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Blantyre Synod

Alexander Hetherwick

On the day of the arrival in Malawi of some of his relatives I thought it would be worth looking at one of the ‘big four’ (or five) Scottish missionaries in the history of Malawi. Of course, naming the most important missionaries is quite a subjective task. I look forward to encountering some alternative, and perhaps better informed opinions, in due course.

The ‘big four’ that I am thinking of are David Livingstone (of course), Dr Robert Laws of Livingstonia and Scott and Hetherwick of Blantyre.

The division among white incomers that I want to suggest considering is something that goes right back to David Livingstone himself. Famously, David Livingstone got on very well with his African companions and hosts but had a somewhat more difficult relationship with his later European companions. In fact in the very early days he wanted to get as far away from ‘The Cape’ (South Africa) as possible so that he could meet African people untouched by the kind of relationship that was brewing between the Boers and the local people there. The worst story was where local people told him that Boers were shooting black children for fun. So incredible did he find this that is was not until culprits themselves told him the same thing that he believed that it must be true.

While noting that the above is an extreme example it is clear from the early days that the Scottish missionaries wished to avoid the ‘Cape model’. DC Scott was a great believer in ‘African Christianity’ being worked out by the local people rather than European Christianity and European civilisation being transplanted onto a different society. He had great confidence that an indigenous African Christian civilisation would emerge. Bring the bible, preach the gospel, introduce modern medicine, education and technical skills and then let Africa work out it’s own civilisation was the thinking. After building St Michael’s church in Blantyre DC Scott would not build other church buildings outside the mission station because the churches must come from within the hearts of the local people he argued. In fact, once the first converts were made Christianity spread throughout the land as a result of African evangelists.

It should be clear therefore that this view of the prominent Scottish missionaries would bring them into conflict with the more ‘paternal’ (at best) colonial authorities. The tradition continued for a long time as Scottish missionaries were also part of the struggle for independence as they had earlier been involved in the struggle for protection (from slavery and the Portuguese). Alexander Hetherwick, as DC Scott’s assistant and successor as head of Blantyre Mission was very much within this tradition.

The alternative to these men and others was a quite different attitude that came from some (though perhaps not all) of those in the colonial authorities. Harry Johnston was an interesting character whose writing clearly shows him to be irritated with the missionaries. However, it is quite amusing to read his begrudging praise for the missionaries and their achievements. The facts regarding the changes were inescapable. Malawi’s history (the facts) have a way of forcing people to nuance their pre-conceived prejudices. This is true whether we are talking about people who think the British Empire was ‘a jolly good thing’ or those who think that every missionary or colonial influence is oppression and a sub-version of local culture. What I find interesting about the views of serious people who look at Malawi’s history is the consensus of opinion among them rather than the division – and this is because that consensus is coming from observers with different backgrounds and beliefs (Christian / secular / right-wing / left / European / African). Of course, if you want a simplistic cartoon version of history that fits in with your preconceived ideas, unburdened by knowledge…then that is available from many opinionated and vocal sources.

Returning however to the very real differences in attitude between white people here it is informative to look at some examples of what happened when there was trouble between local people and the colonial authorities. At the time of the Chilembwe Uprising the authorities blamed the Scottish missionaries for educating the people. The Scottish missions believed in primary, secondary and further (tertiary) education (as well as practical training) while others thought that the education should be primary school only. Scott I think indicated his irritation with some of the new ‘aloof’ doctors by asking rhetorically why they come here if they don’t like (or respect) the local people.

One of the indicators, that in fact goes back to David Livingstone himself, was how well white people got on with other whites and how well they got on with Africans. David Livingstone had a famously difficult relationship with other European companions but was well liked across vast areas of the continent. The relationships of those other early missionaries who followed him I think also parallels this kind of thing. We should remember that many of these early Scottish missionaries were rebels within the system or perhaps did not want to fit in with society back ‘home’. The most spectacular example of this was DC Scott secretly building St Michael’s church while keep the whole thing secret from his bosses on the Mission Board in Edinburgh.

