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.
The CCAP shares a great deal of history and tradition with the PC(USA): we all have local congregations, governed by sessions, served by pastors, and related through presbyteries. One significant difference, however, between our experience at CHUP and that of many of our Malawian friends has to do with the sheer numbers involved. Blantyre Synod, with nearly two million members, is comprised of a large number of congregations that are served by a much smaller number of pastors. Abusa Noah Banda from Mbenjere, for instance, has eight other congregations for which he is responsible. Furthermore, each congregation is responsible for a number of outlying worshiping communities called “Prayer Houses”. The Prayer House is typically in a village setting some distance from the main congregation, and will serve anywhere from a couple of dozen to several hundred Christians who find it difficult to walk the significant distance to the main congregation (often as much as 15 or 20 miles). The pastor and elders are supposed to visit these prayer houses on a regular basis. It was our team’s privilege to spend Monday January 2 visiting two of Mbenjere’s three prayer houses. We are so fortunate to have access to a “loaner” vehicle – a Nissan Patrol that seats five very comfortably and ten with less leg room… This vehicle made it possible for us to get wherever we needed to go in the Machinga district and beyond.
This was very helpful when we consider the “roads” over which we traversed.
The first stop was at the Khole congregation, where David made his preaching debut. The congregation of about thirty or so was eager to hear him speak about Abram’s call from God to leave the land of his home and his family and to go to a strange country and be a blessing to those who were there. David spoke about the ways that blessing others and being blessed by them is a circle in which all can share. We were able to share in the singing of new songs as well as familiar ones like “Palibe Ofananaye”. We were able to present the leadership of the prayer house with the gift of a soccer ball as we explained the role that sports play in helping the Open Door to establish relationships with neighborhood children. We were honored to receive a reciprocal gift when the congregation presented us with a live hen!
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Chitedze. Many CHUP members will recall Rose’s visit to the home of Erin Butti in 2014. Following this we were delighted to visit the dynamic group of Christians at the Naperi Prayer house. Although the road was very, very convoluted (even our resident Malawian direction-giver said, “I don’t like this place at all – all the roads look the same, only smaller…”), the welcome was warm and energetic. There were nearly 100 people waiting for us, and we joined in singing, dancing, and more. Rachael preached the first sermon of her life, using the text in which Jesus challenges his first followers (and those of today) to “consider the lilies” and make sure that we are seeking to be participating in the practices of gratitude and thanksgiving, seeking to obey God and seek his righteousness first. We were very, very happy to see the joy with which this group received the gift of the soccer ball and we took some time to simply share in the joy of being together. Soccer and netball were played, bubbles were blown, “It-Tag” was played, and Rachael even received a lesson on how to ululate properly! There was so much laughter, deep and rich.
If you appreciate deep worship and extravagant laughter; if the sound of children singing and old women praising is appealing to you; if running and smiling and dwelling in the present as if today is all that matters sounds like a good plan to you.. well, then, I wish you could have been there. It was all that and more.
We had a bit of concern as we neared the end of our day, however. The more we drove through the acres and acres of crops, we saw that while some of the maize that was planted earlier in the season was growing, the later plantings were wilting. It occurred to us that even though this is the “rainy season”, we hadn’t actually seen any rain. Our colleagues who work in the Ministry of Agriculture shared a concern that if the rains didn’t resume, there could be dire consequences. The dry roads were a boon to us, but a concern to those who rely on the rains to provide their food.
We had a good discussion on the fact that one of the privileges we enjoy as American Christians is the ability to entertain the delusion that the weather and our diet are, in practice, unrelated. That is to say, those of us in Pittsburgh look outside and think, “Oh, my it’ll be cold today” or “I hope it doesn’t rain all day”, and then we go down to Giant Eagle to get our groceries that are always there, always fresh, always there for us.
We never think about praying for rain, or for the billions of our neighbors who need some – just the right amount – in order to be preserved from drought but not devastated by flood.
I think that we should.
I know that our group, as we sat in Mr. and Mrs. Mkandawire’s home for a candlelight dinner (thank you, power outage), the rains began to fall. We found it difficult to hear the conversations, at times… but we didn’t mind. We were glad for the rain, and even more glad for the way that it put us to sleep some hours later.
Maybe before you go to bed tonight, you could pray for those who depend on the rains to come at just the right time. They’ll be glad you did!