Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Speed traps are the same the world over. That was a lesson drive home to me (pardon the pun) on Saturday as I was coming back to Blantyre from a visit to Mangochi Presbytery, in the northern part of the Synod. I was on the Zomba road, one that I drive regularly. Some time ago I had been warned about radar surveillance by the police on that road, so I have been very careful to slow to the speed as I entered a posted zone nearing a town or market area. This is a conscious practice. The error of my ways came in exiting the restricted zone. The posting to resume speed comes some distance from the market area of the towns in question. The tendency is to begin to resume speed before the posting. That is what I did. About half a kilometer beyond the posted resume sign sat the police, pulling the offenders over, one by one. I was one of the many pulled over. I had no defense. The police had the radar. I could only plead guilty. That did not lessen the fine –MK5,000 (about $33).

The problem was, I did not have the kwacha with me. The expectation is that you pay on the spot or are taken into custody until someone can bring the money for you. There is an officer sitting under a nearby tree, waiting to collect the fine before you are released to go on. I explained my situation to the office who stopped me and asked if there were any way that I could go to Zomba, just a few kilometers down the road, and withdraw the money from the bank there. Maybe it was my clergy collar or maybe my mzungu (white) face, or maybe the officer’s lenient heart, but whatever the reason, he said yes, as long as I surrendered my driver’s license to him until I returned with the money. Under the circumstances, that seemed reasonable. So I handed over the license and carefully headed down the road to withdraw the fine from my local bank’s ATM.

When I arrived at the bank, my heart sank. There was a long line, but not at the machines themselves. Folks were just lined up under the nearby tree, waiting. This could only mean one thing. The ATM was down. I parked and went to inquire about the situation. Yes, the ATM was down and had been for about 3 hours. These patient Malawians who were standing and sitting under the tree were willing to wait for however long it took for the machine to come back to life. I wasn’t. I am not that patient. I needed to get to Blantyre before dark, if possible. I sat in the car for a moment to assess my options. Who could I call for help? My friend Silas is in the States at present, so he was out. Maybe my former colleague Takuzi Chitsulo could help. It was worth asking, but I was not hopefully. That is a large some for a poor pastor and college lecturer to have on hand late on a Saturday afternoon. I prayed and called. Takuzi answered immediately. After the usually greetings and formalities of asking about one another’s health, I posed the problem to him. Yes, he said, it just so happened that he did have it. If I drove to his house, he would be happy to help me, so off I went, praising God and thanking Takuzi. As I pulled up to the house, he came out with his customary smile and greeting. He teased me a bit, only right under the circumstances, and then we made arrangements for me to deposit the money into his account on Monday, once the bank was open. That is a common practice here in Malawi, so I took his banking information (something we would never give out in the US), I thanked him repeatedly and drove off to pay my fine and retrieve my license.

The officer under the tree was patiently waiting for those of us caught to pay up. He was pleasant about it, at least. While he was writing my receipt, another officer came to return my license to me. The officer who stopped me was busy writing up another offender caught in the same trap. A whole line of drivers sat in their cars, waiting their turn to collect their citations. As I stood waiting for my receipt, I noticed that only one out of every four cars proceeded past the officers. The other three were stopped, as I had been. This was a lucrative day for the Malawi police treasury.

I collected my receipt and accepted the admonition from the teller-officer to drive carefully. As I got in my car to proceed home, I thought I had learned a costly lesson about posted speed in Malawi. I was also grateful to God for a good friend to “bail me out” with the money. You can be certain that I will be careful with my speed, especially as I exit the market area, waiting for the posted sign before I even begin to resume speed. Once caught, carefully taught.

Monday, September 20, 2010

TIme to Catch Up

Dear Friends,

Yes, it has been a long time since I posted an entry on this site – more than 3 weeks. This is not because things have not been happening, but because they have been happening too fast to keep up with. There has been so much going on, so much traveling, so many visitors that there hasn’t been time for the Internet. Please forgive me. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and catch up in one writing. That can’t be done. I just want to highlight a few of the many wonderful ways God has been working in these last weeks.

