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 Update #9

“Always go to the wedding,” my father-in-law says.  “You’ll get to see almost as many people as at the funerals, and they’re a lot more fun.”

There are a lot of reasons I like to pay attention to my father-in-law, and this one is easy.  When we found out that the proposed “summit meeting” for our partnership conversations would not be happening in January, we looked toward a post-Easter date and were thrilled to discover that if we came to Blantyre in mid-April we’d be together with our dear friends Silas and Margaret Ncozana in time to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary.

The day was packed full – first, there was a “wedding” with a renewal of vows at St. Michael and All Angels CCAP.  Then a “town reception” at a nearby garden spot, and finally many of the international guests headed north to Kutchire lodge for a meal and a chance to sleep in the Liwonde National Park.  It was a great day in so many ways, and one of the best of them was the chance to connect with friends who have become dear over a quarter of a century of partnership.  I’ll confess that I stopped taking pictures and started just engaging with the people who were there, but here are a few images of a great day.

The happy couple processing into the church.

 

Sue Makin helped me to fall in love with Mulanje Mission hospital and so much more about this lovely land. It was a joy to visit!

 

McDonald Kadawati was the General Secretary of Blantyre Synod about a dozen years ago, and here he is greeting Brian Snyder.

 

Misanjo Kansilanga was the General Secretary when I did the pastor’s exchange in 1998.

 

It seemed odd, but incredibly fitting, to run into Dan Merry on the campus of Blantyre Synod. We had the chance to reminisce about all the miles we’ve put on the road together in all sorts of places!

 

This was a different kind of reunion: Lauren and Brooke live and teach together in Mulanje, but as Lauren has been traveling with me for the past 10 days or so, this was the first time they’d seen each other in nearly two weeks!

 

Lauren shows her new dress, purchased with the help of Angella Lanjesi.

 

Again, please do not take these photos as representative of the entire day or the vast range of participants.  As indicated above, it’s just a glimpse into a day celebrating a marvelous couple whose love for and with each other has strengthened and encouraged countless other people in thousands of “villages” around the world.  Thanks be to God!

Partnership in African Mission 2018 #8

Deep and wide.

Breadth and depth.

Those are good matrices for a number of human experiences, and partnership is surely one of them.  The last couple of days have given us a chance to experience the deep reaches of partnership experiences, ranging from intensely personal to those instances where we simply do not know, and cannot guess what might occur.

Lauren Mack is a member of the Crafton Heights church who has been serving since August as a teacher at the St. Andrews Mission Secondary School in Mulanje.  This gave us a perfect excuse to drive down to Mulanje for a day and a half so that we might be able to appreciate the mission and purpose of that institution, see where Lauren and her friend and colleague Brooke are staying, and connect with some of those involved in the Partnership in that area.  Our initial stops included the historic Mulanje Mission Hospital, the St. Andrew’s manse, and dinner with the Presbytery partnership committee.

Lauren is greeted by Ms. Chirwa, chair of the Mulanje Presbytery Partnership team.

 

Touring the Mulanje Mission Hospital.

 

Meeting at the manse with Abusa Paul Mawaya

 

Partnership meal!

On Friday we awoke determined to climb, at least partially, up the side of Mount Mulanje with the notion of taking a quick dip in the icy waters of Nkhalambe Falls.  This pool is both broad and deep… and icy!  Nevertheless, Lauren and I took our chance to say we swam in the waters of an amazingly beautiful African stream.

Climbing up Mt. Mulanje

 

I told her we should pause for a photo. Meanwhile, I was dying for breath! I asked our photographer to take an extra half-dozen or so just so I could rest…

 

After about an hour, we make it to the falls!

 

And about four minutes later, here we were! Since the water flows out of the mountain, it is extremely cold year round.

 

Not long after we got in, a police unit came by. They couldn’t figure out why knuckleheads like us insisted on swimming on a cool, rainy day… so the took some photos of us swimming for the folks back home!

After our morning hike, we headed back to Blantyre but first took a stopover in Mpemba, where Mrs. Sophie Mnensa lives.  Sophie and her late husband, Ralph, were our colleagues on the Presbytery’s first pastor exchange program in 1998, when our families spent about 12 – 14 weeks together, half in each home.  This was an example of the depth of the partnership in our lives – to see how fully we have been able to engage with and for one another over two decades…

Greeting Sophie…

 

Sophie is able to video chat with her sister, Sharon – all the way in Pittsburgh!

