Friday, November 27, 2015

How Dangerous Is It For Missionaries to Live and Work in Malawi--George's Post

1.    How Dangerous is it for Missionaries to live and work in Malawi?

Some may wonder how dangerous it is to live in Blantyre.   This question could, of course, be split into two parts: how dangerous is it for missionaries (the full-time elders and sisters and senior couples) to live and work in Blantyre; and how dangerous for Malawians.   At least for now, and for my present purpose, I have no visibility on the second question, so I will confine myself to addressing the first one.  
As many of you may know, some cities in Africa are notorious for their high crime rates, thefts and violent assaults.   Johannesburg, South Africa’s capital, by all accounts is surprisingly dangerous—carjackings, purse snatching, violent muggings, thefts, assaults, and murders are all too common.   Senior missionaries living in Johannesburg, even in decent parts of town, need to be constantly vigilant.   Crimes against property and persons are directed against all racial and ethnic groups.   Missionaries are not exempt.
At least by reputation, Malawi is a far safer place to live and work than most countries in Africa, even for Westerners who are natural targets for certain types of property crimes   I don’t have trouble believing that may be case--after talking with Malawians and other senior missionaries, who have worked in South Africa and other African countries.  With some research, I could probably pull up some comparative crime statistics that might prove that point.   But my objective is not to document this short discussion with statistics.  I am not sure what the statistics might prove any way; they won’t paint for you the picture I wish to convey.  
What I want to share is how Carole and I view our experience here, even if our observations might not be complete or objectively accurate.   What is probably of most interest to you is the level of anxiety that we have about our safety--- how much or how little we worry about using cash machines or getting money from the bank in the central district in Blantyre; walking in the townships; coming home late at night; driving on the roads; and, being home in the evenings, when the doors are locked and windows closed.    Certainly the fact that we believe we are on the Lord’s errand, and our safety is in part in His Hands colors all of our feelings.   We are not however blind to the possibility that “something bad” might happen, nor do we think the Lord will protect us from our own folly.[1]
If danger is measured by the extent of the security precautions taken by property owners to protect themselves against theft and assault, Blantyre must be a very dangerous place.   Upon first arriving in Blantyre, one is almost overwhelmed by the presence of roving security teams, the numbers of local security companies, wrought iron bars on doors and windows, and surrounding brick security fences topped with broken glass or rolls of barbwire.   Homes in more affluent areas of town often have 24-hour security guards, guard dogs, and elaborate electrical security systems, monitored constantly, with teams of security guards ready to be instantly dispatched if the alarms are triggered.   They also have paired sets of exterior doors—one wood door with at least two separate key locks, coupled with an wrought iron door with another set of locks.   The home security setups are designed to deter all but the most determined of burglars.   Short of one taking a heavy duty slug hammer and welding gun to the doors, it is hard to imagine an intruder being able to break through the exterior doors if securely locked. 
During our stay in Malawi, we have not witnessed, nor heard about, an armed attack on a home, so it is hard for us to know whether all of the security precautions are really warranted.   However, given the money expended on these measures, and the fact that similar systems are found everywhere in the nicer neighborhoods, prior experience must have caused home owners to be extremely nervous about their safety.  Once we are in the house, and have locked up the doors, we never worry about our security.  
You might be curious as to whether we feel more or less secure having on-site guards on the property.   The answer is a bit more complicated than you might expect.   Davey is our regular day-time guard/gardener.[2]He has cared for, looked after, and protected senior couples for ten years, and sometime in the past, joined the Church, and attends regularly the Blantyre 2nd Branch.[3]   It is impossible not to be taken by Davey—he is attentive, good natured and always willing to help out if asked.   We don’t have a lot of extra assignments for him, but when we do have something out-of-the-ordinary he is ready to pitch in and help.   Davey is usually with us from 6:00 in the morning, until 6:00 in the evening, Monday through Saturday.   He spends most of his time tending to the grounds (they are kept immaculately).   Once or two a week, Davey washes our truck, and he needs to be around to open and close the security gates, for us and for the occasional guests.   We are confident in Davey’s loyalty and know he has our best interests in mind.   We have no doubts but what he would do what he could to ensure our safety if anything were to happen during his shifts.   Of course, day time thefts and assaults are rare, and we never give much thought to security during the day-light hours.  
Our experience with the night guards has been disappointing.   We have very limited contact with them.   Initially, we thought we could learn their names, but the rotation is so frequent that we can’t keep track of them.   At least from our perspective, the life of a night guard must be a miserable existence.   They have very little to occupy their time.   Usually we are back to the residence between 5:00 and 6:30, and if we go out in the evening, our visits are pretty short, and usually we are not out late.   So apart from opening the security gates, once or twice an evening, we place no demands upon their services.   Their assignment is merely to stand and watch.   We assume they are expected to stay awake throughout the night, but whether or not they do so we have no idea.   Sound carries easily from the guard station, next to the security gates, to the house, so we frequently hear them talking among themselves, sometimes late at night or early in the mornings.   Occasionally, we wish they would be quieter, but it’s not a big deal, so we don’t complain.   Malawians are cold blooded, when compared to most Westerners, fair more sensitive to cold than we are.   In the evenings, even when it is mild (certainly by Seattle standards), the guards will be bundled up in heavy coats, hats and scarves, an image we find quite comical.      
Without a personal relationship with the night guards, we don’t have a feel for their loyalty—and, at the end of the day (really in this case, night), loyalty is the most critical element.   It is likely that most thefts are “inside” jobs—not necessarily that the guards themselves commit the crimes, but they are somehow connected with those who actually do the thefts.   They pass along information and don’t interfere when the thefts occur.   Of course, if we were awake at the time, we could trigger the security alarm, and hopefully within minutes a crew of security personnel would show up.   The last thing we want to do is test the reliability of the security system.  
The only time I suffer from any case of nerves is when we come home late at night, pulling into the driveway, waiting for the guards to respond to our honk and open the gates.   Were someone to pull in behind us, blocking a possible retreat, we are vulnerable until the gate is opened.   With that in mind, Elder Reynolds advised us, months ago before he left, not to pull into the entrance way, until the gates was being opened.   Generally, I remember to heed his good counsel. 
