Africa Pilgrimage Update #10

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.

Friday, July 12 brought a whole new experience to the 2019 Youth Pilgrimage to Malawi.  Whereas the previous posts concerning this journey have all contained stories about the team gathered– that is, together as we participated in youth conferences, wandered and wondered over amazing terrain, and visited historic sites together– on this day the team split into five components.  Groups were sent to their partner churches (or, if they don’t currently have partner churches in Malawi, they went to congregations that would host them for the weekend).  Since I am one lone blogger and haven’t quite mastered the art of being in more than one place at one time (frankly, sometimes I’m pretty shaky at being in only  one place at one time), this entry will focus on the three of us from Crafton Heights who were the guests at the congregation with which we’ve been partnered since 1995 – the Mbenjere CCAP in Ntaja, Machinga, Malawi.  While the specifics of each location will vary, and if you know other travelers on this journey you’ll want to hear more about their particular host weekend, our experience will surely qualify as typical for the purposes of this journey.

For starters, Ntaja, and all of the other locations where we’ve been hosted, is more rural and less-developed than Blantyre and even Mulanje.  While Ntaja is a primary trading center, it is also a crowded, dusty place in a corner of Malawi that is not usually on people’s itinerary.

I’ve often thought I want to write a book featuring photos of “roads” I’ve driven. Here’s a snap of downtown Ntaja at rush hour. “Rush” meaning “It’s market day and why is that crazy abusa driving his car through the ‘mall’?”

 

We were welcomed by the pastor and some church leaders with a fine meal at the manse; following that we were escorted to our host family’s home.  In our case, the Makuluni family has been blessed with quite a large home, and so each of the three of us had our own bedroom. Menes and Edith have each travelled to Crafton Heights before, and I’ve stayed in their various homes many times. It is a wonderful place to learn about our sister congregation, Mbenjere CCAP, and we were treated royally.

Our hosts, Menes and Edith Makuluni.

Saturday morning found us up and out early, as we toured the church campus and saw not only the “old” and “new” church buildings, but also the Mbenjere CCAP Primary School (which has more than 4000 students and class sizes ranging from 100 – 200), the borehole that Crafton Heights and Bower Hill helped construct about ten years ago, and the environs.  We then met with representatives of the youth department, and combined singing, bible study, games, and small group question/answer time.  After lunch, the program called for us to visit a prayer house, but our vehicle broke down and I had to take it to a village mechanic and a shoemaker (trust me, that’s a whole ‘nother blog post in and of itself).  The girls stayed at the church with a few elders and the youth group members for an impromptu chat that they each agreed was the highlight of their day.  We enjoyed a delicious meal at the Makuluni home and retired comparatively early (but not before we taught our hosts to play “Crazy Dice!).

A tour of the Mbenjere CCAP Primary School. The school buildings are in the background, and the headmaster is the gentleman in the gray coat. We are standing in a “classroom” under the trees – a situation mandated by the intense overcrowding at the school.

Discussions with the Youth Team.

Just as we do at CHUP, the young people play games as icebreakers and conversation starters. Here is a variant on “the shoe game”.

Getting a lesson in “Bao”, a very popular game in these parts.

Sunday was a whirlwind!  We arrived at church at 8:30 for the 9:00 service.  In addition to everything you’d THINK you’d experience at a typical Presbyterian service of worship (a few hymns, children’s sermon, offering, sermon, announcements, etc.), our time of worship included these highlights:

  • A lengthy introduction of the visitors of the day, which included not only our team, but a group of Roman Catholic Nuns from a neighboring town who thought they’d pray like Presbyterians today.
  • The commissioning of the new headmaster of the Primary School, along with his deputies.
  • There were five choirs that sang.
  • We held a service of reconciliation, in which some members who had been put on church discipline were welcomed back to the full communicant membership.
  • Approximately 30 new members were confirmed, and a confirmation class was examined.
  • I was privileged to administer the Sacrament of Baptism to 9 adults and two infants
  • We dedicated a uniform to be worn by a member of the Amayi Mvano, the Women’s Guild of the congregation.
  • There was an exchange of gifts between the congregations.
  • And, in a special “bonus round” of worship after the first benediction, we had a separate service of Holy Communion.