Alexander Hetherwick says about this “Scott had no previous knowledge of architecture or building construction. He had never seen a brick made or laid. He began with no definite plan. The present writer remembers being shown, as he passed through Blantyre on his way home for first furlough, a few geometrical figures which he was told was the scheme or “theme” of the proposed church–three cubes forming the nave, a half-cube each forming the two transepts and chancel. …each difficult and delicate detail was… laid without mortar, and then noting the result from the ground before laying the courses with lime” Romance of Blantyre, 1931, p. 77).

St Michael and All Angels Church, Blantyre. Hetherwick knew what Scott was up to, the Mission Board in Scotland did not.

St Michael and All Angels Church, Blantyre. Hetherwick knew what Scott was up to, the Mission Board in Scotland did not.

In keeping this secret Scott was of course not neglecting his duties – he was after all translating the bible at the same time.

We like to think that those old Victorian and colonial times were so different to now. However, I find it interesting to look at those differences of opinions then observe what happens today.

Returning now to the title of this post – Alexander Hetherwick. Hetherwick was very much in that first (but increasingly minority among whites) tradition that was set by David Livingstone himself. This country is the responsibility of the local people. The role of the missionaries and those other Europeans who followed them was not to impose European civilisation onto a different society and rule over it. Instead, the missionaries have a temporary role which involves translating the bible and following the introduction of Christianity, modern education and medicine; to let Africa take responsibility and work out their own African Christian civilisation.

My reading and study is not so extensive and deep that I have the facts of Hetherwick’s life at my fingertips. Instead, what I write about these missionaries is the impression I have built up from reading from various books and sources and talking to local historians and of course what I learned from my father who was an expert Chichewa speaker and minister in local congregations. It is also infomed somewhat by my own experience of modern day divisions and misunderstanding as well as different approaches to ‘development’. It should be mentioned that DC Scott’s vision was, I think, ultimately defeated by other whites and the years between those early days and now were characterised by aloof whites and ‘development’ ideas that are not the same as Livingstone’s thinking on ‘legitimate commerce’ or DC Scott’s thinking about letting Africa work out it’s own civilasation. ‘What went wrong’ with African / European relations would be an interesting study after considering how things started. However, how things started has clearly set a tone which has by no means disappeared.

As I say, Hetherwick fell within that tradition initiated by Livingstone and carried on in Blantyre by Scott. Let me quote from another source.

Andrew C Ross
Alexander Hetherwick was a Church of Scotland missionary in Malawi. He graduated from Aberdeen University, the best mathematician of his class. He turned away from an academic career and trained for the Church of Scotland ministry. In 1885 he was ordained for missionary service with the Blantyre mission in Malawi, where D. C. Scott sent him to open up new work among hitherto hostile groups beneath the Zomba plateau. Although very different temperamentally from Scott, Hetherwick soon became Scott’s principal assistant and succeeded him as head of the mission in 1898. Hetherwick was an able linguist and chaired the committee that produced the complete Nyanja Bible, which was used until the late 1970s in Malawi, Zambia, and parts of Mozambique. Following in Scott’s footsteps, he never flinched from challenging the colonial authorities over African rights and served as representative of those interests in the legislative council of the Protectorate from 1908 to 1913 and again from 1922 to 1925. His speeches before the government commission of enquiry into the John Chilembwe rebellion of 1915 were, for the time, a startling insistence on the oneness of humanity transcending racial difference. Along with Robert Laws, he was one of the main architects of the autonomous Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, which was inaugurated in 1924.

There is a lot more that informed church historians can tell us and I recommend as a starter reading ‘Blantyre Mission and the Making of Modern Malawi’ by Andrew C. Ross. However, today those African presbyterians who are aware of the arrival this afternoon of relatives of Alexander Hetherwick consider that fact a big deal. Sadly, many other people will just give a blank look if informed of the same information.

I have found that Alexander Hetherwick’s biography is available but on the US and not on the UK Amazon website. The author of the biography with a long title ‘A Prince of Missionaries : The Rev Alexander Hetherwick of Blantyre, Central Africa’ is W P Livingstone. W P Livingstone’s biography of Dr Robert Laws is one I have read and that book left me with a lasting impression of the extraordinary story that is the dawn of Christianity and the end of the long night of slavery in this land.

To get to Hetherwick’s biography on Amazon click on this sentence which is a link to the book.

New Blantyre Synod Radio Station

The last house I lived in during my childhood in Malawi is being converted into a radio station. Next to the Blantyre Synod offices this radio station will begin broadcasting, for Blantyre Synod, to the whole of the Southern Region of Malawi.

