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.
When we began to think about the possibilities of a Youth Pilgrimage to Malawi, one of the most important considerations for such an experience was creating spaces for young Malawians and young Pittsburghers to meet together for mutual enrichment, encouragement, and growth. Once we had agreed to proceed with this trip, our counterparts in the CCAP identified a theme of “Developing Leadership Through Partnership” and planned a series of three half-day workshops wherein the young people from each side could gather around important topics. Today was the first of those meetings, and we held it at the Grace Bandawe Conference Center in Blantyre. There were approximately 35 youth from the Synod to meet with the 9 of our young people as well as the advisors and mentors. Gospel Mbvutulo presented on behalf of the Malawian church around the topic “Challenges faced by the Youth in their Christian Life”, and then our own Michelle Snyder led a discussion around the topic of “Dealing with Anxiety”. Each was well-received, and even though it was clear that there were cultural as well as theological differences, folks came away glad that we had taken the time to walk through this experience.
When the seminar finally ended (approximately 90 minutes after the schedule indicated), our group of young people spread out around the campus of GBCC and shared a meal with their Malawian counterparts – under the gazebos, in the sun, or in a dining hall.
A highlight of the day for one Pittsburgher was a third trip to the airport to collect last of our missing luggage. We are now fully here! We took a tour through much of downtown Blantyre and saw a number of historic buildings as well as some very interesting new construction. One of the more impressive stops was an impromptu visit to the Mchiru CCAP, which happened to be hosting a group of 15 representatives from South Africa. While the South Africans had just left, the choir was still rehearsing and the pastor gave us a tour around the church grounds, their new manse, and more. We might have stayed a while to listen to the choir rehearse…
For dinner our hosts at GBCC showed us how well their new wood-fired pizza oven works… and we were delighted to have had the chance to sample their success! We ended our time together by sorting through the nearly 700 pounds of medical supplies that our team brought with us (using a list compiled by our colleagues here in Blantyre Synod). Vitamins and gloves and pain relievers and antibiotic ointments and more were segregated into the appropriate suitcases and are ready to be shared with those who have experienced the devastation of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth.
It was a full and rich day, and we each noted something that we’d been able to see that stretched us, pushed us, or reminded us of something we knew to be true. And that’s what pilgrimages are for!