Final Thoughts on Malawi

My Heart in Africa

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for about three weeks now. I kept putting it off thinking I would eventually be inspired. But the words don’t seem to come naturally this time, and so I am fighting to put my thoughts into some sort of semblance of unity.

This may be the best I have to offer:

If you were to ask me the characteristic I value and respect the most in a person, I would answer: Honesty.
That’s not a rehearsed answer, but one that comes from a lot of experience – both good and bad.

However, as I got ready to leave Malawi, it occurred to me that a very close second is Generosity.
I love to give. And I respect people who give; Especially people who give out of their lack. In fact, I would say that sort of giving humbles me, and inspires me to give more.

I remember when I was maybe six or eight years old, I was out with my brother and my dad. We were in the mall and ran into the wife and grandmother of one of my dad’s friends. While my dad was making pleasantries, the grandma pulled out two, one dollar bills from her wallet and gave one to me and one to my brother. I remember being so excited.
And as we walked away, my dad said something that I have never forgotten. He said, “She gave those to you, not because you did anything special, but because she has come to realize that it is better to give than to receive.”

Hmmm, interesting practical lesson for a 6-8yrs old to learn. For a while, I thought she was a unique kind of person – someone born with a gift that few possessed. Perhaps that sort of awe prompted me to want to be “just like her when I grow up” because I couldn’t make out how givingcould be any better than gettingconsidering I’d just gotten a whole dollar and that made me very very happy!

But as I’ve grown to adulthood, I now realize I’ve had the privilege of being taught that lesson first hand on a very regular basis. My father is a very generous man. I admit, as a teenager, I used it to my advantage! If I wanted something, I knew who to go to ask for it. Not my mom! That’s for sure. She was too practical when it came to needs vs wants. I appreciate that in her now, as I am also very careful with what I buy for myself. (I always weigh the new purse against someone in Africa not having a meal, and often the purse stays on the rack - even if it’s a Value Village rack).

I have watched my father give without reserve for most of my life and now, as an adult, I can’t think of many qualities I consider to be of more importance in a person. The Apostle Paul talks a lot about giving. In 1 Corinthians 8, he writes: Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in His kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia.  They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.  For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will.
I desire to be that sort of person, and I recognize it’s a result of a lifetime watching my father give to others around us. Sometimes I wondered why he was going over the top, especially when the person didn’t do anything extraordinarily special in mind to warrant the gift in the first place.
But in some ways, that’s the best type of giving – the unexpected, over the top kind!

At the beginning of the Lord of Rings Trilogy, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo throws himself a birthday party. And as the custom of Hobbits dictates, he has a present for every person in attendance. I loved this idea, and started writing birthday cards to my closest friends on MY birthday – thanking them for what their friendship meant to me over the years. So, I’ve adapted it a bit over the years, to give to others when it might be customary for me to receive. And the more I give, the more I love giving!

I wish I could claim absolute humility in my giving. I wish I could say that I have learned to give without any sort of reward for myself. But in all honesty, I'm not sure that can ever be true. Take for instance the other day when I gave Waliko a new bike as my going away present. I had for many months been planning this surprise, and slowly been setting aside enough money to make sure I could get him the best “dirt road” bike offered in Malawi.
When it finally came time to give it to him, I thought I was going to jump out of my skin with excitement. His look of awe and confusion was a complete treasure for me. And I couldn’t stop talking…I just rambled and rambled with excitement. Finally Jenn, my housemate had to say, “Melissa, stop talking!”



The reward to me felt greater than the gift I was giving. I knew what a bicycle could offer to him, and I knew it was something he would never have bought for himself. And knowing all that, made me so over the moon excited! I am not sure how to give without that sort of enthusiasm attached, and if it’s considered selfish to love that feeling, well, then I do apologize.

Its in these moments that I realize why my dad is addicted to giving and why, so many years ago, the unknown grandma gave me a $1. It really truly is better to give than to receive; undeniably, incomparably

Originally posted to My Heart in Africa