There is a farm and orphanage in a small, landlocked country in southeast Africa where natives are being taught to farm and create income and where poor and orphaned children are cared for.
Though it seems unlikely, this patch of land in Malawi shares something with Rome. His name is Dean Kershner and while he lives in Silver Creek, Dean is also very active in Malawi helping to improve the lives of the people in this developing nation.
Dean is a representative for Gospelink, a global nonprofit that works alongside indigenous leaders in countries around the world to build Christian ministries as well as help improve the lives of the people in those countries.
The organization sends works with ministers, pastors and other community leaders in those countries who are already trying to help people, and provides resources to encourage that. They help they provide includes planning churches, caring for orphans, digging wells for clean water and a variety of other services.
“We provide mostly financial support and training,” Dean said. “These indigenous leaders know the land and know the people and their needs. We do applications on people to find out the nature of their ministry and then we provide them with the resources they need to support that.”
Though Gospelink is active in eight different countries, Dean, who has lived in Floyd County since 2006, has two jurisdictions within the organization — the former USSR and the small southeast African nation of Malawi.
He travels abroad two to three times a year, spending anywhere from two weeks to two months at a time overseeing the progress being made in the communities Gospelink is helping.
“When I travel to these places I take pastors, students, doctors and anyone else who’d like to come along to help,” Dean said. “There are lots of people who want to help people in developing countries and this is a way to do that.”
In 2009, Gospelink bought several hundred acres of land in Malawi and started a farm.
“The idea was for the farm to be self-sustaining,” Dean said. “We wanted to grow crops and teach the people there how to farm. We thought that would really help them long term. It’s sort of the ‘give a man a fish’ versus ‘teach him how to fish’ mentality.”
The farm is now fully functioning, producing several crops including rice, corn, bananas and peanuts.
But that’s just one part of it.
The property also houses cottages where orphans and other children are housed, fed and educated. The orphanage required American capital to begin but is now self-sustaining, Dean said. And he is moved by the impact it’s having.
“Some of these kids had never slept on a mattress before they came to the orphanage,” he said. “At the moment we are caring for 50 children and we’re making sure they’re all going to school.”
While Dean is the property’s administrator, there are separate managers for the farm and for the orphanage.
Here in Floyd County, Dean visits with schools, civic clubs, churches and other organizations to secure support for the things that are still needed in Malawi such as drilling a new well which costs $2,000.
“I don’t just ask for support,” he said. “I encourage people to come on these trips with me to see for themselves. And many want to use their unique skills and talents to help. At the moment we need people to teach English.”
Dean said every year puts them closer to where they want to be with the farm and the orphanage. Last year they were able to purchase a peanut oil processing machine which means they’re now taking the peanuts they produce, making oil and selling that.
What Dean wants people in Floyd County to know is that there are people in developing nations such as Malawi who need help. Through Gospelink, Romans and Floyd County residents can help by sponsoring individual children for $30 per month or supporting the farm and orphanage, or even travel with Dean on one of his trips.
“Any time an American comes to Malawi they become grateful for the things we take for granted,” said Dean who started his work abroad by teaching English in Moscow in the early 90s. “They become grateful for electricity, running water, toilet paper and a lot of other things we’ve always enjoyed. It opens their eyes to the fact that ere are still places in this world that are developing.”
“And it impacts a young person’s world view,” he added. “Experiencing a different country and culture really opens young people’s eyes and puts a lot of things into perspective. I know that personally my heart has been enlarged when I experience a person’s culture for the first time.”
Anyone who would like to learn more about Gospelink, sponsor a child in Malawi, support specific projects or even accompany Dean on a trip to Malawi can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also search “Gospelink Malawi” on Youtube to see a video.