The wife-and-husband team of Rev. Dianne Kareha (a Presbyterian teaching elder) and the Rev. John Deisinger (a Lutheran pastor), representing First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, PA, traveled with other participants from New Jersey to Malawi, Africa, this summer. It was part of a “friendship trip” with Villages in Partnership, which accompanies and assists rural villages in the Blantyre Synod (Malawi) as they identify and address their most pressing needs. A Synod of the Trinity Mission Travel Grant (more information on the grant can be found here) for $700 helped Dianne and John cover travel expenses for the trip. What follows is a recap of the trip:
We arrived in Zomba at the Blantyre Synod (the Presbyterian Church of Central Africa’s synod in southern Malawi) Health and Development Commission’s training farm where we stayed in dormitory-style rooms and ate breakfast and dinner with the rest of our mission team from three other PCUSA congregations in New Jersey (Allentown, Jacksonville and Nassau Presbyterian Churches). Our mission team worshiped, ate, conversed, worked, sang and danced with our Malawian friends. Everywhere we went, people (especially the women) greeted us with singing, clapping and dancing.
In preparation for worship on Sunday morning (our first full day in Malawi), Bob Rhoad (a member of Allentown PC, NJ, and President of the Board of VIP), John and Dianne sat down with the session of the Nyambwe Church to finalize what hymns and scriptures would be used for the service. Bob preached the sermon, with someone translating into Chichewa throughout the sermon since most people did not know English. Dianne was asked to give the offering prayer, and John was asked to offer the benediction. It was a very inspiring service during which several groups sang a cappella musical pieces in beautiful harmony. During Bob’s sermon, our mission team offered our own a cappella rendition of “Here I Am, Lord” in harmony.
The Malawian staff of VIP (Villages in Partnership) assists people in the villages of Zomba to identify their greatest needs (e.g., safe, accessible water; food security; education; infrastructure) and to organize so they can address those needs. In addition, VIP helps provide technical and financial support as necessary. While we were in Malawi, we had the opportunity to visit some of the VIP-supported projects, including several schools and wells, a dairy farm and a maize mill.
We also had the privilege of working alongside several of our Malawian friends. John worked with a young woman preparing for university studies, helping her learn to use a computer for the first time. Later, he assisted in preparing tree seedlings for a reforestation project since deforestation and soil erosion is such a huge issue.
Dianne learned about and helped make a clay stove that reduces burn risks and uses less than half the amount of firewood than a traditional “three stone” cooking fire requires. Later, she assisted with a goat deworming project. The next morning, she joined some villagers in preparing a field as part of a conservation agriculture project. In the afternoon, she and John went on home visits to two widows who were especially poor and, consequently, food insecure.
With John being a retired Lutheran pastor and Dianne being a retired Presbyterian pastor and former chaplain for Luther Crest Senior Living Community, they were able to utilize their gifts, skills and connections to begin “nurturing relationships within the larger church” and “fostering conversation and action for the promotion of social righteousness” even before we left on our mission trip to Malawi in southeastern Africa.
Prior to the trip, Dianne (who had been on a similar mission trip to Malawi in 2011) made presentations about her Malawian friends to Sunday school groups at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church-Allentown and Nativity Lutheran Church, as well as to groups of seniors at Luther Crest Senior Living Community and Union United Church of Christ-Neffs. These congregations subsequently collected 182 children’s books, seven beach balls and one Frisbee that we brought with us for the children in Malawi. The congregations also raised $3,575 for VIP to use for its educational and other development projects in the remote villages of the district of Zomba in southeastern Malawi.
This Friendship Mission experience deepened our understanding that “love” and “covenant” are about being in relationship and partnership rather than just giving handouts. We were able to apprehend more fully the mutuality of ministry about which the Apostle Paul writes.
We encouraged people of all ages in their churches and communities to worship, eat, work and converse with neighbors — either in Malawi, other developing countries or in their own — who may not have material wealth but who exude the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We also encourage congregations in our area to see ministry, not as “doing for” but as “doing with.”
Through our experience, we have come to believe that the effectiveness of our ministries could be enhanced by working in partnership with groups and individuals in the community to wrestle with meeting both physical and spiritual needs.