I Wish You’d Have Been Here (Malawi Update #11)

I wish you could have been here today. It was wonder-filled.

I wish you had been here at Grace Bandawe Conference Center as the group of visitors from Pittsburgh and South Sudan streamed in through the late morning and early afternoon. With only a couple of exceptions, most of the team had been disbursed individually to a variety of homes and partner churches within the Synod of Blantyre. Some were in the big urban center of Blantyre or Limbe. Others went to smaller towns like Balaka, and still others found themselves in pretty remote areas. For five days, the team visited hospitals or prisons or schools, led worship, preached (for the first time in some cases), administered the sacraments, went on hikes, had long talks with host families, spent quiet afternoons “resting”, ate a lot of chicken, and who knows what else… and today, we reunited. If you’d have been here, you’d have heard the chatter and concern in their voices as they told stories and listened well to each other. I think you would have liked seeing that.

Gregg Hartung sharing resources with his media colleagues at Blantyre Synod Radio.

Gregg Hartung sharing resources with his media colleagues at Blantyre Synod Radio.

I wish you would’ve been with us when we were able to tour the studios at Blantyre Synod Radio, and to see the progress that’s been made in only two short years. It was particularly gladdening to my heart to see Gregg Hartung of Presbyterian Media Mission pass along some episodes of his award-winning radio program “Passages”. Gregg was a real encourager to the team from Blantyre Synod several years ago when they first shared the idea of a radio station with us.

A moment to reflect on the countless thousands of chickens who have made the utmost sacrifice in the name of partnership over the years...

A moment to reflect on the countless thousands of chickens who have made the utmost sacrifice in the name of partnership over the years…

But mostly, I wish you’d have been here for the “Farewell Banquet” this evening. This event, held in the largest room at Grace Bandawe, offered at least 175 people the chance to enjoy the opportunity to reflect together on journeys in mission and ministry. I say “journeys” because while the focus of the evening was clearly on the 2015 team, there were echoes of many previous visits that are still bearing fruit in the lives of those who have been given the gift of travel.

Deacon Gabe from USA and Elder Daniel from South Sudan

Deacon Gabe from USA and Elder Daniel from South Sudan

Had you been here this evening, you’d have heard things like this:

“I’m taking home much more than I brought with me from South Sudan. I came as a stranger and I was really welcomed and I became one of them, and was really at home. I have learned a lot.”

“Do you remember me? I came to America in 1994 and that really opened my eyes to the world. I have never been the same since then.”

“I wanted to introduce myself to you, Pastor. My wife came on the trip to USA in 2014, and I feel like I already know Pittsburgh because of how excited she was to be there and to learn at the New Wilmington Mission Conference. I already know you, from her; now I want you to know me.”

The Michiru Youth Choir.

The Michiru Youth Choir.

You’d have heard more, of course, including the amazingly outstanding fantastic and splendid Michiru Youth Choir. They sang everything from Siya Hamba to the Hallelujah Chorus to contemporary African choruses and so much else. Oh, how the sound echoed from those plaster walls! You’d have heard laughter – a lot of it – coming from my table where my friend Moyenda Kanjerwa and I got caught up. The clinking of cutlery and the popping of bottles of Cocopina and Cherry Plum…

A relationship is formalized.

A relationship is formalized.

You’d have seen Pastor John Hamilton and Pastor Joseph Maganga sign a covenant of partnership between the Bethany and Chiradzulu congregations. You’d have seen Malawian leaders try to hang on every word of our new partners from South Sudan, and offer ideas as to how to increase the impact of the trans-African nature of this partnership. You’d have seen people show up at the door ten minutes late and be disappointed because there was simply no room for them in this, the biggest room at Grace Bandawe.

I wish you’d have been here. Because I wrote this down and added a few photos, you know some of what happened. But you don’t really – you can’t, really – know what happened here. There was a resonance that was palpable and beautiful.

I wish you’d have been here.

