Tag Archives: church

Energy, Rhythm and Song

By Dale Perks

Let the choir sing

Let the choir sing

On Sunday I attended a Presbyterian Church service, for the second time, along with some students and a co-learner from Makupo village. Some of the differences that I observed in comparison to some of the masses that I’ve participated in Canada included the energy that was felt during this celebration, as well as the amazing harmonies that were heard by the many choirs and villagers of all ages who attended the service. I watched the movements of everyone, as individuals swayed, danced, and clapped to the colourful rhythms and upbeat tempos, which made me want to get up from my seat and dance. The people involved with Praxis Malawi know that I love to dance. However, I refrained from dancing and resorted to a mild tapping of my feet, and swaying my body, as I listened to the songs and sang, as best as I could in Chichewa  some of the songs. As a practicing Catholic, I am used to celebrating mass, which generally lasts an hour long, and to my surprised I couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed, even though the service lasted two hours and was entirely spoken in Chichewa.

Another thing that really struck me was the number of choirs that were present during this service. The choir that was nearest to us was a children’s choir, comprised of mostly children who were blind and a few with albinism, which were accompanied by two musicians, including the choir master who played a key board, and a blind man who played the bass. Many of their songs were performed with a similar structure, with either a soloist, or two singers leading the song, which was then echoed by the rest of the choir and congregation. What really impressed me was how everyone knew the songs by heart and sang with such fervour. There was a sense of active and joyous participation, which is sometimes lacking in the masses that I’ve attended back home. When you weren’t expecting it, the minister would announce the name of yet another choir, which would stand up from a different section of the church, and begin to sing in four part harmony, with everyone else joining in. A total of five choirs were present, including several secondary school choirs, and a choir made up of nuns, who appeared to be of various ages, dressed in white with their hair covered in pure white scarves. They too danced and sang with great enthusiasm, which was truly contagious. I was astonished when I found out that there are sometimes as many as 15 choirs that sing in one service in this particular church. The only time I’ve ever witnessed this amount of choirs singing during one service in Canada was during a very special celebration. Back home, there are many churches that don’t even have a single choir to sing during their masses and often the services or masses are much less energetic, with parishioners typically more passive and less expressive in relation to movement.

The most noticeable difference was related to how the woman and men sit in separate sections of the church. As well, during the collection, individuals of specific villages are called upon to give their donations. The music continues until everyone has dropped off their money in a bucket, and then the announcement is made asking for further donations.

All of the moneys are separated and immediately counted, and the amounts that are given by each village are announced publically to the entire congregation, including the amount that was given by me and the students. This was somewhat intimidating, especially since we had no idea that this was going to take place.

Other than the latter experience, it was really special to hear all of the voices, sung in harmony, and to watch everyone engage with such positive energy and with joyful movement. If only some of this enthusiasm could be transferred to some of our masses back home!


I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore

By Elise Brown-Dussault

District church

District church

The scene opens in Makupo village. The date is Tuesday, June 11th, and the time is 8 am. The three explorers, their eyes bleary with sleep and sun, leave behind the community’s thatched houses and boisterous roosters and trudge across the road with their heavy equipment. It’s a short walk to the Reverend’s house. The two Canadian girls have seen it before—daunted by its incredible size and by the three satellite dishes decorating the roof—but they’ve never been inside. The Reverend, a young man of surprisingly short stature, leads them inside. The three adventurers are quickly swallowed up by the house’s colossal frame.

I don’t know where to look. I know I’m supposed to feel impressed, but I can’t help but think that the several stereo systems and 24-inch TV screen in the living room serve primarily as a means to intimidate rather than to entertain. Considering that a large majority of Malawians live without electricity or running water, it strikes me as largely excessive.

Whether or not to interview the local Reverend has called for a few days of debate. While we don’t want to display any kind of religious bias, we also want to show the region in its most natural context. As religion plays an important role for the greater part of the population, we are left with little choice but to concur that omitting the Reverend would leave a significant dearth in our footage.

After customary greetings and introductions, we get right down to business. The Reverend’s English is excellent, so Lonjezo can circumvent his usual tedious translation job and slips behind the camera. Roxy and I stand behind him, questions in hand, battle stance on.

His answers are concise and interesting, but I find it difficult to concentrate. My eyes shift from the tennis trophies to the crocheted covers on the couches. There are four of us, and six couches. I feel as if a whirlwind has carried us right out of Malawi and left us in the parlor of some ornery old American grandmother. It’s difficult for me not to think about the world we’ve just left behind—I’d gladly trade the Reverend’s luxuries for a single smile from the village toddlers, even if their toothy grins suggest that they’ve been eating dirt in their spare time.

