10 – 11 September 2013
I wish I knew more about Jessie Rowland whose grave sits all alone at the top of a prominent hill that commands an amazing 360 degree view of a huge plain of African bush between Blantyre and Lake Malawi.
Monday in Blantyre was quiet but interesting as we met with Pastor Mvula J Mvula, the leader of the River of Life Evangelical Church that has recently become a partner of Zambezi Mission. Formed in 2001 ROLEC is an indigenous church that aims through the preachong of the Word of God to transform people’s lives and their communities both spiritually, socially and economically. In looks and in force of character there is something of Nelson Mandela about Pastor Mvula, and we had a fascinating time understanding his primary need to rapidly train ROLEC pastors to be better shepherds for their flocks.
However after a quiet Monday we went into two grueling but illuminating days as we traveled across the amazing countryside of southern and central Malawi. On Tuesday my newly acquired dirt-road driving skills were thoroughly put to the test as we turned off the well surfaced main road onto a track, then off that onto a smaller track, and then off that onto something that resembled a glorified river bed.
In this spot lies ZEC’s isolated Ntonda Rural Hospital, where it was founded back in 1894 as part of one of the early Mission Stations of Zambezi Industrial Mission. Like Henry Venn, these early missionaries believed in establishing self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating indigenous churches so each mission station had a church, a school, and a clinic. In addition enough land was bought from the local tribe to ensure self-sufficiency in food.
Amazingly all this infrastructure is still there, although the school is now run by the government and the hospital is regulated by it. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to hear how, after years of neglect, the modern ZEC is once again focusing on re-establishing the original missionaries model to develop industry to sustain the mission and improve the lot of the people.
That being said it was still a shocking experience to tour the facilities and see first-hand the resources with which the dedicated staff at the hospital and day-care orphanage have to do their job. While the primary focus of the hospital is maternity service and HIV prevention/treatment it is also the front-line health provider to thousands of people who are otherwise many hours travel from the nearest district hospital. And while the government regularly increases the regulatory requirements on the hospital it does (or can do) little to support the investment in new equipment.
The mothers in the group – Janet and Ruth – were particularly shocked when they saw the two spartan beds in the delivery room that forced many mothers to give birth on the floor; when they heard that without mains electricity many of the deliveries were by torch light; and realized that any expectant mother needing a referral due to complications might wait a day to get an ambulance to drive them for a few hours across dirt tracks to the district hospital.
On Wednesday we moved on. As we drove along yet another long dirt track and crested a rise there was the amazing site in the distance of a church and a group of buildings standing proud on a wooded hill. We had arrived at Muluma – another of the early Mission Stations with church, clinic and school – to see the almost complete new clinic building funded by Zambezi Mission and sitting at the foot of the hill near the 20th century state school.
While the new clinic was impressive, it was when the new Pastor Paul Hembeyani took us up the hill that this historic place really made its impact. After toiling up the slope in the sun we came across the 19th century church building, rubble of the original mission house, and the original clinic; all sitting with a phenomenal 360 degree view across a huge plain of African bush between Blantyre and Lake Malawi.
And there on the hill we found the grave of Jessie Rowland, the young wife of David Rowland, who died in 1905 aged 23. Standing there we pondered what kind of faith God must have given Jessie to travel for months by sea and land to this small hill, must have given to those early missionaries as they built these imposing structures on the crown of a hill surrounded by a sea of bush, must have given to those Christians as they poured out their lives for the lost around them. And all this done in the name of love, of God’s ultimate love on the cross.
It was a fitting climax to our time in Kenya and Malawi; that sense of connection and continuity with those who had struck out into the red dust of Africa all those years before; that sense of rediscovery by today’s African Christians of the original vision of evangelizing, training, equipping and releasing indigenous disciples; that sense of re-dedication to fulfilling both the great commission and the great commandment by transforming communities spiritually, socially and economically.