I first met Sydney Phula Banda in 2007 while visiting Malawi for the first time. Then, we were both studying to be pastors and our wives were both elementary school teachers. A friendship quickly developed.
Hailey and Edith (Sydney’s wife) met as well. Their classrooms began writing letters to one another. Nothing made me happier than seeing seven and eight year olds from grossly different places having their tiny worldviews expanded by a peer from a completely distant culture. Reading the letters was not simply heartwarming; it gave me a glimpse of what could be while showing how much work still needs to be done.
In 2008, when I returned to Malawi for the second time, Sydney was waiting for our team at the synod guesthouse where we were staying. He asked if I recognized the tie he was wearing—a gift my father had given him the previous year. We spent more time together talking about everything from theology to family.
One day, after preaching the night before, we walked around a village responding to people who had heard the message. We spoke to one woman who was making Thobwa (a drink made from fermented millet—I tried it a few weeks ago, absolutely disgusting). She explained that she couldn’t be a Christian because she sold alcohol to pay for her son’s education. Not knowing Malawian customs, I said that I was a Christian and enjoyed beer. I’ll never forget the look on Sydney’s face. We argued over whether or not he could translate what I had just said. I don’t know what he really said that day—but I do know the argument strengthened our bond.
While in the states I’d get random text messages from Sydney, saying that he was praying for Hailey and me. Both of our birthdays are in May. Last year he had a party with his friends and he emailed to make sure I knew I was represented and celebrated. There is nothing quite like experiencing the diversity of the body of Christ through a friend praying for you from the other side God’s creation.
I was disappointed I couldn’t be at Sydney’s graduation last July. But I was not the least bit surprised when I was told he was going to a church in a remote village…and was thrilled to be doing so. That’s just how he is—God leads and he follows. Chamatao C.C.A.P. is fortunate to have such a faithful and thoughtful servant.
In the four months we have been in Malawi Sydney has “stopped in” to visit a number of times—no small feat considering the distance, road conditions and expenses that come with coming to town from where he lives. He wants to know about ministry here and about our parents and nieces at home. He wants to know how our friends at La Jolla Presbyterian Church are doing and assures me they are being prayed for from Malawi.
I believe every Christ follower needs to know a Christian from a completely different culture—someone to debate with, learn from and support. Otherwise we think our church is the Church. For me, one of those people is Sydney. Who is that person(s) for you?