 

Can you tell it’s not just Sophie who’s excited to see Sharon?

 

In 1998, the Carvers stayed with the Mnensas and spent a lot of time with two little boys – Gregory and Gamaliel (aged 2 and 4). In the same year, the Mnensas stayed with the Carvers and spent a lot of time with a three year old girl named Lauren. How exciting to see those kids together today? Who would have thought our friendship and partnership could have brought us this far?

 

Ralph died in 2002, but Sophie asks me to walk with her to his grave each time we visit. it is an honor to do so.

We arrived in town to see that our friends from Blantyre Synod had set up a banquet honoring the arrival of team from the Evangelical Church of Christ in Mozambique.  This church body, like Blantyre Synod, traces its roots back to the early Scottish missionaries.  Several years ago, when we were beginning to envision a tripartite arrangement between South Sudan, America, and Malawi, members of the CCAP Blantyre Synod were exploring the reality of coming alongside this Presbyterian denomination in their closest neighbor.  That work is culminating this weekend as well over a dozen congregations will become formally twinned with one another – Mozambican and Malawian.  While this is not “our” partnership, it was a thrill to bear witness to the birth of a new reality in shared mission.  In many ways, this is the “breadth” of the church – it’s more than Pittsburgh can do right now, but we sure loved sitting on the sidelines and cheering on our brothers and sisters.

Brian, seated at “the Mozambican table”, brings greetings to the assembly.

 

The Moderator of the Evangelical Church of Christ in Mozambique

 

I can’t get over the fact that on Wednesday, we had lunch with South Sudanese, and just a few days later, we’re having dinner with Mozambicans. What a joy indeed!

This has been a day! But thanks be to God, we’ve had the resources to thrive throughout it.  Thanks for your prayers!

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 #6

When I was a kid, once a year or so we’d travel up to western New York and spend time with the family.  Mostly, it was fantastic: we’d play whiffle ball beside the runway of the Dansville airport, go swimming in my cousin’s pool, and walk around Aunt Mae’s farm. There was so much to DO!

But some days we didn’t “do”.  Some days we had to put on clean clothes and get in the car and go “visiting.”  To my nine year old self, that was horrible – walking in and out of people’s homes, doing nothing but talking and drinking tea (or sometimes Coca-Cola)…I just couldn’t see how adults could want to waste time “visiting” when there was so much DOING to be done.

Well, as you know, I’m old now.  And while I really enjoy doing, I find increasing value in “visiting”.  Taking time to stop and enter into people’s homes and lives and open mine to them.

While much of this visit to Malawi has centered on getting stuff done on behalf of the International Partnership Ministry Team, we needed to take at least a day and connect with our partners at the Mbenjere CCAP in the trading center of Ntaja.  The first time I came to this place it took at least three or four hours to get here from Zomba.  There was no paved road, and it was arduous.  That was 23 years ago, and so much has changed. The town is growing, the drive is much easier, and the church is thriving.  It has been a real joy to connect with old friends and make new ones.

Here are a few photos of our day of visiting.  If you’d like to see more, well, let me know.  Maybe we can get together and… well, you know.

Mrs. Rose Chitedze was a Session Clerk at Mbenjere and a visitor to our home. Although she has now moved, she took a minibus to visit us early in the morning before starting her work.

 

Walking to town from Menes and Edith’s home.

 

Many years ago, our sisters and brothers in Mbenjere CCAP asked for some assistance in digging a borehole for clean and safe water. It was our privilege to help contribute to this project and it brings joy to see it in use!

 

When the idea for the borehole project was conceived, it was beyond the scope of both Mbenjere and Crafton Heights churches. The Bower Hill Church, now served by Brian Snyder, came to our assistance. It was fun to see Brian take a hand in partnership at the borehole!

 

One of the highlights of the morning was a brief time of reception and worship at the church (on a Tuesday morning!!). Here we are exchanging gifts with Session clerk Fletcher Tewesa.

 

Afternoon coffee and tea under the moringa trees.

 

Even a regional power outage did not prevent us from enjoying a delicious meal and warm fellowship at the home of Hope and Shamim Mkandawire. It was a fine ending to the day!

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.