“What life lessons do you wish to pass on to your children?” The interview is almost over, and this question has proven to be effective as a wrap-up. Lonjezo zooms onto his face, and a short pause hangs in the air.

“I want to teach them to fear God,” he finally answers, looking straight into the lens. “Children these days are severely lacking in direction—they have too much freedom, and they’re all over the place.”

A chill navigates through the room, and all of a sudden I wish I’d brought a sweater. Roxy and I meet eyes, but we don’t need words to assert that we’re thinking the same thing. Based on his country’s current situation, it was the last thing I had expected to hear.

The three adventurers are quiet as they walk out of the house into the balmy sunshine. They stand around and blink a bit, as whirlwind survivors are wont to do, but they recover quickly. The scene fades as they pick up their equipment and lug it back to the village, where genteel faces and modest houses feel most welcome.

Sunny Sunday

By Annabelle Lafrechoux

On this first Sunday in Malawi, a fraction of our group chose to attend a mass at a nearby Church. The ceremony was strongly based on song. As a matter of fact, a variety of choirs from the surrounding area took turns singing. It was impressive to see the passion and talent of these various groups. The harmony was remarkable and the projection was imposing. Even though I couldn’t understand the lyrics since they were in Chichewa, I felt a definite emotional response to them. It was a refreshing experience. Even if I am not a particularly religious person, taking the time to reach into one’s spirituality is always enjoyable. In the least, it provokes reflection.

Later in the day, we ended up walking to the site for the future school. It was really inspiring to see what the future could bring. It really gave me a renewed motivation for our project. It was said later in the day that in reaction to the difficult life style of the people of the village we might feel that the project was too abstract and would seem futile. But seeing this site really made me feel optimistic about the nature of our project. The school will be as concrete as possible and we will be creating the heart of it along with the people of Malawi.

Overall, this Sunday was enjoyable and inspiring. I hope yours was as well.

Day 6,7 and 8: Exploring Surrounding Villages

By Louisa Niedermann

Day 6:

Interviewing the women

Interviewing the women

Religion is a big part of the culture in Malawi, whether in be the church they go to or the bible knowledge that they learn in school. We were fortunate enough to get to go to the Presbyterian Church. We all got dressed in our nicest clothes and walked to the church. As we walked in the wonderful voices of different choirs were singing.  We walked right in and sat behind the students that we had seen a few days before from the school for the blind. Different groups took turns singing before the mass started. The mass was in Chichewa and although I did not understand what they were saying I sat there taking in everything. The singing was beautiful, their voices echoed throughout the church.  The pastor welcomed us at the beginning of the ceremony. A bunch of baptisms were talking place today, so there were many screaming children.  Although a baptism is a ceremony that I can see in North America it was a great experience to see all the baptisms taking place here. The pastor invited us in front of the whole church, so everyone could see us and welcome us.  None of us were expecting it, I think my heart jumped for a second. Everyone was looking at us, we were sitting in a spot where not everyone could see us. When we got up in the front of the church we saw the whole church and we were not expecting it to be so big. The pastor had us speak in Chichewa and I think we all blanked on what to say but we all went one by one and said “Muli Bwanji.” I was so nervous being up there in front of so many people. The ceremony was really long but the singing was amazing and each choir had their own touch.  One of the choirs was the children from the school for the blind; they were dressed in bright green and pink gowns. I was really happy that I got a chance to experience the mass.

Later that day we walked to where the new school is going to be built.  When we were walking to leave the village I heard someone scream to me “Louisa, where are you going?” It was Vitu, a young girl from the village who knows my name. I responded back “we are going for a walk, we will be back soon.” I thought that it was so cute how Vitu called my name. The new school was around a 20 minute walk from Makupo. The walk was not to bad but it was really hot. After only a couple minutes of walking I felt a pinch on my hip, I thought to myself who would pinch my hip? I turned around and to my surprise it was Vitu and her friend Eunice, they had followed us.  The girls were curious to see where we were going.

Day 7:

Today we are going to walk to villages around the area where the new school is going to be built. We are going to ask questions regarding the new school and how they feel about it.

First villagers:  We talked to an old man but other villagers were listening. He said that the new school is “most welcome” however the land that the school is going to be built, is land that people do their agriculture on. He was very concerned about what he was going to do if his land was taken away but he also didn’t want to speak for everyone.

