Area Lutherans cement ties to Malawi, Africa
One local congregation contributed $18,000 to their African partners during June
Malawi may be a remote land for most Minnesota Lutherans, but for two congregations the tie is intimate.
In recent years members of Glen Cary Lutheran Church, Ham Lake, Minne-sota, and University Lutheran Church of Hope, Minneapolis have nurtured a growing relationship with land-locked Malawi. Lo-cated in south-central Africa, the country is surrounded by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.
Recently the Lutheran Bishop of Malawi, Joseph Bvumbwe has been in the metro area strengthening these relationships. He was in Ham Lake on June 6, speaking at Glen Cary Lutheran Church’s Wednes-day evening service. The following Sunday morning, Bvumbwe brought the message at University Lutheran Church of Hope.
The African bishop said the relationship of these two congregations has a large impact on more than just Lutherans in Africa. “We are living out Christ, so we do not exclude those that are not part of the church. We offer help to anyone. In that way people are able to see Christ.”
Although receiving monetary support is significant, Bvumbwe stressed the im-portance of humane support as well. “The gifts bless us, but your prayers lift and sustain us,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of face-to-face contacts. “What matters to people in Africa is being able to see the people who are helping. I often tell people that it isn’t the wealthiest [people who are] donating. The ELCA is blessed with ordinary people who save their money and deny themselves pleasures to help those in need.”
The Lutheran Church of Malawi and the two Twin Cities area Lutheran congregations have had ties for six years. This has given Bvumbwe time to reflect on the meaning of the partnership.
Members of University Lutheran Church of Hope began their relationship with the Lutheran Church of Malawi in 2000, when member Marilyn Preus encountered Bvumbwe at a Global Mission Event. She invited him to preach at University Lutheran Church of Hope. As the relationship began to grow, members of the congregation began to ask how they could help.
Since then the congregation has given support by donating money for sewing machines, a motorcycle, funding for the response to the hunger crisis, solar ovens, and visiting in September through October.
During the June 10 service the congregation also presented Bvumbwe with a check for $18,000. Bvumbwe said the donation would be enough to fund the building of a church, parsonage and perhaps leave a remaining balance.
The members of Glen Cary Lutheran Church began their relationship in 2001, while they were building their new sanctuary. As Missions Sunday rolled around the missions committee members realized they had not asked anyone to speak.
After a quick call they were put in contact with Bvumbwe. He was in the United States because he was working on completing his doctoral degree from Luther Seminary.
Through Bvumbwe’s message the congregation got a glimpse of the poverty in Malawi. They decided they needed to do something. Members set up another meeting as an informal Question and Answer session with the African bishop.
Susan Rettke, a member of Glen Cary who has been to Malawi on a church trip, explained, “He (Bvumbwe) said people were gathering under the trees to worship, so someone asked how much it costs to build a church [building]. When we found out it was around $12,000 we thought about the expense of our sanctuary, which was well over a million.”
The members of Glen Cary directed their offering during the dedication of their new sanctuary to a fund for a church building in Malawi. Later, members traveled to Africa — although too soon to see the new building completed.
They were able to see their contributions being implemented efficiently and impacting lives. Rettke said she was pleased to see how the money was being used.
“The Lutheran Church in Malawi doesn’t just use the money for the church; they have a whole division dedicated to development,” she said.
As far as the future of the relationship is concerned, Rettke sees no end in sight.
“When we were there a [tribal chief] said a lot of people come to visit and ask how to help, but told us they never see the visitors again. This made me realize it is going to [need to] be an ongoing relationship,” Ret-tke said.
Glen Cary has begun to plan another trip to Malawi. On June 6 the children of the congregation gave Bvum-bwe a check for $1,000. The children’s congregation had raised $500 and the church matched that amount.
The $1,000 will go to creating scholarships for children who want to attend school but do not have the financial means to do so.
Ellen Erickson, another member of Glen Cary who visited Malawi, remarked on the popularity of companion synods.
“It brings the perspective of one world closer,” she said.
The Northwest Synod of Wisconsin is actually the companion synod to Ma-lawi. But that hasn’t stopped these two Twin Cities-are a congregations from building bridges of their own.
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Cosgrove, a student at Grand View College, Des Moines, Iowa, is a summer intern at Metro Lutheran.