We expected Thoko and Nixon sometime this afternoon, but we were working on our computers as we waited. After a bit, I looked outside, and saw that the pastors had let themselves in our big gate, parked their big van in our driveway and started coming toward us. I turn to Greg and consider if we should teach our dogs to pay more attention to who is coming and going, but it is nice to have friends who are comfortable enough to come straight in. We praise God that Nixon is feeling better now. He was diagnosed with pneumonia last week and going into the hospital for injections multiple times per day. But now it seems he is doing better and breathing fine. He even travelled a few hours to the southernmost parts of his district the other day and didn’t get home until after 1 am. Still pushing himself hard to manage issues for the churches, it seems.
Thoko is exuberant with energy, as usual. She brings a bundle of skirts she made. My sister and nieces picked out cloth from her shop, and she made them into wrap-around skirts. Thoko starts to model the skirts. Although she ties each one over her dress, she swishes the fabric back and forth, and as it comes close to showing her knees, I can’t help but tease her that she is showing too much skin for a Nazarene pastor. She laughs at me and starts with the next skirt. She made one for me too, a lovely, long wrap-around made from bright cloth which my work colleague sold to me. I am sure I will hear “Mwachena – you look smart” when I wear it.
Thoko sits down at the table, and I realize we don’t have any soda to offer them. So Greg and Nixon head off to the corner store while I chat with Thoko. She is planning her next church women’s conference. This one will be by the lake, and will include women from churches all over the country. She expects 1500 participants. She wants me to speak to the women about a health topic. Okay, I can do that.
Thoko says that her daughter is doing better. She has been out of school for almost a year, first due to COVID and then due to sickness. She is going to need to repeat a year and would do better in a new school. The school is reasonably priced, $160 per semester, and Thoko already has most of that from selling a goat and making the skirts for me and my sister. It will be nice for her daughter to finish her education while she still has inertia. Many girls her age decided not to return to school after the long hiatus for COVID.
Our husbands return with drinks and packs of cookies. Now we are ready to host. Thoko breaks into the cookies and Greg asks Nixon about last month’s trainings. He is waiting to see which communities will work together to start church-based development projects. He says some groups in the Mphewa area have already started talking to the chiefs, they want to start some programs to help the children, but they know they will need buy-in from the entire communities.
Next we talk about Bibles. There are 200 Nazarene churches in our district, and about 70 qualified pastors. But most of the pastors don’t have Bibles. We talked last time about a program to buy Bibles for about $11 and have the pastors buy them for about $6. This will allow 78 Bibles to be distributed for the price of 40. Nixon has found some high-quality Chichewa Bibles he can order. “The printing is big” he says, “these pastors, their eyes are not so strong, they need to see the big letters.” If we can fundraise for Bibles before planting season, the pastors will have time and money to invest. “We have to make sure they aren’t buying for others” Thoko says, because a discounted-price Bible would be a hot commodity in the village. “Only one per pastor, we will keep their names.” If we can get the Word of God into the hands of these pastors, we’ll be happy. But having some buy-in and investment from them, as well as accountability through church district leadership, should be helpful. It seems strange to have the pastors to pay anything, but just as with the other projects and trainings we are trying to be a part of, the buy in from the pastors makes a big difference in the long run.
The next agenda item involves ground irrigation. Mngwangwa village has a high water table, an agricultural committee supported by the church and the chiefs, and a plan to start planting cash crops of potatoes and tomatoes in a demonstration garden. The plan is that this garden will teach the people sustainable farming practices and provide food for vulnerable children in the community. They have prepared the land, built a water tower, dug a well, and purchased a solar-powered pump. What is remaining is piping to get the water from the well to the tower. It will need to be more than planned initially, about $100 total, because the wells closer to the tower collapsed and the functioning well is 15 meters from the tower. We discuss options for piping. “Will people steal the pipes” I ask. Nixon considers whether he should bury the pipes or bring them home to his secure house each night. In the end, he decides it should be safe enough to bury them.
Pipes remind Greg of a system he has in place for draining water from our washing machine out to water the lawn. He and Nixon step outside to look at that piping. Meanwhile, my sister calls. I forgot that it was 3:30 already – she woke up early to connect with us before leaving on a trip. Thoko and I chat with Karese and the girls. Thoko models the skirts again, and shows some extra fabric she brought so that my nieces can make matching doll clothes. Together, we go through a pile of trinkets. They couldn’t come visit, and shipping is expensive, but Greg has a friend who can take a box back to the US next week. Thoko makes sure that we can fit everything – 4 skirts, fabric, hair bands, a purse, even some wood carvings and magnets. We have to tape the box closed at the end, which reminds me of how Thoko helped us pack up and move a few years ago. We’re still getting tape marks off of some of our kitchen items several years later. But it’s a powerful packing job, and the box is ready to go off soon.
After the call, we sit back down and finish off the cookies. I bring out a second pack, fancy chocolate cookies, and I eat way more than a doctor should. They are so good. I ask Thoko about whether we should have a training for women in her village. My friend has some cloth sanitary pads she wants to give out, and I am planning a talk in another village tomorrow. If it goes well, we can try the same thing in Mngwangwa where she lives. Thoko’s excited about the option. I ask her when we should plan for it – next month, maybe? “We can even do it tomorrow,” she states, “100 women will come.” Anyone else, and I would doubt her sincerity, but with Thoko, I know she could make it happen. I hand Thoko a sample pack of re-usable pads to look at, and she advises that we should have some older church ladies at this meeting in addition to the young women. The older women can help support the younger women, she says. And they can help sew extra pads so that there are enough to go around. We decide to talk more about it after I finish the first teaching. This all sounds good to me, and I plan to discuss with my friends tomorrow. That reminds me, I should work on putting that presentation together.
Cookies finished, we get up to walk down to the guest quarters. We show our friends the new end table, curtains, fridge, and stove which should make their next stay more comfortable. They have been exhausted with work in the village and work driving around the district. They plan to come stay at least one night with us next week so that they can relax. I remember the woman who made an extra room for Elijah to stay in when he visited. We’re not quite there yet. In fact, we still shuffle mattresses and beddings from the main guest room to the quarters whenever people stay, depending on their privacy preferences.
Now we bring up more of our personal agenda. We want to restore some of the soil in our yard and plant flowers. Thoko heard that pig manure is good for gardens and has brought us a 50 kg from her own backyard. As the guys unload it from the car, I’m thankful that I didn’t have to transport it the hour from Mngwangwa in my car. And that I don’t have to lift it myself. Next we show Thoko our old couch. We just bought a newer used couch from some friends, and so Greg wants to resurface and salvage our old couch. Can Thoko make us a new cover for the old cushions? “No problem, I can do it,” Thoko says, and she begins to take measurements. In the end, we simply stuff the entire couch cushion into her van to take with her. It’s easier to make a cover when you can just put it directly around the cushion.
We settle accounts and plan for the future – how much for materials this time, what should we plan to fundraise for if people ask next time. I’ll discuss with Thoko about options for the training and she’ll let us know when she wants to come stay for the night. And then it is 5:00 – just enough time for Thoko and Nixon to get home before dark. We open the gate for them this time and send them on their way. Was it a social visit? A missions strategy meeting? A way for us to get clothes and fertilizer from our friends and give them a new job? More like a balance of all. I am so thankful that Thoko and Nixon can help us with so many areas, and that they are willing to jump between business, planning, and joking banter with us seamlessly. I think we covered a lot in a short time. Next time we meet, we’ll try to have more rest and less business.