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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Young pilgrims journey to Malawi


Pittsburgh and Malawi youth experience the power of presence in partnership

April 11, 2020

Rayna Neszpaul, a member of Pittsburgh Presbytery’s 2019 Youth Pilgrimage to Malawi, learns how to wear a Chitenge — traditional Malawian wrap — as instructed by Edith Makuluni of the Mbenjere congregation of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in Ntaja, Malawi. (Photo by Dave Carver)

When Pittsburgh Presbytery’s International Partnership Ministry Team began thinking about a way to  create space for young Malawians and young Pittsburghers to meet together for mutual enrichment, encouragement and growth, the idea for a youth pilgrimage to Malawi was born.

As moderator of the International Partnership Ministry, I led a 16-day youth pilgrimage to Malawi last July. The group included nine young people and five adults, representing five Pittsburgh congregations.

While many youth trips involve engaging participants in a particular task or act of service, we knew we wanted to do more than “arrange a tour” or “plan a project.” Instead, we invited travelers to leave behind the familiar and enter a place that is new and different with the expectation of seeing God at work there.

Partners in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Blantyre Synod suggested a theme for the youth pilgrimage, “Developing Leadership Through Partnership.” This theme was expressed through a series of workshops on topics such as “Challenges Faced by the Youth in their Christian Life” and “Dealing with Anxiety.” These youth conference workshops, organized by our partners and held in three different communities in the southern region of Malawi, served as anchor points of our experience and allowed our team to step out of their collective comfort zones in many ways.

At each event, there were 25 to 50 youth from the Blantyre Synod and nine youth from Pittsburgh, as well as the advisors and mentors. Even though there were cultural and theological differences, the youth were well-received. Everyone came away glad we had taken the time to walk through these topics together.

In the communities of Mulanje, Mangochi and Blantyre, groups of Malawian and American young people gathered for mornings of worship, large-group presentations, small-group breakout sessions and shared meals. Each youth conference was followed by an opportunity for more spontaneous relational time: hiking the base of Mount Mulanje, swimming in the waters of Lake Malawi or engaging in conversation in Malawi’s busiest commercial city, Blantyre. Along the way, our team visited mission stations, engaged in retreat, stayed in Malawian homes, worshiped in churches and prayer houses and planted dozens of trees.

While we were there, our hosts at the Grace Bandawe Conference Center showed us how well their new wood-fired pizza oven works. We worked together to sort through the nearly 700 pounds of medical supplies our team brought with us, using a list of needs compiled by our Blantyre Synod colleagues. The supplies were organized into suitcases to be shared with Malawians after tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth caused catastrophic flooding, death and destruction in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March 2019.

Since my first visit to Malawi in 1995, I have sensed that God’s self has been revealed in quiet conversations and raucous worship services. I have learned there are ways of glimpsing life, living gratefully, and trusting in God and neighbor that are more readily experienced when we can step away from what we perceive as “normal” and look at life with fresh eyes.

 “I have found friendships in people with whom, before Malawi, I may never have even said hello to,” said Greta Snyder, 13, Bower Hill Community Church. “I have been finding that I’m constantly trying to find Malawi — to keep my body where my heart is, at least as much as possible. Every day, I increasingly feel Malawi breaking and then filling my heart. Nothing seems quite so clear anymore. I went to Malawi hoping to gain some, even if very little clarity. I came back to learn that for all you learn, the more you find you don’t know.”

Pittsburgh Presbytery and partners in Malawi and South Sudan have a longstanding partnership. Learn more by visiting the partnership website at

Rev. Dave Carver, Pastor at First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights in the Pittsburgh Presbytery

Today’s Focus:  Pittsburgh and Malawi youth experience partnership

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Mary Jo Besspiata, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Barbara Betts, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray:

God our teacher, thank you for young people who have made good use of assistance and are taking up the role of helping the next generation. Amen.