Unlike the younger missionaries and members, Carole and I are rarely on foot at night, or left to wait for mini-buses to get a ride home.   Dusk is about 6:00 p.m. in the early evening, and it is quite dark within an hour.[4]   For the most part, one doesn’t need to worry as long as other foot traffic is around.    The level of concern escalates however as the evening wanes, and the traffic on the streets thins out.   Within the last two months, there have been two muggings, one very violent, which occurred at the top of the road, where mini-buses congregate, leading down into the M’banyani market.[5]   Both attacks were around 8:00 in the evening, at basically the same intersection, when there was virtually no traffic on the road.   Elders Slade and Chawaguta were the first to be accosted.   The muggers took their house keys, backpacks, wallets, scriptures, and phones, and one struck Elder Chawaguta with the flat side of a panga (the Malawian version of a machete), leaving a nasty bruise.   It was later determined that his arm had been broken.   Curiously they also took the elders “nametags,” an odd thing to snatch, with no value.    The next day a Church member visited a nearby field, where muggers sometimes toss unwanted items, and was able to retrieve the discharged scriptures and house keys.  
Oliver Niyonzima, a member of the Blantyre 2nd Branch, was the second victim, assaulted a week or so later, at basically the same spot, and close to the same time at night.   Oliver was not as fortunate as the young elders.   After stealing his money, identity cards and watch, one of the assailants slashed his face with a panga knife, leaving a terrible gash running from the brow above his right eye across his nose to the other side of his face.   A second thug, using a hammer, smashed him in the left cheek, doing considerable damage to his teeth.   Oliver did not resist, when asked to turn over his valuables, but did fight back when the muggers started to pull him off the road, away from the mini-bus station, down into a nearby ravine; as any of us would have been, he was fearful that they would take his life if they got him off the road.    What is not clear was why this assault became so violent.   Perhaps, it is because Oliver is a Rwandan immigrant working in Malawi (working as a nurse at Queens), or perhaps because he resisted when they started pulling him off the street.
The damage to Oliver’s face was so extensive that Carole did not recognize him, three days later on Sunday after the three-hour block, when we saw Oliver and President Tchongwe in front of the Blantyre meetinghouse.     His right eye was closed from swelling, the gash across the face, though sutured with what much have been 30 plus stitches, was red and raw, and the left side of the face was badly bruised.   Oliver and President Tchongwe then came back to our residence, so we could sort out some financial matters, and we got the report about the assault.   Head wounds bleed profusely, and we can imagine how much blood Oliver must have lost and how traumatic attack must have been.   He easily could have been in shock.    After the assault, Oliver was taken in a mini-bus to the police station to file a report,[6] and then on to Queens to bind up his wounds.   Oliver was at Queens as a patient for three days as they tended to his care.  Oliver has been working in Malawi for the last five years, first in Lilongwe and more recently in Blantyre.   He is trained as a nurse, and says he also attended law school in Rwanda, before leaving for Malawi.   Oliver speaks several languages, French the native language in Rwanda, English which he picked up during school, and Chichewa, which he has had to learn in Malawi so that he could get work.   Though jobs are scare in Malawi, nursing positions are to be found, even for immigrants, because of the lack of qualified nurses in the country.   He is obviously bright, energetic, and forward-looking; and, though he speaks English, we sometimes have difficulty understanding him.   Part of the problem may be that his history is convoluted, and it is hard to follow all of the twists and turns—his school history, moving between countries, how he joined the Church.   He has shared with us some of the events of his childhood in Rwanda, and hearing those horrific experiences was painful for us, reminding one of the terrible inhumanity that occasionally occurs in the world.[7]  
Have these events given us pause?     They have certainly led us to be more concerned about the safety of our young missionaries, who are out and about in the late evenings, waiting for mini-buses to get them home, after finishing up their evening appointments.    Recently, the Mission revised their daily schedule, bringing it more in line with the daily schedules observed in other African countries.   Now they leave their apartments later in the mornings, and stay out later in the evenings, allowing them more time to contact and teach complete families.    Malawi and Zambia are just two of the handful of countries in southeast Africa that have young sister missionaries, as security and safety issues are uppermost in the minds of the Area Office Presidency, working out of South Africa.   We have also recently visited with several members and local leaders about safety, getting their recommendations as to the schedules the local missionaries should keep.   And Carole has communicated this input to President and Sister Erickson, who in turn have counseled with the Blantyre Zone Leaders.
While the recent events remind us of the potential risks, they have not caused us to reassess the prudence of what we are doing, or caused either of us to be more concerned or nervous.     As you might imagine, it took us several weeks to get comfortable being in Blantyre and walking around in the townships, everything being strange and a tad unsettling.    Invariably Carole and I are the only “azungu” in the communities, attracting considerable attention, certainly by the children, but also by the adults.    Seeing our nametags, and my “priesthood attire,” virtually everyone recognizes us a “church” folks, frequently calling me “Elder,” “Father,” or “Pastor” and Carole as “Sister,” “amayi” (Chichewa for “mother”), or “mommy.”     It is almost impossible to convey the level of “respect” they so liberally bestow upon us—partly because we are “azungu,” partly because we are from a church, and party because of our age.  Without exaggeration, I firmly believe that we would be welcomed at any home we might choose to visit—they are so welcoming, kind and generous.   Under those circumstances, it is hard to feel as though we are ever in any danger whatsoever—at least as long as we are in crowds.   Of course, we are not naïve—there will be some who see the same three characteristics—whiteness, church affiliation and age—as precisely the reasons for mugging us if they have a chance.   But they are, however, in a very small minority, and their hostile designs will be kept in check as long as others are around.
