Partnership in African Mission Final Update (#10)

In one of my first messages to a Malawian congregation on this trip, I shared the news that people in Pittsburgh were preparing to run a marathon this spring.  Explaining to some of these folks exactly why anyone would voluntarily attempt to run 26.2 miles took some doing, but we got there.  I said that one of the customs in such a race is to have people line the path and offer encouragement by cheering or sharing water with the racers.  Nobody really sees the entire race, but each step is witnessed and applauded.

I believe that in many ways, that’s a good analogy to the trip that Brian and I have shared with our Malawian hosts, South Sudanese partners, and my friend Lauren.  We’ve been running up and down and all around the country, and it’s been tough in some regards – but so worth it! And just like the end of the race features the finish line and the time to rest, so our sprint through Central Africa brought with it a “last day” and one last chance to take in the beauty of this nation and her people.

We began by attending the 6:00 a.m. English-speaking service for the Mawira CCAP in Liwonde.  It was the first time that the service had begun at that hour, as it has been pushed back to accommodate a third worship service on Sunday morning in this rapidly-growing congregation.  Nevertheless, the small group of about 60 swelled to well over 100 by the time 6:30 rolled around.  The service was led by the Youth of the congregation, and it was tremendously encouraging to see how these kids are moving in leadership and ministry in this congregation.  I was especially delighted when I realized that the pastor of this church is my old friend Dennis Mulele, whom I first met while doing a famine relief trip with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in 2003.  He really made an impact on me during that trip and it was a great joy to reconnect in worship.

With Dennis Mulele at Mawire CCAP. The first time we met, the only gray was in our clothing!

 

Sharing the story

 

Offering the benediction.

Following the worship, we spent the afternoon in Liwonde National Park.  This park has been steadily improving in terms of security (anti-poaching) and accessibility of wildlife during the time I’ve known Malawi.  The location – right in Liwonde, about five minutes from the church – made it a great option for us to relax and unwind with a drive through the park as well as a “boat safari” on the Shire River. It did not disappoint in the least!

The graceful Impala!

 

Kudu

African Elephant

This is a really bad photo of a jackal, but it’s the only jackal I’ve ever seen in Malawi.

 

A warthog with baboons in the background

 

Little Bee-Eater

 

Hippopotamus

 

Pied Kingfisher

 

The African Fish Eagle is the national bird of Malawi. It looks like the North American Bald Eagle, but it is not quite as large.

We made it home after dark and have spent the last 18 hours or so resting, packing, doing some last minute shopping, and enjoying a Penguins win from afar!  We are so grateful for the ways that this trip has allowed us to carry the best wishes of Pittsburgh Presbytery into our partnerships here; for the chance to grow in friendship with each other and those who have accompanied us; for the grace of God that has sustained us in so many ways.

So for now, we say, Tionana, Malawi – “so long” – but not “goodbye”!

If you would like to hear more about this journey, find out how you or your (Pittsburgh Presbytery) congregation can be involved in the Partnership, or are interested in knowing about the upcoming plans to host a delegation from Africa in October 2018, please click  here or simply come to our next meeting, Monday, May 7, 2018 at the Pittsburgh Presbytery Center (901 Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15233).

Mulungu Akudalitseni – May God bless you!

Partnership in African Mission 2018 #7

Wednesday brought another transition for our experience in Malawi.  We woke bright and early after having rested well during our stay at the Makuluni home in Ntaja.  There was a brief time for greetings and farewells, and then we headed back to Blantyre – a three hour drive.

Our host in Ntaja, Edith, stands with me and members of the Tongwe family (who hosted three young women from Crafton Heights in 2017).

Hope Mkandawire, who hosted two of our young adults last year. Note the envelopes in my left hand – messages I’ve been entrusted to carry back to Pittsburgh.

