Resistance in the Valleys – Fiona Kendall

Regular readers of this blog will remember George[1], the young Gambian man who made it to Lampedusa following a horrific journey which included detention in Libya, and who now lives in Piedmont.

This week I’ve been in Piedmont for the annual synod of the Waldensian Church, one of the FCEI’s  member churches, now united with the Italian Methodist Church.  Torre Pellice, which nestles in the Alpine area now known as the “Waldensian Valleys”, plays host to this meeting every year.  The location is inextricably linked with the tumultuous history of this minority Protestant church which sprang to life 800 years ago and whose members have been persecuted, exiled and discriminated against for much of that time.  The serene mountain setting belies the spirit of resistance which has prevailed throughout.  As I took the opportunity to visit the newly renovated the Waldensian museum, which carefully charts their story, I was struck by how that spirit of resistance, kindled by the prejudice and fear of others, continues today and how it is now channelled into the work which Waldensians persevere in doing for those on the margins.

Resistance in the valley

The trip provided me with an opportunity to catch up with all sorts of people including George, who has been supported by the Diaconia Valdese since arriving in Italy.  When I last wrote about him, he had very recently had his meeting with the Territorial Commission which decides asylum applications.  During the long months awaiting their decision, George continued his valuable work as a carer.  He studied hard and passed tough exams in Italian (his sixth language) which would give him the formal qualification required for a permanent contract.  He is currently holding down two jobs: one in a local hospital and the other in a residential home for people who are severely disabled.  He will shortly be leaving the accommodation provided by the Diaconia Valdese for an apartment which he will be renting in his own right.  In September, the curling season will start and, all being well, he will once again take up his place in the First Africa Curling Team.

So far, so positive.  So you will be as galled as I am to know that George’s application for asylum has been refused.  This, of course, is nothing to the shock which George felt on learning of that decision, and the heightened sense of uncertainty which it generated.  Whilst praise was given by the Commission for his considerable efforts to integrate into the local community, its members did not agree that George had met the test to acquire refugee status.  Worse still, other channels for someone like George to obtain residence in Italy are few and far between.

Resistance comes in many forms and George is not going to give up.  He does not believe that it is safe for him to return to The Gambia – and he is now well settled in Italy.  He has a life to lead and so much to offer his community.  He has therefore appealed the Commission’s decision.  It will, however, be another two years before he learns the outcome of the appeal.

Whether or not George succeeds, his case highlights the failure of a system which ignores the positive contributions which migrants can make.  When a system is essentially based on protection or humanitarian criteria and leaves little or no room for others to adopt another country as their own, it is the receiving country which is likely to miss out.  Legal channels for migration which permit realistic numbers to immigrate are not floodgates but filters which enable the kind of people you’d want in your community to join it, irrespective of their country of origin.  How long will it take, I wonder, to shift the policy focus from keeping numbers down to populating society with the kind of citizens who can make a difference?

It is little wonder that Waldensians should have such a deep-seated commitment to those, like George, who are pushed to the edges of society, for that has been their own story.  Such work, however, will only be done when society at large starts to adopt that spirit, and marginalisation becomes nothing more than a distant memory.

[1] Not his real name.

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Watershed – Fiona Kendall

Yesterday proved to be something of a watershed in Italy.  There were a couple of reasons for that.  In Rome, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressed both houses of Parliament.  In a speech which pulled no punches, he was trenchant in his criticism of his Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, whom he described as putting personal and party interests before those of the country and whose fitness to hold any kind of office he called into question.Watershed

Conte, whose response this was to the motion of no confidence lodged by his erstwhile Deputy Prime Minister, then tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella.  Whilst the president mulls over next steps, Conte will remain in office.  Behind closed doors, the political manoeuvring continues.  The coalition between right-wing Lega and anti-Establishment 5 Star now shattered, Salvini hopes to capitalise on the chaos and propel himself into the premier’s seat.  Whether other parties will form an uneasy alliance to stop that from happening remains to be seen.  Meantime, the business of actually governing Italy is once again on hold.

