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Friendships and Practical Help - Birmingham to Malawi
The Diocese of Birmingham sends an annual container of equipment and supplies to Malawi.
06 Sep 2021
The Diocese of Birmingham has been linked with the church in Malawi for over 50 years. When the link was formed there was only one diocese in Malawi but now there are four and Birmingham has kept the links with them all. There are also strong links with Mothers’ Union through online contacts and 2 way visits.
History of the Container Project
Just over sixteen years ago it was decided to send a container to Malawi and an appeal was launched for children’s clothing and shoes, basic first aid, sewing items – especially sewing machines, and other items which were in short supply. To avoid paying customs duty most of the items were second-hand. We didn’t realise this would become an annual event!
Sometimes particular items are requested such as cooking utensils after the flooding had swept away all possessions. And this year because of Covid we have been asked for material to make face masks, heavy duty gloves and aprons as well as basic bed linen, thermometers etc.
The response is always amazing. Everything is packed and labelled for a particular recipient. Some parishes have links with parishes in Malawi and many have links through Mothers’ Union or personal friendships.
How it Works
I have coordinated the collection for my parish – plus some nearby parishes – for a number of years and have seen the amount of gifts grow to an amazing amount. This year we were able to send just over 100 cubic ft from this parish. We do ask people to donate towards the cost of transportation and it always amazes me at how the money appears. People are very generous. Many say they don’t have any of the requested items and so are happy to donate money.
Many donors collect items throughout the year and many more knit for Malawi. One of the Mothers’ Union members, Alison, says;
“members of the congregation at St Peter’s Church, Balsall Common, continued crocheting and knitting squares during the pandemic. The squares are sewn together to make blankets, and some also knit hats for babies and small children.”
The word also spreads throughout the parish and quite often people not involved with church offer to knit, making teddies, squares and baby clothes. It is always good to meet them and spread the word about what we do.
Usually we receive the items one Sunday after the church service and spend a hectic couple of hours sorting and packing. Last year we couldn’t send the container because of Covid restrictions but we were able to send it this year in June. However, this year was different, and it was rather a test of ingenuity to collect items, sort and make sure they went to the correct person and have as little contact with goods and people as possible to maintain social distancing.
Everyone Is Involved
I asked everyone to pack their own items and seal in a cardboard box or suitcase if full. (Suitcases are very useful when the container reaches Malawi as not everyone has a car to collect items) If the box was not full I asked them to leave it open so other goods could be added. The customs prefer us to keep like items in each box or bag.
Other MU members and friends store items throughout the year in garages and lofts. It really is a community event.
In most cases, we know which recipient needs which donated gift. For example sewing material for Mothers’ Union members who have been sewing masks and PPE. We usually send to the DP of the Malawi Diocese and they meet as an Executive and decide who would benefit most from the gift. Sometimes personal relationships have been formed over many years and we mark those packages accordingly. Every Donor and recipient has their own code number and we send the list of contents ahead so recipients know what to expect. Codes are given for the whole Diocese by one of the volunteers who also has the job to make sure the container is full and that there is sufficient room for everyone’s contributions. We book the space needed early on but it is a bit of a jigsaw. The team who pack the container are experts at filling each available space!
When everything packed and labelled – and the parcels hopefully cover the estimated amount of booked space – another team from the Parish takes them to the spot where the container is packed. This year in the field of a friendly farmer.
We are all given a timed arrival and time to unload. I wait with bated breath until I hear everything has made in onto the container.
What happens next
Then it is a rather long wait (approx 3 months) until we hear the container has arrived. It goes by road to Southampton, round the west coast of Africa, past the Cape and up to Mozambique, then across land to Malawi. Quite a journey.
There are two unloading places in Malawi; Blantyre and Lilongwe. And recipients travel to these towns if at all possible. Where it is not possible they wait until some transport comes their way.
Another of the Mothers’ Union members, Chris, says, At an informal service in May, we thought about the impact our association with Malawi had, not only on the lives of our friends there but also on our faith. Although our individual donations seems inconsequential to the challenges our Malawian friends face I realised that with God’s miraculous intervention the container full of our collective offerings can make a huge difference in the lives of our friends in Malawi.
Encouragement In Scripture
This whole venture is also a way of reaching out to friends, family, neighbours etc and involving them all in helping our brothers and sisters in Malawi. It reminds me very much of the passage from Matthew 25: 35-40.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
However it is not a one way procedure. We have all learnt so much from our Malawian brothers and sisters about resilience, hope and being thankful to God for our blessings. Above all they have inspired us with their prayers and strengthened our faith. As those in Malawi say to us, ‘God is Good, All the time’.
Words by Canon Claire Laland, Past President, Birmingham Diocese