Lest some of you may think we are hopelessly naïve, let me share some of the principles of prudence we generally follow to stay safe.   It is the Malawian custom to escort a guest part way back to their vehicle after a visit.   Though not wanting to inconvenience our members, we always welcome this gesture, both to be respectful of their tradition, but also for the additional security it provides and  to tag us as “friends” of someone in the neighborhood.      We avoid being out late at night, except in those neighborhoods where we are obviously recognized because of countless visits to members.    Even then, we do not linger, but are mindful of our surroundings, avoiding dark and secluded places.    If it is after dark, we try to walk only on the main roads where there is lots of foot traffic.   Crowds are key to security.   We would never walk into a deserted market place in the night or take shortcuts across what appear to be empty fields, far away from homes and neighborhoods.    When making evening visits, we leave the truck as close as reasonably possible to our destination.    Occasionally, we pick up Church money from our local bank to take back to our residence.   The money is immediately placed in the office safety for safeguarding.    When we do this, after getting the money, we never make interim stops to take care of other business, but instead go directly home.   We are on guard to see if anyone follows us from the bank or pays unduly attention to us while we are in the bank.   We kept to the main roads while driving home, and watch to make sure no vehicle is following us.  
Without question, however, there is one area where safety is a paramount concern—driving a vehicle in Malawi is nerve-wrecking, and one needs to be constantly on guard.   The paved roads have ragged edges and are often pock-marked with deep holes.   Other drivers, especially mini-bus drivers, do not observe the same rules of courtesy as are routinely observed in the United States.   Mini-bus drivers assume they are always entitled to the right of way, expecting others to anticipate their erratic driving, and to get out of the way.   Rarely, if ever, do other drivers drive defensively.   It is not uncommon, for example, for oncoming vehicles to keep coming when traffic is blocked to one lane, without ever thinking that the other opposite lane of traffic should have a turn.    Stopped vehicles wishing to turn at a T-junction usually pull so far into the intersection that others could not possibly turn into their street.   Owing to the terrible maintenance of their vehicles, break-downs are common—there is not a time when Carole and I go out, but what we see stalled vehicles, often many, broken down in the middle of the roads.   Malawians do not use reflective warning signals or flashing lights to signal a break-down (even when the break-down is at night), but instead put out a series of broken branches in the lane where the break-down happened.[8]   This practice is not a huge problem during daylight, but a serious safety concern at night.  
Another traffic risk is the ever present flow of human traffic along the sides of the roads.   Day or night, indeed virtually any time at all, people are walking along the roads, since the roads are used both for vehicle traffic and human traffic.   The main path from one village to the next is the main road.   Westerners will have difficulty appreciating the sheer volume of people moving this way—school kids, mothers with babies in chitenge slings, workers, and the elderly are all on the move.   For reasons we can’t understand, Blantyre does not have the bike traffic one finds in the rural villages—instead, most people walk to save the mini-bus fares.   Vehicles have the right of way, but there are so many people on the fringes that it requires one to be very attentive.   Having the right of way won’t spare a life, or won’t make the pain of an accident go away, if those walking are inattentive or casual or stray too close to the road’s edge.  Another risk is the deep concrete trenches on either side of the road in Blantyre, used to drain off the storm water.   These trenches, which are close to the road’s edge, are usually a foot or so wide and two to three feet deep.   It does not take much imagination to conjure up the image of what happens to a vehicle if it strays off the road and runs into the drain trenches.   The extent of the vehicle damage—together the accompanying injuries and loss of life--is horrendous.    It is certainly a weekly, and sometimes almost daily, occurrence to see a truck or passenger vehicles off the side of the road, smashed into the drainage trench, with fractured window shields, crumpled front ends, and mangled body frames.  
The dangers of driving are almost exponentially magnified at night, so much so that I have several times foresworn driving in the night hours.    On top of the perils that already exist are these additional risks:   many vehicles do not have working headlights, but that does not keep them off the roads; many on-coming vehicles fail or forget to reduce their high beams; it is virtually impossible to see many of the Malawians walking along the roads, especially if they are dressed in dark clothes; bikes with heavy loads, some quite wide, are often on the side of the roads;[9] the lines of broken branches to signal vehicle break downs are inadequate to give enough early warning; there are virtually no overhead lights to illuminate the roads; and, the risks of passing slow-moving traffic are almost impossible to express.   Many slow-moving trucks, mini-buses, and buses clog the main arterials in the early evening hours.    Faster-moving cars and vehicles quickly back up behind them, creating mini-road jams, as each vehicle in turn looks for an opportunity to pass.   Some drivers are far more aggressive than others.   I have witnessed drivers pass four to six vehicles, sometimes including long-haul trucks, when they could not possibly have seen far enough down the road to know whether they would have enough clearance.   Each time one overhauls a slow-moving vehicle is risky:  there is the risk of meeting head-on a vehicle without headlights; of side-swiping a passenger or biker who has strayed too close to the road’s edge; of over-estimating the run one has to slide back into the right lane of traffic before meeting the on-coming vehicles; of hitting an unseen pothole or catching the ragged edge of the pavement, throwing the vehicle of line or causing a loss of control.   While our Toyota truck is a decent vehicle, it is not blessed with the best acceleration, further complicating passing other vehicles.  
I should, and do know, better than to drive at night.   Yet I have found myself on the road late on several occasions, driving back from Lilongwe to Blantyre.   The most recent occasion was when Carole and I accompanied President Matale to visit five member families participating in NuSkin’s SAFI program,[10] which is located outside of Mponela, two hours north of Lilongwe by car.   On Tuesday morning. November 24th, we left Blantyre shortly after 6:00, arriving at SAFI’s campus just before noon.   I had thought we could get back on the road before 3:00 in the afternoon, but we didn’t leave SAFI until a little after 5:00.   All of us had brought some extras, anticipating the need to overnight in Lilongwe, if we got stuck longer at SAFI than first anticipated.   We should have done just that, but I was impatient, and decided to push through, hoping to get to Blantyre by at least 10:30.    We were able to keep to that timeline, but at the expense, I am afraid, of frightening both President Matale and Carole more than I should have.   For the first couple of hours out of Lilongwe, the traffic was quite heavy, requiring lots of “passing” maneuvers; after 9:00, I found the traffic had tailed off and the balance of the trip was fairly easy.   It was a moonlit night, so the visibility is a bit better than normal.   But for them, whenever I passed one of the slow-moving vehicles, all they experienced as a gunning of the engine, a rush of acceleration, overhauling another car—closer than one would like, and driving into the darkness.    Even so, I think I have learned my lesson—no more night driving.

