A visit with the Youngs

What a privilege to be part of the Young’s household in Lilongwe, Malawi, for a few days recently. Sarah and Michael were home for the holidays from Rift Valley Academy (Kenya), so Jim wasn’t travelling on Malawi Sunday School business and Diane had a short break from her busy hospital schedule — except when people knocked at the door needing help. People were constantly knocking at the door, part of the huge network of friends, neighbours, church contacts and needy people that you get when you’ve lived in a community as mission partners for 13 years.

Diane sums up her particular gifts as “hospitality, helping and healing” and Jim’s asyoungs “mercy and giving”. Diane’s main job is being a doctor at the African Bible Colleges Clinic in Lilongwe, often going to work at 7am and getting home at 6pm or later. She also works at an epilepsy clinic and is a Christian mentor to medical and dental students at the local College of Health Sciences. One of the needs is to strengthen their resolve to live out their faith at work. She sees in Malawian hospitals and clinics the widespread stealing of medicines, and “if you can have a group of new people coming into the workplace showing Christian character it will have an uplifting effect.”

Jim leads the team which is spreading STUM (Sunday School Teachers United Movement) into  local churches, raising the standard of educating children in the faith. This often means travel to set up committees in different districts, but the plan is to have the Malawi churches take full responsibility for their own governance of this, including raising funds for doing it.

“But a lot of what we do is outside our main brief, “ Diane says, remembering that at their very first SIM training session someone told them not to just follow a job description but always to be open to doing the things God wants. “I think a lot of what we do is to simply live life alongside the people around us; try to model Christian life so people say, ‘See how they love one another’ – the gospel in action.” One memorable event was when one of Jim’s team, who came from the Congo, got liver cancer. His family were in a refugee camp and he needed to be in town to access medical care. He came and stayed in their house until he died.

“Missionaries are very ordinary.” Diane says, “We get tired, we get fed up … have to make sure amidst the busyness that we feed ourselves spiritually. If we try to do it all in our own strength it gets ugly fairly quickly. For example, something very simple in the culture here is not to lose your temper; it can really damage relationships.

“Also, this life does impact the family.” One of the challenges has been sending the three kids to Kenya for high school, because there wasn’t a good local alternative. Another is being so far from Robert, their eldest — and now Sarah — going half a world away to study and work in New Zealand. But the fun of family camping holidays to the lake, or playing fast and furious card games after dinner, or sitting down with mum for homework help is special. On Michael’s birthday, Diane spent the morning making his favourite: lasagne with extra layers.

After a childhood in Africa, Sarah Young is about to commence life as a Kiwi tertiary student. Malawi is where her parents are, where she did a lot of her growing up – and she loves it – New Zealand is a foreign country that she has yet to figure out. Sarah graduated from Rift Valley Academy this month, then travelled to Cromwell, Otago, to board with family friends for six months for a gap half-year, because nursing school, where she’s heading, won’t start till February.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time in clinics with nurses, waiting for mum after school. I just love the idea of being a nurse. I think it’s an honourable job,” she says. “Becoming a nurse is also a practical way to help people who are poor; I’d like one day to come and work in an African clinic.” Leaving home is always a wrench for her. It was hard when she went to high school, and it will be hard this time. “A giant step,” Sarah says.

Balancing family life and work is a juggling act for many parents, but there are extra challenges in mission work. Jim runs a weekly prayer email for SIM partners in Malawi which helps to knit the mission personnel together. So far from home, it is they who are effectively your extended family.

— Zoë Cromwell


  • For Sarah starting a new life in New Zealand.
  • For the Malawi churches that Jim assists, to find ways to fund their own Sunday School movement sustainably. Pray also that they choose leaders with a passion for working with children.
  • For Diane to manage a busy workload at the ABC clinic.