A few hours later, at Italy’s southernmost outpost, 83 migrants disembarked from the Open Arms at the jetty at Lampedusa.  The crew had been seeking a safe port for 19 days.  Offers to host those aboard came from the French government and Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI).  Yet no EU country would allow the boat to dock.  When an Italian regional judge revoked the order forbidding disembarkation, Salvini immediately lodged an appeal (now understood to be without legal foundation), effectively stalling the order’s implementation.  National and international celebrities boarded the ship as it was re-supplied in an effort to draw global attention to the unfolding crisis.  Still EU governments stood firm.  Medics and psychologists aboard reported serious concerns, and conditions rapidly deteriorated.  Those most at risk and, eventually, all unaccompanied minors were evacuated.  Some of those left aboard leapt into the sea, attempting to swim to dry land.  Still EU governments stood firm.  Spain, five days away, finally offered a safe port.  Only after the Open Arms crew refused that offer in light of the conditions aboard, and only after the coalition’s collapse, did Italy relent and were the exhausted passengers welcomed by a small crowd at the Lampedusa jetty.

Watershed2

The suggestion is repeatedly made by the Far Right here that those who arrive here by boat are, somehow, all “clandestine”.  The contrast is often made with those who arrive by plane, either through UNHCR evacuations from Libya or the FCEI’s humanitarian corridors programme.  Whilst it is the case that beneficiaries of those schemes already have a humanitarian visa, it is simply incorrect to say that those who arrive by boat are all “clandestine”.  An asylum seeker may arrive by boat, plane or, indeed, any other means.  Whether or not their eventual claim for international protection is genuine depends on whether they meet the criteria set out in the 1951 Geneva Convention which converge around “a well-founded fear of persecution” or the criteria set out by the EU which converge around “a real risk of suffering serious harm”.  The criteria under both sets of norms have nothing to do with the means of transport used by the person seeking to reach Europe.

There can be no doubt that the migrants who spent 19 days aboard the Open Arms will have been traumatised by that experience.  However, there can be little doubt that what they will have experienced prior to being rescued will have been significantly worse.  According to various sources, for most who make the journey across the Mediterranean, this is the end of an arduous journey made up of several stages during which violence, exploitation and abuse will all have been encountered.  Each individual on the Open Arms will potentially carry the physical and mental scars of those experiences and it will be for each of them to convince a Commission examining a claim for asylum or subsidiary protection that they cannot return.  Many will fail to do so.  However, it is a basic human right for them to be permitted to make that claim and to have it properly examined, however they got here.

The current Minister of the Interior does not answer that point in the rhetoric regarding migration.  Instead, he casts judges whose decisions contradict his policies as “political” and considers closure of the ports to be necessary in a society which puts national interests first.  At what stage, I wonder, did universal human rights become hostage to national sovereignty?  And at what point do citizens cease to hold their leaders to account on such a fundamental point?  At a time when Italy may about to usher in a new Prime Minister whose views on these matters could not be clearer, these are questions which cannot be ignored.

Hope like Youth Springs Eternal – Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


A large group of teenagers with a few non teenagers are sitting in a large room in a cottage high on an escarpment. The view, as you might expect, is exquisite and stunningly beautiful. No one though is looking out the window, all especially the teenagers, are utterly engrossed. Not as you might think in their phones but in the words of a local forester who is telling them about climate change.

This is no ordinary collection of teenagers.

Serious and ambitious they may be but they are teenaged serious and ambitious people

This is a “RYLA Plus in Malawi” collection of teenagers. RYLA is an annual event organised by Rotary Clubs in Scotland to take teenagers out of their comfort zones and challenge them in the great outdoors. Rotarian Denis Robson thought it would be a good idea to bring the concept to Malawi and challenge some Malawian youth here in their own country. Drawn from towns and country areas they came to spend a week in each other’s company on Zomba Plateau and at Liwonde Game Reserve learning about the Plateau, climate change, Malawi and above all, themselves.

The local forester tells them of the effects climate change is having on their country and let no one be in any doubt, Malawi is at the sharp end, with mass deforestation, rivers silting up and lakes drying out in the dry season. What, he asks, can we Malawians do about it? You could be forgiven for being unsurprised if their answer was “not a lot” as the biggest causes are in the rich countries in the North and West. But that would be to underestimate the youth. They fully engage, looking at what can be changed here, they see the need to protect the forests and restore the ones previously destroyed. They look at the societal, educational, cultural and economical changes required. They see the injustice of being at the sharp end but seek solutions not retributions.

All in all, at the end of several hours and lively mealtime discussions there is reason to hope that here is a force for good; a force for change, that we can look with confidence for the day when this generation get their hands on the levers of power.

To reinforce the talk the RYLA participants engaged with the women who live on the Plateau and men who make a living there passing on their new-found knowledge on how to minimise the effects of climate change. To reinforce it they hand out mango plants but which in three years will provide a crop of fruit!

