by Millie Penner, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
“We eat together, sing together in both English and Chichewa, go on our nightly walks together, and laugh together like a family of hyenas,” says Eric Bishop of his family’s relationship with Madalitso Kaputa. Eric and Linda Bishop, Souderton congregation, have opened their home to Madalitso, a participant in the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). IVEP is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) that brings young adults from other countries to live and work in Canada and the United States for a year. Madalitso is far from his home in Malawi, Africa this year, yet clearly he also has found a family with the Bishops.
During the day Madalitso volunteers at the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows campuses (Lansdale, Pa.) of the Living Branches retirement community. It is clear to his host family and both his supervisors that this work is far more than a short term volunteer assignment. For Madalitso, this work is a part of the calling God has on his life, a calling he works to fulfill with joy and passion. He says, “When I first arrived in the United States, the food, the time change and the people were all new to my life, and I wondered if I would be able to hold on to my sense of mission. But after a month, I feel like I’m at home as my wonderful host family has helped me to remember my mission goal. Through my work at Dock Woods and Dock Meadows, I have come to understand the great call that the church has in taking care of people, especially the elderly. Indeed, this is now the time that the church should be inviting and welcoming all the elderly into her caring and protective service as the salt and light of the world.”
Gerry Moore, who supervises Madalitso at Dock Meadows, agrees that he is focused and effective. “He is eager to visit with each resident and learn their stories. He wants them to know they have a life time of experience to share, a wealth of wisdom and much he can learn from them.”
Dock Meadows and Dock Woods have hosted IVEPers for several years and have seen good fruit from the cross-cultural exchanges that happen through this program. Eileen Burks of Dock Woods says, “A resident just received an email from one of our past IVEPers from Indonesia. They have been in contact for over seven years, and this clearly is one of many great bonds that were formed through this program. Another way that we are enriched is when the IVEPer brings the world to our residents through a cultural class, sharing about their country … family, faith, foods and languages.”
Madalitso will take many gifts with him when he leaves the IVEP program, not the least of which is a better sense of the world community. Linda Bishop, his host mother, says that he already refers to the world as his home, not just Malawi, since he is willing to go wherever God sends him.
And Madalitso will leave just as many gifts with those whose lives he touches here in Pennsylvania. Living Branches residents, his supervisors and his host family will have formed many good memories, relationships and connections that will last a lifetime.