[1] One of our favorite scriptures is found in D&C 84: 88:  “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face.   I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”   See also the disucsison under “_________________________.”
[2] Working for the security company is not a bad job—Davey has job security, a steady, if modest, income, and a pleasant place to work.   We make few demands upon his time, and he controls his schedule and work pace.   The job is not demanding, apart from the long-hours, and Davey spends much of his day visited with other guards, friends and acquaintances, who drop by, and the women, who for some reason are always on the street.   Right now the biggest drawback is that Davey’s wife and son live in a village, off the Chikwawa Road, roughly an hour drive from Blantyre.   Some Sundays Davey gets home, some Sundays not.   Davey and his wife must find this arrangement less than ideal, but similar family separations are common in Malawi, with the husband working anyway somewhere (often in South Africa), and the wife left in Blantyre or in a village to live with her family.
[3] Many of the guards are members of the Church.   The security company with the contract for most of the missionary-occupied apartments is owned by Gabriel Chinomwe, a long-time member, returned missionary, and recently called Second Counselor in the District Presidency.  Gabriel has, over the years, hired family members, as well as Church members, to work as guards.   Also some guards have joined the Church through their association with senior missionaries and their guests.
[4] Malawi is at about 12 degrees south of the equator, so there is not nearly as much fluctuations in the length of the days between winter and summer, as we experience in Seattle, which is at about the 48 degree north of the equator.
[5] We do not work in M’Banyani and rarely are in that area.
[6] Given the extensiveness of his injuries, he must have fought to be coherent when reporting the assault.
[9] Especially problematic are the men transporting wide bags of charcoal on the back of bikes.   These loads are usually five to six feet wide, with the result that they take up more of the road that one might otherwise expect of a biker.
[10] The acronmyn “SAFI” stands for the School of Agriculture for Family Independence.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How to Become Self-Reliant?--George's Post

