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.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Saturday I got a call at 6 a.m. from the General Secretary of the Synod, asking what my schedule was for the day. I said I had a meeting at 10 a.m., but could reschedule it if there were something that he needed me to do. There was. He needed me to stand for him at a rally for Students Christian Organization of Malawi (SCOM). This is an organization working in secondary schools, colleges and universities, much like Campus Crusade or InterVarsity in the States. The Blantyre zone was holding a Big Walk and rally. Walks of this kind are popular here for raising funds or raising awareness of programs, in this case awareness. The group was walking from the downtown of Blantyre out to the soccer field near the stadium, handing out literature about the organization as they went and then holding a rally at the soccer field. My job was to be the guest of honor, sit on the platform and receive the students and then give a speech at the end of the ceremony. I could do that. So I rescheduled my meeting and prepared a speech for the rally.

The GS offered his son to accompany me, since he was planning on attending the rally himself. Peter is a university student and a delightful young man. He called me at 9 and said that the group was ready to start their walk and suggested that we join them so I would get a feel for the folks and the event. I could drive behind the walkers in my car as he walked with them. So off we went to join them in route. There were about 200 students who were singing praise choruses and handing out fliers with information about the group as they went. The spirit was enthusiastic and the pace rapid. It took them less than an hour to make the 5 kilometer trip through town to the stadium soccer field.

Now, Malawi is a mixture of casual and formal. There is always an element of the formal, influenced by the strong British ties of the past. This means that there are formal speeches at every gathering, even a small dinner in one’s home. There are protocols to be observed in greeting people, in private conversations and especially in public settings. There is a formal program for every event, from welcome dinners to student rallies. SCOM is no exception. So I knew that as Guest of Honor (one of the formal elements of official gatherings), I would be called upon to observe all protocols. I prepared accordingly, gathering a list of the other honored representatives at the rally, so I knew who to greet and who to acknowledge in my opening salutations.

A platform had been erected at one end of the soccer field and the students gathered around it, sitting on the ground as the “dignitaries” sat in chairs on the platform. The only disadvantage to this arrangement was the wind. A cold wind had come up during the morning and was blowing gales across the soccer field. Everyone was shivering. Before the proceedings began, I was escorted off the platform to meet with the media and give an interview for the local television station. This was a bigger event than I had imagined. This was also the only time during the morning when I was close to being warm. We were sheltered by the platform.

All opening remarks and greetings were directed to the guest of honor and the other distinguished persons gathered – chair of the event, members of the Board of Trustees, patrons and friends of SCOM. That is a rather humbling experience for someone from a casual Western country where such formalities are not the norm. The program included the welcome, songs, poems, and skits by the students from various schools, and then the speeches. Mine came last and was intended to encourage the students to continue with SCOM and in Christian growth. I selected Micah 6:8 as a focus; “He has shown you, oh man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.” It seemed to fit the occasion and the group responded well. Truthfully, it was fun to be with students again.

Once I was finished speaking, there were the obligatory thanks and a closing prayer. Then I was escorted off the platform, greeting the students as I left the field. I would have thought that they would rush to get out of the cold wind but that was not the case. They were enjoying one another’s company. They gathered in small groups, chatting and singing. As we made our way in the car to the exit, they are just getting warmed up to the fellowship. Peter told me it was another hour before everyone left. It was as much about the fellowship with one another, from 15 different schools, as it was about raising community awareness. I was delighted to be a part of it, if even in a “guest of honor” capacity.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


This is harvest season, Masika, in Malawi and that is joyfully celebrated in the church. Each congregation sets at least a week, and for some a month, for the members to bring the first fruits of their harvest and present them to the Lord. This is biblical but it is also very practical. This is taking literally the instructions of Exodus 23:16 “Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field.” This is also a way of providing for the poorer members of the congregation. What is brought is shared first with the pastor and then with the poor in the community. Since this is an agricultural economy, almost everyone has a garden – usually several acres. That may seem more like a small farm to us in the States, but it is part of providing for the family here. Some have the plot near their house and other, who live in the city, have plots of land in their home villages, so they travel to plant and to harvest. The first crop is always maize (corn) and depending on the geography of the area, other crops may include rice or casaba or pumpkins or beans or tomatoes. At harvest, the first of the crops are presented – and with great style and joy. This is a gift of thanksgiving to God.

