Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Road to Chisawani Outstation

Mr. Esau Nkosi (our driver), Fr. Gowoka, Mr. Charles Malata
(Diocesan Project Officer) and the leaders of Chisawani parish.  
We set out for the Chisawani Outstation two days later than planned because the 4-wheel drive vehicle needed repairs.  After our return trip home especially, I was thankful for the new ball bearings, 4-wheel drive, and a professional driver!  We decided to take a short cut home and the road was slippery, narrow, bumpy, and eventually at nightfall, unpredictable.  Where I come from in California, SUVs are common “city” cars.  I have a passion for preserving fuel and the quality of our air so I pray that everyone will trade them in for efficient automobiles.  Let the SUVs be driven where they need to be driven!

The parish as seen from the road. 
The distance from the Diocese to Chiradzulu Parish is about 10 kilometers, and on the way we picked up Fr. Gowoka the priest in charge.  Then we headed out to two outstations, one in another deaconry.  Because of rain and a late start we went to Chisawani only, which is about 40 additional kilometers from his church.  Some outstations are further away from Blantyre than this one, but it is fairly remote and certainly the most remote on my travels thus far.

The reason for our visit was to see the church and find out how they are doing as a community.  A Malawian Anglican from one of the urban churches in Blantyre committed funds to help some of the rural parishes finish their structures. We were there to see if they could benefit from this gift. 

Mulanje Mountain partially hidden by the clouds.
The Chisawani community consists of  approximately 30 families who have worked together to buy bricks from another community, and bring them back to the site and fire them in a wood oven.  Chisaswani is a wetland at the base of Mulanje Mountain, the largest mountain in Malawi and is part of the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust. The wetlands make construction difficult, but as the photos indicate they have come along way in a year.  The next step is to buy cement for the exterior walls and plaster for the interior. 

Fr. Gowaka, and the two leaders of the community.  The man
in the center donated some of his farm land for the church.
As I have mentioned before in other posts, the outstation is part of the growing Anglican Church in Malawi.  Some people who help build new churches were originally Anglican’s, but others are not.  Often people who become aware of the mission efforts of the Anglican Church begin traveling long distances to worship at a church.  After awhile, a leader will approach the priest about starting a group that meets for prayers in someone's home or at a school.  Eventually, they build a structure such as this one, and from there the community begins to grow.  Interestingly, Malawians often refer to church as prayers. I wonder if they use this term because many people grow up saying Matins on Sunday?

Chisawani has had its share of struggles getting the money and labor to build the church.  Most rural communities do subsistence farming, and during the planting and harvesting season church can be considered a luxury.  When we met with the leadership to talk about their needs for the building, we were aware of their fortitude and desire to have a place for prayers, and hopefully someday a priest to provide the sacraments on a regular basis.  

They were grateful for our visit. And, I was pleased to be able to take part in the pilgrimage, a missio Dei.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Literacy Learning Circles

One member of the Learning Circle works on a
handcraft as others tend the oven.
There are over 150 Literacy Learning Circles planted in and around parishes through out the Diocese of Southern Malawi.  Literacy is an important focus of the Mother’s Union who oversees the program.  With a grant from the Mary Sumner foundation—Sumner founded the Mother’s Union in the United Kingdom in the 19th century---the Diocese is able to provide reading courses to hundreds of individuals in the region. 

Literacy is an issue because, until recently, primary education was tuition based and many people could not afford to send their children to school.  And, unfortunately for the world, boys for the most part were educated rather than girls.  In 1994, the first Malawian democratic government brought about free primary school education for all.  Government schools were built in the townships and villages.  

Packing up the scones.

In eighteen months Learning Circle members are taught to read Chichewa, the official language of Malawi.  The two program coordinators, Joyce Chitete and Temwanani Kalimbe, train leaders in the community to run the groups.  Circles meet a couple of times a week. At the end of the program they are given a written exam, and are given a certificate.  Some parishes have graduated several groups since the program began.  Some Learning Circles have been started in the community separate from the Anglican Church, which is a testimony to the great need for literacy programs.

When I visited the Learning Circle that meets in Chirimba Parish, I was surprised to find twenty-something women making up the group.  I expected the students would be older, however, these women were just old enough to have missed the opportunity to have an education or could have dropped out for various family reasons.
Mercy, the Learning Circle leader at Chirimba Parish,
displaying the scones fresh from the wood burning oven.

On days that they are not learning, many of the Circles meet as a group to support one another.  This parish has a bakery—one of two in the Diocese.  And, almost weekly they bake bread-like scones and sell them to church members on Sunday or to the community.  The money they make helps provide support for the group.  They also give support  to member or the member’s  family in times of need and they give back to the parish.

