Africa Pilgrimage Update #1

One of the highest privileges I’ve received is that of serving as Pastor for the community of The First U.P. Church of Crafton Heights for the past 26 years.  In 2010, this group granted me a four-month Sabbatical from my ministry for a time of recharging and renewal.  In 2019, they extended that offer again – so I’ve got three months to wander, wonder, and join in life in a  different way.  The longest single time period that I’ll be away from Crafton Heights involves a visit to Africa – a place that has long been a source of renewal and inspiration for me. 

About two and a half years ago, I was privileged to lead a group of five excited and capable young adults from Crafton Heights in a pilgrimage to Malawi.  The response from both the church in Malawi as well as in Pittsburgh was energizing, and at an April 2018 “summit” meeting of the partners in Malawi, the Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian asked us to think about having a youth-themed trip.

We met with an enthusiastic response from a number of churches, and this morning I am sitting at Dulles Airport in DC with a team of nine young people and four other adults representing five congregations in Pittsburgh Presbytery.  If you’ve already heard about this journey, you might be thinking, “Wait, I thought those numbers were different.” And you’d be right.  But at the last minute one of the young people had to withdraw from the trip, much to his (and the entire team’s) chagrin.  We will trust that change to God’s care and assume that this is a trip delayed for that young person, rather than a trip that is missed entirely.

One of the questions that we are often asked as we prepare to engage in a “Youth Mission” trip is simple and straightforward: “What will you be DOING when you are in Malawi?”  That query underscores an important presupposition about our mostly-western mindset – that is, that mission is about a group of US going to be with THEM in SOME OTHER PLACE and “helping out” somehow.  With young people, that often implies a project, such as building a school, or leading a Bible School, or something similar.  The hope for this pilgrimage, however, is that while we will indeed GO, we will be focused on BEING more than on DOING.  We want to learn, accompany, listen, and simply dwell with sisters and brothers in the faith who have been given different stories than we have.  We expect to be changed and molded by this experience – and ask for your prayerful support.

While a few of the leaders have been to Africa before, most of the team has not.  This group of High School students is energized, anxious, eager, and a little bewildered by the opportunities that face them.  And all of them are wondering what it will be like to be on a plane for so long! Last night as we arrived at our airport hotel we read the Psalm that has become a tradition in our Partnership – the “Psalm of the Road” that is known as number 121.  In it, ancient travelers remember and trust that God’s care extends to protection from accidents and fears of the unknown – the Lord will watch over those at risk from injury, heat stroke, and night terrors… and so we rested in that promise last night and look forward to eighteen hours of flights and five hours of layovers in the day ahead… and perhaps we will dream of the warm heart of Africa tonight…

The team has cleared security and is heading for the boarding area…

One of the wonder-full and wondrous things about the International Terminal at Dulles is the grouping of flags and displays that just makes us FEEL like we’re on a great adventure!

Rayna leading the devotions as we prepare to depart.

The Crafton Heights Team includes Danielle, Rayna, and myself.

Thank you for your prayers!

Psalm 121 New International Version (NIV) — A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.