Suffice to say, it was NOT a one hour service.  We finally broke up at about 1 pm, weary but also encouraged and appreciative of what we’d experienced.

Being greeted during the “passing of the peace” at worship.

Gift-giving and receiving is an important part of the partnership experience. Here we are presenting Abusa Noah Banda with a symbol of faith.

We ate very well at our friend Fletcher Tewesa’s new home and rekindled a relationship that has been long and fruitful.  Fletcher has also been a guest at Crafton Heights.

Fletcher and a part of his family at their new home in Ntaja.

A testimony to the power of physical presence and personal visits in partnership:  Fletcher moved into a new house several months ago. He has exactly ONE photo already hung up in his home. That single photo is one I took when the team of 5 young people from Crafton Heights visited in 2016-2017. He was so deeply touched by that experience, and it showed on visiting his home. I was deeply moved when I saw this.

After going back to the church for a Youth Bible Study, we then were escorted to the manse for a farewell dinner.

A portion of the youth who gathered for Bible Study.

There were many contrasts in this visit – some of our time was incredibly engaging, while other aspects of it seemed to drag as we waited for the hosts to choreograph their next activities.  Our friends in Ntaja are so eager to make sure that we have everything that we need that sometimes the pace of some activities (NOT WORSHIP) makes it seem like we’re going inordinately slow – but we have to realize and remember that this is a pace that is rooted in grace, welcome, and hospitality.

Sunday evening after the “farewell dinner” we spent a great deal of time laughing with our hosts, learning to makensima – a corn-based porridge that is the staple food – and learning to dress like a Malawian.  It has been a rich and full time, and I know that these young women, this congregation, and the folks at Crafton Heights will have been glad that it occurred.  I can only hope that the other delegations had as powerful an experience as did we!

Rayna gets put on potato peeling duty at home!

Danielle is trying HARD to get a good recipe for nsima.

The girls each learned how to wear a chitenge properly.

After we left Ntaja, we made a quick stop in the Liwonde National Park.  I’m disappointed to say that we failed to find a single elephant, but we did have a great time exploring the countryside and seeing some of God’s rich creation!

Danielle looking eagerly for something wild!

A warthog crosses our path!

A pair of waterbuck size us up.

This impala is waiting patiently to be groomed by an oxpecker – these birds remove ticks and other parasites from their furry friends.

 

Africa Pilgrimage Update #9

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 the topic of arranging a youth group trip to Malawi was broached in partnership discussions a couple of years ago, we asked, “Well, what would a trip like that be for?  What would happen  on that kind of a journey?  What would we hope to happen?”  As we brainstormed, a vision came into clarity fairly quickly.  We would want to put young Malawians and Pittsburghers together in a place where neither was necessarily “home”, but each was equally comfortable. We wanted to create a space that was accessible to youth in both cultures and invite them to think creatively and meaningfully about their own spiritual walk, the call to work together to create a world that was more in line with the Divine Intent, and their role as citizens of the world.  We wanted it to be a place that was wonder-filled, but in such a way as to be drawing us closer together, rather than “othering” someone.

July 11 was the real deal.  It all happened.  And it was glorious.

We have stayed for two nights at the Likhubula House, a camp/conference center owned and operated by the Synod of Blantyre.  We are shoehorned into a very crowded camp with two large groups of the Church of Scotland “Boy’s Brigade” Youth Group, who are in Malawi building a school with some of their counterparts in Malawi.  If that wasn’t interesting enough, we started our day by being joined by 54 CCAP students and youth workers.  The 68 of us crowded into a hall that must have been designed to hold at least 70 people (i.e., we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room), and we convened our third of three Youth Conferences on the topic of “Developing Leadership Through Partnership”.  We changed things up a bit this morning by beginning with singing, and then having Eddie Willson lead off the teaching with a session on dealing with anxiety and pressure. This was a good multi-faceted approach to covering the topic, and Eddie did a phenomenal job at making sure that our small group reflection times were cross-cultural and deep.  After a break, Abusa Paul Mawaya of the St. Andrew’s Parish in Mulanje offered a very smart and timely powerpoint presentation on the challenges that the youth in Blantyre Synod face and then he invited our small groups to consider how such challenges related to the American Youth.  The discussion was lively, personal, and honest. It was a room full of God’s children seeking to find common ground in the hopes that we would be better together than walking our own roads.