1.    How does one become self-reliant?

Far more important than a technical definition of “self-reliance” is the question “how does one become self-reliant?”[1]   Accordingly, all discussions of “self-reliance” quickly become discussions of “how to.”     Sister Julie B. Beck cites the following as keys to becoming “self-reliant:”   “We become self-reliant through obtaining sufficient knowledge, education and literacy; by managing money and resources wisely, being spiritually strong, preparing for emergencies and eventualities; and by having physical health and social and emotional well-being.”[2]  The list is illustrative, and likely was not intended to be read as a exhaustive list of factors.  Below are the principles behind this, and similar, lists of the specific steps to be taken to gain self-reliance:

(a)  “Use Available Existing Resources:”   Self-reliance should always begin, using the resources, internal and external, currently at hand, to allow us to satisfy basic needs and to find answers to our problems.

Sister Beck makes this point by saying that self-reliance starts with “using all of our blessings from Heaven Father.”   These blessings can be described in different ways.   They can be itemized as skills, talents, aptitudes, experience, degrees, certificates, diplomas, awards, honors, traits, money, investments, savings, etc.”    Above I choose to categorize them as either “internal” or “external” resources—depending upon whether they relate to the characteristics of “people”—aptitudes, skills, traits, education, training, and experience (together with external evidences of such skills—such as certificates, diplomas, degrees, job experience, and resume type material) (collectively, “internal sources”)—or to things that people use to provide for their basic needs—real property (land), personal property, tangible and intangible property, money, investments, etc. (collectively, the “external resources”).     Some may find that distinction useful, others not, but it doesn’t matter much how we choose to classify the resources at hand.   What matters is that they are “resources” to which we have access and which we use first to address our basic needs, before turning to others for help.     One of the key internal resources is that of “personal initiative.”   Self-help, which is used to establish “self-reliance,” requires that such personal initiative be employed to take advantage of the available resources.    It is not helpful to envy others for the resources they have, but which are not at our disposal, nor to complain about our lack of resources.    Moreover, the pool of available resources at our disposal changes with time, as our talents are enhanced and as we gain greater access to material possessions.   With question, one of the most important tools is the ability to be creative and to adapt, through problem solving, to the conditions around us; it is precisely that skill that has allowed mankind to gain dominion over all things.[3]

(b)  “Make Investments in Ourselves and Our Children.”  We should be prepared to invest in ourselves and our children.   Like all investments, this invariably requires current sacrifices of time and resources in order to develop greater resources in the future, further asking of us to take the long, and not short, view of what is going to be “valuable” to us and our families.

Getting an education or obtaining specialized training are clear examples of “investing” in ourselves.   Completing the requirements to obtain technical certificates, diplomas, and degrees requires not only the payment of school fees, but also much hard work and discipline.    Some of society’s most valued professions and careers are accessible only after years of dedicated schooling.    It requires one to sacrifice now in the hope of greater rewards in the future.    The skill sets acquired, without question, open up opportunities for work or income that otherwise would be closed to us.   Many have trouble seeing the benefits of such sacrifices or lack the personal discipline to make the sacrifices.   One must be able to take a long view of one’s life, making sacrifices now, and deferring current pleasures, in favor of greater rewards in the future.      It further requires having or developing a vision of where one wants to go.  Often such a vision is obtained by watching what others have done, who are self-reliant and who have made a success of their lives.

