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As part of the ongoing twinning relationship, a group of people from Ayr Presbytery journey  to the Presbyteries of Bandawe and Limphasa (Nkhata Bay) in the north of Malawi.

Day 1. The reading on the card lying at the back of the door this morning was from Psalm 121 v5. “The LORD watches over you”. It is good to know that we have so much prayerful and practical support. There have been a number of trips over the years and visits from our friends in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) and our partnership is strong. We go in the name of Ayr Presbytery to meet with and share with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to learn from them. Our team consists of six people; Sandra McCall (Convener of Prestwick: St. Nicholas Church Malawi Committee), Julie Griffiths (Youth and schools worker from Alloway church), Fiona Ferrans (Girls Brigade leader from New Cumnock Church), Fiona Curran (Malawi committee member from Monkton & Prestwick North Church), Stephen Ogston (Minister of Ballantrae Church) and George Fiddes (Minister of Prestwick: St. Nicholas).

The packing is done, plans made and we set off for Glasgow Airport at about 1 p.m. for the long journey to Lilongwe where we will be met by our driver and good friend Owen who will look after us for the next two weeks. We set out believing that God has a purpose and a will for each of us as we undertake this exciting visit.

Day 2 Ongoing travel from Prestwick to Mzuzu. The journey was long and tiring and when we arrived in Mzuzu, Owen was waiting for us at Lilongwe Airport, with the Sputnik car hire minibus, cracked windscreen and all. I don’t think it would have passed an MOT in Scotland. Warm greeting were exchanged we set off on the long journey north.  We took the chance to stop once or twice; to gets some snacks for lunch (we didn’t need too much as we had had two “breakfasts” on the flights.) The minibus did cause us some concerns as there seemed to be some problem with the clutch or the gears, but Owen brought us safely to our destination at the Mzuzu Lodge. We me with Anocks Chisiza who was the former Presbytery Clerk for Bandawe and spent some time catching up over an evening meal ; although more than 24hours travelling meant that the company was less than lively and all were pleased to be heading off to bed.

Day 3. Breakfasted at eight and a much refreshed team were set for the first full day. We had surprise visitors in Rev. Maxwell and Mrs Liz Banda who came to welcome us to Malawi and invite us to share a meal with them. Owen was there at nine to take us to the Synod Office where we were to meet with the General Secretary’s secretary Luso. We had the chance to talk about some of the details of our twinning and the need for an evaluation form to be completed. We then had the privilege of meeting with Brenda Mkandawire, the widow of Baxter Mkandawire who died last year at the age of 35. We shared greetings and condolences with her from the church in Scotland and gave gifts as tokens of our support. The room could not be quiet and solemn for long as there were the two children Alpha (2) and Agape (6 months) who were a delight and joy. I am about to become a grandfather to twins and my thinking was very much along the lines of the different lives these children would have from my grandchildren in Scotland.

Other tasks undertaken were to spend an inordinate time in the bank exchanging money into large quantities of notes (that have to carries in small rucksacks wherever we go), and then on to the “supermarket” to buy sweets , biscuits and soap to take as gifts to our various destination. One of team, who has a real fear of chickens, was taken aback to be confronted with a lady in the shop carrying a live chicken she has probably bought at a stall across the road. No harm was done.

At the lodge we freshened up before spending a lovely evening with the Banda’s before returning to plan for the weekend and all the various churches and people to be visited.

Day 4. The day started with the news that our driver Owen had queued at a service station to get diesel for the minibus and didn’t get to bed until 2 a.m. real selfless love and service. Packed our cases to set off to visit some of the partner churches and stay overnight with hosts.  Fiona Curran and  Sandra McCall to Lwambasa, Stephen Ogston and Julie Griffiths to Lweya and myself and Fiona Ferrans to Kajiliwera. We were the first to be dropped off and were greeted by the Kirk Session and others who sang and hugged us in welcome, many of us felt our eyes filling up at the sheer warmth of the welcome, truly this is the warm heart of Africa. We were given food and soft drinks and a tour of the Clinic at Kavusi, and the chicken project (don’t ask) followed by myself being asked to accept the “relish’ this is traditionally the meat that is served with the staple dish of nsima. I was taken outside to see a sheep tied to a tree and I was invited to accept the ‘relish’ and then pray. The sheep was then taken off to be dispatched.  I couldn’t help but think of the prodigal son and the fatted calf. There was a service followed by a Kirk Session meeting which dealt with remarkably similar issues to ours; lapsed members, people transferring from other denominations and a discipline case. Lunch was served and we had a good meal and later the chance to rest and have a shower – remind me to tell you about the shower sometime! Off for dinner by torchlight in the manse and then speeches and singing from the ladies of the guild. Early to bed and ready to preach at the service tomorrow that starts at 8 for 8.30 a.m; well it is Africa after all.

Day 5. Slept at the home of the chairman of Kavusi Clinic and we were told that worship would be at 8 am for 8.30 so we had an early rise and start to the day, which didn’t go well when there was no cold water in the taps to cool down the bucket of hot water left in the bathroom, just had to make the best of what was there. Set off for the church only to discover that we were to breakfast at the vacant manse with some of the session. Good breakfast but strange to have rice porridge and chips for breakfast. Eventually got to the church for about 9.15 and the worship service started after we had arranged with Rev. Anocks Chisiza how we would conduct the communion service. There was also the expectation that there would be two baptisms of adults but due to a funeral they were unable to make it that day. The service was lively as most African services are and I preached on Acts 2 as it was Pentecost Sunday and enjoyed a great liberty in the Spirit. Examination certificates were presented to some secondary pupils and we had the privilege of giving gifts to the church and some of the guilds within the church, and received many gifts in return including bags of green oranges and ceramic bowls. The service finished we returned to the vacant manse where lunch was ready and on the way Fiona Ferrans had the chance to help in the kitchen by stirring the nsima pot – hard work.

After lunch Anocks had to return to his parish in Mzimba and he took his leave. There was fair wait for the others who were are Lwambaza and Lweya to return to collect us; the time was used in making balloon hats not only for the children but some of the Woman’s Guild too. A leisurely afternoon going for a short walk and sharing with our hosts soon passed and we joined by the rest of the team and on to Limphasa and the Rev. Alick Mhone. The children of the Sunday School were waiting at the side of the road for us to arrive and we were greeted in true African style with singing and they even laid vitenge on the ground for us to walk on. (Vitenge is the plural of Chitenge – the cotton wrap that women wear.) The welcome was warm and exuberant. We were late and some people had left as they had a long way to travel and it was getting dark. We sang in ChiTonga and there were speeches and food and presentations; a great meeting filled with love and warmth. Left and returned to the Mzuzu Lodge where we met together to catch up before heading for bed at about 10pm. Tomorrow is another busy day! To be continued…………