Guidelines for Gift Giving and Receiving
Small gifts can be a wonderful way of communicating love, friendship and cross-cultural exchange.
However, gift giving can get out of hand. It can underscore our differences rather than building a partnership in which the gifts of both parties are celebrated.
Please ensure that gift giving does not become central to your experience in Malawi.
Consider the message conveyed by each gift.
In all cases, the focus of the trip should be on building relationships rather than on giving and receiving gifts.
There are basically two categories of gifts that will be addressed here---group gifts of partnership and personal gifts to your partner congregation and host families.
Group Gifts of Partnership
Each traveler is permitted by the international airlines to check two suitcases, weighing no more than 50 pounds each.
You are also entitled to carry two pieces of hand luggage on board with you (one carry-on and one personal item (purse / camera bag).
We strongly recommend that each traveler plan to carry all personal belongings such as gifts, change of clothes, medicines and toiletries in your carry-on bag.
Some space in your checked luggage may be reserved by the team for group partnership gifts, mission materials or items requested by the Synod of Blantyre.
People from Pittsburgh may ask you to bring a whole host of things, but please reserve the space in the extra suitcase or box for items identified by the trip leaders.
We suggest you limit the things you carry for others to letters and other small things as you will need the space for yourself.
Personal Gifts to Partner Congregations
If your own congregation has a partner congregation in Malawi, it is customary for your congregation to give a gift to your partner congregation. Gifts that have been well received in the past include:
- A church directory
- Church history information (perhaps from an anniversary celebration)
- Framed photo of the church (replace the glass with plastic, or laminate the photo for ease of travel)
- A letter from your pastor or session
- New or used books, especially Bibles, commentaries, study guides, devotional materials, or Sunday School materials
- Liturgical items such as banners, paraments, embroidered napkins for covering communion elements, or collars or stoles for the pastor
- Partnership T-shirts or Christian theme T-shirts
- Presbyterian or Christian symbol pins or small crosses
- Tambourines or other small percussion instruments
Personal Gifts to Host Families
The following are suggested gifts to bring to host families:
- Devotional guide
- Lapel Pin
- Plastic or metal serving dish
- Handmade item
- Men – tie, handkerchief
- Women – small sewing kit, scarf, linen towel, 2 ½ yard length of fabric
- Children – balloons, beach balls, Frisbee, mini-kaleidoscopes, crayons
Consider the practicalities of travel (small, light, non-breakable items are best) and the huge numbers of people you may encounter.
There may be hundreds of children at a worship service, for example. Zip-lock bags are good for packing gifts.
They are a luxury in most Malawian homes and will be reused many times. Wrapping paper is rare and expensive.
Consider using plain tissue paper or wrap a gift in a linen tea towel.
It is difficult to resist the urge to take all of your leftover items and carry them across the ocean----Malawi is a land of sometimes overwhelming need.
But we are urging you to abide by these guidelines that have been developed in partnership with our Malawian sisters and brothers.