Brookfield couple helps refugees, those in need across world
BROOKFIELD — In 1996, Nelson and Marge Malwitz traveled to Russia to help children and families still dealing with the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union years before.
Since then, the Brookfield couple, who have been married for 48 years, have traveled around the world on mission trips to assist everyone from victims of the Rwandan genocide to indigenous people in the Amazon.
Two years after the trip to Russia, Nelson, one of the founders of Walnut Hill Community Church, created MissionNext, an organization that matches people with mission trips based on their expertise and interests.
Marge, meanwhile, has come up with creative ways for victims of tragedy to tell their stories. Her Story Ropes project, created during a trip to Rwanda 13 years after the 1994 genocide, has since been shared with people in some of the 43 countries Nelson Malwitz has traveled to on mission trips.
The project arose out of Marge’s realization that it was difficult for the women in Rwanda to open up about the horror they had experienced.
She took a long rope and attached different colored ribbons, buttons or other items — each representing a piece of her story. A black cloth represented her depression as a child, a rainbow ribbon signified her artistic talent and a clear plastic wrap showed her transparency. The women then each created her own.
“For the most part, most of them have not told their stories because their stories are filled with the horror of whatever — being in an abusive home or having lost people,” she said. She has since shared the idea with people on five continents.
Marge recalled one woman who, after sharing her story of nearly becoming homeless, told everyone she would finally be able to sleep that night.
“It’s a rich moment to be able to help somebody like that tell their story,” she said.
Recently, Marge taught a woman traveling on a mission trip to Greece how to create the Story Ropes so she could share the project with refugees there. She has also trained volunteers who have done the project as far as Southeast Asia and Central America.
“I’ve done it all over and I’ve trained others who have taken it even further,” she said.
Nelson, who also traveled with the group of missionaries to Greece last month, said he wants to enhance MissionNext’s focus on organizations that work with the millions of Middle Eastern refugees fleeing to Europe.
In Greece, where refugees, including children, lived in temporary housing and tents, he met with 120 leaders of non-governmental organizations aiding in crisis relief.
“In America, we don’t understand, but they’re forced out of their place,” he said. “They’re completely uprooted and they’re separated from all their friends. Many times their families get separated. ... All they have is the clothes on their back and many of them have a smartphone.”
Often they have seen their family members murdered or raped, he said.
“In many cases, it’s difficult for them to talk about,” he said. “Like a soldier coming back from war, they can’t talk about it, but they do want someone to hear their story. A lot of times, the interaction is just one-on-one, people come and just sit with them to take care of physical needs, as well as just listen to them.”
He also extended his trip to the Ukraine, where he met with software developers who could help him with his MissionNext site and spoke with young adults about the importance of volunteering.
Nelson emphasized how much work needs to be done to help refugees in Europe. He noted volunteering is both an opportunity to give back to others and to grow as individuals.
“It’s an experience that’s so powerful because the sights, the smells, the sounds are all different and the opportunity to serve people that are hurting gets very compelling,” he said.