My old house

My old house

Malawi’s population density map, Blantyre Synod covers the more populous Southern Region.

Malawi’s population density, Blantyre Synod covers the populous Southern Region.

Blantyre Synod’s geographical area is basically the Southern Region of Malawi and is, as everyone who knows Malawi’s history will understand, the same as the geographical area covered by the old Church of Scotland Mission. The rationale for a radio station for the denomination can be understood with a few simple, and striking, facts. These facts are quite different from the normal situation for a church denomination in the west. The CCAP (of which Blantyre Synod is a component part) is one of the few denominations that fully trains it’s ministers in theological college before ordaining them. The cost in money and time for the training of a minister is quite high and this has an important effect in a poor country. So, relative to the number of members (and congregations), the number of ministers is very small. Blantyre Synod has well over a million members but only about 185 ministers actively serving in congregations together with the numerous ‘prayer houses’ attached to full church congregations. Prayer houses are like individual church congregations that meet on a Sunday and are like daughter church congregations that may become full congregations in time. Blantyre Synod has about 600 churches and 700 prayer houses. This means that each Sunday about 450 churches, not to mention prayer houses, have no minister with them at their service. Bear in mind also that many larger congregations have more than one service on a Sunday, including English language services in urban areas.

From this it should be clear that the burden on individual ministers is quite high. Elders of the church have to take up the responsibility of preaching and much else. While in Scotland and elsewhere the minister may be expected to do much of the work, in Malawi this is practically impossible and the burden of leadership and responsibility falls heavily on the elders. I do remember my father saying (he being a fluent and expert Chichewa speaker), that some of the best, deepest and most profound sermons he had heard came from almost completely uneducated Malawian elders. More recently I remember the Dutch minister, Rev Lieuwe Schaafsma (himself a fluent Chichewa speaker), saying something very similar. I mention the views of these expats because you sometimes hear the opposite from western visitors, so I am keen to counter with the views of outsiders who know the language. Never-the-less, despite the good things that can be said about elders with varying degrees of training, there is an understandable feeling that those who are theologically qualified should be enabled to reach the whole of the flock. This is where the need for a radio station comes in.

Most Malawians have access to radios. Even if each individual or household does not have one people can listen together. There are many influences arriving in Malawi. Understandably the CCAP as a whole, and Blantyre Synod as part of the CCAP, wish to keep the bible at the forefront of people’s understanding of how to view a rapidly changing world with a growing cacophony of new voices.

At the time of writing the Blantyre Synod website has an interview with the Deputy General Secretary, Rev Nyekanyeka, on the new radio station.

On the Trail (and legacy) of David Livingstone

David Livingstone statue at Victoria Falls: my father took this photo in 1967

While in Malawi we met a BBC crew including the presenter Neil Oliver who presents the Coast series.

They were there to film a documentary on David Livingstone. It is part of a series called ‘The Last Explorers’. I knew that the BBC were about because I know people they were interviewing. At the time that they were in Blantyre I happened to be looking for people travelling from Malawi to the UK to help to deliver some letters from pupils at HHI Primary School in Malawi to their ‘link’ school in Elie, Scotland.

Approaching a suspicious looking group of characters outside of St Michael and All Angel’s I asked if they were from the BBC. Very helpfully they very gladly agreed to take the letters from the Malawian pupils and drop them in the post the minute they landed at London Heathrow. We did however then have to rush and speed up the final stages of the gathering of the letters.

The documentary that they produced will be broadcast on BBC 1 Scotland tomorrow (Thursday) evening. I will be interested to see what they say. Over the last year or two I have been reading quite a bit of history on Malawi. This was partly motivated by my love of Malawi but also my personal history. It was also motivated by me being stung by a couple of different (and in my view ignorant) comments about Malawi. The problem was that I did not have enough history myself at the time to respond properly.

St Michael's where I bumped into the BBC crew in 2011. This photo was taken in the 60s or 70s. Sharp eyed readers looking at the HHI building will see that this photo is the wrong way around.

