The Bishop's Address - page 3

In the final two segments of this address, I want to say a few words about our international relationships, about our diocesan ministry on the global level, first in terms of our companion diocese relationships and then in terms of our place in the world-wide Anglican Communion.

As all of you know, I have recently returned from a ten day visit to our companion diocese of Northern Malawi, along with a mission team comprised of six other key leaders of our diocese. I will leave it to the report of the World Mission Committee later in the agenda today to say something about our continuing work in Northern Mexico, but here I will comment only on our work in Malawi.

This was my second visit to Northern Malawi, having led the first mission visit there in 1996 when it was still a brand new diocese in the infant stages of development. I am happy to report that we saw dramatic improvements over this eight-year period wherever we went, in terms of personnel and facilities.

There are more priests, more catechists, more seminarians and more diocesan personnel serving the people of Northern Malawi than ever before. They have eight seminarians studying for the priesthood and more lay catechists (who are full-time church workers) in training at this time. Several new churches and schools have been built, the hospital on Likoma Island has been expanded and upgraded, and a new Outpatient Clinic there, that opened just this year, now treats an average of 2,500 people per month. Satellite medical clinics have been created in two other parts of the diocese, fresh water wells have been dug for remote villages, and a diocesan center for ministry, the Bishop’s residence, a convent for a new community of nuns, and a diocesan guest house have all been completed. These are remarkable achievements in such a short period of time. And all of this was done while at the same time the diocese was addressing the famine of last year and putting into operation two demonstration gardens, where villagers are brought to live for a week while learning about crop rotation, soil conservation, nutrition and hygiene, and the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
  But one still comes away with a sense of the enormity of the work that remains to be done. Malawi remains a very poor nation, where poverty and disease are rampant. Wherever we went, we saw hundreds of young orphans who are victims of the wide-spread AIDS epidemic that is claiming the lives of a whole generation of young people and leaving their children to be raised by other family members and relatives. Wherever we went, we saw countless young mothers walking the road with a small child strapped onto their back while balancing a load of food or water or wood on their heads. Life is difficult in Malawi. The mortality rate is high, life expectancy is low, and every family encounters death on a regular basis. Transportation is difficult, unemployment is high, and most Malawians suffer daily deprivation in one form or another.  

Ministering quietly and consistently in the midst of all this is Bishop Christopher Boyle and his clergy and faithful laity, signs of love and hope and caring in the midst of despair, poverty and disease. I cannot tell you how overjoyed and encouraged they were by our visit to them. Everywhere we went, we were met by singing, dancing crowds of women and children, all organized by the Mother’s Union, known as the "backbone of Africa." Our welcomes were full of such joy and praise, that we felt undeserving of such attention and gratitude. At every place we visited, gifts were presented to us, special songs were sung for us, and we were thanked again and again and again for caring enough to come. At one primary school, hundreds of eager faces carefully watched us, and when the priest said, "You know that Bishop from Fort Worth, Texas that we are always praying for? Well there he is!" – they all broke into joyous applause and huge smiles. Our presence said in a way that words could not – "you are not alone – you are not forgotten – we are one family in Jesus Christ - we are praying for you, and we love you." When all else is said and done, we felt that we received much more from them than we had given.

Because of our relationship with Northern Malawi, our diocese is more out-ward looking and more mission-minded than ever before. Hardly a month goes by that I do not learn of some new missionary endeavor or mission project in one or more of our congregations: youth on mission, women on mission, families on mission! We are, my friends, a diocese on mission! We have learned from the Christians in Malawi the importance of thanking and praising God in adversity, not just in good times. We have learned the value of sharing with others, even if we have but little to begin with. And we have learned in dramatic ways that in our faithfulness to God in all things, He never fails to bring forth life and give growth in Christ.

One of the new discoveries for me was the realization of just how much of their monthly support to pay salaries and meet regular operating costs comes from the Diocese of Fort Worth. They need at least $12,000 per month to make ends meet. Much of this comes from our Centurion program that links together priests and congregations here with partner priests or catechists and congregations there. It is more than the financial support relationship of $100 per month. It is under-girded by prayer and personal communication. We need more Centurion sponsors. The Malawi 500 program that was initiated this past year, seeks 500 people in this Diocese who will commit to giving $25 per month to assist in the commonplace, day-to-day needs of the Christians in Northern Malawi: fuel for clergy motorcycles to get from mission to mission, repairs to machinery and equipment, the electric bill for the diocesan center, and so on. We need more Malawi 500 participants. Through the hard work of our World Mission Committee, assistance from other churches and supporters across the United States and even Canada are channeled each month through our diocesan offices to the accounts of Northern Malawi, and as of last month, we have sent over $130,000 in donations in this current year alone. We have done a great deal, but there is a great deal that remains to be done. Your continuing help and support are deeply needed and are deeply appreciated.