We drove out of Blantyre and down out of the Shire Highlands onto the Shire plain itself which is called Chihkwawa (pronounced something like chick-wa-wa). This is a great valley along the Shire river which flows into the Zambezi river. The valley is in fact the souther end of the great Rift valley that marches northward to the horn of Africa. This part of Southern Malawi is where much of the sugar cane is grown.
We headed for a late afternoon drive in the Nyala Game Preserve which is in the midst of the Illovo Sugar Plantation; just one of the plantations nearby. We saw monkeys, giraffes, wildebeests, several species of deer, water buffalo and zebra. Then as the sun set over the valley we made our way to the Illovo Plantation headquarters and club where we would spend the night.
As we made our way we could see the fields being burned. They actually burn the fields before they harvest the sugar cane. This gets all of the small creatures and snakes out of the field. Then the cutters go in and cut the fields. The cane is piled by the side of the road and then these giant sugar trains come and pick up the cane and take it to the plant which works 24 hours a day. They use everything here; making use of all the byproducts and refuse. An example that I found fascinating was that they pour the byproduct of sugar - molasses - on the roads like tar. This keeps the dust down. Most all of the congregation that we visited and many of the surrounding parish stations are filled with workers from the different layers of people it takes to run the plantation; from the cutters to the managers.
We spent the night at the "Club" and ate dinner. We saw bats flying low to the ground. I assume they were gathering up mosquitoes. There were also a lot of frogs hopping around. We had a good dinner and headed to our rooms. I had a small room with a desk and bed (every bed has a mosquito net - a constant reminder of malaria). Though I must say there have been very few mosquitoes on this trip. I sat at the desk and finished my sermon and called the girls at home.
I woke up and went out immediately to get a closer look at the Shire river whose banks ran up agains the gardens of the club. I ate breakfast Bishop James informed me there were hippos! So I got my camera and went out and watched a small group of three hippos snooze in the Shire river; wiggling their ears and swimming around from time to time.
Then we headed to All Saints for our parish church visitation. Here the parish will have several churches and several mission stations; organized similar to our convocations back home. When the bishop comes he comes to the parish and the Archdeacon tells him which church they would like him to go to and everyone meets the bishop there. We were going to All Saints which is one of the smaller but growing churches in the parish. Father Raphael is doing excellent work and his stations are expanding in the parish and he told us they were about to increase the size of the church because they could no longer fit when everyone came. The people work in shifts so not everyone is there at the same time.
The people who attended our service came from the plantation village nearby. But some came from the stations that are 15, 30, and 70 km away. They came by foot, bicycle taxi, and bus.
When we got about a quarter mile away we could see the blue and white uniforms of the Mother's Union, and the junior girls group called the St. Agnes guild. They came out to meet us. James and I got out of the car and the women danced, clapped, and sang as we made our way the last few blocks to the church and clergy residence. They were singing something like "praise God, praise God, our bishop is here, praise God, praise God, our bishop is here safely. It was a beautiful moment as I remembered Bishop James praying for us in the car before we left home the day before. And, there was a sense of grace and peace to the event that was wonderful.
We dressed and got ready and then processed in the same fashion into the church where the congregation was waiting and all were singing. I recorded some of the singing from the worship service. Some of the singing was unaccompanied and strikingly beautiful like the Gloria. Other parts were just as exciting and filled with praise and accompanied by electric piano.
The service was just like our prayer book service in many ways. I preached and Father Raphael translated. Then Bishop James and I confirmed together. I prayed our prayer in English, then we anointed them with oil as he prayed in Chichewa, the most common native language. We celebrated Eucharist together.
When we were finished the Sr. Warden, then the head of the Mother's Union, and then Father Raphael gave a parochial report to the bishop in front of the congregation. This included everything from youth events, mission numbers, finances, outreach programs, and upcoming work.
Then Bishop James spoke and ended his address to the parish with a teaching on HIV/AIDS. He asked those in the congregation to raise their hands if they had been tested. Then he asked the congregation to repent from non-testing and we prayed. It is essential to be tested because of the conditions. There are many ways in which people pass on the HIV/AIDS virus; the biggest problem is that those who don't know don't take precautions.
After he was finished I was asked to speak again. I said a few words. I told them about that Lyle Lovett song called church and described it to them this way. I began, "Now I am the preacher. And the song says preacher you have been preaching, but the food is ready, its time to eat, so let your people go home...go home..." They laughed. Then I said, "As a bishop though...I always have a few more words." They laughed at that too. I greeted them again and told them how strong a parish they were and how I would be proud to be their bishop given the missionary work they are doing.
When we were done. Father Raphael invited me to come forward. "Bishop," he said, "The congregation has a few words for you now!" They brought me forward and made me sit in the middle of the congregation. Then a the head of the Mother's Union, an elder, one of the wardens, and a church leader came forward and singing and dancing. They brought me two gifts. Father Raphael made me open them. He said, "The people of this congregation has decided to make you one of their chiefs. And, if you are to be a chief they need to know you are a chief, and a chief needs beautiful fabric to wear, so they have given you this hand made fabric." Then they wrapped me up in the fabric. It was really cool. Also, they presented me with a carved chalice which has an elephant, giraffe, and hippo on it, with a baobab tree.
Then it was Bishop James' and Josie's turn. I remembered in that moment that the last several places they had been he had received a goat. All I could think of during the procession of gifts was what if they give him a goat. Our car was pretty full with all of us traveling together and our luggage! There wasn't much room.
They didn't give him a goat this time. They did give him several sacks of maize, rice, and sugar. The gave him a basket and some very good plates for the kitchen. They also gave hims some beautifully ripe tomatoes and a live chicken. Then all I could think about was how were we going to get that chicken home.
Well, the chicken's feet were tied together, and they shoved him in the back of the car with the luggage and other gifts. He was fine when we got home...except he had loosened his foot ties and got out a little ahead of schedule! I think they will have to chase him to put him in the chicken coop.
Certainly this was out of the ordinary for me, but it was very moving. The gifts they gave were tremendously generous. In a congregation on an average Sunday with several hundred members that gives about 25 US dollars total, to have brought forth such generous gifts - real first fruits - was amazing. It was certainly a modern day image of the widow's mite.
Father Raphael asked if I had any animals at home. I said we had cats. He said, "I mean cattle?" I said, "No, JoAnne and I would love to have chickens but our neighborhood doesn't allow it. So we have to buy all our eggs and meat." I did mention to Bishop James that Bishop Rayford does have a longhorn on his property.
When we left we traveled a little way back towards the Shire Highlands. But before we crossed the river we drove off the road to a shrine. The shrine overlooks the Shire river and is erected near the graves of the first Anglican priests that brought medicine and the Anglican Church to Malawi. I could tell for Bishop James, who is a historian that this was very special and that it was very important to have this in his diocese. I was glad he brought me there as I am reading the history of the Anglican Church in Malawi written by him. But I was also glad because was special that he shared it with me.
We arrived home and Bishop James did some work with religious leaders from the Council of Churches and the government on the national prayer service that is planned for Tuesday afternoon. I relaxed a little and began the process of writing this blog and updating the photo journal.
It was a good day, a full day, and a long day. I was blessed by my experiences today and the pictures and blog cannot capture the images I have been privileged to experience over these last few days. It seems as though the time has flown by and soon I will leave. There is still more to do though and the next two days will be experiences in and of themselves. We travel to a different part of the diocese tomorrow morning.
Blessings to you all.
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