Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964.

It’s in Southern Africa and is bordered by Zambia to the west, Tanzania to the north and Mozambique to the south and east. It covers an area of 118,480 km2 (about half the UK) and the capital City is Lilongwe with a population of about 400,000. 

After three decades of one-party rule, multiparty elections were held in 1994 under a provisional constitution, which took full effect the following year. Several elections have been held since and Malawi is considered to be politically stable for the region.

Lake Malawi is the largest lake among others, namely Chirwa, Malombe, and Kazuni. The country has a tropical Climate with dry seasons during the months of May to November and a rainy season during the other months, particularly December to March.

The population is close to 13 million, with 90% living in the rural areas.

The national language is ChicheĊµa while English is the official language, used in Parliament and court. Other indigenous languages include Tumbuka and Yao.

As a land-locked country, the economy is predominantly based on agriculture which accounts for about 45% of GNP and more than 90% of all export earnings. The main crops grown are maize, tobacco, tea, sugarcane, peanuts, cotton, coffee, rice, macadamia nuts and pulses. Tourism is less developed than in many African countries but is a growing economic sector.

The economy also depends on substantial inflows of economic assistance from IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor nations. 

Whilst Lilongwe is the capital, Blantyre (population about 600,000) remains the most important commercial and financial centre and is home to institutions such as the Stock Exchange and High Court.

The national currency is the Malawian Kwacha but US dollar, UK sterling and SA Rand can be used in many places. The time is 2 hours ahead of GMT, 1 hour ahead of BST.

The name of David Livingstone is still greatly revered in Malawi and he is widely credited as being responsible for abolishing the slave trade throughout southern and eastern Africa. Many places are named in his honour, the most obvious being Livingstonia and Blantyre (town of his birth).

The University of Malawi is collegiate and spread throughout the country but the administrative centre and theological college are at Zomba (the former capital).

Of those claiming religious affiliation about 70% are Christian, with most of the others being Muslim, Hindu or traditional indigenous faiths. About 20% of Christians are Roman Catholic with about 70% being Protestant. Most of these are part of the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian). There are also Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostalist and 7th Day Adventist Churches.

There are eight years of eight years of state school primary education which can be taken between the ages of 5 and 16. This results in youngsters taking years out to work at various points during their schooling and means that a class can contain children of quite different ages. In most schools, lessons are conducted in ChecheĊµa, with English only being taught in the later stages of school. A child attending secondary school must pay fees (about £150 per annum) which puts secondary education well outwith the reach of most.





There are 3 CCAP synods covering Malawi. Each fulfils many of the functions that we might associate with our national Kirk through Edinburgh based Councils and Committees. The Blantyre synod is the largest and covers the whole of the southern region with over 500 congregations and about 1,000 prayer houses, responsible for over 2.8 million members at present.  

It runs 265 primary schools and 50 secondary schools (47 day and 3 boarding). This represents about 50% of all schools in the region.

The Synod have a number of very active departments (see www.blantyresynod.org) and runs several facilities including the Chigodi Women’s Training Centre, Grace Bandawi Conference Centre and the Chifundo Centre (HIV orphans). Indeed care of people with HIV and their dependents is a major part of the Synod’s work and takes a heavy toll on resources. Amongst other departments it runs a Development Commission which works with other agencies, local and international.

The Synod is based at “The Mission” in Blantyre, on the site where David Livingston set up the first Church. There are 18 Presbyteries in the Synod.



Thyolo  (pronounced “choe-loe” is the name given both to the township and to the wider district, which lies about half an hour’s drive south of Blantyre. It is predominantly rural but the municipal district (which covers a wider area than the Presbytery) is the most densely populated of all the rural areas in Malawi.

Large tea plantations dominate and are by far the biggest employer. Macadamia nuts are another significant crop with sugar cane, tobacco, maize and some cotton also grown. All significant agricultural production is in the hands of large estates (many foreign owned) and even small patches of local land are beyond the reach of most. Many of the Church buildings are some distance from the villages, due to land prices. Fortunately, most folk are well used to walking long distances.

