Ministry of presence

We learned about presence being a ministry in our formation training. I remember Paul, our Program Director, saying more than once that we’d need to learn to be okay with just being and not always doing. For most Americans this is not an easy task. We focus on productivity, accomplishments, or to simply put it – getting things done.

Looking back to mid-November, it started getting difficult for us to be content “just being present.” Our daily life was becoming a bit more routine; we spend quite a bit of time at the 2 preschools we work with and attended various meetings at church. In our spare time, we typically play with the neighborhood children or the children who come to the church property on the weekends for tilitonse (Sunday School, but on Saturday’s—all morning!) Life was beginning to feel “smooth.”

But it also felt like we weren’t doing anything different and didn’t have anything to share about our ministry. And quite honestly, homesickness hit me pretty hard around the holidays. Writing a blog update forces me to think of my family and friends, so not writing was just easier than getting sad. (I’ll return to homesickness in a bit.)

Many of the Comboni Fathers we work with in the Malawi/Zambia Province have told us the importance and huge impact the ministry of presence is especially with us being a family with two small children. We are still struggling with the language. Unfortunately the 50 or so hours of language training we received early on was only enough for greetings and very basic communication. Because we are not even close to fluent in Chichewa, we get discouraged and feel we’re not able to be as involved as we’d like to be.

Christmas mass at the parish.

To impact the feeling of being discouraged and not comfortable with the ministry of presence, after Mass on Sunday I had a woman tell me I should know the language by now and she was disappointed in me. This comment made me feel bad for about five minutes. It only took about five minutes for me to receive 4 comments regarding our presence being so impacting and beautiful to our church community. The Treasurer of the church told me with a huge smile, “you do good work, we are so blessed to have you and your family here.” Then a preschool teacher we work with came up and introduced me to his friend. He told the friend how wonderful it has been having us at the preschools and he spoke of all the “great changes and contributions” we’ve made. One woman stopped me as I was leaving to ask if we were leaving for America soon (in Chichewa and I understood her!) I told her no, we’d be here for at least two more years. You should have seen her smile; she shook my hand and thanked me many times for not leaving!

My point isn’t to tell you all the great compliments I received in this 10 minute timespan one Sunday after Mass. Rather its to demonstrate how in only 11 short months, with only knowing a little of the local language, our family was able to make connections, to build relationships, to show others we care and we love them. Yes, I’m confident there is more than one person here who is disappointed or frustrated that we still struggle with Chichewa. But, clearly for each person who is disappointed in our lack of language skills there are 4 more who are touched at our mere presence among this community.

God sure knew what I needed on this particular Sunday. I was feeling stale, and after the first woman’s comment about her disappointment, I was feeling downright bad. Then, these people just started saying things to me about our ministry and most were referring to our ministry of presence. I will continue to pray for peace and acceptance that I am right where God wants me to be. I pray for an open heart, calmness, and patience everyday. I am humbled to be reminded of our training session as well as what the Comboni Fathers have told us – Ministry of Presence is important, we need to embrace and accept it.

Children at the Comboni preschool where the Kleven family dedicates much of their time.

Don’t let me mislead you; we have plenty going on though it’s the things we’ve basically already told you about. We’re still overseeing the two Comboni Preschools, I’m helping in the Comboni Provincial Finance Office and Jacob has been extremely busy launching a new café at Lilyanna’s school. Plus we attend various church meetings, assist Fr Somanje, our Comboni Parish Priest, in grant writing requests and have most recently become the neighborhood first aid nurse, ambulance drive,r and human jungle gym. (We’ll elaborate in the next update!)

I mentioned being homesick around the holidays; I’d like to return to this thought. I’ve never lived more than 45 miles from my parents, until moving to Malawi at 35 years old. The holidays were a bit tough though we made it through and our family enjoyed them. Right around Christmas, we began receiving emails, MANY OF THEM, from our St. Ann’s and HMC Church Community. Every time I’d open my email, there would be 5 or 10 more messages. These messages continued to come for a few weeks after Christmas.

I can’t even express how beautiful it was for our family to hear from so many of you! The messages were touching, we didn’t feel forgotten, and instead we felt love and support! And most of all, it helped cure the homesickness! Technology sure has made being a missionary much easier than it must have been before the internet was widely available! Thank you so much for your Christmas wishes, each and every one of them means so much to us! We didn’t delete a single one, they have their own email folder. When one of us is feeling a bit homesick or lonely, we simply open up the emails and begin reading.Thank you so much for the beautiful blessings so many of you gave us this holiday season!

Please know you are always in our prayers, multiple times each day! We love praying on specific prayer requests so please include us when you have something specific you’d like us to be praying for. Why not have prayers being said from literally all over the world? Thanks again for being patient as this update is long overdue! We’ll write again shortly with some specifics of our encounters over the past few months.