December 24, 2004
The Christmas Visit
It is at this time of year that most people welcome friends and family into their homes. Children look forward to a very special visitor as well. Well, last night we had a Christmas visit that reminded me of the lines from the famous poem, “…when what to my wondering eyes should appear…”At around 6 p.m. our yard was filled with cars and trucks and a long line of men and women entered our house singing and clapping. The women were dressed in their Mvano outfits and the men were decked out in their Sunday best.
We stood at the front door and watched in wonder. We have seen Carolers before, but this was different. They filed into our home. We didn’t have enough chairs for almost 40 people, so the women volunteered to sit on the floor. The men settled into places around the room.
Our nighttime visitors (they were scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m.) were representatives from each of the Cottages of St. James CCAP Church, where Dan serves as Associate Pastor.
There were at least two people from each Cottage. The churches here are so big that they are broken up into Cottages or geographical regions. Each Cottage has a prayer service in an elder’s home on Wednesday evenings. Dan has been officiating at a different one of these each week since we got here.
The Master of Ceremonies had us introduce ourselves and our guests (Dan’s mother and step-father) Then we all sang a hymn and an elder led us in prayer. Another elder read the scripture. The Mvano sang a hymn. Then Mike, an elder who was a missionary to Pittsburgh this past fall, preached a short sermon. As I sat and listened to him caution us about getting wrapped up in the commercialism of Christmas, I almost laughed. There is hardly any commercialism here compared to the USA! Still, his message struck home. It has been much easier for us to concentrate on the Christ child’s birth this year. I hope that we can take his advice next year as well.
After the sermon and another prayer, we were told that the members of St. James felt that it was their responsibility to take care of the pastor and his family’s physical well being, since he looked after their spiritual well being. So, singing joyfully, the women presented us with gifts. They included: 30 brown eggs, a big bag of rice, a large sack of potatoes, three bars of soap, several bags of sugar, clothes washing powder, two tubes of toothpaste, a large bunch of bananas, two chickens (dead and ready to cook), a can of instant milk, and one of coffee, cornflakes, as well as a 2 liter bottle of orangeade. We were overwhelmed. Their generosity and thoughtfulness astounded us.
After the presentation, there were speeches from the Clerk of Session and the senior Elder. Then we all sang Silent Night together. It was a magical moment. After Dan pronounced the benediction, we served them refreshments.
The Malawians do not eat a lot of sweets, but we had been baking Christmas cookies all day for them to taste. Dan’s mother made macadamia meltaways and Rice Krispy treats. I made molasses cookies, thumbprint cookies, banana bread, and some other treats. The girls decorated “gingerbread”cookie houses to use as centerpieces. We made large pitchers of iced tea, which Malawians don’t usually drink, and had several cases of soda ready as well. We told them that they were going to experience a bit of America. As a result we let the women go first (in Malawi the men always eat and are served first). We encouraged them to try everything. They did! There was not one morsel of food left when they finished, and those brave enough to try the iced tea all had refills, and said that they liked it.
As they filed out of our home singing and shaking each of our hands, some of them whispered, “I am leaving the USA now, and returning to Malawi.”Well, we never felt more a part of Malawi. The representatives of St. James CCAP Church brought us more than sugar and coffee. They brought us Christmas!