Last week Myles and Rose Chirwa (zm‘s Projects Officer) drove to Mulanje ZEC for the big day when three piglets arrived from the market to live in a ‘pig palace’, Mulanje ZEC style. This was the final phase in a substantial project by the local church – supported by the ZEC Synod Office and zm – to create an all-important revenue generating business to help the local church support its ministry of word and deed in this important district administrative centre (see previous report here). This sort of project is at the core of zm‘s theology of mission which stretches right back to the start of zm and ZEC as the former Zambezi Industrial Mission that started in 1892. The English founder, Joseph Booth, was deeply influenced by David Livingstone’s approach to Africa, and he committed ZIM to the challenging (and radical for its time) task of establishing a self-governing, self-sustaining and self-propagating Malawian church through the preaching of the Word but also the education and vocational training of local people in agriculture and craft skills.
So it was a great pleasure to meet up again with Pastor Synoden Mulamba, his expanding family (baby Precious being his “third born” and much wanted son), and his church treasurer – and to see their obvious satisfaction as the very well built, three-apartment, pig palace received its first guests.
It is fair to say that the ‘three little pigs’ who had just come 70 km from market trussed up in a basket on the back of a bicycle were not in the best of moods when they first arrived. However, after a little bit of tender loving care from the children – who fetched water and greens from the garden – the little pigs perked up and got settled in.
Nevertheless, behind Synoden’s joy Myles learned of a deep concern that this carefully thought through business plan could be unravelling even as the first guests arrive. For the real profit from pig farming in Malawi (as elsewhere) comes from the fact that pigs eat everything left in the food chain that is unfit for human consumption and therefore very low cost or free. In Malawi that means the major food intake for the pigs is the husk or bran left after maize is milled – called ‘madeya’ in Chichewa.
But, in one of the most graphic illustrations of the deep hunger being experienced by the Warm Heart of Africa, in the last few months madeya has gone from food only fit for pigs, to a precious commodity that could mean the difference between a full stomach and starvation for Malawian families. The result: a by-product of the maize food chain that sold a few months ago at less than K1,000 a bag is now selling for over K2,500 a bag. Indeed, even those people who are privileged enough to have some maize, no longer leave the madeya at the mill but demand to take it home to help put off their family’s hunger that little bit longer.
We cannot tell what all this change means for the short term profitability of Mulanje ZEC’s pig palace. However, as Myles left to return to Blantyre he remained convinced of the longer term, God-given wisdom of Booth’s strategic approach of helping people to help themselves; he was encouraged by the spiritual and practical determination of this little church to find a way to stand on their own feet even while they are being battered by the economic storms of the failing harvest; and he felt privileged to be serving the Lord in an organisation like zm that may be small but that has a big heart for the spiritually lost combined with such a practical and strategic way of demonstrating Christ’s love.