Archive for October, 2010
Sometimes there are great ideas that never become reality. Sometimes you can see two paths headed towards an intersection but they just miss each other due to time and circumstance. Sometimes you plan and hope and it just doesn’t live up to expectations. But sometimes a plan comes together and it’s reason for celebration and worth the telling.
Months ago when Ciona Rouse told us that she was going to visit Malawi, we tried not to get our hopes up. It’s best not to really believe it until the guest steps from the plane. But I began planning anyway and asked her to lead a workshop with our Publications Committee. Then while we were still in the US I heard that Siyileni Malinki had gone to Zimbabwe to be trained as a communicator by United Methodist Communications. Hmmm… I began to see a collaboration of these two great women to train news writers across the conference.
So at our Publications meeting just two weeks ago we identified those persons from the north, central and southern regions with the gifts to participate in such a training. The secretary made the phone calls, we got positive responses from all but one invitee, the chairperson withdrew the money and shopped for two meals, and Ciona truly did step off of the plane on Friday – even if it was 12 hours after we were expecting.
Saturday morning three pastors and five lay people gathered at our house. The Chairperson, Sageline Mashayamombe, opened with an inspiring “state of the union” about the purpose of publications, the importance of writing our stories and a charge to the participants to use the skills they will learn to tell the stories of the Malawi UMC. Siyileni and Ciona shared the teaching during the morning, explaining the role of the communicator, explaining the different kinds of news that may be covered, how to find news and the strengths of good reporting. In the afternoon, Ciona led the participants through several exercises to help them improve their interviewing, note-taking, and writing skills.
The workshop planned for 9am – 2pm, went from 10:30am – 7pm! The participants were engaged, gifted and excited about the opportunity and possibilities ahead of them. Now, as the Publiations Executive Committee learns of events, VIM teams, funerals, ordinations, meetings or projects anywhere from north to south, they can contact these communicators to cover the story and send the articles back. As we receive these articles, they will be published in the quarterly newsletter and I will try to share some of them here on the blog.
I love it when a plan comes together!
from my journal, 17 October
So here we are again at the Norman Carr Cottage in Monkey Bay. It’s beautiful and peaceful and relaxing. And I think we have come at the perfect time. We are tired but not exhausted, overwhelmed but not despairing.
Turning pages of my journal to find this blank one, the scratches and scrawls represent the pace and chaos of our lives – and the goodness too. There is a nearly complete outline for a baptism class, questions regarding nursery school funding, a young man’s phone number who is looking for a scholarship, a wish list, and a half-hearted beginning to a blog.
Remembering all the activity of the past few weeks – finished and unfinished – it’s especially strange to be at the lake, as it is each time we come. In Blantyre we live among the people, with regular and awkward encounters with expats. But here, we are so obviously outsiders to the culture. We are perceived as wealthy and so far removed from the children washing in the lake. Sitting here in my swim suit and sipping my drink, the Malawians walking by on the beach would never believe that just days ago I spent four hours walking the footpaths of Manase, at ease in the homes of congregation members, playing with children and praying together.
Yesterday I embarked on my first round of pastoral visits. After visiting two section meetings (weekly small group Bible studies) I was asked by the Galilea lay leader to visit individual families. We decided, along with the worship chairperson, that I would visit families who have not been to church for a long time.
I met the lay leader at church at 9:30am. After checking in on two sick women at Abusa Kaunda’s house, we set off in the Rav4 to a section of Blantyre near the church known as Mango. It is not meant for car travel. I creeped my way through bumpy, rocky terrain on a road that was barely wide enough for the car. At one point I had to drive through the market. On either side, just inches from the car were stands of potatoes, fish, greens, onions and tomatoes. Vendors moved their stools and watched their stands, while catching a glimpse of the white lady driving and reading the United Methodist logo on the doors of the car. I made it through without incident.
As we were moving slowly down the road, we were greeted from a tuck shop (imagine a lemonade stand size CVS) by John. I knew him only as the plumber who had helped Jeff and I out several times last year when our tap was stolen multiple times in a row. Turns out that his is also one of our lapsed members. The lay leader, Mr. Ntchafu, said, “John, we’re coming to your house today.” (insert background music of Sunday School song, “Zaccheus, I’m coming to your house today.”) John was surprised and pleased. So we found an opening off the road that was Rav4 size and began walking through the village of Mango. We chatted, or I listened to the Chichewa chatting, able to catch more and more words each day. And greeted people as we walked.
When we walked through his gate we met several children playing on the porch and the yard that was about the same size. As we opened the front door we stepped right up to the dining room table and took our seats. The water is irregular in that part of town so John’s wife was out fetching water. The lay leader asked him to turn down the TV that was quite loud through the enormous speakers just a foot or so from the dining room table. An ancient microwave oven sat on top of the speakers, next to a dorm size refrigerator and all these lined the wall of their sitting/dining room on the other side of the table at which we sat, leaving enough room to pass by to the bedroom.
