Growing up on a farm, Nancy Hansen never imagined she would ever see Africa firsthand.

“I remember seeing the pictures in National Geographic,” said Hansen, adding while those pictures offer a good perspective of the country being there provides so much more.

This past July, Hansen and her daughter Bailey traveled to Malawi, Africa, and through Thrivent Financial, the company Hansen works for in Redwood Falls, they were able to work in a small village building a Habitat for Humanity home.

Called the “Heart of Africa," Malawi is a nation of contrasts, as it has larger more affluent cities that exist not all that far from extremely poor villages.

Hansen said Malawi is a Christian nation that has been impacted by missionaries for centuries.

“When the missionaries first arrived they tried to understand the culture and tried to help them understand they could keep that culture and be Christian, too,” said Hansen. 

Hansen spoke about her trip to Malawi recently as part of the travel series at the Redwood Falls Public Library, adding her experience was extremely positive and if she had the chance she would love to go back again.

“It is a very peaceful country and the people are so welcoming,” said Hansen.

Nancy and Bailey traveled with a group of 28 Thrivent Action Team representatives to Malawi, and the group spent time in the capital city of Lilongwe, as well as in rural villages serving the people.

One of the privileges the Hansens were able to experience came through another local church. Some ladies at First Presbyterian Church in Redwood Falls make pillow case dresses. A box full of those dresses was donated, and the Hansens packed them in their belongings.

“We were told not to take the dresses to the village, because we would not have enough and they would fight over them,” said Hansen.

So, when the opportunity came they found a Lutheran mission school. At that school, they spoke with one of the leaders who called over the children.

“When they got the dresses, they just stripped the children down from the rags they were wearing to put them on,” said Hansen.

Traveling out of the capital city, the group made its way to a smaller village where they helped to erect a brick home for a family. The bricks, Hansen said, were made on site, adding that was one way the home owners were able to participate in the house project.

“At first the kids ran in terror when they saw us,” said Hansen, adding as time went on they were much more comfortable around them. “Then we were their entertainment.”

The kids in the village do not go to school, but they are required to attend Sunday school, said Hansen. During their stay, the group had the opportunity to participate in a worship service, which Hansen said last two-and-a-half hours.

“There was all kinds of music, with choirs and bands,” said Hansen, adding even though it was in another language, she recognized when they sang the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

One of the issues the group discovered is that many of the more remote villages do not have a good water source, and simple things like toys are handmade using whatever they can find. For example, Hansen said one child had taken a plastic water bottle, string and a stick and made a pull toy.

Naturally, as part of the trip the group was able to go on a safari where they were able to see those traditional animals one would expect in Africa, such as elephants, hippos, crocodiles and giraffes.

The Hansens were in Malawi a little less than two weeks and had their lives changed because of the things they experienced Knowing the impact a little work back home could have Hansen said she has an address for contact in the hope of being able to continue offering support – perhaps even raising enough money to help one of the villages get a reliable water source.

Hansen said the nation of Malawi is a beautiful place with people who are very friendly, and even though they don’t really know what they don’t have they still demonstrate joy. That is the thing that Hansen said had the biggest impact on her.