Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Malawi: Land of Contrasts

Sometimes called the Switzerland of Africa, Malawi is a small country of majestic mountains, highland forests, picturesque tea plantations, and some surprisingly semi-arid regions. Most of the agricultural land can best be classified as the semi-arid tropics. The country is over 500 miles long, but in width, only 5 miles in some areas, and up to 100 miles maximum. Lake Malawi is the third largest in Africa. A brief visit to Nkhata Bay was a highlight of our travels because of its splendid view of the lake and its bustling, open-air market along the narrow main village street. Magnificent, but often cloud-enveloped, Mount Mulanje is almost 10,000 feet high.

Most minor roads are untarred and quite dusty in the dry season. We saw no rain during the nearly one month we were there in the hot dry month of September. Bridges were at times treacherous, parts of them being removed by those who needed the wood or metal.

We hiked about seven miles early one morning to visit one of our Seventh Day Baptist church's four dispensaries in Malawi. Most of the way we hiked along the railway line. On five occasions we walked across rather long narrow railway bridges, as we occasionally peaked nervously at the scenic but shallow river far beneath us. Parts of the river divide Malawi from Mozambique. The dispensary or clinic had been established in Chipho, on the river border area, at an earlier time when Mozambique refugees had been pouring into Malawi to escape the civil war violence in Mozambique. We discovered after finishing our review and training at the clinic, and after we had had lunch with our local deacon and his wife, that the train, on which we were to return, had derailed the evening before. We ended up hiking back over the same 7 miles, this time in the heat of the day, praying that the train wouldn't catch us while crossing the longest of the rail bridges, the last one before reaching our home base of the previous week, Makapwa. The train did indeed return but thankfully not until after dark that evening, a few hours after our return to Makapwa.

Malawians are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people I have met anywhere in the world. The children especially were a joy to be around. As we travelled on the very rural dirt roads, the children waved, shouting to us in excitement. They also would quickly run to be included in any quick, candid photos I would attempt to shoot.

Beautiful modern architecture was evident in Llongwe, the new capital city located in the central region where former strongman President Hastings Kamuzu Banda was born. The charming small city of Zomba, in the southern region is the former colonial capital and location of Chancellor College of the University of Malawi. I spent one afternoon at Chancellor College doing research on Charles Domingo, an early Christian pastor, teacher, and writer, who was trained at Livingstonia under Dr. Robert Laws, and even for a time, at Lovedale in South Africa. Domingo was baptized by the famous early anti-colonialism hero of Malawi, John Chilembwe, a Baptist pastor who had been trained in Virginia in the 1890's, and who in 1915 led an uprising against the British, when the hated hut tax, and onerous conscription of Malawians to fight the Germans and their allies in neighboring Tanzania during Wold War I, had caused a lot of turmoil in Nyasaland (Malawi since independence in 1964). Domingo, himself became a Seventh Day Baptist, through the English-born, Baptist missionary Joseph Booth, most famous as a vocal opponent of the corrupt colonialist system. Booth had written a book in 1897 entitled Africa for the Africans. Both Booth and Domingo were deported from Malawi, though both were pacifist oriented and not directly involved in the 1915 uprising. Domingo soon returned to Malawi, but Booth remained in and died in South Africa. Chilembwe was hunted down and shot near the Mozambique border, while many of his band of supporters were executed. Domingo himself was the first certified native teacher in Nyasaland, and prioritized setting up schools for chilren along with the churches he helped establish in the northern region of Malawi.
Zomba is surrounded by the Zomba Plateau and some mountainous terrain. On the top of the plateau is the stately Ku Chawe Hotel, recently restored. We enjoyed its fine restaurant with outside dining and a great view down into the valley. On our descent to the valley, we marvelled at the bicycles, on the steep, long, winding road, heavily laden with firewood being carefully guided down the long, steep mountain road to potential buyers of the firewood in Zomba. We were amazed at the strong young men who would day after day accomplish this herculean task, in order to eke out a living and to put food on the table.

Also in the southern region is Blantyre, the largest city. It was especially intriguing to me because of its impressive history and fine old architecture. Inside Blantyre's magnificent St Michael and All Angels Church, completed in 1891, are brass monuments to David Livingstone, the famous missionary-explorer, as well as to missionary David Clement Scott, who was a superb linguist and noteworthy cultural specialist. Scott published the comprehensive Cyclopedic Dictionary of the Mang'anja Language (forerunner of Malawi's national language Chichewa) in 1892, and the entire New Testament in 1896. Amazingly, the beautiful church is itself the work of David Scott. The Scottish Presbyterian missionary had no formal training in architecture or any of the building trades. The five sanctuary windows are magnificent art treasures. The inscriptions are inspiring: "The Good Shepherd," "The Good Physician," "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." The clocktower on the grounds also has a monument with a rather long list of the names of the early Scottish Presbyterian missionaries. The Mount Soche Hotel, and surrounding gardens, are among Blantyre's most eloquent. The Mandala House is reputedly Blantyre's oldest building.

