Starting with “WHY”
Partners in Hope was flourishing in many ways. God had accomplished much since the initial vision back in 2001 to care strategically for people living with HIV in Malawi. However, at the end of my previous term in Malawi (2011), I was honestly asking Him for an “exit strategy”. The day-to-day demands of life, work and home had crowded out the time and quiet needed to routinely reflect and replenish. Without this time, it was easy to lose focus and motivation. I realize now that I hadn’t been disciplined about personal rest, exercise and most importantly, time with God in prayer and His Word. I had burned myself out.

I returned to Malawi with the motivation not to repeat this pattern. I have found a few things that help me maintain some sense of balance and focus….audiobooks, swimming, and deliberate time with God. My 15 to 30minute commute to and from work each day used to be spent listening to news or stewing over the long list of what I needed to accomplish. Instead, I now use this time as my “retreat” from the world, getting absorbed into a story, a book on development or leadership, or a bit of C.S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien or JK Rowlings (a missionary listening to Harry Potter…gasp!). Heavy traffic just means that I get further into my book. The rude minibus drivers who frequently cut me off afford me one more paragraph. The stalled flatbed in the middle of the road might even buy me a whole chapter…what luck!

Many of the books I’ve read or listened to have been for my enjoyment, but my recent focus has been on leadership, several of them being quite transformative. “Start with WHY”, by Simon Sinek, gives some very poignant examples of how a clear sense of “WHY” in an organization is key to success. Another is “The Spirit of Kaizen”, written by my residency professor, Dr. Robert Maurer, elucidating the Japanese philosophy of daily small improvements. I am currently listening to both again. Directing a medical center the size and scope of PIH demands ongoing careful assessment, critique and input from others far more experienced than me. I value the encouragement and ideas gleaned from these authors.

My swimming times have become another retreat as I literally immerse myself into a world of gentle splashing and repetitive motion. The pool at our kids’ school is a beautiful escape from Malawi, often a time when my mind seems clearer, the challenges of the day less daunting, and the dreams of the future possible. Recently, I have found myself mulling over the principles in “Start with Why”. The end of last term, when I was at the end of my strength, I was certainly asking “why”, but in a different way. Now as I reflect on why, it is more an attempt at understanding the reasons God has me here in Malawi and the reason I have a new passion to take Partners in Hope into what is next. Of course, outside of my car and the pool, where real life happens, this “Why” so often gets crowded out by the “Hows”, and “Whats”. But as I use these times of reflection, and spend significant time alone with God, the “Whys” do start to come into focus.

I remember my first year in Malawi. The devastating effect of the HIV epidemic was overwhelming. I was so unprepared to make any real impact. But I was seeing the HIV epidemic one face at a time….one story at a time. In many of these lives I could have an impact, even if it was only to bring some temporary relief. I recall one day as I was driving, I heard a Scott Krippayne song on the radio, “What breaks Your heart, what makes You cry? What would I see if I looked through Your eyes? I want to grow closer and closer to You, so that what breaks Your heart, breaks mine too”. Tears came to my eyes as I realized that my heart had made a shift to align with God’s heart for people living with HIV.

It was this heart change that drove me to continue to do all I could to have an impact on the HIV epidemic. My “WHY” for caring for people with HIV was that God loved them and cared about their suffering. This “why” attracted “like-hearted” people to come alongside our work and bring it where it is today. Out of this “why” came a “What” in Partners in Hope, a Malawian charity that directly cares for over 7,000 patients with HIV, and supports 66 health care facilities treating over 45,000 HIV patients through training, mentoring, and facility improvements. It also produced some “Hows”. Even if they don’t know it, this is the “why” that brought partner organizations like SIM, Project MedSend, UCLA, USAID, Rotary Club, African Mission Healthcare Foundation and many more to support the work of Partners in Hope.

But does God love only Malawians with HIV? Clearly not. Does God love the baby dying from malnutrition and dysentery caused by the effects of extreme poverty? Well, Scripture confirms a clear “YES” (James 1:27 and hundreds of other verses). God cares about the fact that 8.3% of all children in Malawi die before they are five years old. God cares that lack of access to a $2 treatment for malaria means that a mother of five dies, leaving her children orphaned. We have grown to understand that our “WHY” is much broader than HIV. We know that everyone is created by God and deeply loved by Him. Each person is deserving of our best, regardless of their label. When this is our “why”, it not only drives us to do more and do better, it also “shows” to those that we are caring for. They feel loved...Christ’s love in word and deed. Pray with us as we explore God’s calling on PIH to expand to a full-service teaching hospital. It’s another opportunity to trust God to lead us, provide the means, and bring glory to Himself. He is faithful. More to come……….