Ruth is now (Monday) in the Zambesi Mission office in Blantyre and can take up the story herself!
My rescheduled flights mean I was three nights “in the village” – as they call it in Malawi. I had no idea until I arrived just how far away from “civilisation” Mlambuzi ZEC is! Even the ubiquitous minibuses don’t go there, and a bicycle taxi is quite perilous given the huge gullies in the road carved out by the rains. Not surprisingly, there’s no mains electricity or running water. But such lovely people waited to give me a warm Malawi welcome. And to my relief the Chichewa greetings came back to me easily, indeed more and more of the language came back to me as the days went by.
It truly was a joy to meet Matthews and his lovely family again. He has faithfully kept in touch over the last 4 years (good old WhatsApp) and it was great to visit the church where he has been pastor since he graduated from the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi. The church has grown in that time, though being there three whole days with time to sit and chat into the evenings, gave me a better understanding of the struggles he has faced along the way.
Sunday I helped out at the morning service. Given my passion for children’s ministry this involved modelling a children’s talk – something not commonly done in Malawi. And of course it also involved teaching the children a new song from Ananu Ziimbani. (See https://bit.ly/Ananu if you have not heard about Ananu Ziimbani)
During the morning service I had to smile to myself when I heard the familiar words “chorus awiri”. Music is a big part of the service, and every group prepares songs to sing (especially when there’s a visitor). “Chorus awiri” is the pastor’s vain attempt to try to make each group stick to just singing “two songs” – they usually manage to stretch this to three or four!
Mlambuzi is in the heart of Chewa land, and probably the closest I have come to the goings-on of the Gule Wamkulu cult. There had been a death somewhere nearby on the Saturday, and funerals are one of the occasions where the Gule Wamkulu symbolic masked dances are performed. Lying in bed I could hear the drums accompanying the dancers throughout the night, right up till the burial on Sunday. Matthews explained to me that it is one of the issues he has to deal with among his church members who, despite their commitment to Christ, cannot shake off the influence of the culture that is at the heart of their community.
A couple of interesting experiences for me doing my ablutions in the village – first up, encountering a large pig in the dark, sleeping right across the entrance to the outside toilet (I know all about cows from my Bedfordshire village, but wasn’t quite sure how to approach a pig – thankfully it heard me coming and struggled to its feet and moved on). And one morning when I took my bucket into the “bathroom” (I use the term loosely!), I discovered a chicken, who had obviously found the wrong room to sleep in. I can cope with the geckos and the beetles and the cockroaches scurrying around the walls – but I don’t do so well with chickens! I took my bucket into the bedroom!
Now I am in Blantyre – and enjoying a few creature comforts! An electric fan (it’s 35 degrees), an indoor flushing toilet, a shower, Satemwa coffee, cold drinks straight from the fridge, a mirror, fresh fruit. I was hallucinating for some of these things while in the village with Matthews. But it was such a privilege to share life with the Khumaloh family and Mlambuzi ZEC for those first few days of my trip, and I shall treasure the memories of their welcome and hospitality.