August 9, 2005
We knew that after a year, it would be very hard to say goodbye to Malawi and its people. It was even harder than we thought.
The people of Blantyre Synod indicated to us time and time again that they were sorry to see us leave. First, the other missionaries gave us a surprise party. We walked into the Soye’s house, and balloons and banners showered down on us. With our missionary friends, we enjoyed an evening of wonderful food and fellowship. Young and old, we played games and sang and laughed. There was even a quiz game with questions like, “How many times have the Merrys been to Nyala Game Park?” (The answer — “a lot” - it was our favorite place to take guests!) Another question — “What is the Merrys favorite Chinese food in Malawi?" The answer — “Ants on a Tree” (this is fried rice noodles and seasoned ground meat wrapped in lettuce leaves). It was an evening filled with hula hoops and hilarity. The expatriate missionaries that work with Blantyre Synod became some of our closest friends over the course of the year. They came to our rescue when we were robbed and had the fire, they showed us around town, clued us in on local lingo and customs, and made us welcome in their homes. We are very grateful for their friendship and the fellowship that we enjoyed with them during the year. We will miss them more than we can say.
The next goodbye was also difficult. Although three out of four Sundays per month were spent visiting partner churches, once a month we would worship at St. James CCAP Church where Dan served as Associate Pastor. It was our “home” church for the year. They had a special goodbye time during our last Celebration of Worship there. They presented us with gifts and sang and danced with us. Later that week, their leaders had a dinner for us at an elder’s home. It was a wonderful evening of substantive discussions and delicious traditional food and fellowship. We will miss their enthusiasm, dedication and zeal for the work of the church.
Our last Tuesday in Ndirande was difficult. Over the course of the year, the Lord had opened our hearts, and these damaged, disabled people crept in. I can’t tell you how often I will think of Beatrice, who’s stern countenance hides a willful, playful soul. I know that Brooke and Heather often wonder how young Grace, who suffers from cerebral palsy, is doing. We pray that Jyro is getting enough to eat, and that Stefilia is being cared for, and not neglected by her family. Much to our surprise, as we prepared to leave the last session, the people broke into song. Each man, woman and child came up and shook our hands. Then they presented us with gifts. The men had sewed us several quilted pillows on their specially equipped machines! To say that we were honored and thrilled is an understatement. I cried the first time I visited the Handicapped session in Ndirande, and I cried the last time, but the tears were entirely different.
The Synod bid Dan a special farewell. Three days before we left the entire staff of the Synod descended on our home for a party. Men and women brought in food, chairs and supplies for the gala event. We did not have to do a thing. At 8:00 a.m. on the day of the party, ten live chickens were delivered. Alfred was asked to prepare them for the party, and by noon they were being cooked on the brai (grill). The Synod staff invaded our kitchen and prepared salads as well. It was really festive and fun. They also cooked beef and sausages over the hot charcoal, and I drove Rose into town to pick up the fresh buns.
At the specified time, everyone arrived. The Master of Ceremonies took charge and we all had a great time eating and chatting. Then each department presented Dan with a gift. He got beautiful paintings, carvings, photographs, certificates, and even a wicker lampshade! There were formal and informal speeches, but they were heartfelt. The General Secretary, Rev. Daniel Gunya, thanked Dan for his hard work and told him what a blessing he had been to the Synod this year. It was a very special moment. Dan told them that he will miss them all and I know that he will. It was a year that was very difficult and challenging for him, but he threw all of his energy and effort into each new task set before him. The Synod staff told him how much his work was appreciated, and although my husband hates accolades, I think that the Malawians will hold a special place in his heart forever.
The girls had special goodbyes as well. Brooke’s school friends got together and organized a farewell dinner party for her. They laughed and reminisced and she took pictures of all of them. Brooke begged us to stay another year. She really did not want to leave. She told us that our year in Malawi was the best year of her life.
I have not seen Heather cry since she was a little girl, but the day she said goodbye to Alfred’s children and Hannah Kamwendo, she cried buckets. She was devastated at the thought of leaving these special people.
One of the things that made it a bit easier to leave was the fact that we were able to give some of our belongings to the people we cared for. We gave our electrical converters to our Canadian missionary friends, the Sherbinos, and to Sue Makin for American medical equipment. We left ranch dressing mix and taco seasoning with our other missionary friends. There were boxes of arts and crafts equipment from generous Pittsburghers for Ndirande, and books galore for the Synod Resource Center. Devotionals for women, supplies for orphans, kitchen equipment for World Exchange Workers, and clothing and shoes for Alfred and Michael and their families were handed out. I wish you could have seen all the smiles!
It was time for us to leave. Our home, which would now house short term missionaries from England, was in great shape. Dan’s work at the Synod was wrapped up. The girls finished their schoolwork and received honors and kudos for their scholarship and extra curricular activities. The Nissan Hardbody 4x4 truck which served us so well for the year, was gifted by Pittsburgh Presbytery to the Synod of Blantyre. Our last guests were fed, housed and sent off to discover Malawi. We had said goodbye to all of our new friends. Our suitcases were packed. We were looking forward to seeing our family and our home in Bethel Park, but still it was hard to leave.
A number of our friends and colleagues gathered at Chileka Airport to bid us farewell. The Mvano from St. James CCAP Church left a meeting at the church to come and help send us off. It was a bittersweet moment. I cried. We waved furiously as we climbed onto the jet, and thanked God for the most difficult, most awesome year of our lives.