A letter from Kay Day in Malawi
Dear Family and Friends,
Greetings from the warm heart of Africa.
Each day I learn more of the differences between the culture I grew up in and the one I am living in. Sometimes these differences are subtle, but they have great significance. The use of titles is one of those seemingly small differences, but it carries great weight. Titles are not all that important in the States. In fact, when someone uses his title, we tend to think he is “putting on airs” to impress. Many times he is. But not so here. Titles mean everything. When one has a title, one is addressed by that title in most situations. For instance, the session clerk of the congregation is always addressed as “alembi.” The session clerk at Limbe CCAP is Mr. Mulanje, but everyone addresses him as alembi, not using his last name, just his title. When the women’s coordinator is spoken of, it is always as mayi oyendera. This is not done to impress, but rather to show respect, to honor the position that the individual holds. I am greeted, addressed and referred to as abusa, pastor. Rarely is my last name used. The title is enough. This is true for all pastors and this is not just in church circles. When I am at the market and someone recognized me, the greeting is always abusa. I was in town with my son Thomas the other day. Neither of us was wearing a clerical collar. We met someone from his old neighborhood and the greeting was “abusa.” At official functions, people are recognized by their titles, not by their names. This is respect for what they have accomplished, where they have gotten. If one has a title, one is succeeding and this is recognized by all by using that title. The position, the function, is important.
I have thought a great deal about this, because it seems so strange, so artificial to me, given my background. Titles describe what one does: the function, not who the person is, from our Western perspective. And yet from a Malawian perspective, that title is more significant than the person’s name. The function, the role, places them in the culture. I began to think about this in relation to Jesus in our lives when my Malawian friends referred to him simply as Healer, in relation to my healing. This Lenten season, I have continued thinking about this in respect to the titles that Jesus bears during this season. They are so significant for the role that Jesus has in our lives as Christians: suffering servant, Redeemer, Messiah. Yes, Jesus is more than one single title, but these titles are significant in his function in our lives. There are so many titles by which we could address Jesus to show our recognition and respect for what he has done for us. The titles of Jesus honor the position that he holds in our lives; they respect and recognize what he has done for us. The position, the function, is important. I’ve begun using some of those titles in prayer as I address him. It helps me focus on that function that means the most at that moment, which deserves my attention at that time.
I invite you to pray with me in this “cross-cultural” way this Lent, to focus on titles of Jesus and the role those titles represent. I think it will broaden our understanding of who Jesus is in many of the situations of our lives. It is at least a challenging Lenten discipline to explore the various titles of Jesus at this season. I pray this Lent we all grow in our understanding of who Jesus is in our lives.
Yours in the Redeemer’s love,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 67