A couple of days later having visited a counselling service in Zomba City, the group venture out on foot across the Plateau to see the forestry in operation. They lend a hand to the women cutting back the undergrowth to let the newly planted native trees flourish, not by mechanical means but by a specially adapted machete blade known prosaically as a ‘Slasher’. Not for the first time it is necessary to forget what I have learned about Health and Safety, risk assessments et al and trust that they would be careful! They were. A little further on they helped with ‘screefing’ (Google it) around other young trees to give them room to grow.

After that the walk became purely for pleasure as we went on to two viewpoints jointly described in the past as the “Best views in the British Empire”. Not sure about that but they are both dramatic and beautiful and any view beating them must indeed be spectacular! As befitting their description they are named ‘The Emperor’s View’ after Haile Selassie who visited in 1965 and ‘The Queen’s View’ after the Queen Mother took a look in 1957. The young people were impressed by the views and took several hundred selfies in a few moments. We moved on to the reservoir of Chagwa Dam, regular readers may recall I mentioned this dam in March when we were warned it was in imminent danger of collapse. The reaction of most locals was its collapse had been foretold since the day after it was completed and it hadn’t happened yet so why worry? Well I didn’t worry then but had I seen the state of the earthwork dam at the time my sleep might not have been quite so sound for a few days! Several large cracks are there and large landslips have also taken place. The state of the Dam did not phase our young folk who enjoyed their walk. The forester merely shrugged his shoulders and said only “It’s been reported”.

Admiring The Emporer’s View

Admiring The Emporer’s View.

The youngsters moved on to Liwonde Game Reserve where they helped restore no less than fourteen houses damaged in the floods of March. This was followed by a game drive seeing many an elephant, hippo, warthog, buffalo, various types of antelope and to cap it all lions! This might not seem much for African youth to be taken to see African wildlife but it is a sad fact that the vast majority of Malawians have never seen any of their native wildlife which, with the exception of monkeys and baboons, are restricted to reserves.

Looking across The Shire Valley to Mount Mulanje Africa’s third highest mountain

Looking across the Shire Valley to Mount Mulanje, Africa’s third highest mountain.

So what of our teenagers? Did they get anything out of the experience? Yes they did through their learning, experiencing and sharing, seeds were sown that will help them become better citizens of the wonderful country that they care deeply about. In conversation they spoke of their ambitions to become engineers, teachers, doctors, nurses and media leaders, not so they can sell their talents in South Africa, Europe or North America but to live and work in Malawi. Using their skills to help raise this country from the dire poverty that constrains it at present and to take its place as a full member of the international community.

My generation were told when we were young that we had never had it so good and that I am certain was true. The tragedy is I cannot tell my grandchildren the same because we messed up. Big time! But so long as there are young people like those I met on Zomba Plateau about, and I am certain there are many throughout the world, so long as they are in our midst we can have hope and if we have hope we have faith in a future where all can share the bounty of this beautiful creation.

 


Rev R B Milne

Zomba Theological College

P.S. Screefing – clearing with a hoe an area around newly planted sapling trees to allow the tree light, water and nutrients. In Zomba area is normally 1m diameter.

World Day against Trafficking in Persons

One…Two…Three.  

Every three seconds, somewhere around the world a man, women, or child, has unwillingly been forced into the human trafficking network, and has been bought or sold for a price.

Disheartening as this is in the continuing fight against human trafficking, it’s the everyday reality for millions of people.

Human Trafficking is fast becoming the world’s most illegally profitable crime; in the UK alone thousands of victims are being sold every year to places such as car washes, farms, factories, brothels, and the fishing industry.

The 30th of July has been marked by the UN on their International Calendar as the day to raise awareness of trafficking across the UK and around the world. It is an opportunity to educate ourselves and mobilise our communities to stand against trafficking:

“On this World Day against Trafficking in Persons, let us reaffirm our commitment to stop criminals from ruthlessly exploiting people for profit and to help victims rebuild their lives.” — UN Secretary-General António Guterres

There are many, many ways that we can get involved in the fight to stop this happening, not only in our towns, but globally.

One: Think about what we buy from where.

If a price on an item is ‘too good to be true’, it probably is. Question its authenticity and production history. Check your ‘Slavery Footprint’, ask where your clothes really came from and check the Department of Labour’s list of goods produced by child labour or forced labour.

Two: Learn the signs.

Look out for signs of trafficked persons in your community. Read Hope for Justices’ list of things to look out for , or search the Police Scotland Website.

Three: Learn more.

There are a number of people who can talk to your community or church event about the experiences of trafficking.  Hear real stories, learn about global rescue and prevention efforts and learn how you can support through prayer and awareness raising.