Eddie gets the conference energized…

Delaney shares with her small group.

The small group conversations were a joy to watch!

Greta and T.K. mug for the camera…

Our Malawian facilitator, Abusa Mawaya (center), with Davies Lanjesi and myself.

(most of) the assembled group!

Immediately following the conference, everyone stayed and had lunch together: rice, chicken, and bananas topped the menu and the meal was truly sacramental.  Some of the small groups ate together; there were clusters of “selfies” and a lot of contact information was shared.  When all had eaten enough, the grounds were filled with chatter and laughter.

And if that were not enough, three or four dozen pilgrims of all ages met at the base of the trail for a brief hike into the lower elevations of Mount Mulanje.  The climb was initially pretty steep, but then after a while it leveled out as we wandered through the trees and looked out onto the valley at the base of the mountain.  After an hour or so, we arrived at the lovelyNgarambe waterfall and pool.  This is the point where the small river springs forth from the mountain, and so to say that the water was cold would be an understatement.  It was bracingly, breathtakingly, heart-stoppingly cold.

So, of course, a few of us jumped in.  I mean, when are these kids going to get the chance to do that again?  We jumped, and we swam as fast as we could back onto the rocks, where we warmed up in the 70 degree air.

And we laughed.  And played. And splashed.  And encouraged each other to try new things, to take new paths, and to risk ourselves just a bit.  And. It. Was. Wonder-filled. 

The Crafton Heights Team en route to the top.

Kemp shows the crowd how to enter the pool!

Even Holiness got into the act and decided to take the plunge (that’s Danielle and Rayna coming up for air in the background)!

Coleman asked me if we could swim all the way to the waterfall.
(we couldn’t – not and feel our extremities anymore!)

The setting at Likhubula House was perfect because it is very accessible to our Malawian colleagues and yet it is so amazingly African that it was captivating to the American souls as well.  The mixture of mental, physical, spiritual, and intellectual stimulation was the perfect combination to allow the groups of kids to mix it up in all sorts of ways.

I cannot imagine that there is anyone, American or Malawian, who will soon forget this day or the lessons learned, questions asked, and laughter shared during it. And I can’t help but think that in these memories lies the seed of something that could be sacred and formative for life.

I have a couple of friends who, when asked “Hey, how are things?”, their standard reply is, “I’m living the dream…”  Know this: on July 11, 2019, a group of folks from villages in Malawi and suburbs of Western Pennsylvania and towns in Africa and the City of Pittsburgh lived the dream. I wish you could have been here. I hope that these stories and photos will give you at least a glimpse of what it was like.

And if you know someone who was here today, then make a not to ask them about it in a couple of weeks.  Not now, when it’s so fresh, but in a few weeks after we’ve had time to reflect and digest on what we’ve been.  And be grateful.  It’s a good life, my friends – a good life indeed.  Thanks be to God!

POSTSCRIPT: We are entering the phase of our journey wherein we will split up and go to five various congregations for the next three days.  Internet access is not guaranteed, and the blog reports may be sketchy.  I’ll try to post from Ntaja, but I can’t be sure.  If you’re a parent or friend and are looking forward to these, don’t worry. Silence is a part of every pilgrimage!

What better way to finish the day than a game of “Crazy Dice” with our friends from Balaka CCAP?

Africa Pilgrimage Update #8

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.

The 2019 Youth Pilgrimage to Malawi took a turn to the southeast today as we headed into the Mulanje region of the country. Nearly 25% of the cultivated land in this small nation is owned or controlled by large farming operations of one sort or another.  These are often referred to as “estates”.  There are tobacco estates, coffee estates, and especially here in the shadow of the Mulanje Massif, tea estates.  We drove through kilometer after kilometer of well-manicured bright greentea bushes, and we found ourselves as the guests of the people at the Namingomba Estate.  One of our key partnership members is a staff worker there, and she arranged for us to be shown around the tea “factory”.  Here, during the peak season, between 50 and 60 tons of tea are processed daily.  That’s 100,000 – 120,000 pounds of tea each and every day.  We are in the midst of the dry season in Malawi, which the tea growers called “the lean season”. Therefore, we didn’t see much processing get done because they had already finished processing yesterday’s harvest prior to our arrival.  However,  we were given a fascinating tour of the facility and saw the equipment necessary for each step in the process, including withering, fermenting, chopping, refining, drying, and packaging to name a few.  The ancient building scared a few of our members upon entry, but we soon learned to be confident going up and down the various ladders and stairwells.