David Livingstone of course was the founder of the 150 year (so far) relationship between Scotland and Malawi. [Actually, I am sure that some would say that God founded the relationship]. The Church of Scotland mission in Blantyre was the direct heir of his work in the southern (and most populous) region of Malawi. That mission of course then handed over responsibility and Scottish mission became African church. The handover of administrative authority from Scottish missionaries to Malawian ministers was therefore a fundamental milestone and ‘bearing fruit’ of Livingstone’s original missionary work. The relationship between The Church of Scotland and the new Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) church continued and Scottish missionaries continued to be sent to work under the authority of the CCAP. Now, the full-time missionary links are much smaller. Instead there are many more links between wider Scottish and Malawian groups and society. However, the Church of Scotland does have a doctor (not Scottish) working for the CCAP at Mulanje Mission Hospital (where one of my brothers was born). In general however, I find that Malawians in the CCAP ask ‘where have all the Scots gone’. Rightly, the CCAP has many other international links now.

My father, Rev Howard Taylor, preaching at Masalema Church in Chichewa in the 1970s. My father requested a congregation where no one spoke English - to force himself to learn Chichewa.

My father was one of the last Church of Scotland missionaries who worked full-time as a Chichewa speaking minister. Actually, in speaking to my dad now we think he was the last in that category.

Of course the Scottish mission and missionaries went through their ups and downs – to say the least. There is quite an extraordinary history with the full range of human interest and political sagas. At its best the Scottish missionaries were immersed in the language and culture of the people. They avoided imposing and had a clear vision of Malawi as a place that would take the bible and modern education and work out their own fully African and truly indigenous Christian civilisation. At their worst some Scottish missionaries were aloof and arrogant and somewhat ‘colonial’ in their style. [This is not an ‘anti-colonial’ comment by me – it is true that British protection played a key role in the defeat of the slave trade and the emergence of the nation].

At their best in the early days we had DC (David) Scott and Alexander Heatherwick. In the final years my father was, we think, the last Church of Scotland missionary working as a fluent and expert Chichewa speaking minister with congregations in the villages. If someone can correct me on that point I would be glad to hear about it and make the necessary correction. Until that point I will bask in the glory of being a child of that great legacy. Unfortunately this proud ‘achievement’ will be appreciated by no one really other than myself.

These are Rev Chinthali's children (and me in the wheelbarrow). They were our neighbours in Zomba. Their father taught my father Chichewa. Their house in the background is now occupied by Rev Kadawati's family. It was Rev Kadawati, while General Secretary, who welcomed us to return to Malawi.

Being serious again my father did say that his approach as a minister in the CCAP was to say that he was under the authority of the domestic church. Over the last eight months in Malawi I and my family have certainly benefitted from the continuing good will directed towards my father. Recently an older minister came up to me and told me that my father in the synod was just like his Malawian colleagues – as one of them rather than being a bit ‘other’ like most westerners in Malawi. He is remembered by many with great affection.

A final vintage photo for you. This one Mulanje Mountain in the 1960s. There is more to Malawi than history.

So, these are my roots in a way. There may not be a blood line running down the decades of the Scotland – Malawi relationship. However, the bond between the two countries is deep and lies at the heart and foundation (not to mention geographical shape) of the Malawian nation. The relations between the two countries is wide and shallow (that is not a criticism) in many ways, as anyone who looks at the number of projects going on will be able to tell.

In the future I would like to show people around Malawi and explore in person and on the spot, the trail of David Livingstone. The history is fascinating, the oral traditions and passed down memory are there in the villages and the scenery is beautiful and stunning.

Church Service in Prison

As intimated in an earlier blog post I planned to go to church in prison with Rev Chimesya this weekend. He leaves now for Lilongwe to complete the last ten weeks of his Diploma. It was some kind of goodbye.

Posing for a photo with Rev Chimesya's family after the meeting and before his trip up to Lilongwe.

Amelia decided that she would come to the prison service also with Ruth and David. St Columba CCAP church are responsible for taking the services in Chichiri Prison on a Sunday. This is because the prison congregation are counted as a St Columba Prayer House. Each church has a number of prayer houses under it and over time the prayer houses may grow enough to become a church on their own. Prayer Houses meet on a Sunday just like a normal church. They do not have a minister and are supported by the larger parent church. For obvious reasons Chichiri Prison Prayer House will not develop into a full church. St Columba is one of the largest congregations in Blantyre and in the Southern Region. My father was assistant minister there just over thirty years ago.

