Saturday, June 13, 2015

Our Time in Malawi--George's Post

I.  Introduction

        A.   Our Time in Malawi

In early November 2014, my wife (Carole) and I flew from the United States to Blantyre, Malawi, to serve for 18 months as senior missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church).  The flight from Salt Lake City to Malawi was interrupted by a short 24-hour layover in Lusaka, Zambia, where we met for the first time, and briefly, President Erickson, who presides over the Lusaka Zambia Mission, covering the two land-locked countries of Zambia and Malawi.  As the senior Church leader in the area, President Erickson has two primary responsibilities:  first, to oversee the activities of the 70 plus full-time missionaries laboring in the area, and second, to act as the presiding leader for all Church members (approximately 5,000) residing in Zambia and Malawi.[1]  He and Sister Erickson were, at the time, about 18 months into their 3-year assignment, so we will head home about the same time as the Ericksons.  After interviewing us, and providing some background information, President Erickson confirmed we would be assigned to labor in Blantyre, working initially in the Zingwangwa Branch, one of the local four units.  The next day we were back on a plane, heading for Malawi, a small southeast Africa country, of 17 million, encircled by three larger African nations—Mozambique on the south; Zambia to the west; and Tanzania on the northwest. 
Keeping a diary or journal of our time in Malawi would not be uncommon—many missionaries do that—to remember people, places and events we would likely forget without the benefit of a daily record.  But what is perhaps strange is my choice to tackle this project—which, whatever it might be called, is surely not a diary.   I write for the same reason many have kept journals or diaries or kept notes in the past—the desire to make sense, for myself, of the experience we are having in Malawi.  Almost everyday Carole and I comment on how strange and bewildering we find Malawi and its people.  I know there is much I should and can learn from this experience, but these lessons, I fear, will be lost unless I force myself to think through what we are seeing and feeling. 

[1] When we arrived in the Zambia Lusaka Mission in early November 2014, the Mission had three districts, comprised in each case of seven to four branches—Lusaka, Zambia; the Copperbelt in Zambia; and Blantyre, Malawi.  At the time, the four units in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital) were not organized as a district, reporting directly to  a district presidency, but instead operated under the jurisdiction of the Mission President.  Yet even in the short seven months we have been here, the Church’s organization has continued to evolve.  In April 2015, the seven units in Lusaka were reorganized as “wards” and combined in a “stake;” once that occurred, the new Lusaka Stake was no longer under jurisdiction of the Mission, but reported directly to the Area Presidency of Southeast Africa, with its head offices in Johannesburg, South Africa.  In addition, in May 2015, the Church combined the four units in Lilongwe into the new Lilongwe District, calling a new district presidency to preside over the Church members living in central Malawi.  The Blantyre District has a group located in Liwonde, an hour and a half ride to the northeast, consisting of approximately 80 members.  Ironically, the first presence of the Church in Malawi was the group in Liwonde.  Up in the northern district of Malawi there are three groups (one in Mzuzu, another in Nkhata Bay), meeting each Sunday, one of which has, I am told, over a 100 regular attendees.  While these groups operate without the benefit of any formal Church sanction, their participants are committed to learning about the Church on their own with no support from the Church.  They have no authorized leaders and are not entitled to pass the sacrament or conduct formal Church meetings.  No one in these groups has the authority to baptize new members.  They are waiting for the day the Church is prepared to establish new units in the northern district of Malawi.  The Church is not prepared to take those steps until it is confident that a structure is in place, and leaders and missionaries readily available, to support and nurture the new members.    
Photos Related to First Installment:  I.  Introduction--A. Our Time in Malawi

Carole and I are in the Provo MTC, pointing out the location of Malawi, one of the smallest countries in southeast Africa.


This photo was taken when we first arrived at the Mission Home in Lusaka, and were greeted by President and Sister Erickson.   At the time, Carole and I had been in transit for close to 40 hours and were barely functioning.

The infamous board in the Mission President's office, showing all of the existing or, in a few cases, pending assignments. 
This photo would have been taken shortly after our arrival in Lusaka, posed in front of the plane taking us from Johannsburg to Lusaka.