My very good friend Nora was able to travel to Malawi in good health and to visit many of the places and people she wanted to see. She thinks this may be her last trip, due to some health concerns, but she did not let health stop her from going to remote Migowi, or visiting Likhubula House, the CCAP Cottage at Zomba or HippoView Lodge, or go to the Zomba Theological College graduation or attend an ordination service in Chikwawa, or go to a remote area of Chuita Presbytery for an installation service. She was a trooper.

When she wasn’t going, people were coming to see her. We had a steady stream of visitors at the house - some for tea, some for a meal and others for overnight. At one point we ran out of beds and I slept on an inflatable chair that Nora and her son Gary brought for me. I think I had the best bed in the house that night.

In the midst of all of this I still had to work, so I was traveling to presbyteries to make presentations, attending meetings, conduction training sessions and caring for the training programs being started at Chigodi. This is a great event in itself but just one of the happenings of the last few weeks. Actually Chigodi is about as busy as I have been. The 14 women in the skills development class continue to learn while two groups of 40 women each have come for training as women’s coordinators in their churches. The tailoring and sweater making operations continue, having been moved to the front walkway to make room in the classroom for the training class. This is so encouraging for a place that this time last year was silent because of no water and no funding. God has blessed Chigodi and we rejoice in that.

So you get a feel for why I haven’t written in some time. I hope that now that things are slowing down a bit, I will have time to keep you posted on what is happening in a more tempered manner.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

God of Details

(God is much better at details than I am. I began this entry 3 weeks ago. That is the last time I have had the time/opportunity/energy to write. It has been a wild few weeks with all sorts of things happening. This entry will give you some idea of the flow of events. Add to this three weekends of speaking engagements, two ordinations, five groups of visitors, three flat tires in two days but not missing an appointment, and a skills development program running at Chigodi and you have an idea of the way God has been working out the details of life here.)

I never cease to be amazed at God’s care of the details in the seemingly small things of life, but the things that make up the bulk of what we deal with day to day. These are the things that make a significant difference in how things ultimately work out. These last few weeks, I have seen God work in the details again and again.

Two weeks ago I had to go to Malose, north of Zomba, to pick up a visitor who was visiting with one of our pastors in that Presbytery. I decided that on the way back, since I had the time and the opportunity, I would stop at the retreat center that I had booked for the ordinands’ retreat. These are the young pastors who will be ordained in August. We have a retreat for them to orient them to the policies and procedures of the Synod and to ministry. Their wives are included, since they are in ministry with them. This is a particularly large class of ordinands, to help address the shortage of pastors in the Synod – 27 new ministers. So with their wives and the facilitators of the retreat, we number 60. Finding affordable accommodations for such a group here in Malawi can be a challenge, so I was grateful to have booked one of our CCAP retreat facilities and I wanted to double check the details. When I arrived, the director was distracted. Finally he said that we did not have a booking. He said he had sent someone to the synod to tell someone that they had double booked and could not host us. There were no identifications of the “some ones” who were involved in this notification, but I was not one of them and I was the one responsible. I would not have known this if I had not stopped to check on the details.

I drove home praying. I wasn’t certain where to turn to find new accommodations with just 2 weeks’ notice. I called my good friend Silas Ncozana, who is the director of the synod youth center and asked him if there were any hope of Likhubula House being available. He gave me the program director’s number and I phoned, explaining my dilemma. She hesitated but said she would get back to me. She called the next morning to say that she thought she might be able to work it out. I had to go to Mulanje for a meeting that afternoon, so I left a bit early to go and talk to her in person. God used this gracious person to provide a venue for the retreat. We had to make a few adjustments – men’s dorms and women’s dorms instead of couples lodging together, but this would work for just these few days. She offered to shift a few things around to make the arrangements comfortable for all. I could only praise God for the details that had come together to make this possible. And it is a much nicer facility at a much better cost. God is so good at details.

