From Craig to Malawi, Jayne sees the hand of divinity in her work

Teneil Jayne poses for a photo next to the sign welcoming drivers to Craig east of the city along U.S. Highway 40. Jayne lives in Malawi, a small country in Africa, but is from Craig and was visiting home this week for the first time in over a year.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

Teneil Jayne doesn’t really fancy herself a missionary.

She’ll call herself that in conversation, for ease of identification, and for all intents and purposes, that’s essentially what the Craig native is doing in Malawi, a landlocked nation in southeast Africa nestled between the much larger countries of Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Jayne, 36, is spreading the Gospel of Christ in a foreign land, yes, and is by many definitions doing missionary work. However, she sees herself as something a little simpler.

“I’m a Christian being a Christian,” Jayne said. “I think that all of us believers were called to be missionaries, and I think that’s a box you get put in. These days, a missionary looks like an evangelist. That’s not what I do. There’s no outline, no plan for what it was supposed to look like — it’s just this evolving thing.”

Jayne lives full-time in Malawi, coming back to visit home in Craig only occasionally, and is stateside this week for the first time since before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the borders closed, they said there’s one plane left to America, you’re on it or you’re here for whatever happens,” Jayne said. “And I just thought, you know, for such a time as this, you can’t just be a missionary on the good days.”

Jayne found herself in Malawi about five years ago after a more traditional missions trip to the region left her feeling unfulfilled and wanting more — more connection with God and with his children, more time to serve, and more time to create. But she never planned to build a life there.

“I bought a one-way ticket, and six months later I had a foster daughter,” she said. “My mom asked ‘What are you doing?’ And I just said I don’t know but I can’t stop. And I didn’t have money for a plane ticket home, but someone very generously gave me money to get home. Then the same day a boy came needing cancer treatment — it cost the same as the plane ticket. So I gave it away. Someone gave, another thing came. And this was kind of addicting. I like this.”

Jayne, though educated in biblical counseling, is not affiliated with a particular church. In fact, she intentionally bucks against the concept of strictly organized worship, both stateside and abroad.

“In Malawi, there’s a church on every block,” she said. “But they’re all so corrupt. They were built by people who came to Africa with a dream of building a church without investing in the people. They wanted to put on their paperwork that they built a church in a third-world country. But the church is not a building. They just gave out a bunch of small businesses without knowledge or education or scripture or what Christianity looks like. The church should be taking care of people, not the other way around.”

So, Jayne said, part of her mission is helping bring disillusioned locals back to some concept of what she sees as true religion. And she’s just as interested in doing that for people back home, too.

“People want to show up and be entertained and made to feel better,” she said. “That’s not what church was intended to be. I want to show people that if I can go to Africa and find a little old lady who had a stroke and paint her nails for her, what’s your excuse for not doing that in your own community where you speak the language? It’s a call to action. If I can do it here, why not you there? A lot of Christians are sleeping, and it’s time to wake up and be active.”

The pandemic, Jayne said, has been a unique experience in Malawi, where she spent the better part of it unable to come home.

The prevalence of numerous other diseases and ailments — which have been largely conquered in more developed nations — make this other virus harder for the locals to take all that much more seriously than anything else.

“They’ve got TB, HIV, Dengue Fever, yellow fever, typhoid, malaria — malaria kills a million people a year in Africa — and so the government comes out and makes an announcement a new flu’s going around, they were like, ‘Eh,'” Jayne said.

The impact of the virus at home, against the backdrop of relative immunity from the maladies that plague Malawi, seemed therefore all that much more tragic.

“My heart was broken. I got back and my mom was telling me about the husbands or wives who had passed away in Craig,” Jayne said. “The obits being full of families — you’ve struggled with it (in Craig), that made it more real. There, every day is a fight for survival.”

But it’s time to go back, Jayne said, even though borders are still tough to cross in Malawi. It’s time to get back to her life in Africa.

“None of this was me,” Jayne said. “It’s been God in every aspect of my life. There’s no possible way I would be able to continue my life there without the people who support me. All I am is a middle man who takes what’s given and gives it back out. God helps me with discretion and making sure I’m using wisdom. People who want to do something but don’t think they can — now they can. I feel extremely blessed.”

Help Teneil help Malawi

Teneil Jayne said that she depends on donations to keep the lights on — literally and figuratively — in her ministry in Malawi. Here’s how you can get involved.

Website (with donation button):


Facebook: Teneil Jayne

Instagram: @teneiljayne

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