I was afraid that I would miss Masika, just as I had missed Easter, but God was good to me. My first Sunday back with the Chigodi congregation was the last Sunday of Masika. I got to participate in the celebration and to give my thanks to God. While I don’t have a garden, I do have money that I can give and the focus of Masika is the spirit of offering to God, more than what specifically one is offering. So money works, too; it is just not as much fun to present. At the time of the offering, those who have harvest to share leave the sanctuary to go outside and gather what they have brought. As the congregation sings “Bringing in the Sheaves,” thise bringing their harvest process up the aisle with their gifts, 100 pound bags carried by two members of the family and plastic baskets filled grains, placed on the head. The givers sing joyfully with the congregation. The emphasis is on the joy of giving thanks to God for all that he has provided. That was especially felt this year since the rains were late in coming and many were fearful about the harvest yield. In January there were special prayers for rain. God was good. The rains were not too late and the crops came back. So Masika was fully celebrated. The joy becomes contagious. It is a tangible expression of thanksgiving that I have not fully experienced in the States. I was so grateful not to have missed this special time in the life of the church.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Spirit of the Synod

The General Secretary (GS) of Blantyre Synod has been in Scotland for the past three weeks attending the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly and meeting with groups with whom the synod has partnerships. This is the first major trip he has taken since last year’s Bi-annual Meeting, when the new Deputy General Secretary (DGS) and Moderator were elected. In these ten months since the elections, the spirit of the Synod has changed dramatically from tension and struggles for power to cooperation and team work. That was evidenced yesterday at a gathering at the DGS’s home to welcome the GS back. All the clergy who live on the mission grounds were invited for a meal and fellowship, to let the GS know that we were happy for his trip and happier still to have him back.

This seems like a simple enough event, just a gathering of colleagues for food and fellowship, to welcome one of their own back from a long journey. At one level it was just that, but there was a deeper significance to the event. This was a celebration of our unity as a staff. The ministers’ wives arrived early to help the DGS’s wife with the preparations. They enjoyed the fellowship of working together over the open fires of Malawian cooking. Their spouses and other guests gathered in the living room and laughed and heard stories of the GS’s travels, and filled him in on the events on the Synod grounds while he was away. When the food was ready, the wives joined the laughter in the living room. All protocols were observed. We had a Masters of Ceremonies who directed the program of the evening – dinner and speeches and a toast (with soda pop) to hail our friend’s successful trip. There were jokes and laughter amid it all.

During the speech of one of the senior members of staff, he observed that this was the way the Body of Christ was intended to function and it was a blessing to be part of a functioning body. He drew great applause for the acknowledgment of what most of us were thinking. It is good when brothers and sisters in Christ dwell together in unity. The irony is that none of us gathered there could remember a time when this had happened before. We committed to make it the first with more to come. We want to foster this spirit of unity.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Malawian Dogs

Dogs in America are pets. Dogs in Malawi are guard dogs. Dogs in America are pampered, cuddly creatures, regardless of their size. Dogs in Malawi are tough, fierce creatures, for the most part. I have never wanted a dog in Malawi since they are not what I am used to or what I enjoy. I like American dogs. I have been adamant about this. When my car was broken into and most everyone around me, including my sons, was insistent that I needed a dog for protection, I resisted. I don’t want a Malawian dog.

Recently we have had a number of break-ins and thefts around the Synod and the place has been put on high alert. We have had community meetings for instruction on how to better protect ourselves and our property. After one of these meetings, my gardener Maxwell came to me with the request for a dog for protection. He said he and the watchman had discussed this and they felt this was a necessity. I again resisted. I explained that I did not want a fierce dog around. I didn’t want the responsibility or the liability. I travel too much to be able to care for a dog and my grandchildren are both afraid of dogs. All of those seemed to me like valid reasons for not getting a dog. But Maxwell persisted. He would be responsible for the dog; he would take care of the dog; he would keep it away from the children; he would be certain that the dog was not vicious. We needed a dog. He cited two break-in attempts foiled by the presence of dogs. I still did not yield. Then my friend Sam Ncozana mentioned, within Maxwell’s hearing, that his son’s dog had recently had puppies and he would be looking for a good home for them. Maxwell pounced on the information, insisting that this was the answer to a fierce dog. He could train it from a puppy to be a gentle dog, but to bark to alert us of trouble. Sam sided with Maxwell and I caved. We bought one of the puppies, but with the strict understanding that the dog was Maxwell’s responsibility and I was not to be involved in its care in any way.

The puppy is only 8 weeks old and only about 8 inches tall, not my picture of a watchdog. The puppy followed Maxwell around all day, delighting him with its loyalty. But come evening, he began to cry. He was used to his mother and litter mates. This place was all strange to the little thing. He cried all evening. During the night he was with the watchman, so he was quiet but in the morning began the crying again. I remained silent. I was determined to stay out of this dog business. Several people suggested that I should have gotten two dogs, not one. This would eliminate the crying and increase the protection. This is the Malawian way. From my perspective, that was yet another reason why I shouldn’t have given in in the first place. I didn’t want one dog, let alone two. But Maxwell liked the idea and lobbied for a second dog, since Sam still had puppies available. I was worn down by the crying and the lobbying and finally said yes to the second dog. Yesterday when I returned from work, I was greeted by two little fur balls. But they were not chasing after Maxwell as the first one had. They were curled up together on the patio, enjoying one another’s company, quiet as could be. Maxwell was delighted and certain that they were going to be great watch dogs together. I’m still not certain. The only thing I know for sure is that I have caved and we now have Malawian dogs. I’m trying to stay away, but they are cute – at least at this age. We’ll see.