Presenting the gift from Pittsburgh Presbytery to our partners.  Here I am pictured with Pastor Angelo from South Sudan.

Presenting the gift from Pittsburgh Presbytery to our partners. Here I am pictured with Pastor Angelo from South Sudan.

Vanessa rekindles a friendship that was initiated during the first hosting period.

Vanessa rekindles a friendship that was initiated during the first hosting period.

A group of leaders from three nations met this afternoon to begin to dream about 2016 and 2017.  Look and pray for great things!

A group of leaders from three nations met this afternoon to begin to dream about 2016 and 2017. Look and pray for great things!

 

See You At The River (Malawi 2015 #10)

When I was a kid, I remember coming home from school more than once to an amazing cacophony. As I stepped onto the porch, I could hear the vacuum cleaner whirring away. Louder than that, though, was my parents’ old hi-fi record player, blaring either George Beverly Shea or Tennessee Ernie Ford. The loudest of all, though, was my mother, singing at the top of her lungs,

Shall we gather at the river –
The beautiful, the beautiful, the river?
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God!

Know this, dear friends: my mother had many, many gifts. Music, however, was not among them. In fact, there were days when I hesitated to invite my friends to play at my house after school lest they find themselves treated to a concert by a trio whose most talented member was, in my twelve-year-old opinion, a Hoover upright.

That image came back to me the morning that we gathered with a group of people in our partner church and sang (in a way that may have been a mild improvement on my mother, the Hoover, and George Beverly Shea),

Ndiye Mzimu Wakuyera
Atipatsa ife makhalidwe
Ofanana naye Yesu
Anatsika Kumwambako.

When it comes to the Chichewa lyrics, I'm always ready to give it a go!

When it comes to the Chichewa lyrics, I’m always ready to give it a go!

So far as I can tell, the Chichewa lyrics have no discernible relation to my mother’s favorite hymn, but I’m here to tell you that the tune is the same.

I’m pretty sure that the old American gospel song is referring to the day, bye and bye, when we are called from this world of toil and care and freed to live in heaven. Maybe that’ll happen just the way the songwriter hoped it would, and I’d be OK with that. But tonight I write in a land that is shaped by a river: the mighty Shire that flows from Lake Malawi to the Zambezi and then to the Indian Ocean.

And I write as one who is profoundly marked by experience in a city that was built on not one, but three mighty rivers: the Monongahela, the Allegheny, and the Ohio, which eventually joins the Mississippi and spills into the Gulf of Mexico.

Sharon warmed up to little Dalitso ("Blessing") by - what else - play!

Sharon warmed up to little Dalitso (“Blessing”) by – what else – play!

One of the deep and substantial gifts of the international partnership is that we don’t have to wait for pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. I am sitting in the remote town of Ntaja, where we have spent the evening with fellow Christians who have become friends. We have eaten well, we have talked of important issues in the world, we have shared stories of family, and we have laughed. Oh, we have laughed.

And while I will not be sure of this until tomorrow evening when I am reunited with our whole team, I have every reason to expect that in eleven congregations in numerous villages and cities across Southern Malawi, a scene like this played itself out again and again and again. We come to Balaka or Blantyre or Nansambo or Luchenza not as tourists and not as donors. We come as partners, as the Apostle Paul would put it, “fellow members of the household of Christ.” We are the saints. And we have gathered by the river. And it has been good – very, very good.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to suggest that traveling to Africa is the only way – or even the best way – to grow in appreciation for the body of Christ. And I’m not suggesting some escapist strategy wherein we hide out in a corner somewhere and sing “Kum Ba Ya”. I won’t be surprised if we get back to Blantyre tomorrow and discover that someone’s trip has been interrupted by an illness or somehow marred by errors in judgment, execution, or misinterpretation. Partnership is a tool that the church can use – and like all tools, it’s not foolproof, and it’s not for every situation. Yet it is the tool that I believe God has used with great impact in my own life as well as the congregations with which I am closest.