(c)   “Saving External Resources:”   Saving money or other external resources is critical to self-reliance.

The saving of money or stockpiling of other external resources is designed to achieve one or several of the following objectives, each an appropriate aim for those desiring to be self-reliant: (i) to serve as a hedge against future uncertainties, so that to allow one to carry on despite unexpected setbacks in the future; in this sense, saving is a type of “insurance;”[4] (ii) to be used to cover a portion or all of the purchase price of some item one wishes to obtain; savings for this purpose reduces or eliminates the need for consumer debt, and represents an act of personal discipline, contrasted with the immediate self-gratification that comes with many debt-financed purchases; and (iii) to prepare for the time when one expects to need the funds in order to permit one to retire or to take time off from work.   The latter case is not one of “insurance” (one is not hedging against the risks of a possible unwanted event), but instead represents an act of proactive planning to deal with an expected, and desired, change in life circumstances.    One plans to continue saving until the pool of savings, together with income or increase thereon, is sufficient to allow one to quit working, and yet to continue living, at the desired level of comfort, until death.  
The key to a successful savings program is to “save something” each month, month in and month out, treating the savings just like another other “required” payment.   With time, and assuming proper investment, the savings together with interest can be substantial.
Examples of such savings include food storage; participation in pre-retirement savings programs; setting aside money in various forms of investment to serve as a hedge against the risks of unwanted events; purchasing insurance policies to hedge against certain risks or contingencies—whole life or term life insurance, as well as casualty and liability insurance, are some of the most-commonly recognized types of insurance products; and, depositing money into saving or checking accounts, or other similar liquid investments, for the purpose of funding later desired purchases.   It also includes holding back bags of maize to fund the purchase of next year’s seeds and fertilizers.   
Is it possible for the poor to save?   Mistakenly, one might assume this is not feasible, because the poor need every last dollar to make a go of it.    Such an approach virtually guarantees that the poor will remain as they are—poor.   One of the critical factors in breaking the cycle of poverty is provident savings.

(d)  “Avoiding Unnecessary Debt; and Managing Carefully the Debt Incurred:”   In order to avoid become a slave to debt, people should avoid incurring unnecessary debt, and should never incur debts that they do not expect to be able to repay.  

As a general principle, we should avoid, if possible, the incurrence of debt.  Debt is an unforgiving task master, requiring its due—in the form of principal and interest payments--on a regular basis, whatever our circumstances may be.   The Church recognizes, however, that certain capital intensive items, such as homes and income-producing business assets, and that education and training, are only within the reach of most if some debt is incurred.   But even in those situations, we are expected to use prudence, and not to overextend ourselves.   This means that we should not purchase more “house” than is really needed or incur school fees to attend expensive schools without a reasonable belief that the additional school costs can be cost justified over time.    Moreover, debt should never be incurred unless, at the time the debt is incurred, we can see how our future circumstances will permit its repayment, and we are “personally” committed to honoring our obligation to repay.   Malawi is, as I have mentioned before, a cash-based society.   Many of the purchases, which are debt financed in the United States, are made in Malawi only if one has the “cash in hand” when the purchase is made.[5]  Hence, Malawians do not have the high levels of consumer debt that are so dangerous in the United States.

(e)   “Living within Our Means:”   Self-reliance, almost by definition, requires that we control our monthly spending so that our expenses do not expect our monthly incomes.[6].     

