Thursday, 28 October 2010

Butoya retreat

After four days and five nights of melting in Mongu, we set off on Thursday for the 5-day Presbytery Retreat; this is an open air event now held every four years. The first retreat was held here in 1941. Butoya is about 15km SW of Mongu on the Barotse Plain. It takes almost an hour in a 4x4, through matapa and mishanjo (Lozi gardens cultivated at the edge of the flood plain), across fords with Monet-type water-lily pools, over mounds with palm trees, crossing rough burnt pasture and through banks of loose silver sand, We were fortunately guided well through all these obstacles by the Induna Mungambata who is the Headman in charge of the area and a Church member.
Rev Sipalo and  Rev Lubasi

The name Butoya is derived from the Mutoya tree, a type of willow. These trees form a long thicket along the river bank and the lagoons there. It is the natural beauty of the site that makes it such as special place in God’s creation for retreat and fellowship, another ‘thin place’ as George MacLeod once described Iona. It is an ideal spot for both individual or solitary prayer as well as providing under its rich thick canopy a shaded cathedral for communal gatherings to hear the Word of God preached or to praise and worship God in Church services.

The place is also of local historical interest as the first aeroplane (fulai in Silozi) landed in the area in 1928 during the reign of Litunga Yeta III. Out of the 1998 Retreat attended by over 4000 people came a much needed and prayed for revival in the United Church in Western Province.

The theme for the Conference was “Living the Salt Life as a Witness for Christ” based on Matthew 5:13 and was made up of eight topics. You, the salt, witnessing as salt, saltless salt, a salt life in our stewardship, social responsibility, salt for healing, characteristics of empowerment by the Holy Spirit, living the life of prayer and maintaining our Christian integrity. These topics were dealt with by Ministers from various Churches inside and outwith the Presbytery. The day was interspersed with early morning devotions, praise and worship, Choirs and Praise Teams as well as the topics. In the evenings after devotions were more social occasions for singing, testimonies and sketches followed by prayers at the close of the day.

Each consistory looked after its delegates another 8 joined the 8 members from Mwandi who had attended Presbytery. On Thursday we bought all our perishable goods and set out for the site. There was no ice to be had in Mongu, so this meant that another trip would need to go into Mongu on Saturday to pick up more frozen fish and meat to see us through to Monday. On arrival we were conducted to our site with a sipapela (an open shelter with walls framed by branches and covered by grass mats); this was to sleep in. We had brought our tent so it made an ideal store and larder for our provisions. A latrine had also been dug for our convenience - so to speak. We were fed well over this time spiritually and physically.

Breakfast was bread and tea or coffee. Rice pudding was also served once, Mongu rice is a well-loved staple in Zambia. Lunch and supper was buhobe (thick maize-meal porridge) or rice with fish meat or chicken and as vegetables either cabbage or kail. We did enjoy Irish potatoes as a treat on Sunday.(In Zambia potatoes are given the sobriquet Irish to differentiate them from sweet potatoes.) We are very much appreciative of the efforts of six of the ladies who undertook to cook for us all at each mealtime.

Both Ida and I learned how to bathe like a Lozi. There were no bathing facilities at the camp site, other than the river, so we joined others to bathe in the late afternoon. The rules for bathing for both sexes are apparently the same. Keith took Mubita with him to the mens area. First mistake, bathing children is womens’ work!

We were accompanied by our local MCF Convenor. After undressing myself and Mubita we slipped in the river and sat down with the soap to work up a good lather for soaping us both, Second mistake. My companion was loudly told by an old man to tell the mukuwa (white-man) to stop sitting in the sand and either to kneel or squat like everybody else! You then may soap a part of your body after that you cup your hands and pour the water you gather in them over the soaped part. When I asked why this was required behaviour, I was told it was so that you were less vulnerable in case of a crocodile attack! It was all very reminiscent of Gideon, who separated those who lapped the water with those who got down on their knees to drink!

African tribal life is quite egalitarian in many respects but it also demands a much greater degree of conformity to cultural norms than we with our more individusalistic outlook would tend to find acceptable.

During our time at Butoya we also took time to visit Sefula Mission where a kinsman of Keith’s, William Thomson Waddell worked as an artisan carpenter for Rev Francois Coillard. After building a house for Rev Jeanmairet and his new wife Elise (nee Coillard) Coillard’s niece, at Mwandi, then called Sesheke, the group of Basuto and Europeans set out for Sefula where Waddell built Coillard’s house and the Church there. We visited the graveyard where Coillard was buried. ,Waddell became engaged to Louise Keck, the teacher at Sesheke (Mwandi) before he returned home to Scotland to die of the leprosy he contracted here. We also saw the Boarding House that is named in memory of him.

The bridge and Church he built at Lwatile and Lealui await another visit on another occasion.

On our last day Mubita contracted a high temperature and diarrhoa, so we took him to Sefula Clinic where he was seen and given medicine to treat his problem. The Clinic is drawing water from the river by drum and bucket at the moment as the pump for the borehole has died and there is no money to buy the spare part.

We set off on Monday morning, after packing up at Butoya and buying provisions for the journey home and fuel in Mongu we set off via Senanga and crossed the Zambezi again on the pontoon at Kalongela. Nine hours and a puncture later we arrived back in Mwandi tired and thankful.

It was good for us all, taking time out from our busy everyday lives and devoting it to God and listening to him. It was a time of challenge, growth, exchange and blessing.

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