On Christmas Day, 2016, a group of five young adults and I embarked on an African adventure that was over two years in the making. Carly, Katie, Joe, Rachael, David and I are pleased to be in Malawi for nearly two weeks embracing (and being embraced by) the gift that is the partnership between the churches of Pittsburgh Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA) and Blantyre Synod (Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian). Here is part of our story.
It is hard for me to believe how deeply our team was able to dive into the “Warm Heart of Africa” on their first full day in Malawi. Everyone rested very well and awoke to an exquisite Malawian breakfast consisting of eggs, cereal, bread, sausage, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, fruit, juice, milk, tea… it was a bit overwhelming (but we did our best!). From there the day developed into a non-stop opportunity to engage the new-ness of this society and culture in many ways.
Our first stop was at the home of a woman named Rose, a self-employed tailor/seamstress here in town. The members of this team had asked about the possibility of having some clothing made out of Malawian fabric, and Rose and her team took our measurements and told us how much fabric we’d need.
Our next stop gave the team the opportunity to experience the mysteries and mathematics of the monetary exchange process. We visited several bureaus and shopped for rates until we found someone who was able to help us translate some of our US dollars into Malawian Kwacha. This is not a simple process, and while I was taking care of some of the business, the young people made their first foray into a Malawian shopping market.
From there, we visited the offices of Blantyre Synod. The entire Synod staff is on holiday break, but we had the opportunity to visit the iconic St. Michael and All Angels Church and several other sites of both historic and spiritual significance. Abusa (Pastor) Mbolembole, from St. Michael’s CCAP, welcomed us into his study and we had a good discussion about some of the practices shared by vital churches in both Pittsburgh and Blantyre. We also had the opportunity to tour the studios of the Blantyre Synod radio station, which is a fairly new ministry designed to help the entire population of Malawi encounter the Good News of hope and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. We developed an appreciation for the ways that broadcast ministries such as this can extend the possibility for meaningful relationship as we considered our own congregation’s recent experiment with live-streaming our Christmas Eve worship service – which opened the possibility of such worship to many who were unable to be physically present in worship.
Upon awakening this morning, we were informed of the death of a friend of our host. We were honored to be asked to attend her funeral, which we did following our visit to the Synod complex. The service of worship took place at the massive St. Columba CCAP, and lasted about 90 minutes. There was energetic preaching, dynamic singing, and most importantly the opportunity to see how a community gathered in support of a family immersed in grief. On a personal note, I was so glad to see many old friends at this funeral – an opportunity just to say “Muli bwanji?” to folks who have been an important part of my partnership experience over the years.
We left the church and visited one of the fabric merchants in downtown Blantyre. What we were afraid might be a cumbersome process of having the six of us agree on fabric for our clothes turned out to be, instead, a very pleasant and informative glimpse into that industry here in Malawi.
Our host and friend, Davies, had arranged for us to visit a small Eco-lodge located in Mvumbwe. Game Haven Lodge“ is a conference center/resort/restaurant/golf course that seeks to provide the opportunity for a small section of Malawi to be inhabited by many of the creatures that once roamed free across the continent. We were treated to a ride through many acres of Malawian countryside that is being transformed back into the bush… and on the way were privileged to encounter antelope, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, and dozens of amazingly beautiful birds. We then enjoyed a delicious meal with an amazing view.
Abusa Mbolembole joined us for dinner back at Davies’ home (if it seems to you like dinner was right after lunch, it seemed that way to us, too!). This gave us further opportunity to consider the role of youth in the churches in Malawi and in Pittsburgh.
We wrapped up our day with a devotion (the team is taking turns leading these daily sessions) which evolved into a two-hour debrief of our experience of the intersection of our cultures and practices. What a rich time, full of laughter and questions and wonder. We looked at the photos we’d taken during the day and planned the events of tomorrow.
I’m disappointed to tell you that many of the photos we took with people in them came out too blurry to use – but all of the images in this posting were chosen by the team, who wanted you to see a little of what we were able to see in our first day in Malawi. Thanks to you for your support and encouragement; thanks to God for making this experience possible.