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“It is God who is at work in you.” Phil. 2:13

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A letter from Rachel Stone in Malawi

FAll 2013

Dear Partners in Mission,

Not long ago, our family had the opportunity to spend some time in a small village on the shores of Lake Malawi. While we were there, we learned to make traditional Malawian pottery by hand. It’s made from the clay-like mud that comes from termite mounds, and our teachers were two women, Fatima and Gloria, who spoke no English.  They taught us with patience, kindness, and lots of love, placing their hands over ours to show us just how the work was to be done.  

Their work, with its deliberate movement and delicate repetition, with its earthiness and its practicality, was remarkable.  It was calming and humbling just to watch them make pots: here were women who knew how to take mud, and, using nothing but their hands, a scrap or two of bamboo, and perhaps a shell or a bit of broken pottery, to coax it into something useful and--whether for common or ceremonial use--beautiful. We could not help but think of the different ways in which the Bible uses pottery as a metaphor--God is the potter, we are the clay. Elsewhere the Bible speaks of human beings as earthen vessels, who nonetheless bear what C.S. Lewis called the “weight of glory” within them.

Looking at Gloria and Fatima’s mature faces, I thought of the trials that forged but did not crack them, that, I imagine, gave them something of their patience, their burnished grace, and etched maps of sorrow and joy around the eyes and mouths of their beautiful faces. These women have learned to take what they have--even if all that they have is dirt--and make something beautiful, useful, and as tentatively permanent as anything on this earth can hope to be. Theirs is the story of so many people in Malawi: beautiful vessels, crafted in God’s image, with a shadow of God’s capacity for bringing beauty out of next to nothing.

This week classes began again at Zomba Theological College, so we are back to being the ones in the front of the classroom, teaching the next generation of Malawi’s pastors--men and women from villages and towns. It is sometimes difficult to understand one another’s accents, and to find a shared language to discuss the ideas we’re charged with teaching, but as we near the one year anniversary of our arrival here, it’s getting a bit easier.  Our students are learning to understand us as surely as we are learning to understand them.

We are grateful for the opportunity to teach, but also for the chance we’ve had to learn a bit more about Malawi’s culture and people--and a bit more about God, too, in the process.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers and financial contributions to our work here. We treasure your partnership in God’s mission in Malawi, and we couldn’t be here without you.

Grace and Peace,
Tim, Rachel, Aidan, and Graeme Stone

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 117

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