Look out for Action of Churches’ Together Annual Conference, ‘Selling Out to Slavery’ on the 2nd of November 2019 in Edinburgh, where the UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be in attendance. Find more information on their Facebook page here and book your place.

If you are interested in inviting a speaker or learning more contact Rebecca Erskine for resources which include bible studies, a study of our partners work against trafficking, and a useful leaflet to keep in your back pocket or circulate around your community.  rerskine@churchofscotland.org.uk

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Tuli Umo Muli Christu; We are One in Christ – Alison Boyes

In September 2007, our minister, Rev Christine Sime, and six members of the linked congregations of Dunscore, Moniaive and Glencairn, visited Lubuto, Zambia, to explore the possibility of a Twinning. After visits and discussions, a Twinning Agreement was signed in 2008. In 2018, as the original 10 year term was coming to an end, we held a meeting to decide whether to renew the Twinning. There was unanimous support for this, despite the difficulties, as we felt that there had been such benefit to our congregations. The new minister in Lubuto, the Rev Simukonda, was very keen to learn about the Twinning and to be involved. It was agreed that another visit from Scotland was needed to revive the twinning.


 

We were met at the airport in Ndola by the minister and members the congregation who were all wearing t-shirts on which photos of our faces had been printed, which was quite surreal!Alison Twinning. A warm welcome from Rev Joseph Simukonda and members of the Lubuto UCZ Congregation

We were both to be staying with Joyce Chishimba who had visited us in 2014. Joyce was a widow living with an extended family of children and grandchildren. We witnessed at first hand what everyday family life was like – how the chores were done, how the food was prepared and cooked, how the piped water supply ran out around noon so that buckets and bowls were filled every morning to use later in the day. Joyce was quite comfortably off by Zambian standards but still had to work hard running a couple of businesses to stay afloat, such as loaning out chairs and cooking pans for events. She was often tired in the evenings and we relaxed together by watching TV – usually Mexican soaps dubbed into English. Often when we had some free time at home, people would come by Joyce’s house especially to visit us. The hospitality was humbling, as everybody was so pleased to welcome us as their guests.

We were given a full programme of activities by the church. We were scheduled to meet all the church groups – the Womens’ and Men’s’ Christian Fellowships, Boys and Girls Brigades, Church Executive, School Board and the Sunday School. We also had a tour of the various church projects (school, ablution blocks, maize mill and new admin block). One day, we were taken by the minister to Kitwe to tour the theological college and two meet the bishop.Alison Twinning. We were made to feel a real part of our host Joyce's family.jpg

We were also able in our free time to renew relationships made on previous visits. This really brought home to me how strong and lasting relationships can be fostered in a short time even between people who live many miles apart.

Very early in our visit, Rev Simukonda spoke to us about the changes we might see when attending church services. He explained that there had been a move towards a more charismatic style of worship. This had stemmed in part from a need to keep more of the younger members, who preferred this type of worship and had been leaving UCZ to attend other more evangelical churches. We noticed that instead of the minister speaking the prayers and the congregation saying “Amen” at the end, the minister gave the congregation an idea of what they should be praying to Jesus about and then they all spoke their prayers out loud, individually, at the same time. For members of a quiet Scottish congregation, this took some getting used to, but I came to like it. Closing my eyes, I could hear the prayers like the buzzing in a loud hive, and imagine the power of them reaching the ears of God.Alison Twinning. The service to renew our twinning after 10 years (2)

One of the main objectives of our visit to Lubuto was to renew the Twinning Agreement. On Easter Sunday, after the main worship, there was a special Twinning Service. The church was full, with about 800 people attending. At the end of the service, we assembled on the porch, where we, Moses and the Reverend Simukonda all signed the Twinning Agreement for a further 10 years and then, while holding hands, repeated the promises together before cutting the ribbon and revealing the plaque. It was a joyous moment and everybody wanted to take photographs and selfies with us! This showed to me how much the congregation really valued the twinning.Alsion Twinning. Bore hole funded by our congregations which is used by the whole community.jpg

On the morning of our departure, I was hanging about outside the house looking for something to photograph, when Joyce’s 12-year-old granddaughter Sanka came by and asked if I would like to go for a walk. She wanted to take me to look at the community library which was built last year and Sanka had never been inside. I knew that she liked reading as she had asked me soon after our arrival if I had any novels which I might give to her. She said she had recently read “Wuthering Heights” at school. I had just started “Rebecca” which I promised to give her when we left. In the library, it was rather a shock to see a beautiful new interior with some people studying at the tables, but not a single book in sight! I asked the librarian if I could photograph her at her desk and she showed us into her office, where there was a locked cabinet full of children’s books, which had come from the charity BookAid. Sanka’s eyes lit up and she started to take down books from the shelves to look at them. The librarian explained that she couldn’t lend out the books because they had no system yet which ensured that they would be returned. However, because Sanka lived nearby and the librarian knew Joyce, she said that Sanka could take a book home and she would pick it up personally in a few days’ time. I will never forget how happy Sanka looked, holding her copy of “The Little Princess” as she walked home.

