Chaplain of St Mark’s Florence visits Masuku, Malawi, 21- 24th Feb 2014

The Chaplain was invited to attend the consecration of the newly-completed church of St James’ Masuku on Sunday, 23rd February, 2014. It was agreed that his attendance as the new Chaplain of St Mark’s Florence, would not only establish a new relationship between our communities and encourage/strengthen existing links between the churches, but also enable an objective assessment of how charitable Funds have been used to date and how best to maintain a future contribution; it was deemed an appropriate moment to make such an assessment following the satisfactory completion of this singular capital project which was almost entirely financed by St Mark’s.

The journey to Malawi was relatively straightforward but was split into three sections – an internal European flight followed by a flight to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and then on to the capital city of Malawi, Lilongwe. Here the Chaplain was met by his host, Paul Yiannakis, and also the Chaplain-General of the Malawian Defence Force (MDF), Fr (Col) Augustine Machumbusa. The group enjoyed lunch in the MDF Headquarters Officers’ Mess and after some discussions about future collaboration (such as potential sabbaticals for chaplains in Florence and a telephone conversation with the Defence Minister, General Henry Odillo), left for the six hour road journey to Masuku.

Masuku is reached through some stunning African countryside, both plains and mountain ranges, and several stops en route illustrated the extraordinary welcome that is afforded by all Malawians, who are simply happy to meet with newcomers. This warmth of affection and great generosity of spirit was met throughout the visit and it left a deep and lasting impression on the Chaplain for people from the one of the world’s poorest countries.

Malawi tripThe Chaplain did not have long to maximise the opportunities that this visit could offer; in fact, the need to return for a Property Board meeting on 25th February meant that nearly as much time was spent in travelling as was enjoyed in Masuku itself. Nevertheless, and at a late hour of arrival, Fr Singano Matthew Kachala, parish priest of St James’ for only eight months, was awaiting the Chaplain at the Church. Even in darkness, it was obvious that the building had seen a great deal more preparation for Sunday’s ceremony of consecration than was apparent from the most recent photographs. A great deal of planting/laying of paths had been done outside and all the doors, windows and fittings had been completed to a high standard.

 Saturday 22nd February

Masuku, Malawi The following day was spent meeting as many people as possible, accompanied by Fr Matthew and also by Directors of the Masuku Tree of Life Project, (MToL). The Chaplain was able to visit the local primary school, local facilities (such as the ‘football pitch’), members of the church and the principle projects underwritten by the MToL such as the maize mill, the water borehole and the water tower construction site.

Consecration of Church in MalawiThe consecration of the new church on Sunday 23rd February was a highly organised and very special occasion and was coordinated entirely by the people of the church and the wider community. The service lasted around six hours and was filled with joyful music and singing (accompanied in the church by the keyboard purchased recently by St Mark’s). There was no room for anything to be done half-heartedly and at one point the Bishop intervened and insisted that the choir restart their singing as he believed them to be out of tune!

MalawiThere was liturgical dancing of gifts and in particular the presentation of two locally carved collection plates for the use of St Mark’s Florence. These were received by the Chaplain and blessed by the Bishop for their use. It is impossible to convey the atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving that was shared, and few people could have remained unmoved. It was spiritually exciting and uplifting, with a genuine sense of community-wide confidence in the future.

Rt Revd  Brighton MalasaThe presiding Bishop (of the Diocese of Upper Shire, Malawi), the Rt Revd  Brighton Malasa, was extremely generous in his liturgical hospitality to the Chaplain, who was asked to cense the building whilst the Bishop sprinkled Holy Water on the doors and walls of the outside of the church. The Chaplain was also asked to assist in the ‘ribbon cutting’ of the main doors prior to the Bishop’s intonation of Psalm 122 and his impressive liturgical entrance (three knocks on the locked doors with his Pastoral Staff) to be greeted by the entire congregation in joyful shouting and the singing of acclamations. The Chaplain was also honoured to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion, (exclusively by intinction – again, a reality of life in rural Africa, with the challenges of disease).

Various speeches followed the liturgy, including the local MP and the ‘TA’, (the cultural governor/chief of the district), and Fr William was detailed as the last speaker and as ‘Guest of Honour.’ In this opportunity to speak to the entire community, the Chaplain conveyed congratulations on such a great achievement and pledged the continued support of St Mark’s Florence to the whole community with the prayers of our people. This met with great approval of course.

With some agreed financial support from St Mark’s, the Church also provided lunch for the whole community (about 500 people) and this was incredibly well organised in several locations around the new church building. Five goats and at least a dozen hens had been slaughtered for the occasion (witnessed by the Chaplain the previous day and certainly not for the squeamish). For such a poor community, (that survives mainly on maize staples), this use of resources illustrates the immense importance attached to this occasion.

The Chaplain then had a further tour of the local Yiannakis farm and retired as early as possible in preparation for the return journey, beginning in Masuku at 03:00hrs that same night. The total journey time was in excess of thirty-six hours each way.

Relationship between St James’ Church and the MToL

St Mark’s has so far made financial contributions to the replacement of the original church building (the former, much smaller church was constructed by the Yiannakis family at their own personal expense), but it is important that the next stage of development is one that all can embrace as a community and which is at the very least, totally consistent with the place and role of the MToL, if not in direct collaboration with it.