Johnson and Charity Damelakani, our hosts in Ntaja, my colleague in ministry, and our friends.

Johnson and Charity Damelakani, our hosts in Ntaja, my colleague in ministry, and our friends.

So thanks, mom, for teaching me that if only the best singers sang, the world would be too quiet. Thanks, partners in Malawi and in South Sudan, for teaching me that each voice has something to add. And most importantly, thanks be to God for a glimpse of God’s ultimate intentions, a community where there is boundless laughter and love and joy. I can see that a little more clearly tonight, and I am grateful.

Mrs. Rose Chitedze, a visitor to Crafton Heights last year, invited us into her home.  This is her family.

Mrs. Rose Chitedze, a visitor to Crafton Heights last year, invited us into her home. This is her family.

The Sunday School program for the children meets in the unfinished "new building" of the Mbenjere Church.

The Sunday School program for the children meets in the unfinished “new building” of the Mbenjere Church.

A significant portion of Mbenjere CCAP's "Executive Committee" welcomes us to worship.

A significant portion of Mbenjere CCAP’s “Executive Committee” welcomes us to worship.

We were privileged to be invited to the "Youth Group" (in Malawi, that's the term for what we might call "young adults" in the USA).

We were privileged to be invited to the “Youth Group” (in Malawi, that’s the term for what we might call “young adults” in the USA).

One of the things we did at the "Youth" meeting was to practice some of the initiative games I learned in South Sudan and discuss the ways that the church can bring healing to its community.

One of the things we did at the “Youth” meeting was to practice some of the initiative games I learned in South Sudan and discuss the ways that the church can bring healing to its community.

Water is Ready (Malawi 2015 #9)

Here in the rural districts in Malawi, the first words that are spoken to me in the morning are generally these: “Abusa? Water is ready.”

I remarked to my wife this morning how in so many ways that simple phrase sums up the gifts of the African partnership for me. You see, while “Water is ready” may be the first sentence spoken to me in the morning, it’s not the first thing that I hear. No, far from it.

Sometimes I am awakened by the call to prayer at a local mosque. More often, the first sound to reach my ears is a rooster’s crow. Fair enough, considering how many of his brethren I’ve put away this week (more on that below). But once I’m conscious, the sound that reaches my ears is that of wood being chopped and a fire being kindled right outside my window. Five minutes after the fire is started, I hear the weight of a heavy pot being placed on the fire as five gallons of water have been hefted from the borehole into our compound. Then I hear another pot, this one of cold water, being taken into the bathing room. Once the water on the fire has boiled, it is taken into the same room, which is essentially a four-foot square with a drain on the floor. There are the buckets of hot and cold water, and a third empty bucket in which to mix them to the optimum temperature. Lastly, there is a pitcher or small pot of some sort.

Our hosts for this week are Pastor Johnson Damalekani and his wife, Charity.

Our hosts for this week are Pastor Johnson Damalekani and his wife, Charity.

And that’s when I hear the magic words: “Abusa? Water is ready.” Then I climb out from under the mosquito netting and enter the bathing room, where I am free to strip and splash myself with water that is exactly right. As I stand erect and dump the steaming pitcher on my head, I wonder, “Would I be that gracious?” Not only that, but know this, beloved: this ritual happens twice a day. It is not only the manner in which I rise, but it is the expectation that frames my bedtime as well. When I demurred and said, “Ah, no, at home I wash only once a day,” I was told, “Yes, Abusa, but you are in Africa now. It is hot. It is dusty. Please, do not make me feel bad for putting you to bed when you are dusty.”

I have learned so much in Africa in the past twenty years. For instance, I’ve discovered that I really like “Stoney” ginger beer. I’m pretty good at telling jokes to an African crowd. I can barter in the market and baptize babies in Chichewa and drive on the opposite side of the road. But the number one thing that I’ve learned is that I am not as graceful and as hospitable as Christ intends me to be. While I end each worship service at Crafton Heights by saying, “honor all people”, I am a real piker in that department when I compare myself to my African sisters and brothers.

