Kirk and I (Kim) are heading home from Malawi. This was not a “heart” trip. It was an orphan trip. One of our favorite verses is James 1:27, which says “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Kirk and I got our international missions start as a married couple in 1998 when we went, with our son Drew, on a house-building trip to Tijuana, Mexico with our church youth group from Valley Evangelical Free Church in Vacaville CA. We knew we were moving to San Diego shortly thereafter and wanted to serve in Mexico. One of the couples that sponsored us on this trip knew about a mission orphanage in Mexico supported by Applegate Christian Fellowship, pastored by Jon Courson in Medford OR, and run by his brother Jimmy Courson. We wrote Jimmy a letter and the rest, as they say, is history. Everything in our ministry lives connects to this one event. Kirk’s assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel South Maui is David Courson, Jon and Jimmy’s brother.
During the three years we lived in San Diego, we visited the Mission Carmen Serdan one weekend per month and served as the primary care doctors to this group of disabled orphans. James 1:27 is the theme verse for this ministry. In addition to being introduced to the Courson family, we met Lloyd and Holly Folsom and their young sons Wesley and Riley. Lloyd and Holly served at what we lovingly call “the Mish” for ten years before moving back to Medford OR…and eventually to Maui. It was on a trip to visit the Folsom’s in Maui in 2013 that Kirk guest preached at Calvary Chapel South Maui, none of us ever dreaming or imagining Kirk would eventually be called to be the senior pastor there in 2014.
For Hearts and Souls was born during Kirk’s three year pediatric cardiology fellowship in San Diego. He was part of finding a Mexican girl named Eliphelet (interestingly the name of one of biblical King David’s children) and bringing her to San Diego for a life-changing heart procedure. We traveled as a family to Kenya and Zambia in the summer of 2001. As we served at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, Kirk prayed to find more heart kids to help. What he found was heart kids with conditions so severe he had to send them home to die. We got the vision for international pediatric heart care…and I got the vision to become a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist. We then traveled to Zambia and met Pastor Edward Mwansa. Learning while there of the incredible need to minister to orphans, For Hearts and Souls helped Edward start an orphanage there in 2003.
We moved to San Antonio in 2002. One of the first churches we visited was Wayside Chapel, pastored by Steve Troxel. This was such an incredibly missions minded church and Pastor Steve was such an effective Bible teacher, this quickly became our church home (and Steve’s family became our family. His daughter Kelli lives across the street from him with her husband Don Johnson and this is where I stay on my frequent trips from Maui to work in San Antonio. We love their four children Derek, Kelsi, Kyle, and Devon like they are our own.) Pastor Edward from Zambia was visiting us in San Antonio when Steve retired in 2006 in order to start, with his wife Connie, an international ministry called Shepherds’ Support that would conduct pastors and wives conferences throughout the world. Edward was so impressed with Steve at his retirement ceremony that he asked him to come to Zambia to put on such a conference. Steve, Connie, their granddaughter Kelsi, other team members, and I traveled to Zambia in 2007 for this conference and to serve the orphans at the orphanage that had been opened in 2003. Pastor Enock from Malawi heard about this conference and invited Steve, Connie and Shepherds’ Support to Malawi in 2008. Pastor Enock and his father Bishop Dimba have planted over 700 churches in Malawi and Mozambique. They also founded the Maoni Orphanage, which serves well over 200 orphans. Steve asked Kirk to join the team in Malawi in 2009 in order to medically screen all the orphans. He returned with them in 2011. In 2013, Holly and Lloyd’s pre-medical college student son Wesley spent the summer with us in San Antonio and joined Kirk on a trip to Kurdistan and on the trip to Malawi. Wesley met Steve’s granddaughter Kelsi in our home that summer (her siblings Kyle and Devon also went on the trip to Malawi). Kirk officiated at Wesley and Kelsi’s wedding in San Antonio in June 2014 and dedicated their baby Avelissa to the Lord in Maui last month. Wesley’s brother Riley just accompanied us on this year’s trip to Malawi.