The primary purpose of our visit had been to renew the Twinning and to re-establish relationships and good communication between the congregations at home and at Lubuto. In this respect, I consider that our visit was a success. The hospitality we received was truly humbling. We agreed wholeheartedly with the Rev Simukonda’s wish to change the Twinning motto from “TuliPamo” (“We are Together”) to “Tuli Umo Muli Christu” (We are One in Christ”). We enjoyed participating in a style of worship which was different from our own. – the music and dancing were wonderful. The charismatic prayers were a new experience which took us out of our comfort zone and led us to pray from our hearts. It made me re-examine my own faith and my relationship with God and the church.

We had also wanted to see how the church projects were progressing. While it was disappointing to see the school in disrepair and the pupil roll so low, it was cheering to receive the report which detailed what was needed for its rehabilitation and, most importantly, a plan for the way forward with the aim of fundraising for the necessary funds.Alison Twinning. The service to renew our twinning after 10 years.jpg

It was very touching (and surprising to us) to realise how highly the twinning was valued by people in Lubuto. This was made evident by the speech given by the Congregational Secretary at the twinning service and by the welcome we received.

Graduating Licensing Ministering and Receiving – Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


 

What were you doing on the evening of Wednesday 24th June 1998? I can tell you what I was doing, I was in Marnoch New Church, Aberchirder, together with family and friends, which included a lot of the membership, for this was my home kirk at the time. The Presbytery of Buchan was there; Rev Rosemary Legge Parish Minister, conducted worship; Rev Fred Coutts who had supervised my placement with Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Chaplaincy preached an inspiring sermon; and last but not least the Moderator of Buchan Presbytery Rev Dr Ian Thom ‘by the power vested in him’ licensed me to preach the Gospel. I entered the church that night a Mr but emerged allowed to add Reverend.

A week, possibly two, later I went to Marischal College to graduate from Aberdeen University with my Bachelor of Theology degree. It was hot and took a long time, other than that I can’t tell you much about it. Why not? You may ask. To me the whole point of going to university was as a means to an end, to meet the academic requirements the Church set before I could become a minister. My licensing service was the culmination of that process, the graduation was to all intents and purposes a side show. The only way it was important was for my family, to acknowledge the love and support they had given me to enable the fulfilling of my call to the Ministry.

Last week saw the culmination of the academic year at Zomba Theological College celebrated by a joint graduation and licentiate service in Zomba Central Church. What a wonderful idea to have both at once and get around the problem of my anticlimactic graduation ceremony. Firstly, the graduation service was held with choirs, prayers and a superb sermon from a very distinguished churchman from Livingstonia Synod in the North of Malawi, Rev Dr Howard Matiya Nkhoma. Speeches from the College Principal and the Chair of Board of Trustees led up to the presentation of degree and diplomas to those who had worked so hard to earn them. When the students came forward so too did their wives or husbands, to also receive a congratulatory handshake. A nice gesture and recognition of the support given by them. It was a very dignified and solemn ceremony.

Immediately it was over, the congregation was dissolved (and you think the Church of Scotland has strange procedural terms) and Blantyre Synod took over to award Certificates of Licentiate to those who would be ministers under their auspices. This too was serious and solemn until the actual presentations. When each licentiate received their certificate and blessing friends and family ran forward to embrace and kiss the new Ordinand photos taken by the dozen. I couldn’t help thinking the old Head Porter at Marischal College would have had kittens were such scenes to take place there! Here though it was accepted, this was a joyous occasion to be celebrated and if Malawians know anything, they know how to celebrate. When all the ceremonials were over, the Synod processed out of the Church in due form. They were followed by the new ministerial licentiates who once out of the door, as the Synod posed for a formal photo, began their very noisy post service celebrations.