Amelia went with three ladies from St Columba into the women’s section. I headed into the men’s section with Rev Chimesya and soon after we were joined by a few gentlemen from St Columba. I recognised one of the St Columba people as he entered but found myself in that situation where you struggle to work out who the person you recognise is because you are seeing them entirely out of the usual context. Fortunately he had no such hesitation and I realised that he is the accountant at Phoenix International Primary School. He is the man I pay Ruth’s school fees to.

Just before the service started, while we were sitting at the front, there was some amusement over what part of the service I would take part in.

“What part will you take in the service?”


“Can you do a bible reading?”

“Errr..yes……in English?”


“In Chechewa.”

“Hmmm. Do you have a reading that is very short?”

In the end it turned out that the Old Testament reading was only four verses and I practice read it in the hearing of the guy who was going to preach. He assured me that the prisoners would understand what I was saying. There was little to correct me on he claimed. It does require some concentration however as the structure of the grammar involves connecting different parts resulting in some very long words.

The service was a good mixture of different elements I thought. It was what I would think of as having something like a traditional church service structure. I am not at all a fan of the modern ‘worship services’ that you get in the UK, full of over long anaemic singing and other efforts at doing things in a ‘different’ (or what they call ‘relevant’ (whatever that means)) manner.

The choir sang on three or four occasions – and sometimes in English. They were good – and most were dressed in white gowns. A smaller group consisting of two guitarists and a drummer were however even more popular. They obviously did something a bit different to the usual, much to the amusement of the prison congregation, and at the end they were rewarded with a thunderous round of applause.

In between this all were prayers, notices, responsive psalms and I think the Lord’s Prayer and The Apostles Creed. The congregation of course sang a few hymns. One of the hymns was clearly a ‘feel good’ chorus and the prisoners are very good at singing these.

One young prisoner got up to speak and was speaking for a while. He was not very distinct or loud but I think most of what he said was understood. He then began to sing, at first I thought it was a solo, but soon everyone else had joined in.

The man sitting next to me translated that this prisoner was at the end of his sentence and was saying goodbye to his fellow prisoners. However, the young prisoner also explained that a friend who had entered the prison at the same time as him had passed away that previous night. The song was devoted to his recently departed friend.

After singing for a while the prisoner was overcome by emotion but the congregation carried on. Eventually another prisoner got up to take him back to his place as he was no longer able to sing.

There is an underlying seriousness to the meetings inside the prison and of course a lack of ‘showiness’ or exhibition emotion that is a plague in some of the modern western church. There is clearly a depth at the prison service. I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again but I would advice any cynical westerner who likes to talk of ‘shallow African Christianity’ to attend a service in the prison (and many other places beside) and then repeat themselves.

Fortunately it was a while after this most emotional part of the service before I was called upon to give the ‘First Reading’. I caught the eye of a prisoner at the end whose ‘that was ok’ look to me indicated that my pronunciation got a pass mark. Rev Chimesya’s positive expression as I turned said the same. There was however no thunderous applause for my efforts – that kind of response was reserved for the guitarists and the drummer.

There were fewer prisoners at the meeting than I was used to seeing at their Tuesday meetings. Still, there was a big crowd. However, there was clearly at least one other service (conducted by a different denomination) going on at the same time. It may be that the Tuesday meetings are attended by people from a wider denominational background while on Sunday’s people attend their own.

On the way out of the prison yard afterwards I spotted Ruth through one set of barriers. She was in the area where visitors wait or where you often see prisoners waiting before transfers. She rushed over to greet me and came through the barriers much to the amusement of some of the prisoners.

“Are you joining us?”

It always seems to me that there is a friendly informality between prisoners, prison guards and prison visitors. That is a good thing. It is one of several aspects of life there that makes a favourable impression on me. I carried Ruth out and we found Amelia outside of the women’s section talking to some visitors and a woman prison guard.

In the car on the way home it became clear that the women’s meeting had made a big impression on Amelia. She may even do a guest blog post. The journey home was however greatly overshadowed by a phone call telling us the news of the tragic death of a minister killed on the road while cycling to church that morning.

Whatever problems there are in prisons in Malawi I have certainly gained some very favourable impressions from the prisoners themselves, the prison guards and the authorities. My focus may not be on the problems and there is much I may not know. Still, I can certainly testify that there is a lot of good on the inside.