When I die, and you get around to putting together those photo collages, I hope that one of them will be of roads I've driven.  Here, I'm behind the wheel of Menes Makuluni's pick up truck, which he graciously lent us when the first two transport options for the day fell through.

When I die, and you get around to putting together those photo collages, I hope that one of them will be of roads I’ve driven. Here, I’m behind the wheel of Menes Makuluni’s pick up truck, which he graciously lent us when the first two transport options for the day fell through.

Below are some images of the day. They are fine photos, I know. But a picture can’t capture the warmth with which a cold bottle of Fanta is offered, or the insistence with which I should take another cup of tea after a long worship service. The smiles you see here are two-dimensional, whereas I have been given the gift of being welcomed and honored. I am forever grateful to my African family for teaching me to greet each new face, each new day, each new challenge, each new situation, as an opportunity to show gratitude and honor and joy.

Maybe the reason I keep coming back is that I’m a slow learner. I know that most of the people who are reading this know me only in the USA, where I am prone to rush and criticize and push far more than is necessary. I hope that you will catch me improving in my ability to serve with honor and grace.

Chances are, I will never, ever be able to knock on your door and softly say, while gently rolling my ‘r’s, “Water is ready.” Yet I hope that somehow in my daily life, someone will say, “Hey, that Pastor Dave – he’s noticed how tired I am; he cares for me.”

If that ever happens, remember where I learned it – in worship and in worshipful presence right here, in the Warm Heart of Africa.

Sharon with the women of the Mpasuka Bible Study, from whom she received the gift of a chitenge fabric.

Sharon with the women of the Mpasuka Bible Study, from whom she received the gift of a chitenge fabric.

Some of the congregation at Naperi Prayer House welcome us, after having waited for two hours for our arrival.

Some of the congregation at Naperi Prayer House welcome us, after having waited for two hours for our arrival.

Gabe preaching up a storm on the importance of being a follower.

Gabe preaching up a storm on the importance of being a follower.

The Saeya family hosted us for lunch today, and they were really interested in the photos I brought along to share.

The Saeya family hosted us for lunch today, and they were really interested in the photos I brought along to share.

Sharon posing with the Munyenye children, whom she taught to play UNO this evening.

Sharon posing with the Munyenyembe children, whom she taught to play UNO this evening after we shared a meal at their home.

They apologized for the condition of their prayer house, and felt badly about the fact that they had unfinished brick, yet the people of the Khole Prayer house adorned the building with bougainvillea and wire decorations. It was just beautiful.

They apologized for the condition of their prayer house, and felt badly about the fact that they had unfinished brick, yet the people of the Khole Prayer house adorned the building with bougainvillea and wire decorations. It was just beautiful.

Malawi 2015 #8

On Wednesday morning, our time on the shores of beautiful Lake Malawi came to an end. As mentioned in the previous entry, our friends from South Sudan really opened the eyes of many of their partners with an informative and personal reflection on the history of their nation and church. The bus ride from Mangochi to Zomba featured in-depth discussions about the nature of ministry in South Sudan, the needs and the gifts of our partners there, and the ways in which our lives and callings can intersect. It is worth noting here that our colleagues from South Sudan seem to be very interested in partnership with individuals and congregations in Pittsburgh, but positively passionate about the possibilities of deepening ties with the CCAP in Blantyre Synod. There have been many times on this journey when I’ve compared our tripartite partnership to a stool, indicating that it was possible to balance on a chair with two legs, but a stool with three functional legs was even better. That third leg is getting sturdier each day!

Davies Lanjesi and Silas Ncozana, representing the present and past of the partnership.

Davies Lanjesi and Silas Ncozana, representing the present and past of the partnership.