So, where next for the new Ordinands? The eight men and two women Licentiated (if such word exists!) by the Synod of Blantyre now move on to a period of supervised ministry. Not dissimilar to the Scottish Probation system except an Ordinand may well find themselves in an actual Parish flying, to all intents and purposes, solo with supervision being provided by a nearby minister. When their probation period is ended there are huge differences between Scottish and Malawian procedures. In Scotland of course new ministers apply for a Charge they feel called to and, if that call is confirmed by congregations and Presbytery, then off they go to a long happy and successful tenure (we pray) until they feel called elsewhere or retire! (1)

In Malawi, the power of placement rests not with individual parishes, or even Presbytery, it is entirely in the gift of the Synod of which in Malawi under the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) there are three; Blantyre in the South, Nkhoma in the centre and Livingstonia in the North (there are another two synods one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe). Ministers under each Synod can be placed anywhere within any of the Presbyteries that make up that Synod. Typically a minister will serve in a Parish for three to five years before being moved to pastures new, usually, but not always, with plenty of notice.

In conversation with ministers here many envy the Scottish system. I could see some benefits in the Malawian method although, on balance, I prefer the Scottish. One of the plusses of the Malawian system is it ensures rural parishes get a minister. Here rural can mean remote, with limited access to urban areas often hours away meaning the Manse may well not have running water and mains electricity (although more and more are installing solar panels) whereas, many of the ones in the town are of a very high standard.

As a former minister in rural parishes I was used to the gift of a brace of pheasant now and again, sometimes ducks and on one occasion a goose was found hanging from the door handle on my return late at night (I hasten to add it had been shot prior to being suspended on my door!). Last weekend though, I was the very grateful recipient of a Manse Visitation. A Malawian tradition where a delegation from the congregation call to meet the Manse family and pray for the minister and their ministry. As well as prayer they also bring gifts of groceries and household items, to me they were a very welcome gift but to the resident ministers here they are a life line and make a huge difference to their lives. Perhaps in Scotland now there is not the pressing need for the gifts but all ministers, wherever they are, always need support in prayer.

Grad blog


Rev R B Milne

Zomba Theological College

  1. I know many Charges in Scotland are Reviewable Tenure but it would have spoiled the flow to explain that there!

Behind the Wall Study Tour – Food for Thought

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


During the recent WM Study tour we had two memorable meals. The first was at the Noor Centre in Aida refugee camp, the second in Ramallah at the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Centre (ETVTC).

Our visit to the Noor Centre was to take part in a traditional Palestinian cookery class. These cookery classes grew out of a project providing support for mothers with disabled children or mothers who had to support their family alone. The classes, which are available twice a month to visiting groups, bring in the financial support to help families in need and fund leisure activities for the children.

Islam (the project coordinator) and Rania were our hosts and teachers for our visit.  We were taught how to make maqluba, mujaddara and harissa.

Maqluba is a rice and vegetable dish. To serve, the pot is flipped upside down. The delicious colourful vegetables were then on top.  Maqluba in Arabic translates literally as “upside down”.  Chicken or meat is often served alongside.

Mujaddara is a rice and green lentil pilaf garnished with sautéed onions.

Harissa is a coconut cake made with semolina, ground almonds, yoghurt and coconut. It is very moist.

There was a lot of laughter and fun as we shared the preparation of food and listened to Islam and Rania, learning about life in the refugee camp and that continued when we sat down together to eat our lunch.

Food for thought

In Ramallah we spent time at the ETVTC.  On this occasion our hosts were the hospitality students.  The college provides vocational training to enable young folk to enter the employment market.  95% of the hospitality students find employment at the end of their course.  The training reputation is so high that hotels, restaurants and eating places contact the college when they are looking for staff.

We learned from the students about different aspects of the training, designed to equip them for different jobs within the hospitality industry.

Food for thought.JPG2

Our lunch was prepared, the dining room tables set up with precision and the tables served by different groups of students.   We had the traditional lunch of maqluba with chicken, majaddara and harissa.  Before we were served the trainee chefs came to the dining room. There was a celebration of the turning upside down of the huge pot of maqluba. All of the youngsters were a credit to themselves and their college, whatever their task during our visit

On both visits food played an important part in us learning about the lives of the people we met.  At Aida refugee camp, visitors, by taking part in cookery classes, can learn about life in a refugee camp as well as bring in much needed financial support for the work with mothers and their disabled children.  At ETVTC it was good to hear how the young people learn a variety of skills which almost guarantee their entry into the world of work in a country of high unemployment.


By Irene Mclellan

Elections – Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


May 21st was Election Day in Malawi. An event that has thankfully happened every five years since 1994 when Multi-Party Democracy was introduced following a Referendum after nearly thirty years of an independent state dominated by the (then) single political party the Malawian Congress Party (MCP). This in turn was dominated by the architect of Malawian Independence, graduate of Edinburgh University and one time Elder of The Church of Scotland, President for Life, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. He is a man who ruled Malawi for thirty years and who, despite having died twenty years ago, still casts a long shadow over society.