On Sunday, I had to go north again for a meeting and planned to stop and give to schedule of events to one of the facilitators, a senior pastor who does not have access to the internet. We had talked on the phone and made arrangements to meet, but he was coming down from another meeting and we were struggling to make connections. I stopped at the junction to his house to phone one more time, hoping we might connect this time. As I was dialing the phone, a young couple who had just gotten out of a mini bus crossed the road and approached the car. I recognized the young man as one of the elders from the pastor’s congregation and one of the individuals who will be traveling to Pittsburgh in September. I needed to check with him on a few things but had not been able to get in touch with him. Here he was and I had done nothing to make this happen. I was not able to reach the pastor, but my young friend told me he would be seeing him a bit later, so he took the schedule and the information to him. This was better than I could have arranged.

As I continued on my trip, I wondered at the timing and the details that only God could have arranged. I am humbled by God’s details again and again. I know I shouldn’t be, but I always am.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Statistics of Life

Statistics are so much more than numbers. Those numbers represent people’s lives and the events of those lives. That was painfully driven home to me today. The statistic is that one in five children under the age of five in Malawi dies. The most frequent cause of death is malaria or complications of malaria. Favor Fatsani died today of malaria. He was just one year old. He is one of those who make up the statistics, but he is so much more than a statistic, as is each one who makes up the statistics. He was an inquisitive, lively little boy who loved to explore and learn, who was eager to try new things and meet new people. He was the apple of his father’s eye as his first child, a favor from God, his parents believed. He will be remembered as far more than a statistic by everyone who knew him. His impish smile and little giggle will be missed as long as those of us who cared about him are alive.

How do you process the death of a child? That is an age old struggle. Questions come flooding in, questions without answers. This is not a situation unique to Malawi, but it is one that is relived each time a child dies and statistics are reinforced. It is a situation that is lived out almost every day in this country where poverty and disease sometimes seem to reign, in spite of the strongest human efforts. There are no answers to the questions that won’t stop, no answers for the whys? and the wheres? and the hows? that just keep coming. But there is comfort in the midst of all of this. Jesus is present. That is a truth that transcends the questions and supersedes any attempt at answers. It is the only comfort in a comfortless time. That is not something that is affected by poverty or disease or statistics. Jesus’ presence is the only thing to hang onto. He knows that little boy. To Jesus, Favor was not a statistic, but a child of the covenant. That is God’s grace in the midst of sorrow and grief and confusion. That is the only answer that can come with the death of a child.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Travel Season in Malawi

This is travel season in Malawi – not for Malawians to travel but for “alendo” – visitors – to travel to Malawi. Since this is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is vacation and travel time, so there is the freedom and flexibility to come to Malawi. This is prime time for church groups, young and older, to try their wings at mission life. That was evident at church on Sunday and around the Mission all this week.

Sunday evening is an informal worship time at St. Michael’s and All Angel’s Church. The 5 o’clock service is more like a vespers service. It is a time when some of us who preach regularly can actually worship. Many of the internationals who live in the city come for worship because the style of the service is more of praise and prayer than a traditional service. And the service is in English. It is a comfortable place for visitors. Sunday there were more visitors than regular worshippers. There were three different groups from Ireland – two from Northern Ireland and one from southern. There was a large group from Canada, several folks from the Netherlands, two from Germany and one from South Africa. It was an international worship time, just with the visitors.