Mount Mulanje is one of the most striking images in this country – a huge massif rising from the plains.

A tea plantation in the shadow of the mountain.

Arriving at the Namingomba Tea Estate

Today’s tea, ready to be sampled.

Volunteers, hard at work for the cause of good tea!

Although most of the day’s production was finished by the time we arrived, we did see the last few stages of winnowing and chopping and packaging the harvest.

If you think that this is a lot of tea…

…get load of this. Each of these bags contains around 120 pounds of loose tea.

We were surprised to be taken from the tea factory to a facility on the same grounds that processes macadamia nuts.  Malawi is encouraging people to grow this valuable crop as an export in order to help replace the loss of income caused by a slumping tobacco market worldwide.  Whereas the tea factory was, well, a little “rustic” or “homey”, the macadamia operation is spic and span.  We removed all jewelry, donned lab coats and special shoes, walked across anti-bacterial mats and entered a clean zone.  We saw automated shellers and sorters, and were fascinated at the deft handling of each individual nut by the staff on the conveyor belts.  Again, we walked through the steps ranging from washing the exterior shells to packaging up the finished product.  This experience gave our group some great opportunity to think about the nature of commerce, wages, land use, and more… we didn’t finish talking about it, and we’re surely not done thinking about it.

Hudson modeling the visitor’s garb…

…joined by fashionistas Jessica and Holiness!

The macadamia sorting line.

From there we enjoyed a delicious meal at the Kara O’Mula restaurant, and then we headed off to the Mulanje Mission Hospital.  Here we met the Medical Director and another doctor, who were gracious enough to give us an impromptu tour of this facility.  It was amazing, and it was encouraging! We heard about hospital initiatives involving spraying the homes in villages around the region that has reduced the malarial cases dramatically.  We saw children’s wards that were described as “too big” because they are so rarely full.  We met with dedicated staff and saw amazing equipment like solar “trees” that make up for occasional blackouts so that life-giving oxygen and other medical necessities are able to flow unimpeded.  This visit was truly a highlight of our time here, and we were thrilled to present to the staff a gift of $500 (representing $100 from each of the 5 congregations) to be used for medical care in a way that seemed fitting to the staff.

Dr, Peter showing our group the layout of MMH.

The tour continues.

Rayna presenting our gift to Dr. Arie, the Medical Director.

A wonderful surprise was running into my old friend Keith Lipato, the Principal of the Mulanje Mission Hospital School of Nursing. He was riding by on his motorbike and recognized me and we had the chance to embrace briefly.

One of the doctors mentioned that he is participating in a race called the Porter’s Race – it is a grueling challenge up and down Mount Mulanje designed to raise money for worthy causes.  His name is Peter Schwellnus, and he’s a South African who trained at Mulanje and has come back because of his love for Malawi.  We’d be thrilled if you visited his fundraising page to learn more about Peter, this race, and his passion for the people of Mulanje Mission Hospital.  Take a moment and click here to support this cause.

I read a book recently that really resonated with me.  It is called Factfulness  (click here to learn more about this book)  and it’s written by a Swede named Hans Rosling.  In it, he argues that the world is actually getting much better for many of the people who are close to the margins.  He makes a huge distinction between those who earn $1/day and those who earn $2/day, for instance, and points to the ways that life is quantifiably better for those who experience even a very modest bump in income and security.  I recalled that because the Mulanje Mission Hospital I saw today is a much-improved place to work, heal, and serve than that which I found on my first visit there in 1995.  Not only that, but the roads over which I drove today are remarkably better than they were even 18 months ago.  Malawi is still a difficult place to be sure, but the signs of hope and growth are real.

Our day ended by driving to the base of Mount Mulanje and settling into a very crowded Likhubula Youth Centre.  There are at least two groups of young men from Scotland on a “Boy’s Brigade” service learning trip who are staying here now – so many that we have to eat in shifts. We completed the day with what may be our best evening discussion/devotion of the trip.  We are grateful for your prayers!