The latter is a social enterprise charity created and managed by Mr Costa Yiannakis. It acts as a catalyst organisation for self-help and sustainable community development by providing Funds (either in the form of grants or interest-free loans) to members of the Masuku community. It also encourages collaboration from others, especially where the project can provide income generation.

For example, the purchase of a maize mill for the church provides a valuable community resource and also employment to villagers but is a source of income for the church which can be used to repay the amount given or be invested in other projects. Other examples include a new shop which rents its premises from St James, selling everyday items that are needed by the community, (bike spares, sugar, etc). The provision of a bore-hole groundwater supply was also coordinated and supported by MToL and belongs to St James. This particular project illustrates some of the realities of life in Masuku. The bore-hole was excavated by the generosity of a local Muslim, the water tanks were donated by a Hindu and the pipes by the Christian church (with money provided by MToL). When the pipework is installed, this will likewise be an income generating project for the church, which in the short-term will pay back the costs shouldered initially by MToL. It should be noted that 80% of this region is Muslim.

MalawiThe concept is very simple. Money is provided to assist with development projects that can be owned and maintained/improved by the people themselves and which in the long-term is completely self-sustaining.

Accounting Protocols

In order to provide assurance that Funds are being spent appropriately and to remove any possible accusation or suspicion of corruption, the monies sent from St Marks are not directly controlled by the church of St James. This is not because anyone remotely thinks that this would be a problem, but it has to be accepted that Malawi is a country that has a high degree of corruption (at all levels of society) and such safeguards are quite normal here. It does mean, however, that potential or actual donors can give with great confidence.

The money destined for the church and wider community’s benefit is therefore vested in a Board of Patronage (in Euros, to prevent diminution through devaluation of the local currency), who must agree any disbursement. The Patrons then instruct two independent (and external) signatories to release Funds to the church’s own account in Kwachas as bills are presented and approved by the Patrons in relation to the project. The Patrons themselves are not signatories to the account and are members of the Yiannakis family. The signatories to release funds are people only indirectly associated with Masuku, such as the former parish priest, Fr Grant Tebulo.


This system has worked extremely well in the single project so far Funded by St Mark’s (the new church building and keyboard) and is therefore a proved mechanism for future projects.

The Directors of the St Mark’s ONLUS account, from which the majority of Funds have so far come, (either through tax rebate or ongoing donations from Concerto Classico and others), have sufficient discharge of responsibility with such a system, though the Patrons have additionally and consistently provided accounts of all monies disbursed.

The Fifty Year Plan


When originally conceived by Fr Grant, in 2006, the aspiration was to completely develop the community of Masuku over a fifty year timescale. The scope is immense, from schooling to infrastructure. However, the important principle enshrined in this document was that the development would be self-generated and sustainable, both financially and environmentally. Outside assistance would therefore be a catalyst to sustainable growth and all the projects supported would be identified, carried out and ‘owned’ by the people themselves. The people of Masuku are a creative, hardworking and long-suffering population, whose greatest need is to be given the opportunity to demonstrate their inherent worth and ability. This is most evident in the school ‘alumni’, a group of people educated through the personal financial assistance of the Yiannakis family, all of whom have achieved successful professional careers and who were present at the church consecration service to pledge their assistance to others.

The Future

The following principles were adopted for future Funding:

  • Support should be given wherever possible to reciprocal activity.
  • Monies should continue to be paid to the church Euro account vested in the Board of Patrons and disbursed in accordance with agreed church-led community projects.
  • Greater collaboration with the MToL organisation and the Diocese of Upper Shire should be explored.

Some Specific Projects Discussed

  • Exchange programmes – including Lay Pastoral Assistant for Youth Work, Voluntary Service, supporting Ordinands in Malawi and skill-exchange between artisans in Florence and potential ones in Masuku.
  • Community Satellite Internet Facility.
  • A young peoples’ meeting place/recreational area (currently the verges of a very dangerous highway).
  • Church fittings, plate etc.
  • Catering project, especially for the most needy.
  • Clothing project/thrift shop facility.
  • Simultaneous events/services in both churches and live feeds.
  • Music project – joint activity between choirs, tours etc.
  • Create a St James’ Church Website.
  • Environmental projects (to save the indigenous bush and create sustainable use of such resources).
  • Drainage for the village, (now essential with a borehole water supply). It was suggested that St Mark’s could immediately pay for regular water testing to ensure current potability.
  • Shared Prayer Cycle.

Final Thoughts

This visit was both opportune in terms of its timing and also a huge blessing for all concerned and especially for the two new priests involved in our respective communities. A new vision for the future has been embraced by the people of Masuku, focused on their new church, which the current Chaplain has been privileged to experience.

MalawiThe proposals that conclude this report as a way to build on our strong existing connections are commended to the Church Council and the whole of St Mark’s worshipping community for their endorsement.

The Chaplain is extremely grateful for the opportunity to make this visit, to those who sponsored or hosted him, and looks forward to close and rewarding fellowship between both our churches in the future.

Fr William Lister
Chaplain, St Marks English Church, Florence

Malawi photo10

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