2007 Face-to-Face Meeting

A Report on the Malawi Mission Network Conference
Gilmary Maronda Retreat Center, Pittsburgh, PA
November 1 - 4, 2007

[This report was written by Rev. Don Mason of First Presbyterian Church, Urbana, IL who attended the annual face-to-face meeting of the Malawi Mission Network for the Presbyterian Church, USA. ]

We engaged in three days of intensive workshops, worship, and plenary sessions, marking the fifth annual meeting of this fledgling group. Ten Malawians were included among the 70 participants, adding important new perspectives on each of the issues raised.

These are significant impressions and discoveries from the conference:

  1. It is clear that we are experiencing a new reality for mission funding in the PCUSA. Jon Chapman from the world mission staff in Louisville noted the change in mission funding:

    1992  - 20% of congregational giving was designated
    - 80% was undesignated
    2007  - 90% is designated
    - 10% is undesignated

        We had 600 missionaries funded by our denomination in 1992
        We have 270 missionaries funded now.

        No new missionaries will be sent until their full term is funded. The 270 mission personnel are currently wondering if they will be re-appointed. Yet Jon exuded confidence and hope for meeting mission needs of the future.

  2. The keynote speaker and major resource person for many of the workshops which followed was Rev. McDonald Kadawati, General Secretary of Blantyre Synod, Central Church of Africa Presbyterian. The two objectives of the CCAP are to spread the gospel and provide services for the needs of the community: health, HIV/AIDS, education, human rights, relief, water, development, and food security. Two major crises currently challenge the unity of the body of Christ in the CCAP: the closing of the Zomba Theological College, because two of the three synods are far behind in making allocations which have been pledged, and the continuing long-term dispute over the border separating Livingstonia and Nkhoma Synods. In response to the funding crisis at ZTC, Blantyre Synod was making plans for a Big Walk on Saturday, November 10, 2007, inviting all the ministers of the synod to walk in their robes through the streets of Blantyre from the synod offices to the Limbe CCAP Church, a distance of 6 kilometers, with a goal of raising 20 million kwatcha ($140,000 USD) for the college. In response to these two challenges, it was decided to send a "Love Letter" from our network to the general secretary of each of the three synods, communicating our prayerful support for the unity of the church in these difficult times, while recognizing our own brokenness in the PCUSA. It is a complicated matter, as the historical development of each synod differs from the others in national origin, language, tribal affiliation, and cultural patterns.

    The Blantyre Synod projects office has had a major overhaul and is being replaced by the Blantyre Synod Development Commission. Rev. Glen Englis of the Presbyterian Church of Canada is the new director.

    The church is growing in number and in spirit in Blantyre Synod. Currently they have 1.5 million communicants, 461 congregations, and 203 ministers. One current concern relates to people leaving the CCAP for the Pentecostal churches. Felix Chingota has agreed to research this matter and prepare a paper, "Why People Are Leaving," to be used in a seminar for all ministers and to be shared with partners in March, 2008.

  3. Dan Merry from Pittsburgh Presbytery, who recently completed a year of service in Blantyre Synod, combined with Julie Burton from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery to lead a plenary session on "Money Matters." They identified a book, African Friends and Money Matters, that raises many issues and offers useful insights on cultural differences between Africa and Western society. For example, Africans are very sensitive and alert to the needs of others and are quite ready to share their resources. The financial need that occurs first has first claim on the available resources. Resources are to be used, not hoarded. If something is not being actively used, it is considered to be "available."

  4. Ted Wright, PCUSA regional liaison for East and Central Africa, stationed in Lusaka, Zambia, spoke of the number one missiological phenomenon of our time - local congregations sending mission teams and engaging agencies in our decentralized world. The task of Ted and his wife, Sue Wright, is to help and guide churches and individuals as they form and sustain relationships with churches and individuals in Africa. By learning best practices, we can avoid mistakes. His two mantras: a) Build capacity, not dependency, and b) Work collectively, not individually.

  5. One major highlight of the conference was a 1.5-hour presentation by Dr. Sue Makin, ObGyn doctor at Mulanje Mission Hospital. She is here for the Mission 2007 itineration of missionaries throughout the country this fall. Malawi is full of children, she said, with 46% of the population below 14 years of age. 51% are 15 to 65, and only 3% are over 65. There are 92 deaths before the age of one year per 1000 babies, compared to 6.3 per 1000 for the U.S.A. Life expectancy at birth is now 43. Incidence of HIV/AIDS is finally going down some, but remains at an alarming 14.2% of the population, with 900,000 living with HIV. It's probably worse because of lack of testing. Asked, "Do you get discouraged?" Sue answered "Yes . . . . but one can find joy in suffering."

  6. I teamed with Nora Goetz of Pittsburgh Presbytery to lead a workshop, "Water is Life." We gave attention to why clean water matters, describing several appropriate technologies, showing the Marion Medical Mission video, identifying necessary components to make it sustainable, identifying potential pitfalls and future possibilities. Space limitation prevents a full discussion of the other workshops we experienced: Money Issues, Malaria, language lessons, small group meetings by synod, gender issues, Malawi culture, political situation in Malawi, school system, and Zomba Theological College.

  7. Recommendation:

    Read and discuss
    African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz

Respectfully submitted,

Don and Donna Mason,
First Presbyterian Church of Urbana, IL, November 7, 2007