December 14, 2004
On Sunday Dan and I had the opportunity to see something that we will probably never see in America. (I know, you are thinking, “They see things everyday in Malawi, which they don’t see in America.”That is true, but this was really special!) We watched the birth of a new Presbytery. Last week Dan attended one, but I was unable to go. This week I was fortunate to have been able to accompany him.
We were up at 5:00 a.m. and at the Synod Office picking up people by 6:00 a.m. After a stop at St. Columba CCAP Church we had both the General Treasurer and the Synod Moderator plus 4 others in our truck. The girls stayed at a friend’s house the night before, went with her to church on Sunday morning, and then attended Church again on Sunday evening. Two and a half hours is enough for teenagers, besides, we needed the room in the truck.
As we drove the two and a half hours to Ntcheu we stopped along the way and picked up more passengers. The senior pastor of the presbytery, the Rev. Kadawati (78 years young) was among them. There were five up front and six in the back by the time we arrived.
There were two huge tents set up on the church grounds. Chairs were set up and choirs and people from all over the region were arriving. By 9:30 a.m. the Celebration of Worship was underway. I sat with the other mayi abusas (minister’s wives) most were wearing their Mvano outfits, but since we visited the Ntcheu church a short time ago as part of the Partnership, we had purchased several meters of cloth specially printed for the opening of the Presbytery. I had a caftan made and Dan had a shirt made with the festive pale lavender fabric that had a picture of the church (which will house the new Presbytery offices) and the names of all the churches in the new Presbytery emblazoned on it. Dan, however, wore his robe for the service.
Someone recently asked me, “What do you do at a five hour worship service???”Well, you have all the usual things, sermon, prayers, Apostles Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Bible readings, prayers, announcements (this takes a long time but is very important, since there are no church newsletters to tell the congregations what is happening), hymns, and offering. However, there are also some special things that take place at an event like this. Each Presbytery from the Synod had a representative who was there. These people are all introduced to the congregation. They greet the congregation saying, “Moni mpingo onse,”to which the congregation replies, “Zikomo.”All of the clergy and their wives are also introduced in the same manner. It is the mayi abusa’s job to greet the congregation. So when it was our turn, Dan and I stood up and I said, “Moni mpingo onse.”The Malawians must have been very surprised to hear an azungu (white person) speak the greeting in Chichewa, because they burst into laughter and applause. It was really fun to hear.
are also speeches by dignitaries who are present. This included the
Dan said, “Today is a day for a new beginning - the birth of a new Presbytery. It is time to do away with the old ways and adopt new ones.”While he was saying this he took off his stole and robe and slipped on his Ntcheu Presbytery shirt. The congregation of over 2000 erupted in applause. He then challenged them to use this opportunity to move forward for Christ. Again they roared their approval.
The other thing that we were treated to was music. Music is always an important part of worship here, but on special occasions, special anthems are composed and many choirs perform. I lost count after 7. They were wonderful. Some were small quartets, others had carefully choreographed dances to accompany their selections, and the Mvano choir processed into the tent in their Ntcheu traditional dresses. It was an amazing sight and sound experience designed to glorify God and celebrate the occasion.
At one point in the service, the Rev. Kadawati announced that the Presbytery was now officially a part of the Synod and marked the day and time of its birth. Other special elements included the exchange of gifts (which included records books for the new Presbytery) and the donation of special funds to the new Presbytery. It was all very festive.
Then all of the Presbytery’s new officers were installed and challenged. Then they were formally greeted and congratulated by about 100 people. Are you beginning to see why the service lasts so long???
The last hymn sung and the benediction was pronounced, and the Celebration of Worship was over, but the party continued.
The Mvano had prepared the biggest batch of nsima I’d ever seen. They put it in a huge cooler to keep it hot. There were giant bowls of chicken, rice, cabbage relish, beef (or maybe goat) stew, and a bowl of meat that looked like it had parts of the animal that we don’t usually eat, (I passed on that) plus some unusual dishes, a green salad and delicious potato salad. Fresh peaches were served for dessert. We sat and ate and chatted with many people. (Did I mention that Dan and I were the only non-Malawians in attendance?)
Finally, around 3:30 p.m., we headed home. We had 12 people in the truck for the ride back to Blantyre, but we dropped two off on the way. We also made a stop for mangoes. I bought about 100 small ones for 50 cents. Lucy Kadawati got even more for 65 cents. Even the men in the back of the truck bought some, but we had to dump them in the back of the truck, because the girls selling them did not have plastic bags. It was an interesting ride.
By the time we dropped everyone off at their homes and churches, it was 7:00 p.m. We were exhausted as we headed home.
Although it was a long, tiring day, it was something that we will always remember. When a Synod is growing so fast and is so large that it has to break into more manageable governing units, that is something to celebrate! God is working through the many people and churches here in Central Africa. We are thankful to be here during this time of birth and new beginnings.