After more than a year in Malawi we certainly feel we have settled in and become far more productive as life and social norms in Malawi increasingly feel ‘normal’. However, every now and then something breaks in to shake our complacency and remind us that the underlying cultural ‘world-view’ of many Malawians is very different from ours.
One such cultural ‘break-in’ happened last week and was heavily covered in the main-stream Malawi press …
Around midnight on 25/26 January, during one of the heavy thunder storms that hit Malawi at this time of year, a village near Neno, (about 70 km west of Blantyre) was stunned when a young 17 year old girl was struck by lightening and died.
After this tragedy an angry mob set on the girls four grandparents (aged 69-86) thinking that through some form of witchcraft they were responsible for the death of the young lady. “They were severely beaten and killed. After receiving this sad news we rushed to the scene where we found all [the] dead bodies lying in a pool of blood,” a police officer was reported as saying.
Malawi has been stunned by this incident, and the President of Malawi went on the record as being “saddened by the brutal acts of the mob” and reported as “reminding Malawians to stop accusing the elderly of witchcraft whenever someone dies”.
Those of us from a western cultural background will rightly be shocked by these incidents, and probably surprised that African traditional beliefs in the ancestral spirit world still have such a hold over so many in modern day Malawi – even in the Church.
However, we need to be very careful that our gut response is not based on some form of cultural imperialism that assumes ‘West is best’. Many of our African Christian friends would rightly point out how our own western culture of humanism, materialism, individualism and ‘success’ has leaked in to the western Church’s very understanding of the Gospel – resulting in a Christian life that is also dramatically at odds with God’s will.
Christ was quick to point out that we all suffer from our own cultural “blind spots”. So instead, let’s see this incident as another example of the shocking depravity of the human condition, and the universal need of all peoples in all cultures for the radically new biblical world-view of the true Gospel. Furthermore, let’s redouble our commitment – wherever we find ourselves – to be Christ’s salt and light in our local culture, so that Christ’s true world-view would be ever more paramount.