There were fourteen of us on this year’s trip: Steve and Connie for their fifth time, Mike and Belinda McCartney from San San Antonio for probably their fourth time, Kirk for his fourth time, and me and eight others (Tim and Veralyn Dickson, their grandson Trevor Dickson, Riley Folsom, Amanda Hansen, Samantha Kinney, Andrea Reiley, and Nate Yadao) from Calvary Chapel South Maui (CCSM) for the first time. Steve and Connie do not know if their health will allow them to return to Malawi so they have asked Kirk and CCSM to take up the mantle of ministry there.
We started the week on Sunday by driving over two hours to a bush church. It takes Pastor Enock three years to make one Sunday visit to each of the churches he has planted. He has put well over 400,000 miles on his truck showing The Jesus film, planting churches, and visiting churches he has planted. We were met outside the church with singing; Steve, Mike, Kirk, and Tim all shared; most of the parishioners humbled us by their desire for us to pray for them individually; and we were bid farewell with singing. The opportunity to drive through the bush in one of the poorest countries in Africa, as well as worship in this little dirt-floored, brick-walled, thatch-roofed church may have been enough of a life-changing experience to have made the trip worthwhile.
The rest of the week we served on the grounds of the Maoni Orphanage. Tim contributed his 30+ years as a former pastor to join Steve, Connie, Mike, Belinda, and Kirk in teaching at the pastors and wives conference that had easily over 700 participants. These bush pastors were bused in from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. They slept on the grounds. There were outdoor latrines, a stream for washing, and a well for drinking and laundering clothes that were dried on the ground. Meals for these hundreds, including the orphans, were cooked over outdoor charcoal fires. Breakfast was bread and tea. Lunch, and probably dinner, was nsima (a ground corn meal staple), a vegetable or pumpkin leaves “relish”, and, on most days, meat. Meat is an uncommon luxury. Chicken, goats, and a steer were all provided this week. Veralyn and the six young adults from CCSM taught a daily morning VBS to the over 200 children aged twelve and under from the orphanage and the village. Kirk and I taught a daily morning Purity Camp for the over 100 teenagers from the orphanage and the village. On the fourth day, one of the boys raised his hand and said “thank you for coming to teach us what we did not know.” While the older eight of us participated in the conference every afternoon, the young adults that I started calling the “fab 6” played endlessly and tirelessly with the kids all afternoon. The “fab 6” have all been part of a weekly young adult Bible study that we have held in our home in Maui over the past year studying “Experiencing God” and all six felt called to go on this trip. Seeing them experience their first trip to Africa and pour themselves out so lovingly was easily Kirk’s and my favorite part of the trip. Every day the number of the children coming to the orphanage from the village grew, I believe, because of the love shown by these young adults.
At the beginning of the week, Tim shared at our morning team devotional from the famous story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. In verse 17, Jesse directs his shepherd son David to go to the battle line to take provisions to his brothers there. This simple act of obedience to serve set in motion the series of events where David kills Goliath and eventually becomes the King of Israel. It was the perfect reflection for this week. Kirk and my simple act of obedience to go on a house building trip in Mexico in 1998 set up a series of events that has resulted in life changing friendships, the heart and orphan ministries of For Hearts and Souls, and our ministry at Calvary Chapel South Maui. Steve and Connie’s obedience has resulted in thousands of pastors and wives being ministered to all over the world in their decade long ministry with Shepherds’ Support. Mike and Belinda’s obedience in joining them in Malawi has resulted in a new boys’ home being built at the Maoni Orphanage and their starting a biblical mentorship ministry that they have conducted weekly over Skype for the past two years that is multiplying all over Malawi. The mentors they have trained were involved in training the 700 pastors and their wives in this technique this week. One of the mentors gave his testimony that this tool is one “worthy of dying for.” The simple act of obedience for our team from Calvary Chapel South Maui to go to Malawi this week resulted in one incredible week of ministry to hundreds. I know our lives are forever changed. I pray there are lives forever changed among those we ministered to. And I can’t wait to see the series of events that unfold from this week’s simple act of obedience to go serve.