April 4, 2005
Growing In Faith
For the past week, there have been over five hundred women from all over Blantyre Synod attending a women’s conference. Some women arrived by bus, others came on foot, but they all came with high expectations. They were not disappointed.
The theme of the conference was “Growing In Faith,” which was based on Matthew 9:22. The conference ran from Monday until Saturday and was held on the Blantyre Mission Grounds. For a nominal fee, attendees were housed in Henry Henderson Secondary School Hostels (dormitories) and fed on the school grounds. (The school is recessed for term break.) Each day one of the large churches in Blantyre was in charge of the cooking. For instance, on Tuesday, I stopped by to see how breakfast was going. The women were very organized. An orderly line formed outside the eating house. Each participant was given a hard boiled egg, a cup of tea with milk and sugar in it, and several slices of bread with jam.
They sat at tables or gathered outside on the grass and ate with friends. When they finished, some of them formed an impromptu singing and dancing circle. There were large buckets of chickens sitting beside the cookhouse defrosting. They would be used for stew for the main meal, which would be served at lunchtime.
After breakfast the women walked over to the main hall at the School for their morning meeting. Each day started off with hymn singing, prayers and Bible readings. Then there would be a keynote speaker on a specific topic (such as Spiritual Growth or HIV/AIDS). On Thursday afternoon, the speaker was the First Lady of Malawi, Ethel Muta. The organizers of the third Blantyre Synod Women’s Conference were delighted and honored that she accepted their invitation to speak to the assembled Mvano (Women’s Guild members).
At other times during the week the women gathered to discuss social issues, church business, and have small group Bible Studies. The participants that I talked to were thrilled with the conference. One amyabusa told me that attendance was even better than the organizers expected. She said, “churches were supposed to send one representative each, but many were so eager, that they sent two or three.” The planners seemed to be coping with the extra women well, and everyone seemed content with arrangements.
The conference was not for women exclusively. At the session that I attended, there were several rows of men sitting in the back of the auditorium, and several male Synod officials participated in the meetings. However, in a country where women are usually overworked, often overlooked and undervalued, it was very encouraging to see the CCAP empowering and educating its women to help other women in the churches. Much of the funding for this event and some of the planning was done in partnership with Pittsburgh Presbytery. If you ask me, it was money well spent.
The women leaving the conference seemed to be more confident, more knowledgeable, more enthusiastic about the mission of the church and the role of women. Almost all of the women attending the conference had purchased some of the beautiful robin’s egg blue Blantyre Synod Mvano fabric and were attired in traditional clothing or chitenjes made of it. Even in appearance they seemed united and ready to meet the challenges ahead of them as they returned to their home churches. It was obvious to this observer that they had learned much at the conference, and had indeed, been “Growing in Faith.”