Villages in Partnership is a development organization that works in the rural villages of Sakata, Malawi, partnering with 25 villages and impacting over 19,000 lives. VIP has been in existence for nearly a decade and has members throughout the 50 states and the United Kingdom. But as with everything, VIP started as an idea. Or more accurately…
It all started with a feeling. In the summer of 2007 Liz Heinzel-Nelson had a quiet but unshakeable feeling that she was being called by God to do more to serve the poor. A devout Christian, Liz couldn’t ignore this call, so she sat down with her husband Stephen, the pastor at Allentown Presbyterian Church, and told him of her stirring. She suggested they take their family and live in an impoverished nation doing mission work for the next 5 years. After months spent talking and praying, planning and fundraising, Liz, Stephen and their two young daughters, Terra and Jordan, landed in Malawi on January 1st 2008 to spend a year in the deeply impoverished southern African nation.
Liz had read about extreme poverty in preparation for her year long trip, but none of her research prepared her for what they experienced. The poverty was so pervasive and deeply rooted, that during her first 6 months in Malawi, there were many days and nights when Liz wondered what she was doing there. Why had she brought her family 8000 miles from home, taken them away from their friends and family, schools and jobs? What possible difference could they make? But she never despaired. She never lost faith that the answer would reveal itself in time. And reveal itself it did.
Liz began investigating what non-profits were doing on the ground. One day in June a local Malawian development manager, Wellings Mwalabu, brought her to the village of Kalupe in the Sakata province in the South of Malawi. He had grown up in that region and he told Liz that it was extremely poor and largely ignored by the international development community. As Liz and her husband got out of Mwalabu’s jeep a crowd started to form, excited by the rare arrival of a car and intrigued by the appearance of two mzungu, or foreigners. The gaze of Liz and Stephen soon fell on an old brick building that had long ago fallen into disrepair. Part of the roof had caved in and holes in the walls provided no shelter inside. They asked Mwalabu what the building had once been, and he answered that it was currently acting as a clinic built to weigh babies and children, to determine how many of the young in the village were malnourished. In the shadow of the rundown clinic Liz and Stephen saw a large pile of freshly made bricks lying in wait. They asked Mwalabu what those bricks were for, and after a brief conversation with the villagers an old man stepped forward. Speaking through Mwalabu the old man told Stephen and Liz that his name was Mr. Kusimba and that he had made the bricks himself and piled them there next to the clinic. “Who paid you to make them,” they asked, “what organization is rebuilding the clinic?” Kusimba’s answer came back, “There hasn’t been a development organization here in years. No one paid me to make these bricks. I’m making them because I have faith that one day, someone will come here and help me rebuild that clinic.”
At that moment Liz knew that her searching was over. This man had no reason to think that anyone would ever come with the money and the tools needed to rebuild and operate the clinic in his village. But that hadn’t stopped him. It would take many more years of planning and organizing and fundraising to turn it into what it is today, but on that June day, under the bright Malawian sun, Villages in Partnership was born.
The seeds Liz and Stephen planted in 2008 have grown into what is now a vibrant, wide-ranging development organization, involving dozens of people working in partnership with other churches, schools, businesses and community organizations to nurture enduring, life-changing relationships with villages in Malawi. In 2012, VIP incorporated itself and is now a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. We invite you to explore this website to learn more about our mission, our partners (both here and in Malawi), and the work we are doing. If you feel called, we encourage you to get involved, and join us in making a difference in this world.
VIP has completed dozens of projects, large and small, throughout the region of Sakata since 2008, but our very first was rebuilding the clinic in Kalupe Village. And though he has grown older still, you can still find Mr. Kusimba if you walk down the dusty paths of Kalupe, just as feisty as ever. And if you are curious enough to ask him, he will tell you all about that fateful day in 2008 and the twin acts of faith that made possible everything that has followed. Click here to learn more about VIP’s work.