As I said in a previous blog post there is a link here to the prisons page of the Blantyre Synod website. You can see some prisoners there singing.

Another sudden and tragic death

This morning as he was speaking to the prisoners Rev Chimesya received a phone call that he could not take. He received the call again a few moments later but was still not in a position to answer.

In the car afterwards the call came in again. On the other end was the son of a senior minister who was killed this morning. He was hit by a car while cycling to church in Domasi near Zomba.

Rev Naunje, the older and shorter gentlemen, with Rev McDonald Kadawati the then General Secretary. This photo was taken in March 2011.

Instead of simply dropping Rev Chimesya at his house before his scheduled bus trip to Lilongwe we went in to look at the photos of the ministers on the Synod calendar. I realised then who the man was who had been killed. He had worked with my father in the old days and was now retired. We met him a few months ago with the then General Secretary Rev McDonald Kadawati. This is the second tragic death we have heard of in less than a month.

Rev Winston W. Naunje was ordained in 1966. There were very few ministers ordained back in those days and on the Synod calendar you see only a few retired names dating back to that time. Rev Naunje was from Zomba and it is in Zomba Presbytery that my father was ordained and inducted in 1971.

With Rev Naunje in March. Outside the General Secretary's office.

Rev Naunje, David and Rev Kadawati

I spoke to my parents on the phone this afternoon. My father confirmed that he knew Rev Naunje well. They had worked together in Zomba in the 1970s.

Rev. Winston W Naunje of Zomba was ordained in 1966. He died on 2nd October 2011. He was hit by a car while cycling to church in Domasi.

Life of a Prison Chaplain

A tour of a Young Offenders or Reformative Centre for children who have committed serious offences. Rev Chimesya on the left, Amelia centre and guide on the right. I was allowed to take photos but not allowed to take pictures of the children.

It is quite a while since I wrote about the work of the full-time Prison Chaplain Rev Stanley Chimesya. This does not mean that I have lost touch with him or with seeing the work that he does in prisons. In fact I have continued to visit the main prison with him on a semi-regular basis.

A lot of westerners who like Malawi mention ‘the people’ as a prime reason for their love of Malawi. It is of course a very important factor, if not the most important factor in whether one enjoys a country or not. Actually, although I agree that Malawi is probably rightly thought of as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, I don’t tend to think of that as the primary reason for liking Malawi. However, it is probably the most important indirect reason for appreciating Malawi. I love the great outdoors, the ‘nature’ (as they say), the lake, the mountains and the wildlife in Malawi. Of course all of these things would be much harder to enjoy if the people surrounding you were a hassle to deal with. Malawians are usually the nicest people.

This is the dining room at a Reformative Centre for children

Still, despite that, the primary area of life in Malawi where ‘the people’ make a positive impact on the way I think about Malawi, is in prison. It is probably a blog post or three in itself to explain why. Malawian prisoners are not on the whole a self-pitying group of people. They don’t wear a badge of suffering on their shirts with appeals to help them in their plight. All I am trying to say in this paragraph is that the reasons why visiting prison in Malawi may have an impact on a western visitor are probably not the reasons that one would expect or guess. Although a very distinct and particular environment compared with any other, I do think that the good that you see inside Malawian prisons says a lot of good about Malawi. I don’t wish to either deny or address the negatives commonly associated with Malawian prisons. The one thing I would say is that the Malawian prisoners’ lives, given their circumstances, is a powerful testimony to the good that there is in the Malawian character. Every other westerner I have seen visiting a Malawian prison has been moved by the experience.

Great to see that the boys here have a football pitch. They were playing when we arrived. The people in the distance are locals or staff. It is an 'open' reformative centre. Similarly for adults there are 'Open Prisons' in Malawi - for people towards the ends of their sentences.

I wrote before in a previous blog entry that Rev Chimesya is the only full time prison chaplain in Malawi. That has been his choice. He seems very committed to his work and the welfare of those he helps. He could have taken the option of a regular minister and accepted a congregation (like most ministers) and continued as a part-time prison chaplain. The significance of him not having a congregation is that congregations will support their minister in ways that are critical for them and their families. Members of the congregation will visit their minister with gifts such as fruit and vegetables. This is part of how the African tradition of sharing works as far as the impact on a minister’s work is concerned. This and more has a big impact on the life, family and livelihood of a typical minister in the church. Traditions to do with sharing are often where misunderstandings between Malawians and westerners arise… The misunderstandings are on both sides and neither side is perfect. We come from very different worlds and we have very different virtues, problems and traditions.