Upon our arrival in Blantyre, we were privileged to reconnect with our brothers from South Sudan, who had been the guests of the Synod whilst we were visiting Mbenjere in Ntaja.  During a farewell luncheon for them, Rev. James and I signed the official copies of the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the three church bodies (Rev. Mbolembole, Moderator for Blantyre Synod, was compelled to be out of town and therefore had signed them previously). I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly fruitful this time has been, particularly in terms of strengthening the pan-African portion of our tripartite agreement.

Rev. James Par Tap and I signing the M.O.U. in Blantyre.

Davies presents a farewell gift to Rev. Deng.

After escorting our friends to the airport for their flight back to Juba, Brian, Lauren, Chikondi and I visited the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission, the arm of the Synod responsible for the most direct relief and development work.  Here we were very engaged by a presentation from the Director and two members of her management team.  I have long been impressed with this group and their dedication to serving the poorest of the poor, and hope that we will have the opportunity to continue to work to strengthen their ministry here.

In Lindirabe’s office taking in an incredible amount of information that was shared with great passion.

Our day ended with great fun and laughter as our hosts, Davies and Angella Lanjesi, invited Lauren and me to prepare the evening meal.  When Davies stayed in our home, he remarked that he really enjoyed the fish filets I served.  I told him that I had caught and filleted the fish myself, and he said, “One day, you will be in our home and you will show us how you make these filets”.  Yesterday, apparently, was that day!  Lauren prepared fried chicken for the first time, and after the meal we introduced her to the wonders of Malawian sugar cane.  We spent literally hours around the dining room table laughing and enjoying the time together.  It was a great day.  Thanks for your prayers.

The lesson begins…

Just a couple of folks making dinner…

Tastes like chicken!

Enjoying the sugar cane.

Partnership in African Mission 2018 #5

Relationships.

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.

Takuze Chitsulo (bottom R) provides a brief overview of ZTC to the team.

 

PC(USA) Volunteer in Mission Donna Sloan engaging in some serious conversation with Rev. James.

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”.

“Chilema” means “abnormal” or “malformed” in the local language. You can see why the place has this name…

 

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.

One of these guys is an incredibly amazing preacher. The other one wears snazzy shirts.

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.

Relationships.

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.

Partnership in African Mission 2018 #4

The adventure in tripartite mission connection continues as the conference between representatives of Pittsburgh Presbytery, South Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the Synod of Blantyre in Malawi ended with a day of shared worship and exploration.  There were essentially two components to our day, and for the sake of brevity I’ll simply post a few photos of an inspiring worship service at the Koche CCAP wherein Brian Snyder preached and an afternoon of exploring some of the beauty of Lake Malawi.

Brian preaching at Koche with Davies translating.

 

Rev. James was so excited about the chance to worship in Malawi that he asked to sing a solo. It was wonderful!

 

I was privileged to bring greetings on behalf of Pittsburgh Presbytery.

 

Lauren prepares to dedicate the morning offering.

If the Youtube link above doesn’t work, then paste this into your browser to see a little of the congregational singing at this rural congregation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyLzBDhI2Yk

In Africa, it’s not uncommon for two men to hold hands while they walk and talk together. It IS uncommon when one of them is about 5’6 and the other is about 6’8! Life might be better if we all left worship like this…

 

A baboon grabbing a quick snack…

 

Adventures in tripartite boating!

 

There are more than 1000 species of cichlids in Lake Malawi – the most astounding diversity of fish anywhere on earth.

 

Where there are fish, there are fish eagles…

 

The sun sets on another day of partnership and mission.

Partnership in African Mission 2018 #3

Each party to our trilateral international partnership brings a unique mix of regional customs and practices to the table, and that’s one of the things that makes our fellowship rich and deep.  On Friday evening, we gathered 12 leaders from the three churches around a table to have some important conversations regarding partnership practices and hopes. As we did so, I explained a custom that is very familiar to many of us in Western Pennsylvania: every April or May, we go to the back of our closet and find our “summer clothes” and try them on to see whether they still fit.  I’m amazed at how often my closet seems to shrink my clothes, but that’s another blog post…

At any rate, I explained that a significant portion of our time in Malawi this year would be set aside to opening up the Partnership’s closet and taking a look at our practices and policies to see which of them still fit and which were in need of alteration or replacement.