We traveled south from the lake to the town of Zomba, a journey of about three and a half hours. Here, we were met by many from the Blantyre Synod Partnership team as well as many dignitaries from Domasi Presbytery and the host congregations for those of us who have sister churches in the northern part of the Synod. Newly-ordained ELDER Davies Lanjesi and his Partnership Steering Committee team organized a fantastic lunch buffet for us at the scenic Ku Chawe Inn on the upper slopes of Zomba Plateau. The Rev. Dr. Silas Ncozana gave a stirring history of the Pittsburgh-Blantyre Partnership and we rejoiced in the fruit of recent days as well. One surprise for me was when Silas said, “I really appreciated that sermon you preached in Mulanje on Sunday!” I apologized for not even recognizing that he was in attendance, and he said, “I wasn’t! It was on the national radio twice!” I’m glad I didn’t know that ahead of time!

CK and Doreen Chirambo are Partnership Pioneers who came to join us in Zomba.

CK and Doreen Chirambo are Partnership Pioneers who came to join us in Zomba.

Our congregation helped to provide this borehole, which supplies clean water to thousands of people.  It is my great honor to drink from it!

Our congregation helped to provide this borehole, which supplies clean water to thousands of people. It is my great honor to drink from it!

After lunch came a pivotal moment in our pilgrimage, where our team of sixteen split into thirteen as we paired up with hosts and departed for Balaka, Nansambo, Chiphola, Sande, Blantyre City, and other destinations. Sharon, Gabe, and I headed to the north and to the east, up to another plateau atop of which rests the small town of Ntaja. Here, we are staying with Abusa Johnson Damelekani and his family as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the twinning of the Mbenjere and Crafton Heights congregations.

The Mbenjere congregation is home to about 700 Christians and is divided into 15 “zones”, each of which is guided by a team of elders and gathers for midweek prayers in various homes. In addition, there are three smaller worship centers, called “prayer houses” that are attached to this main congregation. I should note that Abusa Damelekani has four other congregations (and each of them has zones and prayer houses as well!).

A portion of the student body at Michongwe School.

A portion of the student body at Michongwe School.

Our task on Thursday was to introduce ourselves to the community, and it was a grand day. We began with a breakfast in the home of one of the elders, and from there we proceeded to the Michongwe Primary School. This school has at least tripled in size since the first time we visited it, and there are now 3800 students in grades 1-8. These students are taught by 58 teachers and 14 student teachers. The crowds are so large that on some days as many as 17 classes meet outside under the trees. The students held an assembly in our honor, and Dr. Sharon Carver presented an impassioned plea for the students to work hard and stay in school (especially the girls!). I got the kids to sing Palibe Wofana Naye with us, and then we were deafened by the sound of the entire student body singing the Malawian National Anthem at the top of their lungs. Such pride in their nation! We met with many in the teaching staff and also heard a presentation by two young ladies who are studying to enter a secondary school course in tourism.

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139)

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139)

We then were pleased to visit the Ntaja Health Centre, where our friend Edith Makuluni has worked for many years. She was off today, but we were given a full tour of this clinic, which functions as essentially the Malawian equivalent of an “urgent care” center in the USA. A highlight for me was being given the opportunity to speak and pray with a group of about a dozen extremely pregnant women and their “guardians”. These women have come to the Health Centre because their deliveries appear imminent, and most have been accompanied by another family member who will care for them, cook their meals, and so on as they await the arrival of their babies. I explained to them that one of my highest privileges in ministry is greeting new babies and reading with them the 139th Psalm. We read this together, and I encouraged the women to remind their children over and over again that they have been “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

Gabe in his preaching debut.

Gabe in his preaching debut.

The afternoon was spent visiting one of the zone meetings, where Gabe Kish honed his preaching skills by leading an inspiring Bible Study from Acts 2:42-47 about the church’s call to celebrate the awesome nature of our God. Following a time of worship, the group stayed for well over an hour of question and answers about the church in America, and Crafton Heights in particular. It was a very fruitful time of discussion and sharing, and if you can judge by the size of the crowd that followed us singing and laughing as we walked the mile or two back into Ntaja center, they enjoyed it every bit as much as did we.