Mzuzu, in the northern region is the only other city of any significant size. It is in an area of mountains and of a thriving timber industry. We saw many monkeys and a small "deer" during our travels in the northern region. The city also has a fairly new public university.

We were privileged to visit people and churches in all three regions of the country. Many of the churches had no benches, either of wood, or of the more traditional mud variety. The windows and doors were also often unfinished, being gradually finished as the funds were raised. Many times extra bricks are made and kilned in order to sell, so that the relatively expensive corrugated metal roof could be purchased. The corrugated metal sheets are often secured over long hand-hewn, wooden poles. My last weekend in Blantyre I preached (from Acts 1 and 2, and the work of the Holy Spirit in mission) with an interpretor, at a church where 200 to 250 adults and children sat on the earthen floor.

In the central region especially, we visited villages that were predominantly Muslim. The Muslims make up at least 15% of the population, mainly among the Yao people (as many as 90% of the Yao are Muslim), and to a much lesser extent among the Chewa people. Picturesque mosques are evident in these villages, as well as in all the cities. There have been only three presidents since Malawi's independence, the second being a Muslim. The first, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was Presbyterian, and the current president, Mose Bingu, is Roman Catholic. Current Vice President Joyce Banda, is Presbyterian. The largest religious groups in Malawi are the Roman Catholics, the Sunni Muslims, the Presbyterians, the Seventh day Adventists, and several Pentecostal-Charismatic churches, including the Assemblies of God and the Living Waters churches. The Anglicans are not as prominent as they were in the colonial days, prior to Malawi's independence.
We enjoyed the great variety of food, but especially the fresh vegetables and fruit from our host family's garden in Limbe, on the outskirts of Blantyre. I also especially enjoyed the 'chambo" (talapia) and other fish dishes. Nsima, made from corn is the national food staple. Malawias joke that if you haven't had nsima with your meal, then you haven't really eaten a meal at all.

A portion of the Old Testament (Genesis and Exodus) is available from the Bible Society of Malawi in the Yao language, in a paperback, with drawings reminiscent of the Good News for Modern Man New Testament ( the Today's English Version). Their Bible House is in Blantyre. The New Testament may be published within months. I was also able to purchase from the Bible House in Blantyre the complete Bible in Chichewa (Chewa), the national language of Malawi. Both the older "Revised Chinyanja (Union) Version", also known as the Buku Lopatulika (first edition 1922, with revised editions in 1936 and 1966) and the much newer version, the modern speech Buku Loyera, finally completed in 1998, are readily available. The Buku Loyera was a project of both Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars. Some Protestant and independent Churches still prefer to use the older Buku Lopatulika. I visited the bookshop of a large Catholic Cathedral in Blantyre, but was unable to find the earlier Roman Catholic translation, Malembo Oyera, done over many years by the French missionary Fr Louis Villy and finally published in 1966. The Catholic bookshop only sold the Buku Loyera. Neither was I able to locate in any used bookstore either the Malembo Loyera or a pre-independence copy of the old Chinyanga Bible, the New Testament of which is, essentially, with some later revisions, the translation work of the late 19th century pioneer missionary David Clement Scott, and the Old Testament of which is essentially the work completed in 1919 of missionaries Rev W. Murray and his assistant Rev Alexander Heaterwick. The most recent edition of the Buku Lopatulika is as close as I could get to the older Bible. The Chinyanga language evolved into the Chichewa language under President Hastings, soon after Malawi's independence in 1964. In Zambia and Zimbabwe it is still called Nyanja (Chinyanja) My search for these earlier versions continues.

