Sharon Pittman, PhD – Malawi: “The Hardest, Yet Most Rewarding Job I’ve Ever Done!”

While some may opt for beach time with the grandkids, my retirement is anything but sand and sun!  Each day I leave for my Malawi Adventist University office as the Vice-Chancellor (President), to trek either the dusty (dry season) or the muddy path (rainy season) from my home to begin a new day.  The harmonious sounds of “Sweet Hour of Prayer” course through my ears as I slip into my place around our conference table for the best 20 minutes of heavenly singing, a brief devotional thought and prayer petitions sent heavenward.  Armored in our divine mission, each day we set about as a leadership team to build an amazingly blessed University into a world-class training center for the challenges of life here-and-now and for eternity.

Before long, my office is full of bustling activity, students adorned in bright colors who need help paying their bills, staff seeking advice on how to handle making sense out of our occasional academic nonsense, or young village kids just stopping by to see if “Momma VC” has any extra candies on her desk for sharing. A word of counsel here, quiet prayers with someone there; a tear, a laugh, never a dull moment!  Each day the urgency of the moment sucks the time away so fast that it leaves my head spinning!  While my time flies by, I am left overwhelmed with the the love and support that permeates from our team!  Malawi is considered the Warm Heart of Africa and each day I bask in that amazing cultural of kindness and nurture!

Less than 1% of the population of Malawi can afford to attend college. The average number of years of schooling is only 4.5 years of study. Here, the average life span is only around 60 years. Everywhere people are dying young of treatable and preventable diseases. Funerals are more common than any other celebrations. Just this school year we have buried four of our University students who, while dreaming of their career goals, succumbed to their painful battle with HIV/AIDs!  How unfair and awful is that?  As an Adventist Volunteer Service (AVS) volunteer, daily I face devastating injustices, but as God’s professional ambassador of love, these horrible experiences only motivate me to press on to improve our difference-making!  Malawi Adventist University is the Lord’s conduit to changed lives and is opportunity where little hope exists.

As the team leader for our two university campuses of Lakeview College and Malamulo College of Health Sciences, I am blessed beyond measure!  We have over 1500 talented Malawian scholars who are studying to lead this country in the years to come. Additionally, our dedicated faculty are eager learners themselves. I enjoy sharing the nearly 3 decades of teaching and academic leadership experiences I gained at Walla Walla University, Andrews University, the University of Texas and more recently Southern Adventist University.  Our instructors are thirsty learners as we march together toward academic excellence in service for Jesus!

Beyond mentoring our faculty, I am also fund-raiser-in-chief for our university. Just in the past months we have been blessed to acquire funding from some mission-minded church members from the USA to run the fiber-optic cable to our Lakeview campus.  For the first time the students coming to campus for inter-semester classes found new high speed internet to help them access global resources to improve their study outcomes. Additionally, Southern Adventist University donated 40 computers that are going to be used to populate an otherwise bare computer-lab at Malamulo College of Health Sciences. Nursing, biomedical sciences and clinical medicine students are all eagerly using these new e-tools to learn treatment skills to help save the lives of children in the villages who are suffering and dying from malaria and other water borne diseases.

Infrastructure is among the largest challenges! We are building new classrooms that will allow us to move from 90 student classes to 30 student classes.  We are expanding our two campuses to a third new space in an urban campus center in Blantyre, the business capital of Malawi. Here at this site day-students can join our educational programs as we have no more room in our residential dorms. Rooms meant to house two students currently have four to six students sleeping in them.  Often, we deal with leaking roofs and lack of water. In our mission work here, we are challenged to do much-with-little, but the daily miracles of the Lord’s provisions keep us motivated to trust him, where our capital resources don’t exist. Just when we think we can’t make payroll this month for our employees, the Lord sends just enough in fiscal blessings to help us keep up with our commitments. Our is truly a walk of faith!

Beginning in the summer of 2019 we will start to offer a new summer certificate program in global missions.  This will be an 18-credit academic minor that could be used by students from every discipline. Our students from Malawi Adventist University and students from Western nation Adventist Universities will pair up here for three weeks of class work and then three weeks of village service-learning mission outreach.  Our goal of this initiative is to spawn new mission models for 21st Century outreach that are grounded in mutuality and multicultural fellowship.  For more information about this program you can e-mail us at: gmi@mau.adventist.org.

So, while some may choose to beach-sit for their definition of retirement, I prefer my amazing retirement choice with AVS. I have no dull days, and challenges abound, but faith and trust in my Savior grows deeper as I lean on Him for wisdom and guidance to do the hardest, yet most rewarding job I’ve ever done!  Anyone tired of the beach can come join us for as long as you can stay!  The Warm Heart of Africa has room for you as well!

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Lakeview Campus in Makwasa, Malawi. (Photo Credit: Malawi Adventist University Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mau.ac.mww)


Dr. Sharon Pittman, PhD is volunteering as a Vice Chancellor at Malawi Adventist University in Malawi, accompanied by her husband John. She is one of several dedicated and gifted retirees who serve as long-term volunteers through Adventist Volunteer Service.

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