Driving through Blantyre a small compound of buildings was pointed out to me. “That’s the former HQ of MCP”, I was told, “If you had been put in a car that turned in there you could be fairly sure you would not be coming out alive”. Yet many people will tell you, including the man who told me that chilling bit of history, that Banda was not in fact a ‘bad man’ the blame for the corruption and violence is laid fairly, squarely and justifiably at the feet of those who allied themselves to him. Many years ago a Church delegation which at the proposal stage was several strong but wound up as one man went to speak to Banda and tell him of the need for Multi-Party Democracy. As he left for the visit all warned the envoy not to go as his chances of survival were, at best, negligible but he was certain Banda would listen. And he did!

The 1994 Presidential Election saw Banda voted out of office as he was defeated by Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front by just over 400 000 votes (47% to 33%). The handover of power was peaceful, conducted quickly and in accordance with the legal protocols laid down. Thankfully each election since, whilst not in total peace and with occasional riots, has resulted in a continuance of the democratic process.

I was assured that there was very little chance of serious rioting on 21st or as the results were announced, but I was also advised to make sure I had enough food in the house to last five days, and the flight agent’s number, just in case!

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Rally in Zomba

Polling day itself was a pleasant sunny day which allowed the polling stations to set up in the open air and they did a very brisk business all day. Queues formed early in the day and lasted through to closing time and in some cases the stations remained open to allow all who wanted to vote to do so.

The day itself was very peaceful, Zomba was quiet and it was nice to walk around the shops and market not being jostled continually. The college was closed to allow staff and students to go to their home districts to vote In Malawi there are no postal or proxy votes each must go their own place to vote (heard of something similar somewhere for a census or some such!). I was glad I ignored the advice to stay in and experienced the feeling of the town. It was very much a holiday atmosphere. As an added bonus I was delighted in the Airtel shop to be asked if I had voted, nice to think people accept me as being here long enough to be entitled to a vote!

The results were expected the next day or Thursday at the latest but no news came. Dark allegations were made of illicit acts being done to influence or rig the result. Eventually, it was announced that 11am Friday would see the results declared in full. I had to be in Blantyre that day and found a lot of businesses and offices closed for the day in anticipation of possible trouble. They need not have worried for no results were forthcoming as the opposition party, Hasting Banda’s MCP, had gone to the High Court and obtained an Injunction preventing any announcement until certain irregularities had been investigated. These included return sheets having original numbers typexed out and new ones written in and documents supposedly completed at either end of the country having the same handwriting!

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The arrival of the candidate in the colours of the President’s ruling party the Democratic Progressive Party or DPP

Monday saw the injunction lifted and the Electoral Commission responsible for conducting the elections lost no time in declaring the incumbent President Peter Mutharika the winner by a very slender 159 00 vote majority or 3.16%. He, in turn, lost no time in getting himself and his Vice President sworn in. If he thought that was the end of it, he was sadly mistaken as now four weeks later court cases still rumble on. The Opposition put forward a case which the President then opposes on procedural grounds, but so far he has lost every legal maneuver. It is hoped that the actual cases can now be heard very soon so the country can move on.

The great thing about all of this, and a very large demonstration which took place in the capital Lilongwe at the weekend, is that it is all being conducted without violence and done legally, even legalistically. Many would not have thought that possible in early May. Democracy was hard won in Malawi; at times it may have been under great threat but it has survived and is now not only surviving but thriving through the acceptance of legal constraints rather than the law of might is right.

On a lighter note a few impressions of the electoral campaign.

Malawi elections are loud! And then some! One of the principal campaigning methods is for vans, pickups, lorries or anything with wheels and a motor to be loaded up with large, the larger the better, loudspeakers which are then turned up and driven around town from 5:30am till after dark broadcasting music, and occasionally speech, promoting whichever party. The campaign officially began at the end of March, 8 weeks before the election, but as everyone knew it was coming the circus was in full swing a month before.

Election rallies are colourful (and loud of course) with singing chanting and dancing. Very occasionally the candidate might say something too. Crowds of people are trucked (not bussed) to these events which go on for hours at a time.