Africa Pilgrimage Update #7

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 time at Lake Malawi came to a close earlier than any of our pilgrims might have chosen, but we left the Mangochi region grateful for the opportunity to have been with the youth of those churches and to have seen just a sliver of the natural beauty of that area.  We boarded our bus early for a long ride south to the Zomba District, where we spent several hours on the grounds of the Naming’azi Farm Training Centre.  Here, we met with the Director of the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission, my friend Lindirabe Mazinyane.

The BSHDC is a wide-reaching arm of the church that coordinates and leads efforts in, well, development and health. Under the auspices of this agency, the CCAP is able to facilitate programs relating to such things as orphan care, disaster relief, community development, health care, and more.  Some of these efforts are led primarily or exclusively by the BSHDC, whilst others are coordinated in conjunction with other national and international partners, such as the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the ACT Alliance.  Lindirabe was the one who sent us the list of disaster relief supplies that we carried from our friends in Pittsburgh to Malawi.

Preston welcomes us to the farm and explains its relationship to the BSHDC.

Lilndirabe SAID she was going to tell us about the BSHDC, but in fact she gave us a mini workshop in leadership development and the importance of strategic planning!

One of the most impressive ideas that the BSHDC has put forth is the Naming’azi Farm Training Centre.  This facility, encompassing many acres, is at once a demonstration farm indicating some best practices for rural Malawians, an income generator for the other work of the BSHDC, and a classroom/laboratory in which local farmers may come to receive training in fish farming, composting, soil conservation, irrigation, and more.  It is one of the best ideas going, and I was eager to introduce the team of pilgrims to some of what is here.  We once again recalled the words of Pope Benedict that we’ve used to describe a pilgrimage: “To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”  Surely the Farm is one place that has shone in Malawi.

And so we tramped through rice paddies and tomato fields, past fish ponds and pig sties, and arrived at an area near the edge of the farm where we planted about 30 – 40 pine seedlings.  Malawi has suffered greatly because of the deforestation of the hillsides, and this is a symbolic effort to reverse that.  The trees that we planted will keep topsoil in place, provide some shade, soak up some carbon dioxide, and perhaps eventually serve as timber for building or making matchsticks.  It was an honor to participate in this event.

Fields of tomatoes are being irrigated and ripening at Naming’azi Farm.

The fish ponds, which we were told are growing chambo that will be sold at the market.

Greta and T.K. are saving the planet one tree at a time…

Kemp showing us how the planting gets done.

Even the leadership of the partnership can get our hands dirty! Here I am with Dr. Lanjesi, the chair of the Malawian team.

Sampling the honey from the Farm’s beekeepers.

When one of our team left something in the “big” suitcase, there was only one way to retrieve it. Some of our Malawian friends found this photo of me to be hysterical.

Meanwhile, Danielle thinks she’s pretty funny taking a selfie with her seat mate on the bus. I was just resting my eyes for a minute…

We had a very  late lunch (4:30 pm!) at the Ku Chawe Inn, an incredibly well-appointed hotel on the top of the Zomba Plateau, and then we got back into the bus for a ride to Blantyre that seemed longer than it actually was.  We were greeted here by one of the founders of the Partnership, my old and dear friend the Rev. Dr. Silas Ncozana.  Silas was the General Secretary of Blantyre Synod when the partnership was conceived and formed, and his fingerprints are all over the fruit that this partnership has produced over the years.  For an hour or two, he told us stories of his youth and his ministry, and he charged us to continue to grow as disciples who are seeking the good of the world.  It was a deep and rich conversation that filled me with immense joy.

Silas Ncozana addresses our group of pilgrims.

The end of a delightful and important day.

Africa Pilgrimage Update #6

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.

 

I should actually write more, but I’m really bushed and we’re getting up in six hours.  So here is a taste of our day today. Highlights included the second Youth Partnership Conference, held at Koche CCAP outside of Mangochi, as well as a trip on Lake Malawi in a small boat that allowed us to view the Lake Malawi Cichlids, swim, and view the African Fish Eagle (the national bird of Malawi).

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is a huge post.