This week has followed the pattern of alendo. Some of the folks who were in worship have been visiting the Synod, being introduced to our programs and projects. There have been teas and dinners and lots of trips to various projects. Yesterday one of the groups from Northern Ireland, led by a pastor, Dr. Jim Campbell, who taught at Zomba in the 1980’s, had a wonderful reunion with some of his former students. Tea was a time of telling stories. Monday, large container arrived with supplies that a team coming from Australia will put to use when they arrive later in the month. They are serious about working. They have sent everything from cloth for sewing to car parts for repairs. A college student from the US is here until mid-August learning about the church in Malawi for her senior paper in Religious Studies. I am her local advisor and have been overseeing her travel to various churches and groups. She is in and out of the office as she works with orphan care and youth clubs. We will be traveling together much of next week to visit some of the more rural areas. I have had three meetings, working on details for groups coming in the next week or so. I have alendo who arrive this afternoon and will be here until Tuesday, when they head up north. These folks are from US and Zambia. Monday Chigodi is hosting a group from Canada who will learn about gender issues in Malawi. Next Friday my good friend Dr. Sue Makin comes for a short stay. Sue is a medical doctor who served here for 11 years and is coming “home” for a few weeks before returning to her new post in South Korea. Next Saturday a group of 19 from Illinois arrives and the following Saturday the group from Australia lands. And the list goes on until late September.

The joy of this is that all these folks want to experience the Warm Heart of Africa and are delighted with what greets them – more than they had ever imagined. They experience the hospitality here but even more, they share in the faith and worship of life here. Some may have a once in a lifetime experience, a more than memorable vacation, but a few of them will lose their hearts to life in another culture. They may not return to Malawi (some will) but a number of them will examine again what God wants of them, regardless of their age, and where God might be calling them to serve. It is a great adventure to be a small part of that process.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Water is life and life has returned to Chigodi Women’s Center! Early on July 1, 2010 water began to flow through Blantyre Water Board pipes to Chigodi Women’s Center. Now this may not seem like a big deal in other parts of the world, but it is in Malawi and particularly at Chigodi. It has taken 10 months to accomplish this and I am so excited and so full of praise to God that I am hardly able to contain myself.

The process of turning on water has taken twists and turns and detours along the way. First was the assessment of how best to provide water to a center on top of a hill. The site is beautiful for a retreat center, but water does not flow uphill and pumping it up from a well at the bottom had proven to be problematic. The reason the well was at the bottom was because of the depth of drilling needed through rock to reach the water table, so the well was well positioned to draw water, but not to pump water. Two generators had been burned up trying because of inadequate electrical power. It would have taken over MK 1,000,000 to correct the electrical connections, so that was not an option. We didn’t have the money. We were hand-drawing water from a well at the top of the hill, our only source of water for the entire Center. This well ran dry in the dry season and we have to go to the bottom of the hill to draw water, then carry it up the hill. When we began to further investigate, we learned that the Blantyre Water Board had similar problems with the flow to their connections, since they had been pumping uphill as well. That is why the Center had disconnected with them and opted for the well in the first place. But they were installing a new line above the Center to service a new area over the hill from us. We petitioned them and reasoned with them, in the course of several meetings, until they finally agreed to run a line down to Chigodi from this new line. We were delighted, but this would take time. The pipe had to be laid and all the connections made. This was all delayed by the rainy season when none of this digging could be done. Finally in late April, the digging began again and progress was made. Once they thought they had their line secured, they contacted us to prepare for the connection. This took some time because they couldn’t open the lines until the connections within the Center were secured. We didn’t want to have water flowing through leaking pipes. Finally two weeks ago this was all accomplished and we contacted them, expecting water to come immediately. But it didn’t. The Water Board reported that they had leaks further down the line and couldn’t turn on water until those were fixed. So we waited. Everything was in place, but the Water Board was not responding. When we inquired early this week about the delay, they told us that they had problems with the truck they use to make connections, so we needed to wait for them to get the truck up and running. My hope all along was that we would have water by the end of June. It was not looking hopeful. June 30 ended with no water at the Center.