Tea pickers can expect to earn about 70p per day but seasonal unemployment brings the average daily wage down to about 40p. This is enough to feed a family on Tsima (the maize staple) but leaves virtually nothing for anything else.

The township of Thyolo is linked to Blantyre by one of Malawi’s better (tarmac) roads. There is a large new hospital here (built with EU Development Fund monies). The fabric of the building is very good but it is already seriously overcrowded, under-staffed and chronically short of some basic equipment, medicines etc. Between 1 in 6 and 1 in 7 people are HIV+, many of them children, and the need to support AIDS orphans has put great extra strain on both the Government and Church’s very limited resources.

Thyolo Highland Presbytery and Orkney Presbytery signed a “Covenant of Partnership” (link?) in May 2008.



The Presbytery was created in 1994 with 8 congregations. It now has 30 congregationsand over 60 prayer houses. The prayer houses function, for the most part, like the congregations but don’t have their own Kirk Session. They are “elevated” to congregational status when they reach 300 communicant members. There are currently about 20,000 communicant members (including 700+ elders) throughout Presbytery. Membership numbers continue to grow sharply. 60% of the membership are women and a very high proportion are young people.

There are only 5 full-time ministers in the Presbytery, so there is a heavy reliance upon an active eldership and high lay-involvement.

The distances between congregations and prayer houses can be considerable and many of the roads are little more than dirt tracks, quite impassible for weeks on end during the rainy season. Most of the ministers don’t have their own transport. Many people have mobile phones and the mobile network is better than we have in Orkney but the scarcity of mains electricity means that there can be problems getting batteries charged as often as required.

Presbytery is responsible for one secondary and six primary schools.

Most Church buildings are inadequate and some drastically so. Most are simply far too small for the numbers attending and lack amenities that we would consider as elementary (kitchen, toilets, hall space, extra rooms etc.). Many of the buildings have no glass in the windows and no doors in the doorways. If suitable access for anyone with a disability exists it is by chance rather than design. The floors are rough concrete or bare earth. Many don’t have enough pews or seats so some people have to sit on mats on the ground and the Sunday Schools (known as Nazarene schools and often several hundred strong) generally just meet outside because there is no alternative (This is fine in the dry season!). some of the Churches are actually without roofs and others have tin sheets in such a poor state that they barely function as a roof.

The Church is numerically very strong, energetic, vibrant and going through a continued period of rapid growth  but it lacks desperately in financial resources - in many respects the exact opposite of current Church experience in the Northern hemisphere.



Our own congregational links with Malawi have grown since the 2008 links were established. We were initially linked with five congregations and a number of associated prayer houses, which resulted in a lot of fund raising for some essential building repairs and an entire new build in the parish of Njeresa. We have enjoyed visits from Malawians to Orkney and have sent 4 members of the congregation to visit out partners in Malawi (the minister was also part of a Presbytery deputation and is Presbytery’s Malawi Partnership Convener).

Due to a number of changes (mostly at the Malawi end) the shape of the direct congregational links are currently being reviewed. For the meantime all financial assistance is being chanelled directly between the Presbyteries with the Thyolo Highlands Partnership committee deciding on priorities and allocations at the Malawi end.

The schools in both isles are partnered with Chitengu School, within the parishes of Njeresa and Maperera. This has resulted in a community water borehole and pump at the school, a new 3-classroom building called the “Westray Block” a memorable visit to Westray and Papay from 2 school pupils (Alice Juwawo and Pilirani Mussa) and a teacher (Reuben Mlongoti) in 2012. The schools partnership has been commended in parliament on several occasions and been the recipient of a national award. It continues to thrive.


The Westray Kirk Youth Group has enjoyed being partnered with the Njeresa Youth Group and over the years have shared stories and news as well providing some funding for musical instruments and Bibles.

