Hello from Zomba!
Saturday, after our time at Mvuu Camp, our group packed into the van and began the journey to Zomba. We arrived at Annie’s Lodge, which is situated neatly in the hills that surround the city. This will be our home for the next three nights.
Sunday, we got up, ate our typical breakfast of a boiled egg and chips and headed out to the Sadzi Congregation for worship. Sadzi is a part of the Zomba Parish, guided by Pastor Henry Makawa, and was built on top of a hill which overlooks Zomba and the mountains. It was beautiful. As we arrived, we were joyously greeted by some of the churchgoers and guided up the path to the church building. Inside, I immediately notice two things: the new pulpit, completely made of iron and glass which is very different than the wooden or brick pieces that are typically seen here, and a banner, noting the words “Together, Zomba & Immanuel,” hanging at the front of the sanctuary, which made me smile – a gesture of friendship from one NWSWI congregation to their ELCM companion.
Worship in Malawi is something I have been thirsting for since last July. The choir began to sing, filling the room with gorgeous harmony and praise for God – an indication that worship was beginning. Abusa Henry and Abusa John processed in their albs down the center isle, finding their places near the altar. We prayed together, heard from three choirs, and participated in the liturgy.
After some announcements and formal introductions of the group, as well as words of gratitude and thanks for our companionship with the ELCM, Abusa John (with Mphatso as his translator) delivered his sermon as Hannah, Julia, Maddie, Ella and I gathered with the children behind the sanctuary for the children’s sermon time. After testing the kiddos on their memory verse from the prior week, the teacher read the scripture for the day, Genesis 27:1-45 (Jacob steals Esau’s blessing). While I watched her, standing in the middle of this group of kids, reading from her Chichewa Bible and sharing the story of God’s people, I looked around and realized that, regardless of culture, country, or language, ALL children lose interest after about 15 verses! But, sitting on a hillside, with the children perched on rocks, with an incredible view of the mountains, she stood teaching those kids – exactly how I imagine the moments where Jesus did the same thing.
After a brief summer of the story, she turned the time over to me (with a translator!). We talked about how this story seems sad and unfair, that we all want to cry with Esau and Isaac because of their despair, but also how we are asked to be faithful to God, to trust that God has the power to work though that sadness, to make great things happen even through cruel/selfish people. Because, as we know, these things can lead us to Jesus.
Even more inspiring were the children in this congregation. Often times in Malawi we see older siblings helping with younger siblings. However, as these kids gathered in a group for the story, it was awesome to witness their behavior toward one another – as babies and toddlers got fussy or began crying, older kids (whether siblings or not) would readily step in and pick them up or try to comfort them. If that didn’t do the trick, they were brought back inside to a parent. Other kids who were shy or nervous were joined by another child so they did not have to sit alone. These kids understand and live with compassion. (And, it’s unmistakable that the congregation wants to care for them as well – near the front of the sanctuary, in front of the pulpit was a large rug/mat – a place reserved for children who want to see and hear worship – one simple way that the adults want to engage children in the life of the church.)
We took a quick photo with the Sunday School kiddos, then headed back inside for the rest of worship. With some final music, we recessed outside where the singing continued and a final prayer/blessing was offered. Afterward we enjoyed many conversations and said lots of goodbyes. Maddie and Julia were completely moved by the whole experience – between the choir and the children, they were excited to participate in worship. They were astonished by the depth and heart of the music and, not surprisingly, were captivated by the children.
We walked (so nice to use our legs!) a short distance to Abusa Henry’s home for a delicious lunch and great conversation, then headed back to the lodge.
After a quick change of clothes, we packed into the van and drove the narrow and curvy roads up Zomba mountain, elevation 5,000 ft. Near the top, we were surprised to be greeted by a huge body of water, a reservoir made by a large dam in the mountains, which surrounded by pine trees.
At the top of the mountain was a hotel and restaurant (VERY expensive to stay/dine there) – we visited long enough to catch the view from the behind the buildings and snap some pictures. As we traveled back down, we stopped to catch some photos at the reservoir as well.
On the way back to the lodge, we stopped at a grocery store to purchase some snacks (peanuts – yum!), and the girls were astounded by how inexpensive these items were here.
The evening was spent enjoying dinner together as a group and passing the time with a few decks of cards.
On Monday, we dressed in our work clothes and headed off to the site of another Zomba congregation where we are scheduled to do some brick work. We arrived at the site of a project, a church building that has a solid foundation nearly completed. The job (for most of us) on Monday morning was to move some bricks from an old building nearby to the site of the new building. As the men and women worked to pull up the bricks, they stacked them in our arms and we hauled them to a pile near an incomplete section of wall. While were are cautioned not to carry too much, we were working beside women with infants swaddled to their backs whose loads are equally heavy. The same women who, a short time later will also be working hard to prepare lunch for the 20+ people working on site – I will forever be astounded by the generosity and resilience of the people here.
While we wait for lunch, we pass the time… LuAnn took/shared some photographs with her Poloraid camera, the girls played card games, and everyone visited with the Malawians on site. Maddie and Ella found some unique creatures in a pile of sand and enjoyed their time exploring African insects.
Just after lunch (goat, rice, nsima) one woman came around with a basin of water to wash our hands in – Julia and I both noticed that these women had arms most body builders would envy. These women are strong – physically and spiritually.
We headed back to Annie’s Lodge where we have a little time to relax. Some of the group walked into town – Julia and Maddie decided to take a nap. I left our room door open to let in the breeze…. and in walked a baboon – he quietly snuck in the door on two legs and reached up toward the table to grab the sugar bowl. I looked up and froze….this is not a situation I’d been in before…how DO you get a baboon out of your room?!?!?
I yelled “out” and stood up – he reluctantly left the room, and when I went to close the door, there he was, waiting to be sure I really didn’t want him to come back in – “out!” again and he ran from the balcony. I was sure to latch the door this time. Fun in Africa!
After a little time reading, we enjoyed dinner as a group, shared stories and played cards. After dinner, the teens all gathered in our room (this has become an anticipated ritual now J….) where there are more card games and fun stories. They talked about their churches and confirmation experiences, school, activities, and their futures. We video chatted with Gabe and Lila – I miss them… And we had an existential conversation about God and the universe. I love how curious and clever teenagers can be! They are definitely looking forward to interacting with more kids this week and hope there will be one more opportunity to see the kids at the preschool in Lilongwe one more time before we travel home.
Tomorrow we head to Blantyre, and I think everyone is excited to see another area of Malawi.
My prayer for today: that music, specifically singing, will remain and grow as a intregal part of our Christian faith practices, and that we will give our voice as an unrestricted gift to God; that we remember to be mindful and appreciative about what we eat, that we take time to enjoy food in the company of others whenever possible, and that we wiling share so that no one goes without either; and that we remain humble enough to ask for help when we need it. Amen.