Malawi lifesaving mission for Edinburgh church

Rev Jack Holt
Rev Jack Holt and James Wells, chief executive officer of EMMS International.

A Church congregation has entered into a unique partnership to try and reduce the number of women dying in child birth in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Polwarth Parish Church in Edinburgh has signed an agreement with the healthcare charity EMMS International – the first of its kind - to support the training of registered nurse midwives at the Ekwendeni College of Health Sciences in Malawi.

The deal has been described as an “act of love and justice” and will provide “health and hope” to some of the most vulnerable people on earth.

The African country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 634 girls and women dying per 100,000 live births.

By comparison, the maternal mortality rate in the UK is nine per 100,000 live births.


A significant factor contributing to the mortality rate in Malawi is a shortage of registered nurse midwives.

A total of 84% of the population live in remote areas far from access to healthcare and there are only four nurse midwives per 10,000 people, according to the healthcare charity.

Rev Jack Holt, minister at Polwarth Parish Church which sits on the bank of the Union Canal and has a public Garden of Tranquility, said the new partnership will last three years.

“We are very pleased to be able to support this vital programme which will help provide more trained midwives in Malawi and hopefully ensure more live births as a consequence,” he added.

“It will drive our congregation's motivation to fundraise and pray over the next three years for EMMS International's work.”

Mr Holt said the congregation decided to get involved in the project after Session Clerk, Dr Lynda Tulloch, took part in the charity’s Tri-Malawi fundraising challenge last year, which involved covering 250 miles of the country by kayak, bike and on foot.

“At the same time Dr Tulloch, who is a medical doctor, was taking part, the church’s Global Concerns Group was looking for a new overseas project to support.

“In my role as World Mission Convener for Edinburgh Presbytery, I was approached by Rev James Petticrew of EMMS Internationalto discuss their new Church Partnership Scheme.

“I thought the time-limited nature of the partnership linked to our congregation's interest would make it suitable for us to support.”

Courtesy of Liz Hamilton

A special service was held at Polwarth Parish Church, also known as the Kirk on the Canal, on May 14 to mark the new agreement.

The partnership marks the “second first” for the church because it is being used by Scottish Waterways Trust as the first Canal Shed - a project to bring people together in canal locations to engage in activities.

Money raised by the congregation will go into a pot which will sponsor 12 students in total at Ekwendeni College of Health Sciences.

EMMS Internationalis hoping to set up similar partnerships with other congregations.

Love and justice

Mr Petticrew, who is the charity’s church relationship manager, said: “I am delighted that our first formal church partnership is with Polwarth Parish Church, a congregation with which I am connected on a personal level.

“It’s great to be part of the church’s wider mission work, and I’m excited about the opportunities that the partnership will allow, through prayer, giving and hopefully visiting some of the life-saving and life transforming work of EMMS International.

“This partnership is about bringing about health and hope for thousands of people who would otherwise face a very different future.

“It’s an act of love and justice that will enable some of the poorest and most marginalised people to improve their own health and that of their families, and to strengthen local health services in the long-term.”

The Church of Scotland enjoys a close working partnership with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) in Malawi and supports many projects that transform lives.


This work can be traced back to 1876 when Aberdonian Dr Robert Laws founded the first Christian Mission in Livingstonia in 1876.

Projects backed by the Church’s World Mission Council includes the Ekwendeni Mission Hospital AIDS Programme – Orphan Care Project, Ekwendeni Theological College and Livingstonia Synod AIDS Programme.

Virologist, Professor Heather Cubie, a member of Mayfield Salisbury Church in Edinburgh, recently travelled to Nkhoma Hospital in Malawito see for herself the successful use of equipment used to screen women for cervical cancer.

The therno-coagulation machine was pioneered by the NHS in Dundee and can be powered by a car battery.
It burns off cancer cells in female patients instead of cryotherapy which freezes the cells.

Professor Heather Cubie
Professor Heather Cubie