Mission in Malawi

In the summer of 2006, Amanda Hearle, a fourth-year international studies major, found herself stranded in the middle of a field in Malawi with 50 children.

The day had been full of soccer and netball, a popular game amongst the Malawian girls. When the sun set, Amanda, along with her fellow missionaries and 50 children from the Passion Center for Children, waited by the side of the road for minibuses that would take them back into their villages.

Instead of growing restless, the kids started singing and dancing on the road lit by nothing but moonlight. Their songs were infectious, and soon the missionaries joined them. For the next hour, under a vast expanse of stars, Amanda danced and sang until the minibuses came.

Six years earlier, Amanda had been nearly unable to walk up a flight of stairs without blacking out.  At 13, Amanda suffered from chronic joint and muscle pain, inability to concentrate, memory loss, migraines, fevers, weight loss and depression. She slept for 12 hours every day but never felt rested and couldn’t even stand up straight.

In 2000, at 14, Amanda was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, two diseases that still befuddle doctors and are largely untreatable.

For years, Amanda struggled with the realization that her conditions had no real cures or efficient treatments. She was a straight-A student who had never missed a day of school before, but when the symptoms hit, she missed school more than she attended and didn’t have the concentration needed even if she did. With the diagnosis and progression of her conditions, the pain kept her from being able to make it to school at all.

Amanda’s symptoms cropped up the same year she first forayed into mission work. Her first experience was a 48-hour stop over mission hosted by the Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission. The layover gave people the opportunity to learn about the facility and homelessness on Skid Row while also working at the shelter in the kitchen and other facilities. Later that year she spent a week in Ensenada, Mexico with her church’s youth group teaching local children.

Her diagnosis put mission trips, abroad or local, out of the picture. Coming to realize that the pain and exhaustion she felt daily would never go away, Amanda also found herself questioning the God who had been at the core of her mission trips and her life growing up. “I think suffering always causes people to question their beliefs and assumptions,” she says of it now.

In 2004, after four years of questioning her spirituality and learning how to cope with her conditions, she was presented with the opportunity to go to Malawi with her pastor. They went as an exploratory team to assess the extent of the orphan crisis, a result of the AIDS pandemic. She traveled through the southern districts of Malawi, visiting orphanages and attending community meetings to see how they could establish a partnership with local efforts to support orphans.

Amanda’s last stop in Malawi was a rural primary school where one of the teachers had started feeding ten students she knew to be orphans; she had noticed that they were doing poorly in school because of their hunger and wanted to help.

Amanda fell in love with Africa. “As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was struck by the immensity of the place. In Africa the sky feels bigger. It dwarfs you and everything else. The pace of life is so different. I love the fact that the people of Malawi are so hospitable, and so full of music and joy.” (Malawi, she discovered, is known as “The Warm Heart of Africa.”)

Once back home, Amanda and her pastor led efforts to raise funds and support by calling the members of their church to become involved in the new partnership with Malawi. The rural school they had visited became the Passion Center for Children and the interpreters and guides that had led them through Malawi were amongst the center’s first staff members.

She returned to Malawi every year with a bigger group of missionaries for the next four years. The group of missionaries established a yearly routine consisting of field trips and interactive Bible studies with the kids, producing the Passion Center Olympics, and brainstorming sessions with the staff to keep the effort moving forward. By the last time she went, in 2008, the center had grown to serve over 120 kids and garnered local and governmental support.

The Passion Center has become a place where government social workers know they can bring  children and feel confident that they will receive the care they need.

In fall 2008, Amanda transferred to UCI as an international studies major. The driving force behind her mission experiences has persisted through her academic focus; her classes have given her a broader global contextual basis for the suffering she has seen with her own eyes.

For her, faith and action will always be intrinsically intertwined and her future plans, though currently undefined, are oriented towards missions, whether in inner-city Los Angeles or in the warm heart of Africa.