In 1979, the Rev. Joe Hopkins; his wife, Lou; and their daughter Elaine moved to Malawi to serve as mission volunteers with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Since then, the Hopkins family — grandchildren included — has remained connected to the country.
When they first arrived in Malawi, Joe taught at Zomba Theological College and served as an assistant at the 5,000-member Zomba Church of Central Africa Presbyterian. Lou taught music and recorded 100 unpublished hymns in Chichewa, a national language of Malawi.
After five months, the Hopkinses returned to the States. Joe later returned to Malawi as a mission co-worker, but this time, he went alone and ended up serving at the seminary and church for nearly five years.
“This time, I learned the language well enough to write and preach sermons, not only in the Zomba church but in prayer houses in the rural areas,” he said.
Along with a team of elders, Joe reached out to the community by visiting the Zomba hospital and prison. He also officiated many funerals and used his car to drive people to the hospital and transfer bodies from the morgues to their homes for traditional services.
“It is hard to say what impacted me the most,” Joe said. “Their poverty moved me to create the Malawi Mission Fund, which responds to appeals for assistance from pastors and students.”
The fund, created in 1988, helps Malawians put steel roofing on mud-brick homes and prayer houses, pay school fees to educate high school and technical school students and buy bicycles and used motorcycles for pastors with churches and prayer homes.
In 2013, the fund was financed by 12 churches and 39 individuals for a total of nearly $27,000 that assisted 58 students, six orphanages and nine families.
The fund has assisted others as well, some outside of Malawi.
“Several years ago we came to the aid of three orphaned sisters in Uganda,” Joe said. “The evil Lord’s Resistance Army attacked their village and slaughtered most of the adults, including their parents. The girls fled to their Episcopal church and their pastor appealed to me for support.”
The fund sent one of the girls to South Africa for a heart operation that saved her life and then paid for the education of all three girls at a secondary school. They are now attending Kampala International University in Uganda.
However, the investment in these girls has put a financial strain on the fund financially, leaving many Malawian students stranded.
Joe and Lou’s granddaughter, Alex Taylor, is now also involved in Malawian mission.
“It was a joy to see Alex off to Malawi last summer. She carried messages to several of our Malawian friends and was given a warm reception by many Malawians wherever she went,” said Joe.
Joe and Lou are now retired and live in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. They have been attending the New Wilmington Mission Conference since the 1980s.
Donations to the Malawi Mission Fund can be sent to: Sue Anne Fairman, New Wilmington Presbyterian Church, 229 S. Market St., New Wilmington, PA 16142