Rev Chimesya does not have that support network because he does not have a congregation. He did not tell me that. I came to realise the implications of not having a congregation by observation of others and then by talking to him and asking him questions. It is thoughtless of me to have not thought seriously about this sooner. I think that like many people I spend more time thinking about my own problems and my own family than about obvious challenges that those round about face. I certainly feel very let down by people who have been my friends in the past and who should have realised how they could and should have helped in critical situations (not financial by the way – far more important than that).

Heading to the office after our tour.

I was thinking about his circumstances today and yesterday because Rev Chimesya is off to Lilongwe to do the final ten weeks of a diploma on Clinical Pastoral Education. This involves psycho-social and psycho-religious studies. It is to do with counseling for the most troubled people. Traveling back to see the family on a weekend or two within that ten weeks is not as simple a thing for someone in his situation as it might be for any rich westerner. His situation only dawned on me when I realised that I might not see him again before we are in Lilongwe ourselves catching an international flight. He stays in the Prison Chaplain’s Residence on Blantyre Mission between St Michael and All Angels Church and Phoenix School. He and his wife have three children aged about twenty, fifteen and ten. Rev Chimesya looks far too young to have a twenty year old child and I noticed in a very old poster of the Blantyre Synod clergy that as a young man he looked older than he does now…

Simple things like having enough petrol to visit a remote prison somewhere else in the Southern Region of Malawi are not necessarily simple issues here.

Yesterday when I realised that we would not see much more of Rev Chimesya before leaving we decided to accompany him on a visit to a young offenders institution about twelve miles outside of Blantyre. As it was on the way to Fisherman’s Rest we thought that we would stop there on the way back. Also on the way is a very old tree where David Livingstone stopped and rested on his way up to the Shire Highlands from the Shire Valley. The early Scottish missionaries had to take this route as they would meet waterfalls on the lower Shire and then have to dismantle their steamers (especially constructed for this purpose in places like Millwall) before reassembling them on the Upper Shire and then steaming on to the Lake.

Macleod, the HR director at the Reformative Centre, holds David as I take a picture with Rev Chimesya in the background.

I liked the colours of these trees at the Young Offenders or Reformative Centre. Staff accommodation in the background.

The Young Offenders institution is called something like a Reformative Centre and is for boys aged between 7 (or 9) and 14. It does not come under the Malawi Prison’s Service but falls under the Ministry of Gender. It is for children from all over Malawi, not just the Southern Region, and they are treated as children, not simply as inmates. The offences of the children here are serious. There are only just over 50 children here and they are taught various skills including agriculture and some others which I cannot quite remember.

One aspect of life here that I noticed was that the children seemed typically Malawian, nice and friendly. I asked the member of staff who was giving us a tour about the behaviour of the children here. He said that they sometimes behaved well, and sometimes not. In general he said that 75% of them did not give real problems. I wondered how that would compare with well educated middle-class British school children…

We had a meeting with the children where Rev Chimesya handed out sweets as the children asked questions. It was fun and lively but none of them were remotely badly behaved or riotous. As we left at the end one of the boys tried to start singing a typical Malawian ‘goodbye’ song but others didn’t join in so there was a bit of an embarrassed reaction from the boys. It was not embarrassment that someone had tried to sing, but that they had not managed to get the Malawian equivalent of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ going. A moment or two later they tried to get it going again with more success this time.

After this we went for a meeting with Macleod, the director of human resources. I told him that for a few months I once lived on the Scottish island with the highest concentration of Macleods anywhere (Lewis and Harris). I told him however that in Scotland, Macleod is a more typical surname. Still, I am happy that many Malawians choose Scottish names for their first names.

After our visit to the Young Offenders Reformative Centre we stopped at a nearby Historic Tree. I hope you can read what it says.