John held his youngest child, just 11 months old. And the other three poked their head in the front door or sat just inside the doorway. Sheila, a little more precocious, came in to greet us in English. I would learn later that because of a joint problem she had when she was younger, John and his wife sacrificed to send her to private school so she didn’t have to walk the longer distance to the government school. Even at Standard 2 (about 7 years old) you can already tell the difference in education because her English is clear and confident. As we waited for John’s wife (I’m sorry that I cannot spell the surname that I was told), I pulled stickers and a camera from my bag and went into the yard with the children. I gave out stickers and asked them about school in my broken Chichewa. We were just beginning to teach each other names for animals and body parts in our native languages when Mrs. John and two other women came through the gate carrying large buckets of water. And that’s how they found us, giggling and learning.
Inside again with the adults, the lay leader and I explained that we had come to see how their family was doing. We wanted to know about the health of the family, any challenges they were facing and if they had concerns about the church that had kept them away so long. They told us they were healthy and strong and were not facing any challenges at this time – and how much they appreciated our visit. With great care the wife prompted the husband again saying, “You have not answered the pastor’s question about why we are not attending church.” And then she waited. He laughed nervously and explained that he might go days without work so if someone called on Sunday, he had no choice but to go. The wife remained silent.
The lay leader stressed the importance of setting aside Sunday mornings for church. He reminded John that as the head of the family, he had a responsibility to lead by example and helping his family get to church each week. And he encouraged him that if he made this commitment, God would only bless him for his dedication. The wife remained silent, but was obviously pleased. I echoed that because John had done work for us, I knew him to be skilled and honest and therefore he will never want for work. He was in a position to be able to negotiate work with his clients. And I sympathized with his wife about the challenges of getting four children ready and off to church, but encouraged her to reach out to friends and fellow members for assistance on Sundays when John could not make it.
Then our conversation turned to baptism. Their children have not yet been baptized. They are converts from Catholicism so there were many questions about whether the parents needed to be re-baptized, if sprinkling was an effective baptism, if the parents needed a Christian marriage before they brought their children for baptism, the age when children were eligible for baptism. It was a wonderful conversation and time of teaching and reassurances.
Then our time came to an end. We all expressed deep thanks for the fellowship we had shared. We sang and prayed together. And left promising to meet again soon.
Our day continued like this to another four families. The format – prayer, expressions of welcome, questions of the family’s health and well-being, sharing, answering questions, singing and praying – was the same. There were themes throughout, but unique situations, joys and challenges.
Everyone was genuinely grateful for our unannounced visit.
Most of the families we visited yesterday have work – either a steady job or piece work, e.g. plumbing, laundry, cleaning.
Many families were concerned about evil spirits and their attempts to disturb their family life.
Many had questions about baptism and were eager to have one or more of their children baptized.
A youth member is a convert from Islam, living with her mother’s friend and working as cook, nanny, maid. She is alienated from her family because of her conversion, has only completed Standard 7 and cannot go to school because she must work to support herself.
One widow lives with one of her children. She suffers from some type of leg pain that makes it impossible for her to walk to church. She tries to find work doing washing. When her husband died a year ago her landlord reduced her rent but she is still three months behind and risks eviction. Her rent is about $6 a month.
Many families struggle to pay school fees. Another woman, widowed for 12 years, keeps 10 children! Two of her daughters have died, leaving her with six children. Another daughter and her two children live with her. And then two of her own children still remain at home. She gave testimony of God’s provision these past 12 years because all of the children remain in school.
I can’t describe the privilege of being allowed – and even welcomed – into these families homes. I am so obviously an outsider – by appearance, custom and language. But the lay leader is a gifted translator and pastoral presence. Another lay woman joined us about the third visit. She has a gift of boldly, yet compassionately, challenging families to care for their children, pursue education no matter the sacrifice, and attend to one another and visitors with respect. I am so grateful for their presence with me and their ministry within and outside the church. Each leader and family member continues to teach me what it means to be Abusa and to live into this role with integrity and sensitivity.
This week has taken an emotional toll on us. And I don’t think I have the energy or perspective to write about it all now. Jeff, the kids and I are all fine. But some of our dear friends have had a terrible week and we are trying to support them through it.
Since “retail therapy” just doesn’t have the same healing power here in Malawi, I thought it might be a good time to post the “wish list” that many of you have asked for in the past. If you are prompted to send a package or small things with persons traveling this way, these are the things we love, miss, or just can’t bring ourselves to pay the Malawi price for…
Zatarain’s rice – any variety
Jiffy mix – Carter LOVES corn muffins
any character macaroni and cheese
Starbucks via instant coffee
Trader Joe’s cheese puffs
any meal spices – for meatloaf, chili, etc.
P.O. Box 150