Frequently one hears that self-reliance is not about “money,” but instead it is about self-control.   It doesn’t matter how much income one has—whether one is poor or rich—one is not self-reliant unless one manages the monthly expenses to be less than the monthly income.   Sooner or later, if families spend more than they have coming in as income, they will deplete available savings, incur unhealthy levels of debt, and finally find themselves insolvent and in need of financial aid from others.   There are two keys to living within our “means.”   First and foremost, families must manage their life styles so that their expected monthly expenses are less than projected income levels.   This requires planning, avoiding burdensome debt, deferring non-essential purchases, controlling one’s need for “things” and “toys.”   If family incomes fall below prior or historical levels, being self-reliant may require downsizing and a dramatic recalibration of expectations and spending levels.   Usually, husbands and wives, including children, must be on board to control expenses to bring them in line with expected cash inflow.  
Second, most of us need to plan carefully to monitor monthly cash inflows and cash outflows in order to ensure the proper balancing.   Such monitoring is best done with a written budget, usually prepared on an annual basis or as 12-month rolling budget, showing projected monthly income and expenses.   To be useful the budget must be updated frequently to take into account changes in the family’s fortune.   The budgeted expenses should include projected cash flow to pay tithing, cover required debt service payments, cover reasonable expenses, and set aside something for savings.   Only after those expenses have been paid, or provided for, should families use excess funds for non-essential purposes. 
One may fairly ask if these principles apply equally well in Malawi, when, for some families, much of the monthly inflow is not in the form of cash but in the form of the harvest of crops from local gardens or land in the family’s home villages.   For example, subsistence farming means that the family relies primarily upon local crop harvest to feed their families and to take care of basic needs.  The crops harvested are first used to feed the family, and the excess crop, if any, then sold or bartered for other goods the family needs.   Most subsistence farmers also try to supplement income by doing some piecework during the year; when such work will be available, and how much extra income it will generate, may be difficult to project.   Moreover, the income is not apt to be regular or predicable.   Certainly, these factors complicate the budgeting process, but do not vitiate the fundamental usefulness of budgeting.     
For example, assume a family of four needs 20 50 kg bags of maize to cover their basic nsima needs for 12 months, and assume the average market price over the year for a 50 kg bag of maize is 5,000 MKW.   Furthermore, assume that the family will harvest, at the home garden plot and/or in the family villages, 40 50 kg bags of maize.   This means that the family should have 20 extra 50 kg bags of maize, above and beyond what it should retain to feed the family.   At 5,000 MKW per bag, the family should have 100,000 MKW during the year to cover the costs of all non-maize expenses, including amounts set aside for savings and tithing.  Further assume that the family expects to generate an additional 40,000 MKW over the 12 month period through piecework jobs, but does not know when such piecemeal work will actually be available.  
Under these circumstances, the preparation of a useable budget is likely more difficult that it would be for someone in the United States with steady employment, receiving W-2 wages.  But, at the same time, the need for a budget may be even more pressing, since it will be harder to match up cash inflows with cash outfalls.   Careful planning (thinking about what the year really looks like) will be critical to avoid unpleasant surprises.   If nothing else, the cash inflows will be not even over the year, but instead will come in during the harvest, when the bulk of the family’s “income” is generated.   Families must carefully plan to amortize the value of such harvest over the remaining portion of the year (i.e., until the next harvest) so as to avoid running out of food.   An additional complexity is that the value of a bag of maize is not constant over the year.   Shortly after the harvest, maize prices are at their lowest level, say 4,000 MKW per bag, while shortly before the next harvest, when maize supplies are at their lowest levels of the year, the same bag may sell for 9,000 MKW.   Such fluctuations in per bag maize prices must be factored in to allow the family to schedule the best times to dispose of excess crop to generate cash for non-maize related expenses.   Such calculations may be difficult to make for those unaccustomed to planning and not comfortable with numbers.   There are no accountants or financial planners here to help them with their budgeting.

(f)   “The Significance of Healthy Living:”  Part of a provident life is taking care of our bodies and health to avoid “avoidable” problems.

Part of a provident life is taking care of our bodies and health, thereby avoiding many of the health-related issues that otherwise would sap our ability to care for ourselves.   No group is better suited to respond to a possible message about the life-long benefits of healthy living than Mormons, who, since almost the Church’s inception, have had the Word of Wisdom to guide them in caring for their health.   No one seriously contests the value of the Word of Wisdom in that it prohibits the use of alcohol and consumption of tobacco products.   The need for regular exercise, though not specifically addressed in the Word of Wisdom, has been heralded by modern-day prophets, and has, in recent years, become a popular cause in the United States and other Western countries.     Literally millions of Americans jog, bike, lift weights, and engage in regular sports activities, all in an effort to promote a healthier life style.  
Regular exercise and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco are not, by and large, serious problems in Malawi.   Missionaries do not find it difficult to get Malawians to commit to living the Word of Wisdom.   This is not, however, to say that Malawians do not have their fair share of health problems.   Those problems, however, arise more from the lack of clean potable water, inadequate sewage disposal systems, and limited diets, as well as the lack of access to qualified health professionals to address early-onset medical problems and to treat acute health issues later in life.

(g)  “Developing Sound Problem Solving Skills:”   Self-reliance is predicated upon individuals developing and using sound problem solving skills.

