Today the Partnership Missionaries became the “church on the move” as we left the urban center of Blantyre and headed south for the rolling hills and rural environs of the Thyolo District. Like most of Malawi, this area consists of steep hills and gentle slopes (not much flat anywhere in Malawi!), red soil, and small clusters of homes along a network of dirt roads that spiderweb from the tarmac surface. In addition, the Thyolo District is home to Malawi’s vast tea plantations, and we drove past mile upon mile of bright green bushes interlaced with paths and roadways. Because most of the people in this area do not have wage-earning jobs, there is not always a lot of cash on hand, and the incomes are far lower than those in the city.
Our destination was the Gondwa Prayer House, a gathering place for a small group of Christians far from the well-traveled road. A few years ago, the Synod of Blantyre asked us to join them in emphasizing their commitment to the church in the rural area, and today’s task provided us the chance to do just that. In 2010, the Gondwa prayer house building was swept away in a flood. The local villagers worked diligently to rebuild, and molded and fired their own bricks for the project. They reached an impasse, however, when it came time to obtain the supplies that are only available for cash: iron sheets for the roof, cement, and other hardware. The work stalled due to lack of funds and the congregation began to lose energy and focus.
Fortunately, we were not the only group to hear the Synod’s call to assist the churches in the rural areas. St. James CCAP adopted Gondwa as a partner and offered resources and expertise. As of now, the roof is complete, the windows are secure, and the interior walls have been plastered smooth. The church can just about taste their new building. Ostensibly, our team was there to do “manual work” – they said that they wanted us to do a little painting. The real deal, however, was that the arrival of 16 visitors from two nations created an occasion around which the community could rally. Our presence gave them a day to claim the fact that they have been remembered and noticed – by visitors from afar, by their friends in the Synod, and most importantly, by God. Yes, we held a few ceremonial paintbrushes, and I planted a little mango tree, but the best thing that happened today was that in an (apparently) forgotten place high above the tea estates that are in the shadow of Mulanje Mountain, the church of Jesus Christ was together, reminding each other and the world of God’s intentions for the wholeness of his world.
In addition, our presence may have created a bit of curiosity amongst the neighbors who are not Christians (or at least that was the hope). Tomorrow we shall return to the same neighborhood and seek to support our brothers and sisters in the CCAP Blantyre Synod as they facilitate an evangelism rally in that place. All of the heavy lifting for tomorrow’s service at Gondwa will be done in Chichewa, the local language, but our friends have assured us that our presence will be of great import for the overall feel of the event.
After having spent the bulk of the day either driving to or sharing in the meeting at the prayer house, our team retired to the foothills of Mount Mulanje where we enjoyed a fantastic meal and luxurious rooms at the Kara O’Mula lodge. We ended the day with our own time of singing and prayer as well as a devotion led by Pastor Angelo from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. It was, in fact, a beautiful day. Thanks for your prayers.