The Nkuna North District Prayer Meeting from Mbenjere CCAP.

The Nkuna North District Prayer Meeting from Mbenjere CCAP.

Of course, the entire day was punctuated by way too much food (prepared by our friends Mr. and Mrs. Haiya and Mr. and Mrs. Mphaso – Mrs. Mphaso is better known to some old friends at CHUP as “Ronnie Gonani”, a visitor in 2000). Tea was drunk, biscuits were shared, and joy abounded. I believe that’s how partnership works!

On a sad note, we learned today of the untimely death of Silimyake Mutafya, a beautiful and engaging young woman who visited our congregation in 2012. She got married in 2013 and was expecting her first child when something went wrong with the pregnancy and both she and the baby died. It was a grim reminder that we can take nothing for granted.

Tomorrow we will be up and out early again, as we visit several prayer houses and zones. As always, your prayers are appreciated. Zikomo kwambiri!

Malawi 2015 #7

SSclappingSarahToday our team learns of one of the realities of partnership as well as conflict. One of our members, our sister Sarah from South Sudan, will have to cut her participation in this journey short and return to South Sudan today. The reason for her departure is that she needs to attend a memorial service for a dear cousin (“more like a brother”). This young man was amongst the thousands of people who “disappeared” during the earliest days of the conflict that began in December 2013. Her family has finally decided that to move forward in their journey towards peace and wholeness, they need to accept the fact that he is gone and punctuate that with a service.

As you can imagine, prayers for Sarah and her family are appreciated; pray also for her disappointed Malawian hosts, and, most of all, for peace to come so that there will be no more “disappearances” in any of our homes.

Most of our team learned of Sarah’s loss at an amazingly informative briefing that the South Sudan delegates led for our team yesterday morning at the lake. We spent well over an hour getting some of the history and context for South Sudan and Sarah’s family’s experience made the horror of the conflict all the more immediate. Gregg Hartung was able to video record the entire presentation and we look forward to making that available to anyone who is interested in the months to come.

2015 Malawi #6

If you’ve been following this journey, you know that the weekend was a rigorous exercise in missionary activity – we spent a great deal of time in conversation with our hosts, in meeting and greeting neighbors in churches and prayer houses, and bouncing across some pretty questionable roads in bone-jarring fashion. When I told the team that I said that they looked as if they’d been “rode hard and put away wet”, some of them suggested that I was speaking gibberish and that perhaps I should offer an interpretation in common English. Fine. From The Urban Dictionary:

The way someone looks or feels when they’ve had a hard time of it. From a horseman’s term, when someone has not taken care of a horse after a hard day.

He was all hot and sweaty, he looks like he was rode hard and put away wet.

The fact of the matter is that our team was beat. And when you’re worn out, what’s better than toting fifty pounds of luggage into the bus and riding on more of the same roads for twenty minutes – I mean, four hours? But that’s what we did, with the promise of some rest and restoration in the form of a retreat on the shores of Lake Malawi.

Our team is greeted at Naming'azi Farm Training Centre

Our team is greeted at Naming’azi Farm Training Centre

Before we arrived, though, we made a couple of stops. The scheduled stop was at the Naming’azi Farm Training Centre, a ministry of the Synod of Blantyre. Here, local farmers are invited to receive training in more sustainable and fruitful agricultural techniques. From composting to fruit-tree grafting to animal husbandry practices, the staff at Naming’azi are seeking to provide village farmers with new (or sometimes ancient) tools with which to ply their craft. It was a great opportunity for the group to see the Synod’s engagement, and we were particularly encouraged by the ways in which Naming’azi has partnered with other NGO’s (non-government organizations) to make goats available to local villagers. As we left the farm, Vanessa and I talked about the fact that a hundred and thirty years ago, the missionaries showed up and built churches, schools, and hospitals. My sense is that in many ways, the missionaries of the next fifty years will need to start farms – places where we can learn and re-learn the practice of stewardship of creation and gratitude for life. Perhaps when the Kingdom comes, it will look a little bit like Naming’azi.