My day started with a solo walk, whereupon I encountered this Collared Sunbird – a first for me!

The Malawian presenter at the conference this morning was my old friend the Rev. Dennis Mulele. We first met in a famine relief effort in 2003 and he’s been one of my heroes ever since!

Eddie Willson was the Pittsburgh Presenter, and he got things moving in a hurry. Everyone agreed that this was a very energetic and inspirational conference!

Eddie had us mingle around until we found “elbow partners”. Even though I only have two elbows, somehow I wound up with 8 partners!

Small groups work through some of the challenges and possibilities faced by youth in Malawi and the USA.

Our day also included conversation in groups of three or four (or, in my case, nine!).

(Most of) the Malawian and Pittsburgh youth and leaders at the conference today.

Setting sail for an adventure!

Rayna soaking it all up!

Lake Malawi is remarkable for the more than 700 species of cichlids it contains. It is the fourth largest lake in the world in terms of volume.

Feeding the cichlids.

So why not swim with the cichlids?

An African Fish Eagle comes up with some dinner!

The ending of a beautiful day.

Africa Pilgrimage Update #5

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.

What a wonder-filled day the 2019 Malawi Youth Pilgrimage team shared today! We began with an early breakfast and then went as a group to visit the Ndirande CCAP.  Ndirande is a fascinating community near the city center in Blantyre – it is about as “urban Africa” as it gets.  To read one description of life in this slum, you can visit this link.

Our experience of Ndirande was (no surprise) marvelous.  The CCAP congregation there is vibrant and alive with several thousand members.  We attended the second (of three) services, the English-language one.  Jessica was the preacher for the day, and Chloe and I also assisted in worship.  Actually, the entire team led worship because we sang as a choir.  It was a well-received rendition of “I Will Call Upon the Lord” in which the congregation joined us enthusiastically.

Prior to each worship service, the worship leaders and distinguished guests greet one another, plan, and pray in the vestry. That room was crowded on Sunday!

Pastor Jessica ready to preach about our call to believe in God’s promises and provision even when the odds seem stacked against us.

Joining in worship with the Ndirande congregation.

After worship we enjoyed tea at the home of the Pastor (who remained at the church to lead the third service). From there we returned to GBCC and set off toward the shores of Lake Malawi.  We stopped to greet Abusa Takuze Chitsulo, the Principal at Zomba Theological College. We had been asked to deliver some books for the ZTC Library, and we took advantage of the stop to learn more about the College’s mission and take a brief tour.

In the manse with the “Mai abusa” (pastor’s wife) and the session clerk.

Hudson and Annabel present the books to Abusa Chitsulo on behalf of the PCUSA.

Although the staff and students are on semester break, not everyone has gone home. I’m not sure what year this fellow is in, but he showed real agility and energy while with us at ZTC!

From there we drove straightaway to the southern end of Lake Malawi, where we’ll be privileged to spend a couple of days.  Along the way we noted the drastic change in landscape, scenery, and the shift from intensely urban to wide-open rural Malawi.  It was a long ride, but it passed quickly enough with a lot of singing, some great conversation, and a nap or two along the way.  Our day ended with a late (but delicious) dinner and (for some of us) a few games before bed.  All in all, a great day!

With Eddie at one end of the bus and Rayna at the other, the songs (and hand motions) were flowing freely!

It wouldn’t be a trip if we didn’t play Bananagrams, would it?

 

Africa Pilgrimage Update #4

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.

Getting settled in at the Youth Conference

Barb Swan responds to comments about her group’s reflections on the material.

It wouldn’t be a partnership gathering without self-introductions. Here, Rayna takes her turn.

Our time together included a mixture of large group presentation and small group reflection and discussion.

Michelle adapted her material beautifully to be able to respond and add to the segment with which Gospel had begun our seminar.

While I wasn’t listed as a “presenter” on the program, I may have told a story or two anyhow….a coincidence that I’m sure had NOTHING to do with the fact that the conference ran overtime…

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.

Lunch with new friends…

The gathered assembly!

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…

As the Mchiru CCAP Women’s Choir rehearses…

… our group of travelers seeks to soak it all in!

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.

That’s a lot of hand sanitizer…

Thanks to everyone who helped us fill these suitcases with medical supplies!

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!