It is now “mid-winter” here in Malawi – and we are wishing we had brought more of our winter clothes from England. When we first moved into our house we were amused to see a fan heater in one of the cupboards – wondering why it was there – this is Africa after all. The windows that did not quite close properly have never been a problem – until June hit. Over the last 6 weeks, here in Blantyre at an altitude of 3400 feet, there have been many cool overcast days, and windy days, and the nights are noticably colder. The fan heater has been used several times, the windows have had to be fixed, and Ruth has been shopping for jumpers and body-warmers!
But though we find ourselves feeling the winter cold, we are not suffering from winter blues! We are far too busy for that. Our regular and routine activities are interspersed with new and fascinating experiences. Recently we have had opportunities to share in the wider work of Zambesi Mission. Every journey out of Blantyre we see new parts if this beautiful country, experience more of the local culture, and learn more of the challenges people face.
Last month, as the cold season started to be felt, Ruth had the chance to accompany Rose Chirwa, ZM’s Projects’ Officer, to Chifunga Orphan Day-Care Centre to distribute blankets. Malawi has a great number of orphans, mostly due to Aids, and ZM assists the poor and over-stretched extended families who care for them, by providing day-care, food, healthcare, school uniforms, recreation and education for the orphans. Rose told of instances of children sleeping in maize sacks, or thin chitenjes, or even using their mosquito net as a bed cover. Blankets for every single orphan that ZM supports through its 3 day-care centres (a total of 260 children) had been supplied by a Blantyre company, and it was a privilege to pass on their gift, and see the children’s delight and gratitude.
On the same occasion, Ruth and Rose visited several hospitals and clinics with maternity units to distribute baby clothes and blankets that have been hand-knitted in the UK. At one maternity unit, there was the sad reminder of the shocking rate of maternal mortality in Malawi. One day-old baby at the clinic at Chifunga was being cared for by a relative, because his mother had died giving birth that morning.
A more unusual activity was going to deliver goats to 20 members of a new church-plant at Thambani close to the Mozambique border. ZM’s scheme helps church members get started in an income-generating project so that they are in a better position to provide for themselves and for their pastor. At the present time, the amount they can afford to give Pastor Jonathan does not even cover the rent for his tiny mud-brick house, let alone feed his wife and 2 children. Typical of so many rural pastors and church-planters, the sacrifice Pastor Jonathan has made to follow his calling into ministry, and the struggle he has to provide for his family, is humbling and challenging.
Annually, ZM run several book-set conferences for rural pastors who have very few books or resources to help them in their work. This year Myles will be assisting with these conferences through July /August, travelling to 3 different centres – Michinji, Mulanje and Ntchalo. At each of the conferences he will be teaching a series of 3 sessions on “Preach the Word”, a practical refresher in bible interpretation and expository preaching. He will also lead a session introducing the pastors to the books in their “book-set” showing them how to make the best use of them in their ministry.
One other new experience, but a very sad one, was a Malawian funeral. Last weekend Ruth was travelling with her colleague, the Sunday School Coordinator for ZEC, who received the tragic news of 4 children killed in a fire at an orphanage. So their plans had to be slightly altered to attend the funeral. It was a personal tragedy for the pastor-administrator of the orphanage, whose own son was among the dead, as well as a tragedy for the whole community of Nsongwe, rocked by the knowledge that the fire seems to have been started deliberately. Malawians convey their condolences in the expression “Mwafa, tafa” (“You die, we die”) and Ruth certainly shared in the grief that family, church and community were feeling that day.
These shared experiences and insights bring us closer to the people we are here to serve. Malawi and the Malawians continue to seep under our skin, and much as we are anticipating a short time back in the UK next month, we know that at the end of that time we will be keen to get back to our new “home”.