Randy and John relaxing at the Farm

Randy and John relaxing at the Farm

Naming'azi Farm sits in the shadow of the Zomba Plateau

Naming’azi Farm sits in the shadow of the Zomba Plateau

One thing that has not changed about Malawi for centuries is the need for fuel to cook the family meals.

One thing that has not changed about Malawi for centuries is the need for fuel to cook the family meals.

Elephants&BoatBecause our trip to the farm took more time than we expected, we made a second stop. We pulled into the Hippo View Lodge at Liwonde for lunch, and although the iconic “river horses” were missing in action, we were treated to a view of a family of elephants stopping by the river for a quick drink. It was a joy to watch the team appreciate these enormous beauties, and I also was delighted to walk up and down the riverbank sharing my binoculars with families who had none. The awe and majesty of nature was clearly on display.

 

We arrived at the Boadzulu Lodge (“a place to call home”) in time for a warm dinner and vibrant devotions (led by Deac).

Gabe enjoys a sunrise over Lake Malawi.

Gabe enjoys a sunrise over Lake Malawi.

I found a pair of Lilac-Breasted Rollers!

I found a pair of Lilac-Breasted Rollers!

IMG_7618

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning we awoke and traveled to Cape MacLear, where we were privileged to board a couple of small boats and see the amazing diversity of fish in Lake Malawi. One source indicates that Lake Malawi itself has more species of fish than all of the rivers and lakes in North America and Europe combined. A highlight was having the opportunity to watch several African Fish Eagles swoop down and grab their lunch from the water!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lake Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi Cichlids

Lake Malawi Cichlids

An African Fish Eagle takes his lunch before our eyes.

An African Fish Eagle takes his lunch before our eyes.

Enjoying the island off Cape MacLear.

Sharon enjoying the island off Cape MacLear.

Pastor Angelo and Elder Daniel get a review of the Partnership.

Pastor Angelo and Elder Daniel get a review of the Partnership.

The afternoon was spent relaxing, and quite a few naps were taken. I spent some time with members of the South Sudan delegation, trying to catch them up on 24 years of partnership history and tradition and give them a chance to assess how and where the SSPEC might be appropriately invested in this relationship.

 

 

DancerOur “day off” was completed by a festive meal attended by several representatives from the Mangochi Presbytery. We were then treated to a performance by a group of young people featuring traditional Yao dancing, drumming, and costumes. This was our best chance at spending some “down” time together as we prepare to be separated to our sister congregations on Wednesday. Bananagrams is an international sensation, and several times the Americans got “schooled” by our host, Jatto, whose command of the English language is amazing. It was a blessed day.

I have to say, Sarajane takes no prisoners when it comes to Bananagrams!

I have to say, Sarajane takes no prisoners when it comes to Bananagrams!

Malawi 2015 #5

The story of God’s people is one of being called and being sent. Of being invited in and offered welcome and of being charged to go out and follow where God leads. To ask which takes precedence is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. Both are essential to the Christian life. To put it in reverse, one who seeks to be a Christian whilst inhabiting only either the call or the commissioning is attempting to do the impossible.

 

Paul puts it this way in writing to his friends in Rome:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Today was a day of investigating the calling and sending in many ways.

The 3 new pastors are welcomed by the Women's Guild.

The 3 new pastors are welcomed by the Women’s Guild.

