I am pleased to report that the 2015 International Partnership visit in Malawi has begun in earnest! After the wonderful welcome we received at Chileka Airport, we spent our first night on African soil at the Grace Bandawe Conference Centre, a delightful hostel on Synod grounds. The proximity to the main campus of the Synod allowed many of us to take an early morning stroll to see some of the historic buildings, such as St. Michael and All Angels church, the church hall, the bell tower, and the cairn commemorating the beginning of CCAP Blantyre Synod.
Following that we hopped on board our “coaster” – a small bus – and headed to downtown Blantyre to exchange money and get a feel for Malawian culture by visiting a grocery store and shopping plaza. Then it was time for our group to disperse to homes throughout Blantyre City Presbytery for our first home stay.
For Sharon and me, yesterday had special meaning as we were pleased to make the short journey to Mpemba, where we once again enjoyed time with our dear friend Sophie M’nensa. Sophie and her late husband, Abusa Ralph, shared the first pastoral exchange with us in 1998, and it has given us great joy to see God’s hand of protection in Sophie’s life in the intervening years. Her family continues to grow and in many ways prosper on their farm near Mpemba, and as Sophie put it, “I am safe here. I have enough land that I can eat my own food. If there is no electricity, I can use candles. If there is no cash, I can eat what I have grown myself. And my children and grandchildren don’t let me do any work any more.” I wish you could have been there when Sophie and Sharon embraced. It was pure joy!
Sharon and I, along with Elder Daniel from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, are being hosted by Davies Lanjesi and his family. Davies is my counterpart in the Synod as the chair of the Partnership Steering Committee. He took us to visit the church of his youth, the Walani (meaning “to shine”) CCAP – a former prayer house of the Chigamula CCAP. We were greatly encouraged to hear of the growth of the Body of Christ in that community, and to see the new church building that they are constructing. A highlight of this experience was the opportunity to hear how a boy from the village winds up leading one of Malawi’s premier energy firms. It was wonderful to hear of God’s movement in Davies’ life and ministry.
Lunch brought us the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal at Game Haven, a new club near Bvumbwe. In addition to a golf course, this establishment features a lovely restaurant (can you say, “Chambo and chips”?) and an assortment of a dozen exotic animal species we were privileged to view on a game drive, shared by Bob Goossen, Sarajane Gracey and their hosts.
St. Michael and All Angels’ congregation is in the midst of a week of fasting and praying, and each night before they break their daily fast they gather for prayers. This evening we were pleased to join that congregation for their prayer meeting as we prayed for God’s movement in and through the church worldwide.
As I write this I am full – full of food that was magnificently prepared and served with joy, full of joy at sharing that food around a table that included not only our hosts and fellow traveler Elder Daniel, but my old friend the General Secretary Alex Maulana and his wife, Alice. Our conversation was broad and deep as we considered the problems of African and world economies, the intricacies of water purification, the joy that children and grandchildren bring, the surprising ways that God’s hand has moved in our own lives, and a scintillating comparison between the Malawian and South Sudanese experiences. In short, a night focused on worship and prayer followed by a shared table and real-life conversation.
That sounds like partnership to me! Thanks be to God.