In the early 90′s my husband was doing very well as the CFO of an up-and-coming record label. His income kept growing, so we bought a lovely home and moved out of our city row home.
Life was good! Several years later, we were planning an addition to our house and a family. Unexpectedly, my husband lost his job. True, he had grown weary of the uncreative chores of a CFO, but the money was too good to turn down. God, in His wisdom, stepped in to say, if it doesn’t make your heart sing, it’s not worth it.
We regrouped. I gave up my happy housewife lifestyle and we both got jobs. The jobs were not up to the overhead we had created when times were good. We struggled along, paying our bills, but never getting any further, not having a lot of fun.
When layoffs left us both unemployed, and the bottom dropped out of the music business, my husband was left with no where to go. I got lucky (through some good prayers) and landed a job as a technical writer.
But by the end of 2007, the financial company I worked for saw the impending financial collapse and got rid of its trained, highly-paid staff. Instead, they allowed staff, already overworked, to fill in to do jobs they were not qualified to do. After all, they figured, everyone can write.
On the back side of 40 and well-paying jobs a fading memory, we found ourselves, like so many others, with little hope for a job. Unemployment kept us going through the worst of the economic crisis.
When we got behind on our high taxes and the mortgage company nearly doubled our mortgage payment, we went into foreclosure.
We applied for a Making Home Affordable Loan Modification and set about finding a job, any job. Even if the job would never cover our overhead. The new mortgage would be modified to fit our income.
It took the mortgage company nearly 2 years to process our application, giving us time to get back on our feet. We also made some much-needed repairs to our house.
Our mortgage has finally been modified to a point we can afford, we have decent jobs, our taxes are up to date and we will soon be out of foreclosure.
Where do we go from here? God Only Knows.
One extraordinary act of kindness changed a life forever.
Most of us would consider an eight (8) mile bike ride along a dirt road in Malawi, Africa, a challenge to remember for a lifetime. Imagine completing three round trips, totaling 48 miles, on such a road within one morning! Now, imagine doing that to help raise tuition for a non-family member to go to school!
The kindness of a janitor was a critical solution for one of the many challenges in the life journey of Dr. Mike Njalayawo Mtika, Professor of Sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA. The experience taught Dr. Mtika that there is “always light at the end of the tunnel“, always a solution to whatever problem we face in life.
Mike’s father died three days after his birth. Traditions in Malawi required that his mother re-marry a brother, nephew, or cousin of her late husband. Since she had no desire to become a man’s second, third or fourth wife, his mother chose one who was not already married. The others did not like this and agreed to divorce her (marriage among the Tumbuka, Mike’s ethnic group in Malawi, is a commitment between families not just two people — divorce involves the whole family letting you go). She went back to her home of origin taking her three children, of whom Mike was the youngest.
These were times of abject poverty in Mike’s life and his brother and sister, respectively ten and seven years older than Mike. The brother, by custom, took on the responsibility of playing the role of the father-figure in the family life. His brother demanded that Mike work hard in school to break free from the poverty the family knew so well.
“During elementary school (first four grades to be specific), my mother mostly paid my tuition through selling her produce (corn, beans, peanuts). Then my brother took over from the fifth onwards paying school fees through his job and he did not earn very much. I received tuition support from various other sources during that time including my uncles and a bursary from the government; that is what helped to get through. By the final year of high school, my brother had no money to afford that $35 last tuition and there was no help from my uncles and the government.“
A distraught young man was expelled from school for failing to pay the needed tution. Crashed and not knowing what else to do, Mike was found crying by a school janitor, himself impoverished, living in a 12 x 15 foot home without electricity with a wife and six children. The janitor took Mike in to live with the family. Mike spent that night with the janitor’s family. An elder in a Presbyterian church, the janitor, the next morning, took upon himself the task of biking eight miles to speak to the church leadership on Mike’s behalf at the church’s headquarters. Concerned the janitor might be seeking funds dishonestly, the leadership required that Mike be presented to them face-to-face to authenticate his story. The janitor biked 16 additional miles in a round-trip, bringing Mike back with him to the church leaders.
The church leadership offered to pay Mike’s tuition and asked Mike to work off the tuition after he was done with his exams. With funds in hand, the janitor and Mike returned to the school only to find the principal waiting for the janitor. Because the janitor was trying to help Mike, he was late for his job and the principal was furious for the janitor’s lateness in reporting for work. After learning what the janitor was trying to do, the principal told the janitor to go back and return the money, which necessitated another 16 mile round trip for the janitor. It was agreed Mike could write his final exams then work at the school after the exams to pay for his tuition. After exams, Mike worked with the janitor doing such jobs as cleaning the grounds, splitting firewood, gardening, cleaning up toilets, laundry work, etc.
Mike passed his exams and was selected to go to Bunda College of the University of Malawi, where he earned a bachelors degree in agriculture. It was at Bunda College where Mike met his wife, Annie. After completing college in 1978, Mike was employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Annie completed college in 1979. The two married in September of that year. Mike was awarded a scholarship for a Masters degree in Agricultural Extension and Rural Development at Reading University in the United Kingdom. He left for Reading only eleven days after their wedding. It is worth noting that there is very little choice in pursuing opportunities for people in developing countries like Malawi. Thus when an opportunity for further education was available for Mike, he had to leave his wife to go to Reading. He completed his degree by 1980 and went back to serving in the Ministry of Agriculture. He worked for the ministry until 1986 when he resigned and joined World Vision International.
After graduation from Bunda College, Annie was also employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1987, Annie was awarded a scholarship by the United States Agency for International Development. She came to Washington State University to pursue a Masters in Home Economics, graduating in 1990 and going back to her work in the Ministry of Agriculture. During the time Annie was pursuing her masters degree, Mike was responsible for their three children: Eric born in 1980, Temwa born in 1982, and Shellie born in 1983. Mike and Annie respectively resigned from World Vision International and Ministry of Agriculture in 1991 to pursue doctorate degrees at Washington State University. Mike studied sociology while Annie did nutrition and dietetics.
Though Mike’s desire was to return to Malawi to be involved in the development of his country,he ended up being employed as a professor at the University of Alaska in 1998 before moving to Eastern University in Pennsylvania in 2001.
Mike continues to have a passion for improving life for the people of Malawi. A trip to the country in 2004 with students from Eastern led to the formation of Pamoza International, a non-profit organization engaged in improving the lives of people in Mike’s villages of origin. Interestingly, one major activity the organization is involved in is getting school children enthusiastic about school through offering tuition support to needy children who have passed their exams and are unable to pay the tuition.
“It’s not our circumstances that determine our steps. It’s how we react to them. Every challenge has an answer. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. It is essential that we diligently focus on alternatives and pursue those alternatives with creative confidence and faith in possibilities of answers to the problems we face.”
It also helps when a janitor does an extraordinary act of compassion and kindness that changes your life.
“That was the grace of God! God never leaves you helpless! God gave him the creativity and the physical strength to literally peddle a solution for me. There is reason for hope for all of us – God gives us the skills we need at any moment to face our problems and He delights in the solutions we come up with using those skills.“