We began by sharing in the celebration of the ordination of three young men to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in a three-hour worship service at Mulanje CCAP. In the PC(USA), the Presbyteries typically choose to perform the function of ordinations by means of Administrative Commissions, wherein a token representation of the Presbytery at large comes to a particular congregation to celebrate with the individual who is being ordained. That choice results in an intensely personal and localized experience, which is at once exhilarating and perhaps a little limiting as well. In contrast, the Blantyre Synod ordains by gathering as many members as can come and inviting them to work together to call their new brothers or sisters to the next level of service and discipleship. So rather than a five or six member commission from Presbytery, there were at least 40 pastors in attendance today, plus elder representatives and women’s guild members from at least seven of the Presbyteries in the Synod.

Pastors are typically given bicycles like this as they begin their ministry.  One fortunate fellow today was given a motorcycle with which to move through his parish.

Pastors are typically given bicycles like this as they begin their ministry. One fortunate fellow today was given a motorcycle with which to move through his parish.

 

I was given the honor of preaching at this momentous event, and other members of our team participated in various ways. The word was proclaimed, prayers were offered, and songs were sung in Chichewa, English, and Arabic. Amidst great pomp and not a little bit of ululation, we celebrated the great truth that God, through the Body of Christ, commissions certain persons to certain tasks.

Our team has attracted a great deal of media attention in Malawi this weekend.  I understand that in addition to a few newspaper articles, I've been on Malawian Broadcasting several times.  We hope that this exposure is good for the Synod and the rural churches.

Our team has attracted a great deal of media attention in Malawi this weekend. I understand that in addition to a few newspaper articles, I’ve been on Malawian Broadcasting several times. We hope that this exposure is good for the Synod and the rural churches.

Following the worship, we were treated to a delicious lunch at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Inglis, each of whom has been to Pittsburgh and who were glad to open their home to our team along with an equal number of Malawian guests. Well-fed in both spirit and body, we then set out to follow the call to serve.

Gregg with Mr. and Mrs. Inglis as well as Holiness, a Partnership Committee member

Gregg with Mr. and Mrs. Inglis as well as Holiness, a Partnership Committee member

 

One of the dramatic moments during today's revival meeting.

One of the dramatic moments during today’s revival meeting.

For the second day in a row, we visited the rather remote Gondwa Prayer House, where the Christians and their partners from St. James CCAP and the Synod had organized a religious revival meeting. This was a profoundly moving experience. We were privileged to hear two wonderful sermons preached by Malawian elders to a Malawian audience (they were translated for our benefit). Some of the songs featured dramatic activity, and the preachers themselves enacted some of what they proclaimed. By the end of the rally, a hundred or so adults and an equal number of children came forward for prayer and conversation with members of their own community about what it means to walk with the Lord day to day. As those neighbors engaged in conversation, other members of the community brought forward gifts of fruit and fabric for the members of our team. In this context, it ought to go without saying that there was singing. And dancing. A lot of both, in fact. Throughout the experience, there was an amazing spirit of joyfulness.

Sarah reads the scripture to the crowd at the revival.

Sarajane reads the scripture to the crowd at the revival.

Members of the SSPEC (South Sudan) delegation are leading the celebration.

Members of the SSPEC (South Sudan) delegation are leading the celebration.

And oh, the dancing...

And oh, the dancing…

 

As the sun was setting, we climbed back onto our coaster and sank heavily into the seats – it had been a long day. Paul wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news…” If you were to have asked us at that moment, as we contemplated our shoes and ankles covered with the red Malawian dust, I doubt that any of us would have declared our own feet to be “beautiful.” Yet somehow, in responding to the invitation to be sent into the world and to engage with God’s people in that way, we were surely given the opportunity to behold great beauty.

We returned to Blantyre well after dark, two hours behind schedule (surprise!). We were spent and weary, and as a friend of mine would say, we looked as if we’d been “rode hard and put away wet.”

But we were full, and ready for what tomorrow holds. Thanks be to God!

Did I mention that all of this happened in the shadow of Mt. Mulanje, the 3rd-highest peak in all of Africa?  Beauty indeed!

Did I mention that all of this happened in the shadow of Mt. Mulanje, the 3rd-highest peak in all of Africa? Beauty indeed!