Back in the depths of the rainy season Pastor Dambo of Doviko ZEC valiantly struggled across miles of muddy track on the back of a motorbike taxi to meet us at Ntonda to participate in Myles’ dissertation research. It only felt right that we promise to visit his church when the roads were (relatively) better. So fresh back from our UK ‘holiday’ on Sunday 11th Oct we travelled to Doviko ZEC with the General Secretary and his wife. Even in the middle of the dry season the field director, Simon Chikwana, could not recommend the direct route to Doviko via Mwanza or even Ntonda as the roads are so bad. Instead we had to embark on a 400 km round trip via Ntcheu and a long drive south on a rough dirt road that follows the border with Mozambique. This allowed us to get out and literally ‘walk the line’ of this long unfenced border, and to get a photo Myles has been wanting to get for some time as we stood next to the iconic marker posts that line several border roads in Malawi.
As we sat in the warm sun we were amused and no longer surprised to see a significant chunk of the far-flung congregation turn up packed on the back of a flat-bed truck which had the benefit of being in a much better state than most on the Malawi roads. This is potato country and during the rainy season these versatile trucks – carrying a full load of potatoes to the cities with commuters precariously perched on top – are the only viable mode of transport through the muddy roads.
We discovered that the large congregation of Doviko ZEC meet in the open air in the grounds of a local school. They rather ingeniously use the school veranda as a stage with the veranda roof acting like the sound board of a medieval pulpit. This provided Myles with great accoustics as he spoke on “Sin: the disease man cannot cure” from the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5.
Nevertheless it took a bit of getting used to, seeing the congregation sitting on old fashioned school ‘forms’ that had been dragged out of the school rooms so that the folk – some of whom might have walked several kilometers to attend – could rest while they worshipped.
However, the lasting impression from Doviko will be of their overwhelming generosity to their General Secretary and his wife. Rural Malawians are in dire straits at the moment as maize supplies from the last poor harvest dwindle. We are hearing of students at college with families back home going days without food, and pastor’s relations with maize stocks likely to run out in November when the next harvest will not be until April.
Yet, while ‘walking the line’ between hunger and starvation, the people of Doviko lined up to generously lavish their church leader with bag after bag of potatoes as a wonderful token of their respect and appreciation for his unusually determined servant leadership.
Just when we think we cannot be surprised by Malawi any more, just as we begin to be tempted into cynicism and frustration with the myriad of cultural and contextual issues of Malawi, then we keep finding God steps in and shocks us. Certainly that afternoon we were moved as we saw many a ‘Widow’s Mite’:
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:1-4)