The team hard at work assessing the partnership.

We worked into the night on Friday, and then were back at it bright and early on Saturday morning. One of the “perks” we enjoyed was that our Malawian hosts selected a small conference center right on Lake Malawi to gather.  The gentle breeze off the lake and the sound of birds and the opportunity to wander outside on our breaks were a real blessing.

We began our time in small groups, and I asked each person to tell a story of one person who had helped to shape their own faith journey.  In trios, we heard of grandmothers and professors and friends who in one way or another gave of themselves to the end that each individual was somehow touched.  When we came together, we affirmed that at the end of the day, our partnership was based in relationships and stories, and it was our privilege to create time and space in which relationships could be established and stories shared.

South Sudanese Pastor James Par Tap greets me in the fashion often used in South Sudan.

Throughout the day on Saturday we considered historic practices and looked at the future. Brian Snyder (vice-moderator of the International Partnership Ministry Team of Pittsburgh Presbytery) summed it up well when, upon exiting into the bright Malawian sunlight, he said to me, “Well, I may be new at this, but I cannot imagine the day having gone any better!” I agree wholeheartedly.  There was a genuine sharing and intimacy that permitted us to move ever closer to the goal of life-sustaining partnership.

Lunch – fresh caught fish on the shores of Lake Malawi!

There will be other times and other forums in which to discuss the specifics, but the short story is this: most of our clothes still fit pretty well.  We affirmed the core of our recent partnership agreements and celebrated the ways that the partnership has borne fruit in recent years.  For instance, the South Sudanese reported that after a recent visit to Malawi, they took the Malawi “zone” system of member care to their churches and it has really helped the ministry within those congregations.  Members of the CCAP talked about how some of the young adults who received leadership training at Crestfield returned to Malawi and in turn were able to offer gifted direction to the Synod’s youth programming.  We celebrated the fact that a young person from Pittsburgh who traveled to Malawi last year has become a Deacon in her congregation and is now serving ably in that capacity.

After we were finished looking at whether the old practices still fit, we talked about some new ideas. Again, more will be shared in the weeks to come, but we accepted the request from the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church to begin the process of pairing some of their congregations with Malawian and American counterparts.  The Blantyre Synod extended an invitation to SSPEC to designate a pastor who could come to Malawi for a pilot program of pastoral exchange. Plans were made for visits to Pittsburgh in 2018 and Malawi in 2019.  Additionally, we committed to working toward a smaller-scale pilgrimage to South Sudan by Malawian and American partners at some point in the next 18 months.

Our team at the end of our working day.

In the midst of the work, we were privileged to share delicious meals and much laughter.  Our day ended with a banquet during which gifts were exchanged and greetings and well-wishes extended.  We finished our time together singing “To God Be the Glory”, a message to which we commend all our efforts.

It wouldn’t be dinner in Africa without a speech or five…

Here I am presenting Rev. James with the gift from the Crafton Heights Church Youth Group: $2500 to be used to provide relief for those suffering famine in South Sudan.

Nancy Collins, PC(USA) Regional Liaison for mission in Central and East Africa, accepts a gift from Blantyre Synod Moderator Abusa Mbolembole.

“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the people rejoice!”

We appreciate the prayers that have come, and welcome further participation in this journey of partnership.  Zikomo!

Hey, whaddya know? There are birds here! I met this Firecrowned Bishop (a first for me) on my morning walk.

PARTNERSHIP IN AFRICAN MISSION 2018 #2

The second day of our time in Malawi was very useful as we prepare for a summit meeting with our partners.  We all slept soundly and well, and spent the morning relaxing, visiting the banks, and making arrangements for the meeting.  I even added two birds to my “life list”!