By the way, the scones are delicious!

Monday, January 23, 2012


Outstations in Malawi are Anglican communities that meet for prayers on Sunday.  If the community has been meeting for a while they gather in a simple brick structure and pray Matins. The service is led by a layperson who is often a catechist.  An outstation is attached to an established parish, and is under the pastoral and sacramental care of the priest.  A parish priest will have three to five outstations.   In the past, the Diocese of Southern Malawi has assigned as many as ten outstations to a priest.  When the outstation community matures in faith, the host parish helps the outstation build a church.  If they are ready to receive a priest, the host parish might also help the community build a house for the priest. 

The priests in the parish make a commitment to visit each outstation weekly, and every couple of months they provide Eucharist on a Sunday.  It is not practical for members of the outstations to come to the parent church for Eucharist—it is too far and expensive to make the journey.

I recently visited St. Phillip, which is an outstation of St. Paul’s Cathedral where I serve.  St. Phillip is only a few kilometers from the center of Blantyre, which is Malawi’s second largest city and the commercial capital of the country.  The Dean went to St. Phillip to not only celebrate the Eucharist, but also to announce to the congregation that a transitional deacon will be assigned to the parish in August.  He also held the annual elections for the Parish Council.  

The sacred cup of the place
from which we were sent
The simplicity of the credence table
at the place to which we were sent

Voting for Parish Council members. 
The elections are done between the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist.  Wardens, officers and members of the Council are nominated from the floor and immediately following, the congregation votes.  This is the second time I experienced this voting process, and originally it seemed strange to me to mix the business of the church with worship.   This time, however, I found myself wondering if it was perhaps a good place to contemplate who should help lead the body of Christ. 

Malawi has four dioceses, and the Diocese of Southern Malawi has 23 parishes, over 100 outstations, and has plans to plant more outstations.  They are trying to serve a vast area with little resources.  There is a shortage of priests, but the diocese currently has seven postulants in seminary with two about to graduate.  I stopped by the theological college yesterday and will post a story shortly.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where I Stay

Not long after I arrived in Malawi, I began to notice people using the expression “where I stay.”  When you ask someone where he or she lives, they will say: “I stay in Chirimba.”  Where I stay indicates the place in which they reside currently.  One’s home is the village or township in which one is born.  I believe when someone owns a house here your birthplace remains your “home.”Perhaps because I am 8,000 miles away from where I stay in Connecticut this has special meaning for me. Even Connecticut is where I stay compared to California, which is where I was born.  And, Malawi is certainly where I stay currently.

Maybe it’s my situation, but the global world that we have watched emerge during the past century seems to have arrived on the scene quite suddenly.   It is like I have been studying an ancient cartogram and cross checking it with a contemporary atlas only to have someone open up Google satellite maps and say, “Let me put in the address and see if I can find it.”  What was once in the distance is now close at hand.

During its programs, the BBC offers both a call in number and Twitter to gather comments from listeners from Australia to Austin, Texas to Angola about issues such as the lifting of the fuel subsidies in Nigeria.   Being on mission in Malawi, I am aware of the opportunity we have as members of the Anglican Communion to be the light of Christ in this interconnected and quickly changing world whether we are partnering with a local social service program or a church or school in another country.
The middle window is mine
and looks out to the green

I am interconnected myself with several Episcopal communities in the United States: Trinity Hartford, Trinity Wethersfield, All Saints’ Beverly Hills, Thad’s in Santa Monica, and Holy Spirit in Silver Lake, and each of them in their own way embrace and welcome the other.  These churches represent another aspect of “where I stay” because for many members their “homes” are elsewhere, and the church provides a place to belong, sort out their faith in God, and find a way to channel frustrations in ways that will bring about justice. 

Agricultural Office Martin in the green
As Anglicans, we have a lot to celebrate and to share with others about welcoming and being received by the other both locally and globally.  

And, I look with hope as we continue to engage in being the Universal Church as we wrestle with the growing pains of living in our ever more interconnected global world.   After being here in Malawi working and worshiping with fellow Anglicans, I will never again pray for the Universal Church on Sunday in the same way. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Agriculture, Piggeries and the Parish

Soon after arriving in Blantyre, the commercial center of Malawi, I became aware of how important environmental issues are to the country, and of course to all of us worldwide.  Malawi relies on rain for its crops.  While Lake Malawi is the third largest lake on the African continent, it has not been fully utilized for irrigation farming especially for maize, the staple of Malawi.  

The deforestation of Malawi began in the mid 19th century with commercial farming efforts brought by missionaries and colonization.  Today, the high cost of electricity in the cities and access in rural areas has brought about the use of coal for cooking.  Coal production from trees has become a source of income for women and men in the villages, and they are not regulating the cutting of trees in these areas.  So besides the clear cutting for farming, small hills located through out the countryside once covered in trees are now barren.

