Warm Hearts Found

Three years ago today was one of the most disappointing days of our lives. The previous year, Sylvia and I had achieved our long dreamt of ambition of serving as missionaries in the United Methodist Church. While serving in that capacity, we ended up unintentionally uncovering a great deal of corruption and embezzlement in the church. It was a sad and difficult situation. We reported what we found to our supervisors, but for political reasons within the church, our supervisors decided not to pursue the corruption and embezzlement. On March 8, 2012, (Sylvia’s birthday), we received an email from our supervisors in New York that stated that the leader of the United Methodist Church in Malawi (the man responsible for the corruption and embezzlement – the man currently serves on the Board of the organization), asked that we not continue our assignment in Malawi. We left the country a short time later, both disappointed and relieved, but we were reeling both emotionally and spiritually.

Through a series of fortunate events I think of as prevenient grace (God’s hand guiding us to the right place), we made it to Memphis, Tennessee, and found First Congregational Church. First Congo has been a place of healing, and support for us. It has been a place where Sylvia and I have both been able to fulfill our call to serve through ministry to God and our community. We are often overwhelmed by the way God uses people, including us, to do amazing work that we don’t necessarily “get” at the time.

This morning, as the choir sang, “I Know Something About God’s Grace,” by Patrick Bradley, I was reminded of just how far my family has come in the last three years. The words the choir sang became, for me, a prayer of thanksgiving, “Can one witness testify, ‘I wouldn’t have made it without the grace of God.’”

Three years later, Sylvia and I are engaged in meaningful work that we find both challenging and fulfilling. We have two amazing children who are able to grow up in a community of faith that is as diverse and inclusive as any we have ever witnessed.

We didn’t make it here on our own. The gift of finding this place is something we celebrate often. We get to be a part of this, and our kids get to grow up in a place where great ministry is happening.

It didn’t take too long to recognize that First Congo was a place where warm hearts are present, and continue working. We are grateful to have found this place!

Grace and peace,

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Crums End Service as Missionaries

Dear Partners in Mission,

Thank you for the support you have shown for us during this last year as we have served as United Methodist missionaries with the Malawi United Methodist Church.  During our time in Malawi, we made every effort to learn Chichewa and the Malawian culture, as well as to get to know the Malawi United Methodist Church (MUMC). We felt good about our success in visiting 13 of the 22 MUMC Circuits in a mere nine months. We attempted to see as many projects and churches as possible. Along the way, we shared pictures and success stories through our blog.

This sharing of the story of the MUMC resulted in ten new Covenant Partners (a program through the United Methodist Advance Office where churches make an intentional commitment to support mission work) and many more individual monetary gifts, with more people aware of and interested in the work of the United Methodist Church in Malawi.

We are proud to have raised almost $9,000 in yearly Covenant Partnership pledges, with 5 Covenant Partners each and several other folks giving individual gifts. We felt like we had a good base to grow from in Alabama and the whole Southeastern Jurisdiction, as well as some other friends in Oklahoma, Iowa and even New York!

It is with great disappointment that we share with you that we will not be returning to Malawi.   This decision was not an easy one and was due to numerous circumstances beyond our control, and despite our most sincere efforts. This has been an extremely difficult last four months for our family and we are sad not to be able to continue working in mission with the General Board of Global Ministries. We are also sorry not to have the opportunity to continue work in the missionary community. Global Ministries will look for possible placements over the next couple of months, but if nothing is found, we will no longer be serving as missionaries as of December 31, 2012.

If you have questions about Malawi please contact Caroline Njuki, cnjuki@umcmission.org, Assistant General Secretary in Mission and Evangelism.   If you have questions about financial gifts to the Advance or supporting a missionary, please contact Rachael Barnett, rbarnett@umcmission.org, in Missionary Services.  We were proud of the strides we made with local church members, the Publications Committee and local church pastors. Once again, thank you for your continued prayers and support of us. We ask for your continued prayers during this time.


Sylvia and Teddy Crum

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Leaving Announcement

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the support, prayers and encouragement you have shown to us on our journey to become missionaries with the General Board of Global Ministries.  We are writing to share some news regarding our service in Malawi. This week we have been in New York meeting with the staff at Global Ministries.  We have decided, along with the Global Ministries leadership, that our assignment in Malawi was not a good fit for us or for the church in Malawi.

We are, of course, saddened by this turn of events, but have no doubt in our call to serve in God’s mission.  We are currently in a time of waiting and praying and will continue to work with Global Ministries leadership on our options for the future.

We wanted you to know of this development. We are grateful for your support and interest in sharing the story of God’s mission together.  We realize you may have many questions, and we ask for your patience and grace as we work through this transition and change.

Please continue to pray for us and for the people of Malawi.

