Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Homecoming of Alicia Ligomeka

Dear Friends and Family,

On Wednesday September 07, the Lord brought home one of His younger servants: Alicia Ligomeka. Alicia had been a part of the ABC Christian Academy school community since preschool. She was in the third grade this year and it was the start of her fifth year at the school. Alicia was at school the previous Friday, but her mom sent a note on Monday with another student stating that Alicia was sick and would not make it to school that day. She was not able to make on Tuesday either. On Sunday night, she tested positive for malaria. On Wednesday morning about 4 AM the Lord took her home. We can be thankful that she WAS a believer. She had trusted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. However, her sudden death has been a shock and jolt to all of the school community, but especially to her mother and  classmates, many of whom had been with her since preschool.

For whatever reason, the family did not state that malaria was the cause of death, but rather tonsillitis??  (I was told this at the memorial service held at her house on Wednesday.) This does not make much sense to me. What would make sense would be that she had cerebral malaria. This is a particularly aggressive form of malaria that claimed the lives of three people from our campus or family members of people who work here last March-May. Alicia walked into a clinic/hospital on Tuesday afternoon/evening and died early Wednesday morning. Alicia was an only child and her mother is not only now childless but also a widow. Her husband died when Alicia was in Kindergarten. Please pray for Alicia's mother, Rose Ligomeka. I cannot even begin to imagine the bitterness and sorrow of soul that she is experiencing!

I would like to relate some more details from last Wednesday.

As we were coming out of morning devotions, Kelvin Banda, one of our new teachers, told me that one of our students had died earlier that morning. I went to my office and was met by one of our Malawian teachers who gave me more details. After praying together and discussing what and how the school should respond, we decided that we would call all of the third grade parents to let them know what has happened. We also let the parents know that there were three options for their students that day: 1 we had arranged the use of the college bus to take a group of students to the house to pay respect to and offer condolences to the mother; 2 the parents could come and pick their child up; 3 the students could stay with the other third grade teacher, Ms. Clarke, until the regular dismissal time. (I would like to state what a blessing it was to have Mwizaso Khonje, Jean Mpata, Shamiso Najira, and Sam McDonald to give counsel and assitance in dealing with this situation. The first two are Malawian teachers. Jean is the one that Scharlie taught with last year. Shamiso is a Malawian parent of one of the girls in Alicia's class. These three offered much needed culturally relevant counsel to me in terms of how best to deal with this situation. Sam is an instructor at the college and is the Head of Mission in Malawi while Dr. Paul Chinchen is on furlough. Sam's pastoral nature and presence as well as counsel were deeply appreciated!)

Mwizaso and I called all of the third grade parents to find out who was going to be able to go visit the family and who would stay at the school. While we were doing that, Jean was giving some grief counseling/spiritual comfort to the third grade classes. She was also instructing the ones that would go on what the protocol for the visit would be. Jean also had the students make some cards to take to Alicia's mother.

Just after 10 AM, we left school with about 15 or 16 students and another 10 or so meet us at the house with their parents. I drove Sam McDonald, Igna Van Rensburg--Alicia's teacher this year, and Cara Clark--Alicia's teacher from last year. Jean had already prepped the kids that she would offer some words and then pray. Then the students would sing. Then I would offer some words and pray and give her the flowers and card from the school and then we would leave. There were probably 60 or so women in the house crying and singing when we got there. We walked in and went to a side room where the mother was brought out to see us. It was overwhelming for her to see all of the children in their uniforms. We followed the protocol that Jean had coached us on and then all of the students hugged Mrs.  Ligomeka as we left. It was a very tender and solemn scene.

Once we were back outside, we--Sam and I--consulted with Shamiso and one other parent and decided that the next step was to cancel school for the day on Thursday. We were able to call Glenda Saywood--one of the secretaries--and she and Kelvin got the word out in hard copy and email to all of the students before the end of the day. Before we left, Alicia's uncle asked Sam if he would represent the school with some words at the memorial later that day. Sam of course agreed.