I was able to acquire full Bibles in Tumbuka ( or Chitumbuka, the prefix "Chi" indicates language of the particular people group, Tumbuka), Sena (or Chisena), and Kyangonde all published by The Bible Society in Malawi, but copyrighted originally by either the United Bible Societies or the British and Foreign Bible Society. Chitumbuka is also spoken in neighboring Zambia. These Bibles I found either at the Bible House or at the CLAIM (Christian Literature Association in Malawi) Bookstore. Both of these excellent book outlets are located in downtown Blantyre. A used copy of the New Testament and Psalms in the Lomwe language was traded to me by our hosts' son, since, though of Lomwe ancestry, he can't read Lomwe. It was published in 1991 by the United Bible Societies afiliate Casa da Biblia in Mozambique, but was originally copyrighted by the National Bible Society of Scotland in 1930. The Lomwe language is spoken more in neihboring Mozambique than in Malawi. I was informed at the Bible House in Blantyre by a 12-year employee that the full Bible in Lomwe should be available within about 5 years, and that the feasability of a possible partial or full Bible translation into Tonga (the Tonga are a people group in the northern region, mostly residing near Lake Malawi, consisting of only about 170,000 people) is still being researched.

The health, sanitation, and land management needs in Malawi at times seem staggering. Probably 10-20% of the population are HIV positive, though the percentage may have declined somewhat lately. Life expectancy is only in the age 40's, having declined because of the AIDS epidemic. Falciparum malaria is very deadly, especially among the very young and the immunosuppressed. There have been over 800 cases of the dreaded cholera disease this year already. Last year only a few cases of cholera were reported. Cholera is especially deadly in the very young, causing rapid dehydration from the diarrhea produced.

Maternal and infant mortality rates are very high compared to the western world. Malnutrition related to droughts has been common in the past. Irrigation of some of the semi-arid lands of Malawi is needed, but is still relatively uncommon. Controlled burning of the land is common. I saw these burnings very frequently in many regions of Malawi when I was there in September.

Corn is the staple of most Malawian diets, yet corn yields are low compared to western standards. Here were some average corn yields (admittedly a few years ago) in tons per hectare (one hectare equals 2.4 acres): USA about 9 (Indiana and Illinois are an even better, at 16), South Africa 4, Malawi 1.4, Mozambique 0.9 (three of four of our church's clinics are very near the Mozambique border). Average for all of Africa is 1.5, so Malawi was actually at about the average African yield, and also of the neighboring Zambia yield for corn, but significantly better than neighboring Mozambique yield. Malawi's corn yield may now be above the African average as food production in Malawi has increased significantly in the past 2 years or so, primarily due to some government initiatives to improve farming techniques and land management. Another positive note: uranium is now being mined, for export, in the far north of Malawi, near Karonga.

Would you please pray as individuals for Malawi. Also pray in Bible study groups, and in local churches. Here are some suggested prayer items:

1. Completion and publication of the Yao New Testament within the next few months.

2. Completion of the rest of Old Testament in Lomwe.

3. Possible translation of at least a portion of the Bible in the Tonga language.

4. A Holy Spirit led revival in Malawi, as previously occurred in the early 20th century subsequent much fervent prayer.

5. Spiritual discernment for Christians in Malawi concerning some of Satan's imitations, especially both cultic and occultic imitations. Jehovah's Witnesses and other anti-Trinitarian cults are prevalent. Prosperity gospel teaching seems to be seen and heard daily on TV and radio in Malawi. Witchcraft, spiritism, and syncretism are present. Literature about the cults and occult is needed- especially in the Chichewa language, not just in English.

6. Community health evangelism programs by local churches are needed. Teaching the women (probably by other, more mature Christian women) basic maternity and child health principles has been shown to have the greatest impact in lowering infant and maternal mortality rates.

7. Effective chastity teaching in the churches, especially for the youth. Better teaching regarding AIDS.

8. That Muslims and Hindus in Malawi would come to know the living Christ. The Yao people group of the south and cental regions are over one million in number and are almost 90% Muslim). Some of the Chewa peoples are also Muslim. Most of the minority Asian peoples in Malawi (originally from south Asia, mostly Gujarati and Tamil) are either Hindu or Muslims, yet unreached with the gospel of Christ.

Thanks for your prayers. I wish to especially thank our financial supporters and prayer partners, without whom this mission trip would not even have been possible. Most of all, thanksgiving is due to the Sovereign Lord of all, who has promised to bring in an abundant harvest of souls as we sow the seed of the gospel message.

Such assuring promises give us much hope, encouragement, and anchoring of our faith in Christ (Hebrews 6:18-19), We realize that God is in control and that he is the worthy object of all our mission in life. When our mission, witness, and work on earth is accomplished, we will still have an eternity to praise and worship him. That is why worship, and not missions, is indeed in the final analysis our ultimate priority (Rev 5:9-14 and Rev 7:9-17). All praise be to God the Father, and to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, the driving force behind God-centered and God-honoring missions.

By God's grace and mercy, and for His glory and honor,
Ron Davis

1 comment:

Robert said...


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