Our last weeks in Malawi were full of farewells as our normal work pattern seemed to take us to so many places we first visited, and to so many people we first met, on our very first trip to Malawi in 2013. And it was made very special as everyone realising this was the last time we would meet before our departure for the UK.
The farewells began in October when we were invited to revisit Mulanje ZEC by the pastor, Synoden Mulamba. This was a family we got to know very well early in our time in Malawi, and you may remember things like the pig project that this church has started during our time and the Preach the Word course run in a rural prayer house of the church.
However, in typical Malawi fashion, what was billed as a welcome speaking engagement and opportunity for fellowship turned into a major farewell celebration including formal speeches, a chicken lunch for all, and the traditional presentation of gifts; this time including a huge sack of rice all the way from the far east that tested the x-trail’s suspension, and Ruth’s favourite – a live cockerel to take home.
It was a moving time as, with three years of cultural acclimatisation, we could now fully recognise and enjoy all this as the authentic way for the church to show its love and appreciation. And our UK Health & Safety sensitivities were hardly perturbed as – relaxing after church service – we saw the groups from the various prayer houses leaving in their typically Malawian mode of public transport.
The warm welcome we got in 2013 from Duncan and Ruth Chitsulo when they were at Thyolo ZEC has stayed with us and it was a delight to be invited to speak again at their present church, Chileka, during November.
It is particularly heart warming to see this hospitable couple – whose house was always wide open to their extended family – now gifted with the longed for little daughter of their own.
And last week we returned to Tchoda ZEC where heavy rain prohibited photographs except for this one of the cheeky “son of the manse”.
Ruth worked quite a bit with Audrick Chiluba during his time at EBCoM and we were asked by this newly appointed pastor to give the message during the service, and afterwards to train the church leaders in our respective areas of interest as the sweltering heat suddenly broke and torrential rain beat down on the roof.
It was fitting that our very last good bye was at the Limbe ZEC in the early morning English Service on the very day we flew off for the UK.
As we sat with our luggage outside our Malawi home awaiting our lift to the airport, we knew it was more of a ‘farewell’ rather than a ‘goodbye’ as we are convinced we will be back to visit our Malawi friends again. But, we also reflected on the mixed feelings created for us by all these farewells.
This feeling was perfectly summed up one night by Kondwani, one of our friends who guards our compound. At an earlier gathering of ZM’s Blantyre office staff and local folk who we have worked closely with over the last few years, he commented that our departure was a time of sadness as we said farewell to so many who had become such friends, but also of celebration as we give thanks together for all God has done through so many close partnerships built for eternity.
Indeed, to miss-quote Winnie the Pooh, we leave Malawi feeling blessed that God, Malawi, and our Malawian friends have given us so much to make saying goodbye so hard.