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.
For the second evening in a row, our team approached the end of the day by sitting together in my room and watching a slideshow of the day’s events on my laptop. When the first few photos came up, Katie said, “Wait – that was today? That seems like it was at least four days ago! We did so much today I can’t keep track!” And she was right. Here’s a glimpse into how our team spent its second full day in Malawi.
We received an invitation to breakfast from long-time friends of the partnership (and of mine!) Clevin and Doreen Chirambo. Although we only had a few moments together, it was great for me to spend time in their home again, and I was able to convey to the team a sense of the ways that this couple has inspired and strengthened the partnership for nearly its entire twenty-five year history.
In 1998, the Carver family and the M’nensa family were selected for the first “Pastoral Exchange” program in the partnership. That meant that for six weeks, the late Rev. Ralph M’nensa and his wife, Sophie, came to our community, worshiped with us, worked alongside us, visited in the homes of folks from Pittsburgh (and six other states, Sophie reminds me), and more. Then Sharon, Ariel and I followed them to the village of Machinga, Malawi, where we did the same thing. It was a beautiful and formative time of life in so many ways. Ralph passed away in 2001, but Sophie has remained a dear friend, and I was honored to bring our team from CHUP to her home for some tea on Thursday morning. Most of this team was born the year that Sophie and I met. It was a particularly emotional gathering, as David presented Sophie with a framed photo of his baptism – an event in which Abusa Ralph shared. Sophie could not believe that the baby she was holding in the photo was the amazing young man who stood before her! Sophie cares for (and is cared for) by a number of her grandchildren. Two of these men, Gregory and Gamaliel, shared in our daily life back in 1998. I am not ashamed to tell you that more than a few tears of joy and amazement were shed during this visit.
The “meat” of our day involved a program organized by the Synod of Blantyre Partnership Committee. Delegations of youth leaders from at least three congregations met at the Chirumba CCAP (partnered with Heritage church) for an opportunity to worship and learn together. Many of the Malawian young people were part of several choirs which performed. We laughed when they expected us to sing as an A Cappella group, but we did teach them “Firm Foundation” and “Who’s the King of the Jungle” as examples of songs that had been helpful or meaningful to our team in sharing and nurturing faith. David led the morning devotions for the entire group, and that led to a fascinating discussion about what it meant to be a blessing to the world in the way that Abram was called to be a blessing in Genesis 12. Many young people present shared practices that their own congregations have used to engage and equip young people for ministry in their own communities and beyond. I am not stretching the truth at all when I say that the Malawian youth were deeply and profoundly moved by the testimonies our team shared concerning their call to invest in the partnership with Malawi and the steps that led us toward this amazing journey. We prayed, we sang, we ate a lot of “biscuits” (cookies), and took several thousand photographs.
We departed Chirumba and headed for the Mulanje district, and on the way we were pleased to stop at the Naming’omba Tea Estate, where we were afforded the opportunity to get a glimpse of the journey that begins with the “tender little tea leaves” grown in the fields and winds up as the dried brown leaf flakes with which so many billions of people around the world begin their day. It was fascinating to see the steps: withering, fermenting, cutting, drying, sorting, and more that took place on a four-level facility in the Thyolo highlands district.
We ended the day by being welcomed to Mulanje by many members of the mission and congregation. We were met at the manse by Abusa Billy Gama and hosted for dinner and the evening at the Hapuani Village Lodge… but more about Mulanje tomorrow!
Everyone is healthy, the “chemistry of the company” is fantastic, and God’s Spirit is moving in and through every aspect of this journey. Thanks to all who have helped to make it a reality, and who join us in prayer for partnerships of all kinds this day!