My Call to Work with Shallow Wells in Malawi

Let me introduce myself. I am Jim Nussbaumer, a computer software engineer in Colorado. I have been active in the Presbyterian Church, as an elder, and in many committees and technical type volunteer positions. While I had been on some work-study type trips in the US, I never figured I would become involved with foreign mission, that just wasn't my thing and besides, I was not a preacher or doctor. 

I first got involved with Mission in Malawi in 1997 when I went with my wife, Carol, who had a call from the Holy Spirit (via Medical Benevolence Foundation - MBF) to go work with a School for Deaf Children in Embangweni, Malawi. I decided to go along, even though I wasn't sure what I would be doing over there. I ended up doing a lot of miscellaneous things while I was there; some computer work, lots of driving, directing the erection of a windmill, miscellaneous maintenance tasks etc. While there, we heard about and saw the results of the work of Marion Medical Mission in the shallow wells. We heard very directly about how effective the shallow wells were. We made friends with a villager, Steven, who took us out to his village and proudly showed us, their shallow well. He almost brought tears to our eyes when he said, "Since we got our shallow well, now my children don't die anymore!" That put it pretty clearly. (Click here for more about shallow wells.)

After spending three months there, we came home and didn't know if we would ever go back or not. We left that in God's hands. In 1998, I happened to be back in Illinois on vacation and stopped in to meet Tom and Jocelyn Logan, the founders of Marion Medical Mission. We hit it off pretty well and I was impressed with these two and with their obvious dedication to doing Christ's work, not just talking about it. Tom, a seminary graduate, is an activist from the 60's who has always believed that when he saw something that needed doing or a wrong that needed righting, he doesn't say "Why doesn't someone do something about this?" No, he DOES something about it himself, whether it was civil rights in the US or health problems in Africa. This led him to form Marion Medical Mission in the 80's to address many health related problems in Africa. Since 1990, they have put in over 1000 shallow wells in Malawi.
I came back home, impressed but not sure where I fit in. After my first trip to Malawi, I was willing to go back over again but I had to feel that it was in response to a Call of the Spirit, not just because I wanted the adventure of another trip to Malawi. I wasn't sure yet what I would be able to contribute that couldn't be done just as well by sending money. I started corresponding with Tom and helped with their WEB page. I began to get this nagging feeling that I should go with MMM to Malawi, even though I wasn't sure why. I had enough faith in the working of the Spirit by now that I knew I would find out why I was supposed to go there and so agreed to go. 

When I flew over to Malawi, I got off the plane in Lilongwe, Malawi, expecting to get a ride to Embangweni and slowly get involved in the wells program. Instead, I was met at the airport by Jim McGill, the Embangweni projects manager, with a request to stay in Lilongwe and help get bricks to some wells near the capital. I was taking over from a volunteer on his way home. Since I had been in the country before, they assumed I could just jump in with a few quick instructions and then be on my own for awhile. This was jumping in with both feet. In the process of getting the bricks, there were several times when I was driving around, alone, in totally strange territory, in which I was supposed to meet someone, but I was late or they weren't there. Then I felt lost but Someone was watching out for me. I would go back to the home village and there would be someone just coming out that knew where to find the person I needed or more often, they would be there themselves. Time and again, things 'just worked out'.

 Later I did get to Embangweni and involved in the installation program. I learned first hand about a lot of the difficulties of working in a third world country. We had numerous vehicle problems; no great surprise given the very rough roads and the difficulty of getting any maintenance there. One day I was driving a pickup, which was having serious engine problems and as a result was drinking fuel at a prodigious rate. On the way back to the hospital at the end of the day, I realized the fuel gauge read "E". I got nervous, as there was still 35 KM of very rough dirt road. I decided to detour to the only town nearby with a gas station in hopes of filling up. To my consternation, I got there at 6:30pm, only to learn that the only station in town closes at 6pm. After lots of inquiry, we managed to buy one gallon and took off toward Embangweni, driving in the most fuel-efficient manner possible (ie not slowing down on rough roads). The road ran through a deserted forest area that was reputed to have had trouble with bandits in years past. Constant prayers and careful driving got us within a quarter mile of the hospital before the engine began sputtering. We finally coasted to within 20 feet of the hospital entrance before we ran dry, on a very dark night. With grateful prayers, we left it and walked on in. ambu_pipe.jpg (13483 bytes)
I helped with the installation of a number of wells and learned the technical details of how it is all done. In the process, I learned that the success of the Shallow Wells program has almost outrun the organization in place. I decided they needed some more formalization of some of their processes, including documenting them (they agreed). I decided that maybe this was why I had been tapped to come this time. I started pushing to get a shallow wells manual put together, which I would work on back in the US. Also, while doing all of the installation work, I was taking lots of video with the idea of putting together the story of the shallow wells program.

It was very gratifying to get out into the villages to see the shallow wells being installed, with the villagers doing most of the hard work and Marion Medical Mission just providing what they could not do for themselves, like buying the cement, pipe and pumps. The villagers were so grateful for the chance to get clean water for themselves and their families. We reiterated to them that the wells were dedicated to the Glory of God and donated by Christians in the US that were doing this out of their love for Jesus Christ.

After getting back home and trying to write up my story and put together the pictures from the trip, it became obvious to me that my reason for going back to Malawi this time was to better tell the story of Marion Medical Mission and the work they are doing there. I put together several video tapes telling the need for and process of supplying shallow wells and one telling the overall story of Marion Medical Mission in all of their programs - shallow wells, schools, hospitals and church partnerships. These videos are being distributed to volunteers and to interested churches around the US and beyond to help in mission interpretation and to raise awareness of the problems in Malawi. I think that this shows that even though we may not know in advance why we are being called, or what we are being asked to do, we need to be willing to answer that call when it comes and trust God's guidance that there is work for us to do. The work may not be glamorous, or what we thought we would be doing, but it is all part of His plan.

  Ucindami Kwa Chiuta -- Glory Be To God