Cherokee Youth Mission Update #1

The New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia is a favorite stop on our way out of Pittsburgh.

The Youth Group from the church/Open Door is spending the week at the Qualla Boundary with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. We are staying at the Cherokee United Methodist Church, and we came in order to encounter aspects of the culture, our faith, ourselves, and our world in order to learn something about being more fully God’s people in this world. To get here, we left Crafton Heights immediately after church on Sunday and drove approximately ten hours south.

These smiles kept us going all day long! 521 miles!

The PLAN was to spend this day laying the groundwork for the construction of a deck and porch for a family in need. However, for the first time in memory, we’ve had a day that is simply a “rain out”. Buckets and buckets of water poured across the Great Smoky Mountains, and we were forced to adapt our plan. We spent the morning wandering through the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, which contained a number of informative displays concerning the history and culture of the people who lived here when the Europeans showed up in North America. We learned about pottery, games (like stickball and lacrosse), and handicrafts; we saw something impressive about the empowerment that the Cherokee traditionally accorded to the women in their midst; and we were saddened to read of “the removal”, or the “Trail of Tears”. In fact, the church in which we’re staying is the oldest Native American congregation in the Eastern USA, and it boasted about 440 members in the year prior to the “removal”. Three years later, the church had only 40 members.

I was haunted by this quote in the museum…

We spent the afternoon, in Paige’s words, “pretending it’s a retreat: let’s get to know each other!” You might have enjoyed working a puzzle or playing Apples to Apples; I know I got a kick out of Tim doing his best Jimmy Stewart impression to a group of adolescents who have absolutely no idea who Mr. Stewart is.  When the weather gave us a little bit of a break we took a quick trip to measure out our job site and a brief hike to the beautiful Mingo Falls.

A little “Apples to Apples” on a rainy Monday!

Mingo Falls


The Group at the Falls

If the success of the trip is measured in how much wood gets cut or how deep the holes we dig are, well, today was a washout. But if we’re here to encounter and be encountered, well, then – today was a success.   And hey – no splinters!

Report from Malawi, January 2 2017

Day Seven

On Christmas Day, 2016, a group of five young adults and I embarked on an African adventure that was over two years in the making.  Carly, Katie, Joe, Rachael, David and I are pleased to be in Malawi for nearly two weeks embracing (and being embraced by) the gift that is the partnership between the churches of Pittsburgh Presbytery (Presbyterian Church USA) and Blantyre Synod (Church of Central Africa: Presbyterian).  Here is part of our story.

The brilliant blue skies highlight the beauty of the trees in blossom.

The brilliant blue skies highlight the beauty of the trees in blossom.

The CCAP shares a great deal of history and tradition with the PC(USA): we all have local congregations, governed by sessions, served by pastors, and related through presbyteries. One significant difference, however, between our experience at CHUP and that of many of our Malawian friends has to do with the sheer numbers involved. Blantyre Synod, with nearly two million members, is comprised of a large number of congregations that are served by a much smaller number of pastors. Abusa Noah Banda from Mbenjere, for instance, has eight other congregations for which he is responsible. Furthermore, each congregation is responsible for a number of outlying worshiping communities called “Prayer Houses”. The Prayer House is typically in a village setting some distance from the main congregation, and will serve anywhere from a couple of dozen to several hundred Christians who find it difficult to walk the significant distance to the main congregation (often as much as 15 or 20 miles). The pastor and elders are supposed to visit these prayer houses on a regular basis. It was our team’s privilege to spend Monday January 2 visiting two of Mbenjere’s three prayer houses. We are so fortunate to have access to a “loaner” vehicle – a Nissan Patrol that seats five very comfortably and ten with less leg room… This vehicle made it possible for us to get wherever we needed to go in the Machinga district and beyond.


This was very helpful when we consider the “roads” over which we traversed.


7kholeThe first stop was at the Khole congregation, where David made his preaching debut. The congregation of about thirty or so was eager to hear him speak about Abram’s call from God to leave the land of his home and his family and to go to a strange country and be a blessing to those who were there. David spoke about the ways that blessing others and being blessed by them is a circle in which all can share. We were able to share in the singing of new songs as well as familiar ones like “Palibe Ofananaye”. We were able to present the leadership of the prayer house with the gift of a soccer ball as we explained the role that sports play in helping the Open Door to establish relationships with neighborhood children. We were honored to receive a reciprocal gift when the congregation presented us with a live hen!


Joe holds the morning offering...

Joe holds the morning offering…

The children of Khole

The children of Khole

Mr. and Mrs. Chitedze

Mr. and Mrs. Chitedze

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Chitedze. Many CHUP members will recall Rose’s visit to the home of Erin Butti in 2014. Following this we were delighted to visit the dynamic group of Christians at the Naperi Prayer house. Although the road was very, very convoluted (even our resident Malawian direction-giver said, “I don’t like this place at all – all the roads look the same, only smaller…”), the welcome was warm and energetic. There were nearly 100 people waiting for us, and we joined in singing, dancing, and more. Rachael preached the first sermon of her life, using the text in which Jesus challenges his first followers (and those of today) to “consider the lilies” and make sure that we are seeking to be participating in the practices of gratitude and thanksgiving, seeking to obey God and seek his righteousness first. We were very, very happy to see the joy with which this group received the gift of the soccer ball and we took some time to simply share in the joy of being together. Soccer and netball were played, bubbles were blown, “It-Tag” was played, and Rachael even received a lesson on how to ululate properly! There was so much laughter, deep and rich.



The ululation has begun!

The ululation has begun!

The congregation of Naperi

The congregation of Naperi

The smiles of Naperi!

The smiles of Naperi!

If you appreciate deep worship and extravagant laughter; if the sound of children singing and old women praising is appealing to you; if running and smiling and dwelling in the present as if today is all that matters sounds like a good plan to you.. well, then, I wish you could have been there. It was all that and more.

We had a bit of concern as we neared the end of our day, however. The more we drove through the acres and acres of crops, we saw that while some of the maize that was planted earlier in the season was growing, the later plantings were wilting. It occurred to us that even though this is the “rainy season”, we hadn’t actually seen any rain. Our colleagues who work in the Ministry of Agriculture shared a concern that if the rains didn’t resume, there could be dire consequences. The dry roads were a boon to us, but a concern to those who rely on the rains to provide their food.

The corn is withered... we pray for rain

The corn is withered… we pray for rain

We had a good discussion on the fact that one of the privileges we enjoy as American Christians is the ability to entertain the delusion that the weather and our diet are, in practice, unrelated. That is to say, those of us in Pittsburgh look outside and think, “Oh, my it’ll be cold today” or “I hope it doesn’t rain all day”, and then we go down to Giant Eagle to get our groceries that are always there, always fresh, always there for us.

We never think about praying for rain, or for the billions of our neighbors who need some – just the right amount – in order to be preserved from drought but not devastated by flood.

I think that we should.

I know that our group, as we sat in Mr. and Mrs. Mkandawire’s home for a candlelight dinner (thank you, power outage), the rains began to fall. We found it difficult to hear the conversations, at times… but we didn’t mind. We were glad for the rain, and even more glad for the way that it put us to sleep some hours later.

Maybe before you go to bed tonight, you could pray for those who depend on the rains to come at just the right time. They’ll be glad you did!