Pig farmer who provided the pigs for the parishes
and Diocesan Agriculture Officer Martin Kapalamula

The Government and NGOs are doing some work on conservation and reforestation, but there is so much more that needs to be done.  The Diocese of Southern Malawi has participated in these efforts with a good working relationship with many partners. The Diocese is dedicated to being a resource for its 23 parishes and the various “outstations” (mission stations) attached to some of the parishes.   The Diocese has a variety of program coordinators dedicated to education and empowerment.  The fruit tree planting program helps with conservation. (See Fruit Trees: Manna from Heaven film published on this blog.)  The agriculture officer has been working on the piggery project and is hoping to do more tree conservation and preservation programs through the parishes.  

Demonstration garden next to the Malawi Parish.
  Organic manure on the left, and commercial fertilizer on the right. 
Most of the efforts have centered round developing permaculture programs, including parishes with piggeries that provide food, income, and manure for the gardens.  These piggeries are near the church or rectory and most of the priests are engaged in the building of the structures for the pigs.  They also provide ongoing care of the pigs along with church members, and some create demonstration gardens that show the positive results from using sustainable growing techniques.

A Landlace pig used in the Diocese's
 Conservation Agriculture Project.

Malawi Parish began with two pigs and now has 22.  With each litter the parish piggery passes along pigs to its members.  These parish members breed the pig and then are encouraged to pass along a piglet to another person.  In just two years, this parish has begun to engage non-church members in the program.   Recently, I visited the parish in Mdeka and saw the piggery, church, day nursery for orphans, primary school, and gardens all being run by the priest and members of the church.  We delivered four four month old pigs, two for the Malawi Parish and two for the parish in the next village. 

Rev. Fr. Dan Mazimbo, Malawi Parish
in front of the font.
Over 300 people worship here each Sunday.
The Malawian Government encourages everyone to plant one tree person each year.   However, the Diocese of Southern Malawi is showing the way, and providing the inputs, through the love of Christ.  The people in the villages participating in these programs are living out the Gospel by sharing their bounty, sometimes in the form of organic manure, selling their harvest to one another, and giving alms to the church---seeing the very nature of loving God and your neighbor, and relationship it has to with living a sustainable life.  The village leaders are very happy with the parish efforts because they have fewer problems with theft and a greater sense of community.  There is much more work to be done, but there is amazing evidence of Kingdom Life as God’s mission unfolds.

O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (BCP p. 828)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Climate Change Conference

I recently discovered that my cell phone that I bought here in Malawi has a radio, and with that, I have developed an addiction to BBC news.   They have been covering the Climate Change Conference in Durban, and I suspect I am hearing a different perspective than I would be if I were listening to reports in the US.  Climate Change is very relevant for Malawi, which is cautiously waiting for the rains that are over a month late and ever so important to its primary industry, agriculture.   The continent of Africa has not contributed greatly to the crisis yet it suffers from its affects.  The Rt. Rev James Tengatenga, Bishop of Southern Malawi, attended the conference as part of the faith advisory group.  Upon his return, I hope to hear about the conversations at the conference, and I hope I can share them with you.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fruit Trees: Manna From Heaven

I was invited by Yasinta Mtambo, the Diocese of Southern Malawi's Co-ordinator for the Mother's Union, to visit one of the outstations of Chileka Parish and deliver fruit trees.  The Mother's Union was started in 1876 in England to encourage and strengthen the family.  The first Mother's Union discussion took place here in Malawi in 1929, and since then has spread through out the country.  Today all parishes have a Mother's Union group, and they focus a great deal of their efforts in empowering women and families of the Anglican Church in Malawi.  I invite you to watch the video of our visit to Khombwe outstation.  It is my first video so it is a bit rough, but I hope you will enjoy it.  Thanks to those of you who have supported the Malawi mission.  To everyone in the United States,  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Getting Clarity

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

In preparation for the mission to Malawi, I attended the Orientation for Global Ministry that was organized by the Canadian Churches' Forum for Global Ministries.   Among the many rich offerings was the Adichie video.  As I watched, I was further inspired to garner the support I will need to do the work I have been charged to do: to go to Malawi and work with Bishop James Tengatenga in the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi, and together embrace the new face of mission that is based on building friendships primarily.  Hard to imagine building friendships as a primary goal when it is so much easier for a North American like myself to try to fix things.  I am reminded that we are called to love the other so that we may both thrive.  Stories matter, especially the many different parts of one's story.  So, I invite you to watch this video and learn a small part of her story.

Peace,  Kim