In my previous post, I showed you the contents of my first ever snail mail package as part of my creative habit this year. This post, I want to properly introduce the recipient of that care package and let her tell you a little more about herself, the work she does and her current crafting project.
Lisa Sliva, with her husband Matt Sliva, is a self-supporting missionary in Malawi. Lisa was one of my first followers on Instagram. I like to see who connects with my art and often head to their website to learn a little more about who they are. That’s how I came upon Lisa and Matt’s website.. I was immediately drawn in by Lisa’s writing and devotionals. Her prose is light yet heavy with meaning. She has a natural storytelling ability that draws you into her space. I particularly love how she connects her crafting and the meditations of her heart. Most of all, I am inspired by her humility.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m just a regular gal with flaws and struggles and hopes and dreams like the next person, but I have found my identity in following my Savior, Jesus Christ. I have to say all the rest of my life flows from that one reality. I am loved by my Creator, and I have been saved by His grace from a life separated from Him because of my sin, through His death on the cross and resurrection. I could write so much more on this, but I think it will find it’s way into the rest of my story.
I grew up in the northeast of the United States in New England. At the age of 17, my whole family moved to Baltimore, Maryland to serve in our church there, and I followed a calling I distinctly remember “hearing” from the Lord to pursue being a “nurse who works with kids that have cancer.” God opened every door, and I become a pediatric oncology nurse. I loved and lost, and loved and rejoiced, many, many times during the seven years that I worked in that position. To this day I still stay in touch with many of the survivors and families of patients I cared for.
In 2012, I married the most wonderful man named Matt Sliva. He is the quiet calm to my loud Italian rambling, he is the objectivity to my undulating emotions, and he is the prayerful leader of our home and marriage. He has taught me so much about generosity and kindness, and although he doesn’t talk a whole lot, when he does, it has wisdom, grace, and truth. He challenges me in the best of ways on a daily basis, and I will stand by my declaration that he is the greatest earthly gift I’ve ever been given from God. In 2014, we moved to Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa, where we are now serving as missionaries with our church.
I like walking, but have never been a runner, even though I’ve tried to create that habit! I am addicted to coffee thanks to my husband, who is a bit coffee obsessed, I mean, a bit of an amateur coffee connoisseur. 😉 I also eat gluten free after battling for a few years with digestive issues, and I have a wild pipe dream of someday having a gluten free cafe called “Just Good” since I hate when people eat something gluten free and say, “it’s good, for gluten free.” Since gluten free things aren’t as readily available here, I like experimenting with recipes and trying them on our missionary team to see if they can tell whether they’re gluten free or not. Most of the time they can’t! [Lisa has kindly shared with us her simple yet versatile Gluten-free Brownies recipe. You can find it here.]
Tell us a few interesting things about your current place of residence.
Malawi is in the southern part of central Africa. We live in the capital city of Lilongwe, where there is not a single high-rise building to be found. In fact, most buildings aren’t more than two levels. We are fortunate enough to have electricity and indoor plumbing because most local people don’t have such luxuries. People often carry water from wells or a common tap in the neighborhood for cooking and washing.
Despite the conditions, the people here are amazing. They are as hospitable as you could ever imagine, and they are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. They are often up at 4 am and work until dark, six days a week. Most people don’t own much, especially cars, so you will always find people walking on the streets, and often for very long distances. Aside from walking, however, minibuses are the primary mode of transportation. They are rickety old vans from at least half a century ago, and most of them leave a generous black cloud of smoke behind them. You can find anything being transported in a minibus, too. From people to mattresses to legs of beef and live chickens, anything goes.
The second most common vehicle for transportation is bicycles. They are also from several decades ago, and you will also find anything and everything being transported on them. Tin roofing sheets, plywood, goats, firewood stacked up an over the cyclist’s head, people for taxying, chickens dangling by their feet from the handlebars, charcoal, and even once I saw a full bed frame on the back of a bicycle!!
The one thing that is different here is how long things take to do. You might get 20 things done during a day in the US, but here you’re lucky if you get one or two things done. Part of the reason for that is that we don’t own a car, so if we need to go anywhere we either have to walk or take a taxi. Even then, we find that on a given day, the only thing we might do is go grocery shopping, and just that can take several hours.
What does an average day of yours look like?
Monday through Thursday we have a prayer meeting and devotional in the morning with our missionary team, led by the pastor of the church. Fridays are our “day off” because on the weekends we host a free Bible college and have our church service on Sunday.
During the week, after our meeting in the morning, usually we come home for an hour or two before either going grocery shopping, evangelizing in the center of town, or visiting church members. During that hour or two I like to try to take some time for Bible study and prayer while a load of laundry runs in the washer or a gluten free sweet bread bakes in the oven. Normal chores tend to take a lot of time, somehow.
After our afternoon activities of shopping or visiting, it’s usually time to start dinner, which I generally have to make from scratch, not because of the gluten free issue, but because very few items are preprepared in the stores here. Local people eat the same maize based food every single day, so the variety for foreigners usually comes from other countries like South Africa and India. As a result, I usually have to take raw ingredients and prepare meals “the old fashioned way,” which can take as much as an hour or two to prepare. I really struggled with this when we first arrived in Malawi since everything is so ready to go in the US. However, I’ve learned how to cook “smarter” here and try to make a large batch of something that takes a long time to make and then freeze the leftovers for another meal. It has saved hours of my time since realizing I could do this!