This morning (July 1), the first person to greet me at the Synod offices was our young accountant from Chigodi. He lives at the Center but works from the Synod. He had just come from his home. He joyfully reported that water had begun to flow from the connection to his house early this morning. The water was turned on! Without pomp and ceremony, water just began to flow where it had not flowed for several years. The Center has running water! I can’t begin to express my joy. This is the answer to months of prayers. This is the evidence of a future and a hope for the Center. This is a new beginning of programming at the Center because we can now have folks stay there, knowing they have save water for all the needs of their comfort as they learn with us. We have several international guests coming to assist with programming and they will be well provided for with water now. Praise God for his provision, in His perfect time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mangochi Rededication

The Mangochi Church is located near the southern tip of Lake Malawi, in a predominately Muslim region of Malawi. The church was first established in the 1950’s and the present building begun in 1984. During the years it has grown in size, in outreach to the community and in vital ministries, but the building has never been completed – until now. This year, all the renovations to the church were finished and plans made for a rededication of the building. That rededication happened on Sunday. It was a great event, complete with the Vice President of the country as the guest of honor.

The invitation was extended to me to attend to represent PC(USA) and particularly their partner church, Northmont, in Pittsburgh. I went with the Deputy General Secretary and one of the former ministers of the congregation, Rev. S. Chitsulo. But the big guest was the Vice President, Mrs. Joyce Banda and her husband. That was evident from all the preparations made for her visit. There were police posted all along the road, to clear the way for her motorcade. The greatest concentration of them was at the church itself. The area had been inspected and secured early in the morning. By the time we made the 3 hour journey from Blantyre everything and everyone was in place. We were greeted by columns of women all dressed in the material of the day, a print designed just for the occasion and sold in advance, so everyone could have an outfit made – men and women. The men were standing in small clusters chatting and waiting. As we pulled in, a chorus of welcome was begun and everyone sang with gusto to greet the Deputy General Secretary. This was rehearsal for the guest of honor. We dutifully took our places in the receiving line to await her arrival.

Right on schedule, at 9:30, sirens alerted us of her approach. Everyone snapped to attention, ready to welcome her. The women began the welcome chorus and everyone joined in. Large SUV’s filled with police and bodyguards and other officals pulled through the receiving line and moved on to park. Fifth in line was the VP’s vehicle. It stopped at the head of the line and Vice President Joyce Banda emerged, beautifully attired in the fabric of the day. One of her aides had gotten the material the week before and had the dress made for the occasion. This was a lovely touch of support for the congregation. She greeted each of the folks in the receiving line and moved quickly to the front of the church for the ribbon cutting and the unveiling of the commemorative plaque. The minister of the congregation began the ritual for the opening of the church. He led the congregation in a hymn as everyone followed the entourage around the outside of the church, singing the hymn. Once at the front of the church again, the Synod Moderator knocked on the door three times, each time asking entry. Then the village chief, a Muslim, who was in the sanctuary, opened the door, marking the official opening of the church building. This ritual is done at every church dedication or rededication in Malawi. Then the dignitaries, Muslims and Christians, and the congregation filed into the church and took their places.

Worship began, following the usual order of worship, except for end of the service. After the offering, the Guest of Honor was presented with a gift and then there were speeches from selected dignitaries. Gratefully, I had not been selected and could just be present to celebrate with my colleagues. The last one to speak was the guest of honor, her Excellency, the Vice President.
Mrs. Banda is a member of the CCAP church and of the women’s guild of her congregation, so she was quite comfortable first leading the mvano (women’s guild) in a chorus. The women cheered at this gesture of oneness with them. Her speech was relative brief but well received by everyone. She is a wonderful communicator. She presented a monetary gift to the church for their continued work and a packaged gift to the minister and his wife. After the benediction, the clergy led the procession outside to form a receiving line again for the Vice President. She and the other honored guests what to the manse and everyone headed to pre-designated spots around the church building to enjoy a traditional Malawian meal. After food and Malawian fellowship, the Vice President left for other business but the rest of the gathered guests were slow to leave,. No one seemed to want the day to end: it had been special.