in between. Teaghan will be going 5 days and Lucas 3 days at this stage.

- Pray that Teaghan will make friends at school. She finds it a challenge to make friends in big group settings.

- Pray as we consider buying a 2nd car sometime in the future. We do not need one right now but may need one later when Pete starts ministry which may include travelling to rural areas. A 2nd car will enable Jo to take the kids to school and do grocery shopping, etc in Pete's absence. This will need to come out of our personal funds. Please pray for the sale of our car back in Sydney to enable the purchase of a 2nd car if we choose to get one.


Mr Mafunga & Sons

Posted on August 19, 2012 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Mulibwanji (how are you?) from Malawi!

We have been here for a month now. How time flies!

These last 4 weeks have been filled with new friends, new language, new sights, new smells, new home...

In some ways, it has been every bit as overwhelming as we had expected. In other ways, it has also been a little less stressful than we had expected. Thanks to the many who have been upholding us in prayer.

We are loving it here, it is a beautiful country with wonderfully warm people. We are loving getting to know the culture and picking up bits of simple Chichewa. We will commence our formal language studies soon.

We have just moved into our home, which we hope will be our home for the next 10 years. We love it. The kids love it. As Teaghan said the other day: "It is beginning to feel more and more like home now". The kids have nicknamed the house the Lego House, because it looks like a blocky lego brick house :)

We are slowly furnishing our new home, one piece of furniture at a time. 

We currently have a carpenter and his 2 sons working on our furniture and living in our backyard (in the 'workers quarters' - a common feature of houses here). When one fo my friends went on the mission field years ago, I used to wonder about how she could afford the luxury of having custom made furniture. Back in Australia, you have to be really wealthy to have your furniture made to order!.... now that we are here 'on the field', I finally understand.

Having furniture made here is not quite the same as the Western world would understand it, furniture is made to order out of necessity rather than to have them made to a custom design. Ready made furniture are hard to find in Malawi, and if found, they are imported and very expensive. So instead of furniture shops, there are carpenters. Carpenters generally don't make a whole lot of furniture in advance to be sold as some just cannot afford the timber without an order. Those who can afford it may make a few items  and sell them by the side of the road. Some of these are made of wood, some out of cane. Ordering your furniture from a carpenter is more or less like the way you would purchase furniture from Ikea, but instead of pulling it off a shelf, they have to go and make it first! 

Making furniture takes time. There is no Bunnings here where carpenters can purchase neatly cut pieces of wood. Instead, they go to a timber yard and purchase rough pieces of wood which then need to be dried in the sun and then planed before being made into anything.

We love the fact that we are supporting a local Malawian. Mr Mafunga our carpenter has 6 kids and live far from where we are, which is why has has to stay with us while he worked on our furniture. He and his two boys sleep on thin mats in the workers quarters and eat mostly nsima (like a maize porridge) for meals. They are doing a fantastic job and I'm enjoying putting my industrial design degree to good use!

Lucas and Caya watching the carpenters work in our backyard

Sketches for the carpenter

Carpenters selling stuff by the road

One of Mr Mafunga's sons working on our chairs


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