Finally, after dinner, one of my favorite parts of the day starts. I get to create! Since my husband and I are usually together 24 hours a day 7 days a week in a studio apartment, we had to learn how to give each other our own time, and the evenings are usually when we do that. I tend to have a running list of projects that I’m working on, but I try to be disciplined and not start too many projects until I finish current ones. Since I am the only member of our missionary team with a sewing machine, I have been able to make lots of curtains and seat cushion covers for the wicker furniture we all have. I try to use my creative capacity not just for my own home, but to be a blessing to our team as well. it has been during these times that I have tried my hand at watercolor and embroidery, too.
Most of all I try to spend my days submitted to God’s plan for that day. I don’t try to force myself to do things I think I should be doing, and I try not to neglect responsibilities or opportunities when they arise. (People tend to pop in on you unexpectedly here, which was a foreign thing to me when we first arrived, so you kind of have to live your life ready for anything!) I guess it’s all part of keeping a balanced life.
Tell us a little more about your missionary work.
The work we do as a missionary team is really very simple, and to many, might not look like much. But, when I think of what our motivation is for what we do, I think of two portions of the Bible. The first is in 1 Corinthians 13:2, which says if we “have not love, [we are] nothing.” The second is in Matthew 22:37-40, in which Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great, most important, principal, and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as you do yourself. These two commandments sum up and upon them depend all the Law and the Prophets.” What our hope is here is that we can love God and love people with His love. So, most days you will find us simply spending time with Malawians.
However, we do have an objective. Our primary goal is to establish a local church which will eventually be taken over by Malawians once they complete their training in our free Bible college. We believe that learning the Bible is so crucial to understanding who God is and His heart for us as His creation. In most third world countries, since finances are often already a barrier to education, the classes are offered for free.
So, my husband and I are part of a 10 member team which includes the pastor and his wife and their three children, another older couple (who became missionaries as their retirement), and a Zambian pastor, in addition to us. We believe that strong churches come from strong families, so we spend a lot of time visiting and spending time with families and members in our church. Once a month I host a ladies’ tea fellowship where we have tea, cake and a Bible study. We have watched our church grow exponentially in the last two years, not only in number, but in spiritual maturity. To us, it is one of the most fulfilling things we could ever do with our lives. There is just something so special to watch someone grow in their faith, and to watch God reveal His faithfulness to them. It’s humbling and exhilarating at the same time.
Tell us about your crafting journey so far.
I can definitely say that my creative capacity was encouraged by my mom from a very young age. She would do crafts with me by the hour, and until I was probably 11 or 12 years old every birthday party she hosted for me had some kind of craft project on the agenda for all of us to do. She would also come to my school and volunteer to do an enrichment program called “Looking at Art,” since she had received art training as a teenager. She would find slides of artwork from famous classic artists and teach us about the style, genre, and life of each artist. I have to say that my love for impressionism, specifically the work of Claude Monet, can be traced back to that time. Sadly, I never pursued any more training because it didn’t seem “practical,” and I estimated my ability to be poor. In addition, I had always said to everyone who asked, “I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up.”
It has been here in Malawi that I have rediscovered much of my love for crafting. We are self-supported missionaries, meaning we work for a few months each year at “home” in Baltimore, and then return and live on our earnings. As a result, there isn’t a whole lot of extra money for things like decorating your living room to look like Pinterest, and there also aren’t a lot of those things that actually exist in this country. So, I found myself cutting up second hand clothes and teaching myself to hand sew (since I didn’t have a sewing machine at the time) so that we could have a quilt for our bed, which sits in the middle of our studio apartment. I found myself cutting up egg cartons to make bouquets of flowers, painting any and every piece of cardboard I could find into some form of wall decor, and generally upcycling everything I could get my hands on.
What I have discovered is my love for creating. My first love was crocheting, which was taught to me by my late grandmother when I was seven years old. Within the last year, I managed to get my hands on a sewing machine and I love it because its a gazillion times more efficient, but since I first learned how to sew by hand when I was making the quilt for our bed, I have discovered that I love embroidery, which is actually an affordable hobby here since thread and fabric are pretty readily available. I have started to dabble in watercolors and illustrating as I study my Bible and “journal” about what I’m learning. It has been such a therapeutic outlet, and I hope that I improve as I continue working with it. I enjoy almost any form of taking raw materials and turning it into something lovely or useful. I love working with my hands and I love challenges, which are also things that I enjoyed very much when I was working as a nurse.
What’s your current crafting project?
I am currently working on a project for my niece’s 4th birthday. It is an embroidery hoop art for her room, and it is a combination of patterns from embroidery designer Lili Popo. Some of my recently completed projects are a diaper/nappy bag for a friend, cushion covers for some of our missionary team members, curtains, wall art, and a project bag for my embroidery. I enjoy dabbling in lots of types of crafts, but I find that my favorite projects are for other people.
I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Lisa Sliva’s world. Don’t forget to head to her website to read more of her devotionals.