For me, at any rate, that’s what partnership in mission is about – taking intentional steps to befriend and come alongside someone else to the end that each of us may somehow become “de-othered” and befriended. For many years, I have sought to walk the path of partnership so that individual Christians might grow in faith resulting in the strengthening of local congregations which leads to the reinvigoration of larger church bodies to the end that the global church is a more capable witness to Christ.
But it all starts with a willingness to take a step, to extend a hand, and to tell or listen to a story.
Today was a day that demonstrated how significant interpersonal relationships can be.
We started the day by leaving the site of the Partnership Conference in Mangochi and heading south to the Zomba Theological College. There, we were met by my old friend Takuze Chitsulo (who studied in Pittsburgh a little more than a decade ago), the Principal at Zomba Theological College. After a formal welcome in his office, our team was privileged to enjoy lunch together. It was a deep privilege to watch and listen and Brian and some of the colleagues from the College asked probing questions and looked for ways to enhance the institution’s ability to train young leaders.
After a delicious meal, our team was split. I was surprised to find that when we left the Principal’s office, I found my friends Fletcher and Hope, who had ridden a minibus about three hours to Zomba simply so that they could welcome us to the place and then escort us to our next stop. So as Davies Lanjesi took the brothers from South Sudan on to Blantyre, our group of three became a group of five heading toward Ntaja. En route, we made a quick stop at Chilema Conference Center, where we had the opportunity to view the famous “Chilema Tree”. This magnificent specimen is a single tree, perhaps as old as 75 years. Its many roots and trunks cover an acre, and it is the only banyan tree in the entire nation of Malawi. It is simply incredible, and Lauren said that JRR Tolkien must have had this in mind when he wrote “Lord of the Rings”.
Upon exiting the understory of the tree, we ran right into one of the biggest smiles and best preachers in Malawi – Elder Hastings Phale. I’ve worked with him in both Malawi and Pittsburgh, and it was a profoundly joy-filled occasion to see him at Chilema.
Not five minutes after we left Hastings, we were pulled over at the Malosa turn-off by a couple with smiles bright enough to blind us. Abusa Johnson Demelekani and his wife Charity were out doing some shopping and we (almost literally) ran into them. We piled out of the car for a quick hello and a hug, and were further gratified by the power of relationship.
But the most profound relational experience of the day came when we arrived in Ntaja. Here, we were privileged to greet, and then be hosted by, Menes and Edith Makuluni. In 1998, when Lauren was five, Menes visited Pittsburgh and stayed in her home. Since then the families have corresponded, and both Menes and Edith have visited the Mack home. Tonight, the circle was completed as they welcomed her into their home. What a great joy it was!
We spent at least an hour this evening reflecting on the changes that have come into our lives in the past two decades – noting the times where God has been faithful and celebrating the power of friendship to bring healing, challenge, hope, and comfort when it is needed. Menes and Edith rejoiced at the ways that Lauren’s walk of faith has progressed and she bore testimony to the fruit of their faithfulness as well.
They make us stronger, better, and more apt to know something of God’s purposes in the world. Tonight, I’m grateful for the web in which I’m bound.