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. You can learn more about the relationship between Pittsburgh Presbytery and our partners in Malawi and South Sudan by visiting the Partnership Website.
Our pilgrimage in Malawi begun in earnest on July 5 as the team woke up to spend our first full day in Malawi (a.k.a. “the Warm Heart of Africa”). We are spending the first few days of our time here at the Grace Bandawe Conference Center, a lovely venue that is owned and operated by the Synod of Blantyre. Here our team has mostly double rooms and mostly hot water. A few of us have single rooms, and a few of us have experienced showers of, shall we say, a lesser temperature… but hey, the beds are comfortable, the food is delicious, and the grounds are beautiful. The Synod has engaged Ms. Christina Chirwa as the new manager of this place, and she is doing a fantastic job. One of the new touches that she’s brought is the construction of a brick pizza oven and the service of gourmet pizza to not only the guests at GBCC but area residents as well.
Following breakfast, we walked across the street and were formally greeted by the General Secretary of the Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian, Rev. Alex Maulana. He received us in his office, and then we were guided around the grounds of the Synod. When the first missionaries arrived in Malawi from Scotland more than a hundred years ago, many of them set up shop on this hill. They constructed a church, built a school, and began an administrative system the effects of which are still felt today in many aspects of Malawian society.
We were invited to lunch in the home of one of the pastors in Blantyre Synod, the Rev. Billy Gama. This gave our team their first opportunity to taste (and I hope enjoy) nsima, the staple food of the Malawian diet. Nsima is finely ground corn flour that is added to boiling water and made into a very filling paste that is about the texture of really stiff mashed potatoes. Most Malawians will eat nsima every day alongside some vegetables or meat. Our gathering included not only our team and the Gama family, but several other Malawian guests. We really enjoyed the opportunity visit informally.
The next item on our agenda was to go into town and exchange some of our US dollars for the local currency, Malawian Kwacha. However, there has been some unrest in the country lately as a result of dissatisfaction with the ways in which the most recent general election was carried out and the results implemented. This has been seen by various protests and demonstrations around the nation, and we encountered a small group of folks who were in the process of disrupting traffic by blocking a road, and it seemed wise to us to forgo that experience and return to GBCC. That was fortunate, because when we got back, 15 of our missing 17 suitcases had arrived! Some of the group took advantage of the “down time” to unpack and change clothes, whilst others visited the graves of the earliest missionaries and walked around the Synod complex in the sunset and twilight.
Our day ended with yet another bountiful meal, a team meeting, and the chance to enjoy each other’s company in a wonderful setting. It was a good day in preparation for the events of July 6 – wherein we will participate in the first of three “Youth Rallies” to be held throughout the Synod. More about that in the next entry!