Jean Whittaker spent nine years in Malawi ministering in a variety of ways before retiring last year and returning to her home in New Zealand. Little did she know that God would bring her back to Malawi only nine months later.
“Even when I left I felt that God wanted me to come back,” she said. “I knew I’d only be able to come back short term, but I felt it was worthwhile to come back and do some follow-up and some more teaching.”
During the last two years of those nine total years she spent in Malawi, she worked in Salima with Glad Tidings Orphan Care, a partner ministry of a British organization called Starfish Malawi.
Jean returned in June to work with Glad Tidings in several capacities. She has been teaching the guardians of the orphans on topics such as health, hygiene, and HIV/AIDS, using her background as a nurse. She is also spending much of her time with the key workers, mentoring, teaching, and encouraging them.
Glad Tidings works with approximately 240 orphans, most of whom are living with extended family members. Each weekday, Glad Tidings holds teaching sessions and a meal for preschool aged children. They also provide school uniforms and pay fees for those in primary school. On Saturdays, they host a programme with teaching and games for all of the orphans. Additionally, a group of five Malawian “key workers” go and visit the children in their homes to ensure they are receiving proper care.
Additionally, Jean saw a need in the Glad Tidings affiliated preschools.
“When I left we only had one preschool, but now we have four,” she said. “I went and visited them, and although they were doing well in some ways, it’s all rote learning. So they can recite 1 to 30 or A to Z but if you ask them what an ‘S’ is or what a ‘5’ is, they don’t know.”
As a result, Jean is now teaching a group of eight preschool teachers a course on strategies for better equipping their students for school – educationally, physically, and spiritually. She says she is seeing positive results from this course.
Another success she has seen during this most recent term is among the group of key workers she is mentoring.
“One of our key workers has a real heart for evangelism and she has been instrumental in bringing quite a lot of the children and some of their families to Christ,” Jean said. “As a result, we’ve started a group called the ‘Jesus Followers’ that meets every week.”
Overall, the impact that Glad Tidings is continuing to have on children and families has been the biggest blessing to Jean in her time as a short-termer.
“People respond to being cared for and loved,” Jean said. “When I see the families or the children who come to Christ just because we visit them and care for them, that is what impacts me.”
Jean returned to New Zealand once again at the end of August and is now teaching English as a second language as well as being involved in a programme in her church that addresses poverty. Because of her age, she knows she cannot return to Malawi as a full-time missionary, but she is open to the possibility of God bringing her back for more short-term trips.
“Perhaps I’ll come back as a short-termer every year or every couple of years,” she said. “I’m not sure what God wants me to do, but I’m very open to that.”
Jean takes comfort in the fact that although she has to leave, she has been able to impact lives by caring for and showing God’s love. One of these lives sticks out in her mind.
“One little girl was dying of HIV and AIDS when I met her,” she said. “She was very sick, and her mother had also just died of HIV and AIDS. It took me about three months to get her sister willing to let her be tested and go on medication. She is well now and has become a Christian. She is also going to school and did really well last term.”
Jean’s prayer is that the people’s lives that she has touched will themselves go out and impact others.
“I really believe that a missionary, regardless of who it is, cannot change the world,” she said. “While we can’t change the world, we can be instruments to change lives one at a time. And hopefully they will in turn go out and change other lives.”