With thanks,

Teddy and Sylvia Crum

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Finding our way in the Capital

Growing up in the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., my nation’s capital city, I remember taking friends and relatives into the city to see the Smithsonian, the Zoo, the monuments, and just to look around the Mall. My mom was usually driving, as most of these visits happened during the summer months when she was out of school, and often talking about how much she hated driving in DC. When she would recount her most recent tale of frustration navigating DC’s streets, my dad would, more often than not, point out that the city’s architect, Dupont, had intended the layout to be intimidating to visitors. I recall one particular journey that had us circling Georgetown for what seemed like weeks, trying to figure out how to get across the Potomac! It wasn’t quite as bad as Chevy Chase getting stuck in the fictional roundabout at London’s Parliament building, saying, “Look kids, Big Ben… Parliament. Look kids, Big Ben… Parliament!” But it did make for a long ride home.

Before we moved to Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, we heard from a number of people that, “it really doesn’t feel all that much like a city.” They’d say things like, “You never know if you’re in Lilongwe!” and, “Did you know that they have two city centres?!?” I don’t know if there was an architect involved in designing the layout of Lilongwe, but from what I have read, the city has just sort of grown from a small town into what it is today, a sprawling town/city of somewhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million people. The city is “organized” into areas with numerical names. Areas received their numbers based on the time they were developed. Areas 1 through 4 are considered “Old Town” which is one of the city centres. We live in Area 2, but I prefer to use our neighborhood’s name, Bwalolanjobvu “Place of the elephants”, to describe where we live. It is a coincidence that Area 23 and Area 24 are neighbors, as they just happened to be developed back to back. Area 25 is on the opposite side of the city, no less than 15 miles away.

The other city centre, “Capital City” is where the parliament building, recently constructed with significant contributions from the Chinese government, along with all the embassies and a new enormous hotel, also being constructed with money from China, are all located. Capital City is designed to look like a modern capital, but feels a bit like something out of Orwell when you look around and see very few Malawians around at all. Luckily for us, author Calvin Trillin’s perspective on Chinese expats having some of the best food in the world, has held true in Lilongwe. The food at the Noble China Restaurant is as good as any Chinese food I’ve had in New York City, or Singapore. I might be exaggerating a little bit here, but it is very good!

We’ve been received so warmly by the leaders of the Malawi UMC who live in Lilongwe! I am grateful for the friendship and help of the conference Lay Leader, Diverson Wakhutamoyo, along with that of his wife Salina, their church, and their family! Diverson’s humility, kindness, and servant’s spirit are fun to be around, and I look forward to working with him and others to support their wonderful work!

Lily is settling in nicely, too! Our night guard, Leonard Namauzongo, his wife, and their five children moved to Lilongwe with us. The children and Lily are getting along wonderfully. On our second day in Lilongwe, Lily was walking around the house, pointing to the back yard, where the Namauzongo’s house is, and saying, “Tin-tina! Zjay-zjay!” It took us a little while to work out that she was saying the names, at least her names for them, of two of the children, Christina and Eliza. I don’t know how Zjay-zjay comes from Eliza, but there is no doubt who Lily is talking about when she says her name.

There are some people, who after having their stuff packed away in boxes for several months, end up saying, “You know, I really didn’t need that stuff after all.” We realized, after 10 months of having our things in boxes, that we are not those people. We are so pleased that we brought the kitchen things so that we can cook together (a favorite form of family entertainment for the past 9 years). And what a treat it was to pull out family photographs, books, and artwork. I overheard Sylvia say more than once, “I’m so glad I thought to bring this!”

Sylvia’s grandfather always said that it was the drapes that her grandmother brought that made a new house feel like home. For me, it’s the big Dutch oven, filled with something tasty to eat together with family and friends.

For me, it’s no wonder the disciples finally recognized Jesus while they were at the table breaking bread together. I keep bumping into him at our table in the capital city!

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Learning a few new words

This week we’ve been getting boxes stuffed full in order to head out again. We are moving from Blantyre to Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, which is centrally located in the country. We’re excited about the move, and hope to find a sense of community as we settle in.

Most of our boxes were packed in April 2011, and since they arrived in Malawi in October 2011, just after we were asked to move to Lilongwe, we made the decision to keep everything packed up.

We’ve heard people joke about having to wait this long for things, and asking, “Since we’ve lived this long without it, do we really need it?” I’m sure there are some things in our boxes that we don’t “need,” but at the same time, there are things in there that we really want.

I walked past an open box a couple of days ago and saw some pictures, still wrapped, I remembered wrapping up neatly in April. I couldn’t see the pictures, but I know that one of them, my favorite, was done by my best friend, Xavier Vinas, and I asked Sylvia to mark down the box number so that I could open it immediately after our arrival in Lilongwe, and find a place for it on the wall.

I can honestly say that Malawi has us more culture shocked than I have felt before, with possible exception of Washington, DC after living in Palestine for 18 months! At the same time, since we’ve felt like we’ve been perching for the past several months, it really isn’t so surprising.

On Friday, we get to start settling in, and making Malawi feel like home. Pictures of family will go up on the walls, Xavier’s picture will join them, and Lily should be able to add a few more words to her vocabulary, “Welcome home!”