We got back to school and took care of a few matters. I went home for lunch and then some of us met at 1:30 to go back to the house for the memorial service. The coffin was to be taken to Zomba which is about 4-5 hours south of Lilongwe to her family's home village for the burial. Sam drove Owen to the house and I drove Cara, Jean, and Catherine Stephens. (Catherine and Owen had been Teachers Assistants in Alicia's preschool and kindergarten classes.) When we arrived at the house the women went into the house and the men sat in chairs outside of the house. (There were only three mzungus there--Sam, Cara, and me.) There was a steady stream of women coming and going out of the house because they could not all fit at one time. For the next three and half a hours there was mostly singing going on in the house, punctuated with some loud wailing. It was amazing to here them sing! There were well over 100 women in the house at once. Outside, the men were very subdued but were talking quietly and just waiting for the coffin to be brought from the mortuary. There were some chairs right out in front of the house. These were reserved for the church leaders, the village chief, and one of the grandfathers. The next row of chairs which was to the front and right of where I was seated, were filled with the uncle and other close men of the family and important members of the community.

When the coffin was brought back at about 5:30,  it was taken into the house and the crying and singing got so much louder. There was an opportunity for the men to come in and walk around the coffin and then go back out. After we were all seated again, the women began to come out of the house and were seated on the ground and then the coffin was brought out for the memorial service. (There were well over 250+ people there.) The pastor lead the singing. Then Sam gave his short word representing the Academy and Mission. He mixed his message with some Chichewa and English. However, one story he told became the main theme of the pastor's address. The story that Sam told happened in Gwen's first grade class earlier that day. Gwen's teacher, Ms. Herbst, was not sure how to tell her students so she prayed and then told them that Alicia had gone to be with Jesus in heaven and they began spontaneously clapping for her! What an incredible picture of childlike faith!

After the pastor spoke, there was another song and then about 6:15 PM the coffin was loaded into the hearse and the family members that were travelling in the two buses all loaded up and left for Zomba. It was going to be a very late night on the road.

There was certainly a subdued feeling on our campus Friday, but everyone seemed to be hanging in there.

Please continue to pray for Alicia's mother and family and friends as well as our school community.

(As we were walking to the house for the memorial service, Sam told me that this was probably the most significant ministry that I had been involved in so far in Malawi. The importance of funerals and showing respect, support, and solidarity with the family and community during such a time is of incredible importance in Malawian culture. I consider it to have been a blessing to participate in this ceremony even though I felt quite awkward and could not understand everything that was going on around me. I had the chance to let this mother of one of my students know that I loved her and wanted to help bear her grief and mourning in whatever feeble way I could.)

Below are some pictures of Alicia and her classmates from last year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Days of School

The Drs. Wong and Dr. E would be proud

Friday night has come and we are EXHASUTED (so much so that I can no longer spell :)) We have already seen many things that are encouraging. My teachers are off to a good start. I have only heard one say that the week has been hard. The others were tired by today, but had a very positive first week.  We have 313 students. GOD is GOOD!

Gwen and Samuel have done so well. Gwen loves her First Grade teacher, Ms. Herbst. Samuel is enjoying Ms. Chris and Mr. Gray. With the exception of today, they both woke up and got dressed with out any promptings from mom and dad. (Samuel stayed home with a fever today. Kind of hard because it was the first Chapel day).

Scharlie is easing into middle school and is glad to find she can still do math. (Many thanks to Mrs. Sherer, Mrs. Sandifer, Mrs. Nance, and Mr. Good and a whole lot of elementary folks too, I guess:) I'm finding too, though, that there was at least one lesson learned in Kindergarten that I'm very thankful for: Do not procrastinate! (Momma, I can hear you laughing. It only took 33 years)! Thanks for prayers. It has been a busy week, but a good one. And we're glad it is started. The three weeks before almost did us in!

Does that look like a family that is ready for school or what!

Samuel and his buddy JJ on their way to school

Our very own First Grader!

Dressed for success