I was surprised, but possibly shouldn’t have been, to find that candidates come along to Sunday Worship to introduce themselves. All the ministers were at pains to point out that while they were very welcome, the Church took no position on which way people should vote. There were days set-aside during the campaign for prayer meetings at which the candidates were expected to participate. The President came in for severe criticism when he missed one such meeting to attend a campaign rally in the North of the country. His claim that he could pray wherever he was cut no ice with the opposition or voters!

TV debates with the candidates were as dull as ditchwater. They were so tightly structured and moderated very little other than the usual political platitudes were possible.

It was a very different experience to Elections back in Britain in some ways better, in others not so, but very interesting to observe. Now the only question to be resolved is will all the legal cases be settled and everyone know who the President will be for the next five years before it’s time for me to leave at the end of August?


Rev Bob Milne – Zomba Theological College

Behind the Wall Study Tour – Driftwood Spirituality (Part 3 of 3)

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


Dawn breaks over the barbed wire of Bethlehem: the seeds are buried in the EAPPI in Hebron, children revisit their history in Litka, the cooking of Maqluba, in Aida refugee camp, keeping hold of house keys in the hope of returning home, building a chapel underground at the Tent of Nations, and Banksy’s love shattering the wall.

And why is a driftwood spirituality necessary, to give the children of the land a future hope.

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by Ian Stirling.

Welcome to Italy – Fiona Kendall

In a city of many significant staircases, the Spanish Steps represent one of the best known.  Sweeping grandly down from the church of Santissima Trinità dei Monti to Bernini’s Barcaccia fountain, this has been a place of transit and meeting since the eighteenth century.  Churchgoers, tourists and those hoping to be noticed and used as artists’ models have all frequented the staircase.  At this time of year, the staircase is daily packed with people, often chasing the perfect photograph.

Last Thursday, tourists and journalists alike were treated to something rather unexpected.[1]  At 11.00am a flashmob, discreetly interspersed with tourists on the Steps, silently stood up and waved gold thermal covers at those in the square.  Others at the fountain floated tiny gold boats made from the covers in the Barcaccia.

Welcome to Italy

The banner unfurled midway up the steps read “#ioaccolgo” (“I welcome”).  Anyone checking the hashtag trending on Twitter would learn that this was not simply an isolated affirmation but the launch of a campaign involving over forty Italian and international organisations[2], amongst which the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, to which the Mediterranean Hope project belongs.  The campaign seeks to highlight “that part of the country which does not want to surrender to the barbarism of a world built on hatred and fear, which believes in the principles of the Constitution and in equal rights for all”.

The gold thermal covers waved by those on the Spanish Steps and turned into boats provided visual links with the search and rescue (SAR) operations which have been all but halted in the Mediterranean Sea.  As I write, 43 souls rescued by Sea-Watch on 12th June remain stuck aboard a rescue vessel alongside the coast of Lampedusa, ten of their number, being pregnant or seriously ill, having been permitted to disembark.  The entry into force last week of the second so-called “Security Law” now exposes those engaged in SAR work to immediate fines of EUR 50,000 should passengers be transported to Italy for disembarkation.  Sea-Watch, a charity, is having to re-think its strategy in the light of this development.  Meantime, those aboard remain in limbo.

Two days after the launch of #ioaccolgo, another group gathered in Via della Conciliazione, the long avenue which leads up to St Peter’s Square and the Basilica.  The “Table Without Walls” event brought together around eight hundred ordinary folk from diverse backgrounds, different faiths and none to eat at tables set up the length of the street.  As the hot summer sun blazed above, those present celebrated diversity and inclusion.

These are challenging times.  However, challenging times call for solidarity, often most effective when expressed in the simplest fashion.

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[1] https://ilmanifesto.it/ioaccolgo-il-rifiuto-delle-politiche-razziste-e-liberticide-cresce-di-scala/

[2] A Buon Diritto, ACLI, ActionAid, AOI, ARCI, ASGI, Casa della Carità, CEFA, Centro Astalli, CGIL, CIAC, CIAI, CIR, CNCA, Comunità di S.Egidio, CONGGI,  Ero Straniero, EuropAsilo, Federazione Chiese Evangeliche in Italia – FCEI, FOCSIV,  Fondazione Finanza Etica, Fondazione Migrantes, Gruppo Abele, ICS Trieste, INTERSOS,  Legambiente, LINK-coordinamento universitario, Lunaria, Medici Senza Frontiere, NAIM (National Association Intercultural Mediators), Oxfam, Rainbow4Africa, ReCoSol, Refugees Welcome Italia, Rete della Conoscenza, Rete Studenti Medi, SaltaMuri, Save the Children Italia, UIL, Unione degli studenti, Unione degli universitari, UNIRE