The congregation’s regular fundraising efforts for Malawi have, in recent years included sharing the Easter and Harvest offerings between the Malawi Partnership and Gogo Olive who work in Zimbabwe (link?) In Westray this work is shared with our Baptist neighbours.

Whilst the partnership (at all levels) isn’t just about funding, it would be ridiculous to deny the massive imbalance in financial resources and the crying need that results from it. There is so much that is needed in a place of such enormous material poverty and such tremendous work being done by the Churches there despite a desperate lack of funding.

We can now put help directly to them, we know who’s spending it and we know exactly how it’s being spent. The Presbytery Committee account for all funds and send receipts, financial spreadsheets etc. understanding that certain levels of accountability are required at this end.

There is also so much that those of us here can learn from the people in Malawi, not least in how to get on with being a Church and how to be faithful to God in our community. The opportunities for our organisations like Guild, Sunday Schools and Youth Group to build relationships and learn from our Malawian partners are huge. We hope that future exchange visits may be possible and that will further cement our relationship.

If anyone wants further information or wants to support the Partnership please see Iain at any time.


Covenant of Partnership

We, the presbyteries of Orkney of the Church of Scotland and of Thyolo Highlands Malawi of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian covenant together in a partnership in which Jesus Christ binds us together.

We affirm that as members of the world-wide Church of Jesus Christ, engaged in God’s mission to the world we belong together and wish to learn from each other’s experience. We also wish to share our understanding of the faith we hold in common and our vision for the future so that we may become more faithful and effective witnesses in the work of God’s Kingdom.

During the next three years we will seek to express this partnership through:

• Regular Communication
• Exchange Visits
• Congregational Linkages
• Exchange of Special Gifts
• Exploring other areas of Cooperation • Informed Prayer

At the end of the three years the partnership will be reviewed

Signed by the Moderators of both Presbyteries on Sunday 27th April 2008 in Thyolo CCAP, Malawi

A Vision for the Partnership

We envisage our Partnership being expressed through activities which may include:

1. Regular Communication
Efforts will be made to establish and ensure regular communication between the Presbyteries at various levels, exchanging news of developments and issues of concern and including prayer requests.

2. Exchange Visits
Exchange visits will take place as and when they can be arranged. We recognise that giving expression to our partnership will require resources of time and money, and that while we cherish our equality under God, we must recognise the disparity of material wealth that there is between us and that it will take a special effort on behalf of both partners not to allow this at present, unavoidable fact, to detract from the development of mutual respect and understanding.

Exchange visits may be individual or group visits. Each visit will have a defined purpose such as: Evangelism - which may include preaching, Bible study, music and pastoral counseling; Leadership Development - which may include opportunities for pastors, elders and other church leaders to acquire skills. Education - which may include the promotion of primary and secondary school education.

3. Congregational Linkages
The Presbytery of Orkney and Thyolo Highlands Presbytery will explore and facilitate congregation-to-congregation partnerships, including providing guide-lines for communication links, exchange visits and reviews of such linkages.

4. Exchange of Special Gifts
The Presbytery of Orkney and the Thyolo Highlands Presbytery and their congregations will exchange spiritual or material gifts that will assist in reaching out to the needy and encourage one another.

5. Exploring Other Areas of Cooperation
The Presbytery of Orkney and Thyolo Highlands Presbytery will together explore areas of cooperation for the growth and benefit of the partnership as the Holy Spirit may lead us, especially in the areas of worship, evangelism, social concern, ecumenical ventures, Christian education, women’s organisations, youth work, ministerial and lay training.

6. Informed Prayer
Informed by the above activities the Presbytery of Orkney and the Thyolo Highlands Presbytery undertake to engage in and deepen their partnership through prayer for each other.

Provisions For Administration Of The Partnership

1. The Presbyteries shall arrange an inaugural event to establish the Partnership. This event shall include the signing of the Partnership agreement.

2. The Partnership will be reviewed after three years and where appropriate renewed. It will be further reviewed and renewed every three years thereafter.

Congregational and other linkages will be subject to review concurrently with this Partnership.

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