The sixth principle for developing self-reliance identified in “My Foundation: Principles, Skills, Habits” is problem solving.[7]    The ability to identify a problem, consider potential solutions, and select the best one for getting the desired result is a skill so essential to “self-reliance” as to be self-evident.   It is an essential element to agency and human life.  Those who lack this capacity are like young children, who will likely require help from loved one throughout their lives.   They will not be able to fend for themselves without others to guide them.  
All of us know people who struggle with problem solving.   Some struggle because they have trouble identify what matters—they have no vision of where they should be going or what is critical to getting there; some because it is difficult for them to conceptualize potential, or alternative, solutions to a problem—this requires an imaginative turn of mind; and, others because they are paralyzed when it comes to “making decisions.”   They lack confidence in their own judgment; they are accustomed to having others tell them what to do; they find uncertainty paralyzing, freezing them from selecting one alternative over another.   Rarely is there absolute certainty about what is the “right” or “best” or “optimal” choice, when it comes to making a living, earning money, selecting what school or program to attend.   We are given considerable latitude in these matters, and the Lord expects us to use our good judgment in deciding upon alternatives.  
This is not to say that the Lord wouldn’t answer prayers about the “correctness” of a choice or prompt us to stay clear of one alternatives if it is not right for us.   But we are certainly expected to go as far as we can to make decisions on our own, using our talents, and accessing available resources, before turning to the Lord for confirmation.   The Lord gave somewhat similar advice when admonishing Oliver Cowdery in the 9th Chapter of the Doctrine and Covenants, speaking to his inability to translate.   “Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time.  Behold, the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph.   And, behold, it is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.   Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.  Behold, you have no understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.  But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.  But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”[8]   I do not think it is much of a stretch to apply the same principle to decision making when it deals with primarily “temporal” decisions.[9]
Is there any reason to believe Malawians approach “problem solving” differently than those in the United States, for example?   This is a difficult question to get a handle on.   Normally one would think that problem solving skills would spread across a population as large and diverse as that in Malawian pretty much the same way as they would in the United States.   Some would be good at problem solving, other not so good, but the range of skills, as it spreads across the whole population, would be roughly comparable.   There are however two factors related to problem solving that may skew the statistics more than one might expect.  First, the Malawian educational system, at least at the primary and secondary levels, places far more emphasis upon memorization, and the recitation of facts, than is the case in the United States.   Consequently Malawians often have at hand facts and statistics that no one in the United States would know or, for that matter, would care about.  Dates would be an example.   The average Malawian member knows the date of his baptism, his mission departure and return dates, and the alike.    It is possible that this approach is at the expense of teaching students how to analyze independently problems and to arrive at conclusions.   Second, historically each of the tribes in Malawi was a highly stratified society—with chief, sub-chiefs, ministers, village headman, and the like.   Authority was centralized and the chain of command was clear.   The leaders make decisions, and tribe members follow.   Tribe members are not expected, nor were they encouraged, to think for themselves.    They were to carry out the decisions and directives of local leaders.   Such an authoritarian structure is not particularly conducive, or consistent with, a model where everyone is expected to think for himself and to take personal responsibility for his affairs.  

(h)  “Christian Based Self-Reliance:”   Faith in Christ and obedience to the basic principles of the gospel help one become and remain self-reliant.

Of course, many non-Christians embrace the benefits of self-reliance, following many of the principles discussed above.   And, in so doing, they are responsible members of their communities, feeling a keen obligation to care for themselves and their families.   They are as desirous of being independent and self-reliant as most of the members of the Church.   At the same time, the Church believes that acceptance of the gospel gives members additional motivation for becoming self-reliant.    At its core, self-reliance is about “taking control” over one’s life, even if the external conditions are working against one, and doing the right things for the right reasons.    Hence, it is possible to think of the master and service as both having equal control of what really matters in life—deciding to be a believer and making morally correct choices.   What comes with a testimony of the gospel is a similar spirit of “taking control.”   Spiritual self-reliance is thought of as being akin to temporal self-reliance.   Hence, getting right with God leads to becoming “self-reliant.”  Achieving such spiritual and temporal self-reliance is a process, and most of us need years to get to the desired ends.   It is likely that because of this that the Church introduces “exercise faith in Jesus Christ” as the first principle leading to spiritual and temporal self-reliance.[10]

[1] Most of us have a general sense of what it means to be “self-reliant,” whether or not we could define it with any precision.   If nothing else, it means or suggests being independent when providing for one’s own well-being.
[2] See supra, ___.
[3] See, for example, Psalms 8: 3-9.
[4] See the discussion of the patriarch Joseph’s stewardship under Pharaoh’s rule under “____________________.”
[5] See the discussion under “____________________.”
[6] For purposes of this discussion, our monthly income includes any amounts in the family’s savings fund that are to be released on a monthly basis to include within the month’s income.   Rarely are monthly income and expenses constant over a year, or for that matter, over any extended period of time.  Consequently, most families have to put money into savings, and then draw it out, from time to time to cover expenses that are not amortized equally over the year.   Examples would include semi-annual or annual property taxes or income tax payments and irregular debt service payments.
[7] See “My Foundation: Principles, Skills, Habits,” (2015), 14-15.
[8] D&C 9: 3-9
[9][9] The line between the spiritual and temporal is not bright, and does not exist in the Lord’s eyes.   “Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the chidren of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.   Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, that no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neighter carnal nor sensual.”   D&C 29: 34-35.
[10] See “My Foundation: Principles, Skills and Habits,” (2015), 4-5.