Second villagers:The second person we talked to was a man, he was clearly wealthy because he had a big house and invited us in. He was really passionate about us building a new school.  He explained how he feels that the education system has gone down and a new school will bring change and new ideas. The teachers need to know their students and need to be guided.

Third villagers:  In our third visit we talked to a group of women. I was really interested in seeing if the perspectives of women would differ from the men. They were also really open to a new school because the school where their children go is really far. If the new school is built closer to them, the women will not have to worry about the busy road the children have to cross in order to go to school. The women had a lot of good feedback and we had great conversations with these women.

Fourth villagers:The last person we talked to was a woman, she was also excited about the idea of a new school but also had concerns about the possibility of land that she might have to give up.

All of the people we talked to all agreed that education is super important and the school will be beneficial to their communities, however their land is also really important to them.  I am realizing that as much as education is important to the people in Malawi agriculture and their land is even more important.  Even though we only interviewed four different villagers, each one had their own perspective.

 Day 8:

Before starting this journey I did not expect to be eating well. I was expecting food that is native to this country but I was open the trying these new foods. I was surprised at how much I like the food I have been eating.  A lot of the food is food I have never eaten before. We have donuts, a type of rice or just peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are very similar rice, beans and some greens, eggs with tomato sauce, chicken, goat, beef and occasional pasta. My favorite is this warm coleslaw that the women make. I was never a fan of coleslaw however, this coleslaw is so good. I am really enjoying eating all these new foods.

June 2nd: Seeing is Believing

By Naomi Crisp

Taking in the experience

Taking in the experience

The internet had become quite the stressor around here, especially when it came to blogging. I had taken control of the blogging situation but free time was still up in the air, and so the schedule talk came. Due to the culture shock everyone is going through this was quite an intense topic but finally got sorted by the end of the frustrating and confusing conversation. It is fascinating to see how such trivial things become so huge when you are going through adaptation to a new environment.

Not too long after our sticky rice breakfast a few of us went to church with Kenny. There was so much singing it was absolutely wonderful. The songs flowed continuously for the first 40 minutes of the service. When one group or choir finished someone on the other side of the room raised their voice and began their song. When the preacher started the sermon he welcomed us to the service and to Malawi. There happened to be about 30 people who were there to be baptized today which I was impressed I got to see. It is very different than the few baptisms I have seen in my life as it was on mass terms but a cool experience nonetheless. Shortly after the baptisms he asked us to come to the front of the congregation and introduce ourselves in Chichewa. It was an awkward feeling at the front as it felt we were just put on display for the world to see especially as we had no idea how far the church actually went back. We were sitting on one of the side sections which filled about 100 people each (the church was set out like a cross), but the front went back to fill over 200 people. As strange as it was we said “Muli bwanji?” and it was over, and back to our seats we went. The sermon was in Chichewa and so we didn’t understand it which was difficult when it was hot and crowded in the room. I kept myself entertained as I thought the preacher was shouting BINGO every now and then, and so I would chuckle to myself and continue to watch his performance. When there was a break in the preaching, we left as it has already been 2 hours and there is only so much one can take sitting on a wooden bench.

We ate some lunch and hung around the village for a while. As I begin to get used to the idea of being in Africa and the romanticism begins to fade I have started to question everything. I look around and see how there is little complaining and think about all of the insignificant things that we complain about in our culture. When such huge questions are consuming your thoughts time passes quickly and it didn’t seem long before we all went for a walk to see the site for the new school. I can’t explain how good it was to get a visual of the area that will become the school and teacher housing. Retyping this still gets me so excited about the reality of this project along with the teacher housing reality that myself and the awesome executive team of E.C.C.O.P.s (Education Club Community Outreach Project) have worked so hard to build… on THIS land. When something has been your focus and goal for so long, it is indescribable when you finally get to see things moving along. I cannot imagine how excited Dr. Stonebanks, Arshad and Barbara are about this too!

After dinner we had the talk. The culture shock talk. We discussed how it is normal to go through these feelings and shared some stories and struggles we have been dealing with. It is so easy to isolate yourself and keep these things in rather than expressing them and hearing that everyone else is going through something similar. It grounded us in the sense that we are all good people but need quick forgiveness for this experience to go smoothly. A few of us stayed up after and had a great laugh at things we would never find funny if we hadn’t been so tired and emotionally drained, it was a lovely reminder or how great our group is.