As I write these words, the 2019 Youth Pilgrimage to Malawi is already on their way back to Pittsburgh. I’ve remained behind in Malawi, where I am preparing to join a few leaders from Blantyre Synod for a visit to our partners in the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) in Juba, South Sudan. More about that in a few days. What’s important now is to update you as to what has happened with our team between the ending of the host church visits and their stepping onto the plane.
We all reconvened at Grace Bandawe Conference Center sometime on Monday 15 July. Some folks came back a little earlier than planned because one of our team members wasn’t feeling that well and we thought it would be better to err on the side of caution with an early arrival and more rest time. That strategy proved effective, because by the time I arrived with the Crafton Heights team, our group had rested, eaten, and was eager to know “what’s next?”
Monday evening we were welcomed into the home of the Lanjesi family for a delicious dinner. My friend Davies is my counterpart in the Blantyre Synod partnership structure, and even though his work required him to be out of the country on Monday, his wife Angella and daughters TK and Chiko were gracious enough to receive us. I had such a good time that I forgot to take photos!
We had set aside Tuesday as a day for shopping and tying up loose ends. As it happens, one of those loose ends was appearing on Mibawa TV to talk about the partnership and its impact. Chikondi, Coleman, and I were interviewed for a twenty-minute segment, and our entire group was invited to offer a few reflections on this journey. The program was broadcast live, and you might be able to see a recording of it by visiting this link: https://www.facebook.com/MibawaStudios/videos/465579677575943/
Following that experience, we got on our faithful bus and headed to downtown Blantyre to give the young people an opportunity to purchase handicrafts and also to take an excursion to a Malawian grocery store. You might guess that some of the folks were eager to dive into the crowd and haggle for a great deal whilst others found that type of interaction to be challenging if not draining. Again, I don’t have many photos because I was working hard to keep track of the young people as we scattered through a few adjacent stands to worry about snapping photos, too!
When most of our Malawian kwacha had been spent, we returned to the Conference Centre to engage in the work of debriefing the trip. During breakfast and following, we had begun this process by telling stories of our time in the various host churches: Mawila, Chonde, Mwanza, Balaka, and Mbenjere. We continued that work by reflecting on the situation in which the Israelites found themselves in I Samuel 7. They were in a jam, and they were clearly on their way from one place to another both geographically and spiritually speaking, and so they turned to Samuel. He taught them some spiritual practices such as fasting and praying and challenged them to take steps forward in faith. They were delivered, and Samuel set up a monument stone – he called it “Ebenezer”, meaning “up to this point, the Lord has helped me”. We considered the fact that the Israelites were at a critical moment – they knew that they had left a certain part of themselves behind, but they weren’t sure who they were becoming.
This was a situation with which our group of young pilgrims could identify. This trip has put them in some amazingly wonderful places as well as some downright uncomfortable ones. They’ve seen the world through different lenses, and confronted some of their own stereotypes and notions. Each of us realizes that we must have been changed by spending this time, but we’re not sure that such change is apparent or comprehendible as of yet. And so we decided that maybe that Tuesday would be a good day to raise an Ebenezer – to claim that so far, God has helped us… and now it’s time to move on to the next spot, confident that the Divine Presence will be there when we get there. Using some materials we developed during our orientation retreat, we talked about advice we’d give to our younger selves (of 6 months ago) who were anticipating this journey. We then talked a little bit about the kinds of people we’d like to become in the next 6 months. It was a good and rich and powerful discussion.
Not long after those conversations ended, we proceeded to the Limbe CCAP church, where we celebrated the journey with a farewell banquet. The food was delicious, of course, and the conversations rich and lively. There were approximately 100 people in attendance, many of whom have participated in the partnership in the past quarter-century. We were presented with gifts of keyrings, a seed mosaic, and some Malawi tea. We then took the floor and were able to offer these tokens of our appreciation:
- a gift from Pittsburgh Presbytery to the Synod Youth Department in the amount of $500
- a gift from the 2019 Youth Pilgrimage team to the Partnership Steering Committee in the amount of $800. The hope is that this can be used to help defray the travel costs for one or more young people from Blantyre Synod for an upcoming journey to Pittsburgh.
- a preaching robe and vestments were given to the Zomba Theological College via the General Secretary
In addition, we made a formal announcement of our earlier delivery of 700+ pounds of medical supplies to the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission.
Wednesday morning came far too early! After breakfast we departed for the airport, where we were surprised to see a busload from the Balaka CCAP. They got up early and drove down simply to see this group of pilgrims back onto the plane.
It has been a good trip – a very good trip. I would encourage you to spend some time with one of the travelers, if it is someone you know, in the weeks to come. Give them some space to wander around inside some thoughts that may have been disoriented. Encourage them to continue to ask big questions and look for fresh insight. And be grateful that you live in a world where such reflection and growth is possible! Zikomo!