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A matter of perspective

As we were preparing to leave the United States we had an important round of immunization shots Lily needed to receive. At the time, we were staying a few hours drive from Lily’s previous pediatrician, and we were hoping not to have to make the drive just to get the shots! Sylvia spent several days calling numerous doctors’ offices before we eventually remembered that a former Church member had a daughter-in-law who is a pediatrician. We called the friend and she lined up a visit through her daughter-in-law. The doctor was wonderful, and we were very appreciative for her willingness to see us. As Sylvia continued expressing her appreciation, the doctor cut her off and said, “Well, my dad is a minister, and in his book, missionaries are as close to God as anyone. He always said that we should do anything we can to help missionaries.”

Sylvia and I both laughed, maybe nervously, hoping that we could live up to the high expectations.

Earlier tonight, a friend of mine stopped by to pick up some information related to a Volunteer in Mission team that is arriving tomorrow. We chatted for a while and he mentioned that the local gas station had a tanker that was delivering petrol. This friend is the main transportation provider that we use for hosting VIM teams, and he always has good information. We’ve both been looking for petrol all week so that we can work with the team that is coming from the U.S.

I kissed Sylvia and Lily and hopped in the car and headed up the road to see if I could buy some petrol, being careful to bring a book along for the wait. Sitting in the queue for petrol, I thought of the doctor’s words, and wondered, “So, how close to God is this?”

In the end, I waited two and a half hours, and the petrol ran out just as I got to the driveway of the station. Amazingly, I didn’t feel frustrated! It’s already been a long week with plenty of other frustrations. I remembered that my friend told me that he had waited for seven hours earlier this week in order to buy 15 litres of petrol (around 3.5 gallons).

One of the jobs we do as missionaries, but nowhere near as much as local Malawians, is that we try to work out how to save short-term volunteers from these sorts of frustrations. I wonder sometimes about the wisdom in this, and know that when we make things here seem easier than they actually are that we might be doing a disservice to both the short-termers and the Malawians they’ve come here to work with. Nobody wants to come all the way to Africa to spend their time waiting in queues to buy gasoline, but a little waiting is probably good to get a taste of the challenges people face.

Waiting helps change our perspective, and I’m more and more convinced that all of us, everywhere, could do with a little extra perspective.

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Learning and adapting

Living in a new place always requires a few changes. For us, as we attempt to continue to grow in our knowledge of the local language, we’re also trying to grow in our knowledge of what is going on around us. When do people mean “no” when they haven’t actually said it? Should we feel like we have been invited to that gathering even though we didn’t receive an invitation? Was that a question, or a statement?

Sometimes we have questions about little things, and sometimes the questions affect ongoing relationships in bigger ways.

Malawians tend to communicate in more passive ways. They leave many things unsaid, and within their own culture, these unsaid things tend to be understood by other Malawians. This doesn’t always work out, however!

A friend of ours who is a teacher told us a story of an incident at his school. Apparently a number of teachers had been leaving early at the end of the school day. Rather than addressing the issue directly, the school principal called an assembly of all of the teachers and talked about how, “some people have been doing some things that they shouldn’t be doing.” The message was so vague that the people who needed to hear that their actions were inappropriate didn’t actually get the message.

One area of learning for us of late relates to our garden. We have an avocado tree at the back of the house. For those of you unfamiliar with avocado trees, the fruit hangs down from the tree on strands, and eventually falls to the ground. Our tree is at the edge of our yard at the bottom of a couple of sloping terraces (it is actually a neighbors’ tree, but most of the tree hangs over into our yard), and I had been watching for a few weeks as the avocados grew larger and larger. Not knowing this tree, I didn’t walk to check it out very closely. Instead, I thought I would wait to go and collect some until some of the fruit looked ripe. Last week, while Lily and I were playing in the back yard, we walked down the terraces and saw that avocados had been falling off of the tree for several days, if not weeks. There was a pile of avocados, at least 150 of them, that had collected as they fell off of the tree and rolled down the hill. On the first day, Lily and I selected a few of these that looked good, and have gone back each successive day to collect newly fallen avocados. Each day we collect between 6 and 12 avocados!

A couple of days worth of avocados

In the US, we have never had to answer the question, “What do you do with a dozen or half-a-dozen avocados every day?” In Malawi, we’re looking for people to give avocados to (not always easy since many other people also have these trees), and we’ve been eating guacamole or plain avocados most days. Sylvia has scoured our cookbooks and looked on-line and found tasty recipes for avocado ice cream and avocado smoothies.

I’m hoping that our skin doesn’t start to turn a slight green-tint!

Having learned the lesson of cleaning my plate from my dad, I have a hard time not collecting all these avocados and I am doing my best to eat them.

I’ve noticed that most Malawians don’t put so much pressure on themselves to eat these and other fruits and vegetables out of their gardens. But as I look at the mangoes continuing to ripen on our mango trees, I’m starting to wonder just how many things I need to learn from my Malawian neighbors!

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