After a delicious noontime meal, the team was formally received by the General Secretary of the hosting body, Blantyre Synod CCAP.  In addition to a welcoming conversation in that office, representatives from Pittsburgh Presbytery, Blantyre Synod, and the South Sudan Evangelical Church toured the Blantyre Synod Radio station, where several of us were interviewed about the nature and purpose of the partnership.  We then were shown Blantyre Synod’s “cathedral church”, St. Michael and All Angels.

At the conclusion of the afternoon, we were dismissed to our host homes for evening meals and fellowship. My brother Davies and I spent a good bit of time preparing for the meeting, and we also welcomed Ms. Nancy Collins, the PCUSA Regional Liaison for Central and East Africa.  We are delighted she will join us for our meetings, which commence tomorrow.

I’ll do my best to update the blog as we move ahead in this task, but am uncertain as to the availability of internet in the next few days.

Now, a few photos…

At its core, Partnership is about People and Relationships. Here, our hosts Davies and Angella Lanjesi read a note from the group of young adults from Crafton Heights whom they hosted a year or so ago.

 

In the General Secretary’s Office

 

Watching a live broadcast from Blantyre Synod Radio

 

Dave is interviewed about the partnership

 

Clearly, these guys are a lot better at radio interviews than I am!

 

The interior of St. Michael and All Angels Church

 

Partners being framed by the church. As it should be!

Partnership In African Mission 2018 #1

Since 1991, the congregations of Pittsburgh Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA) have been linked in missional partnership with the Synod of Blantyre (Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian) in a partnership that combines the twinning of congregations, the exchange of visitors, mutual support and prayer, and other ventures.  In 2013, that partnership took an historic turn with the inclusion of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC). You can read more about some of the history behind that clicking here, or by looking at other items on this blog tagged with either Malawi or South Sudan.

It’s been five years since that covenant of Tripartite agreement was signed, and so this year, as the Moderator of the Presbytery’s International Partnership Ministry Team, I have asked to convene a meeting of our partners to reflect on where we’ve been, see what’s working, and look ahead at where there might be fruit to be gained in this shared venture.

The Rev. Brian Snyder, the Vice-Moderator of the Pittsburgh team, and I left Pittsburgh on Monday and drove to Washington DC, where we boarded a flight for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Once there (some 13 hours later!), we met up with our counterparts from the SSPEC, Moderator James Par Tap and Vice-Moderator Deng Bol Atem.

Together the four of us continued to Blantyre, where we were warmly greeted at the airport by a contingent including the Chair of the Blantyre Synod Partnership Team (Dr. Davies Lanjesi), the Director of the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (Lindirabe Gareta), Mr. Keith Lipato from Mulanje Presbytery, and Lauren Mack (a member of the Crafton Heights Church who is spending this year teaching at the St. Andrews’ Mission Secondary School in Mulanje).  I was privileged to administer Lauren’s baptism many years ago, and what joy it gives me to think that she will accompany me through these two weeks in “the warm heart of Africa”!

Our main tasks for the day included staying hydrated, eating too much, and arriving safely. Mission accomplished!  We’re already winners!  I hope that you’ll look for more updates as the weeks progress, and that you’ll pray for our team as we move forward in ministry and service.  In the meantime, here are some images from the travel days of our trip.

(L to R) Revs. Deng, James, and Brian in the departure “lounge” at the Addis Ababa airport.

 

How happy was I to see Lauren’s smiling face at the Chileka airport?!?!?!

 

(L-R) Chikondi Lanjesi, Davies Lanjesi, Dave Carver, James Par Tap, Deng Bol Atem, Lauren Mack, Keith Lipato, Brian Snyder, and Lindirabe Gareth. Pay no attention to the ominous cloud over the right hand of the screen… that just goes to show you that you can’t simply hand the camera to anyone! It’s a “finger foul” over the lens.

 

Lindirabe greeted us with some gifts from the harvest – in this season, that means some pumpkin and sugar cane!