A letter from Janet Guyer in the U.S., on Interpretation Assignment from service in English-speaking Africa, based in Malawi
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4…3…2…1…Happy New Year! Although I do know it is a cliché, it hardly seems possible that 2016 has come around so quickly. This year the New Year found me in Louisville, Kentucky, where I am based during my Interpretation Assignment. From March (February is ok too) to mid-June I hope to visit churches and presbyteries to see old friends, to meet new friends, and to let you know the exciting things that God is doing in my area—Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Please contact me at either Janet.Guyer@pcusa.org or by phone at 626 321 5308.
Looking around the world, though, it does seem a bit challenging to think that there is much possibility of a happy new year for many of God’s people. I’m sure we all know about the tragedies and heartaches that we see in our papers and hear on TV each day. Sometimes it is hard to remember that joy is not necessarily in the situations in which we find ourselves but in knowing that God is with us in the midst of those situations. Isn’t that the message of Christmas, after all, that God, Immanuel, is with us?
One of the hard times that is close to my heart but not in the news is the hunger in Malawi. The staple food for Malawians is a maize (corn) dish called nsima. This is corn meal poured into boiling water and cooked until it becomes thick enough to pick up with your fingers. For those with limited incomes nsima is the staple part of the meal, eaten with a few vegetables if they can find them. In Malawi maize is grown in fields that are planted once a year and dependent on the rain for watering. This is the third year that the rains have not cooperated. When I left, people were assuring me that this could not be a bad year like the last two years. Well…recently a friend wrote that the rains have been so erratic that the maize is dying in the field. Last year the rains came only in time for Christmas. In January it seemed the entire year’s worth of rain came down in one month and then it stopped. The results: both floods and drought and a very poor maize crop. When I left at the end of October the cost of maize had almost doubled. IF farmers are able to grow a maize crop this year the “hungry time” will last until the end of March, when it is harvested. IF there isn’t a crop or not a good crop, then I don’t know what will happen. Before I left I spoke with a young man who told me that food has become so expensive that sometimes he goes without eating so that his children would be able to have food.
Our partner church in Malawi, the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), is very concerned about the hunger. They are doing what they can to help feed people in the communities around their churches. One day some of the Synod leaders were taking 50-kilogram (about 110-pound) bags of maize to one congregation to distribute. When they arrived the church leaders asked if it would be ok to divide those bags in half as there were many more people in need than the number of bags that were brought for distribution. Needless to say, that is what they did.
One of the challenges is that the need for food is so much greater than what our partner churches are able to manage on their own. We, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as their partner, are asking people if they would like to help feed people in Malawi. The situation will continue to deteriorate until the end of March at best. If you or your church would like to help reduce the hunger, gifts can be sent to account DR000158, Disaster Relief–Malawi, which is being given joint oversight by both the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance office and the Africa office. Donations can be made online, or checks can be sent to:
Presbyterian Church (USA)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Please include the account number (DR000158) on the memo line of the check. Please also let me know so I can also help follow up on this.
Several of our partners in Malawi have projects that are also trying to address the hunger issue on a longer-term basis by teaching farmers a different way to plant their maize. This method of farming has several names: conservation farming, no-till agriculture, or farming God’s way. I don’t know enough about how this is done to be able to share details. I just know from talking to people in these projects that there was a significant difference in the yields from the maize grown using conservation farming and maize grown the traditional way. Conservation farming is also better for the soil and less expensive—both significant benefits.
Although hunger seems to be front and center in my thoughts, there is one significant event I do want to share with you. Last September the third Tumekutana conference was held in Ghana. This is the gathering of African Presbyterian and Reformed women church leaders. It was an opportunity for about 70 women from 21 countries to come together to learn from each other and from the conference speakers and to share and pray together. The theme was “Freedom in Christ: From Slavery to Empowerment,” and the scripture passage was Luke 13:12. We looked together at many ways that women can be “enslaved” today and what empowerment in Christ can look like. One of the very moving experiences for all of us was the visit to a slave castle where captured Africans were held as slaves before they were shipped to the New World. Several women shared that they had learned about the slave trade in their history books but didn’t really understand just what it meant until now.
One of the most exciting things for me was to see the process that Tumekutana is going through to develop toward being a group that supports each other, staying in touch during the intervening periods between conferences.
• For people of Malawi, that they will be able to find food during this hungry period and that the rains will come so they will have food for the coming year
• For Tumekutana as it moves forward to become a more united, mutually supportive network of women
• For me as I prepare to visit as many places as possible in the coming months, that the time will be both a joyful reunion and a meeting of new friends
Since coming to Louisville and spending time in the PC(USA) national offices I have learned firsthand about the financial challenges that are facing the Presbyterian Church. In light of that I want to especially thank those of you who have been supporting me financially. At the same time, I also value your prayers and notes as they also help keep me and my friends and colleagues going. Thank you to those who are already supporting my work with prayers, interest and financial support. Please keep it up.
I look forward to seeing many of you during this time in the U.S. May 2016 be a year of peace and joy for you and your families and for all God’s people.
Rev. Janet Guyer
Based in Malawi now staying in Louisville Kentucky until May 2016
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 156
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