On the way out I quizzed Rev Chimesya on how Malawians get their children to be so well behaved – even the worst of them. You rarely see Malawians speaking harshly to their children or giving them a smack. Still, Rev Chimesya did say, when I asked (as if I did not know), that smacks and corporal punishment are an approved part of the discipline process in Malawi. [Hardly surprising that Malawians go along with what the bible says on the discipline of children when you consider that about 80% of Malawians call themselves Christian]. Malawian children are very polite and respectful to visitors in their houses and they don’t make a noise over the adults talking. Similarly, they sit quietly through long meetings. I do not agree with the view of some westerners that Malawian children are docile because as babies they were carried around on their mothers backs. I think Malawian children are just as playful, fun and lively as you would expect of any normal child. Malawian children certainly spend a lot more time playing outdoors than many of their counterparts in colder western countries.

It was interesting to see that Malawian children in a young offenders institution seem as nice as any other Malawian youngster. Sometimes when in a different ‘culture’ there are differences that I notice that I find hard to understand or explain. Other westerners are much better at assessing Malawian society. I have noticed that many westerners who come to Malawi on a two week trip are able to summarise Malawian society with great confidence, clarity and authority. Typically, these are people who have lived in their own country, or the west, all their lives. They do not speak Chechewa. I on the other hand was brought up in Malawi and have lived here again as an adult for several months. I read and have read a lot about Malawi. My father was steeped in Malawian life as he is a fluent and expert Chechewa speaker. He worked in the villages as a minister and was involved in all aspects of the lives of ordinary people. Older people come up to me to tell me that my father took part in the life of the church just like a Malawian minister. Much of what I understand about Malawi comes from discussions with my dad. Truly, these five minute visitors to Malawi who can asses Malawian society with such authority and expertise are indeed the most insightful of experts. I am full of admiration for them. They understand so much more than I do.

After our conversation about 'society' and other aspects of Rev Chimesya's work Amelia, Ruth and Rev Chimesya appreciated some history at this David Livingstone tree.

Anyway, getting back to my conversations with Rev Chimesya. We discussed a lot more and I discovered aspects of his work that I had not realised. Still, we were unable to solve all the mysteries of life.

After visiting the young offenders reformative centre we stopped at the historic tree. We saw that one of the names of the tree is Chipembere (Chechewa for rhinoceros). Amelia thought that that was appropriate as it did look very wrinkly and old. It certainly looked old enough to have provided shelter to explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingstone.

There is a CCAP church next to the historic tree. We discovered from Rev Chimesya that the minister here is none other than the General Secretary of Blantyre Synod. Therefore the minister here, as administrative head of the Blantyre Synod, is in fact in a real sense a direct heir to David Livingstone. This is because the Scottish missionaries handed over the leadership of the mission to the local church and the torch passed from the head of the mission to the first local General Secretary.

The historic tree has wrinkles. Certainly looks older than David Livingstone.

Another close up of David Livingstone's historic tree

Douglas Taylor, Rev Chimesya and Ruth Taylor at David Livingstone's historic tree. I told Ruth that the first visitor to Malawi from Scotland was called David.

After this we headed on to Fisherman’s Rest. Ruth was very keen to show Rev Chimesya the swing and to get him to push her on it. Part of the reason for visiting Fisherman’s Rest is that they also visit prisons and we have made a contact between what they do and what Rev Chimesya does. I hope that mutual benefit comes from this contact. It is certainly a very restful and peaceful place.

At Fisherman's Rest Rev Chimesya rescued David from a friendly dog. He said that they don't have dogs like this in Malawi so I suspect the dog was brought here by the English owners.

We then headed back to Blantyre. I may see Rev Chimesya one more time before he leaves for Lilongwe tomorrow afternoon. I have agreed to go to ‘church’ with him tomorrow inside Chichiri Prison.

You can find a link to prisoners singing here.

For the avoidance of doubt I wish to make the following point. When Rev STANLEY Chimesya arrived at the DR DAVID LIVINGSTONE tree he did NOT say “Dr Livingstone’s Tree I Presume.”

Peter Kadawati’s Wedding to Linda

We're going to a wedding...

We were very privileged to be invited to a wedding on Saturday. Furthermore, Ruth had been called upon to be the flower girl – which is a great honour.

The happy couple are Peter Kadawati and his beautiful bride Linda. Peter is the son of the (just) former General Secretary of Blantyre Synod, Rev McDonald Kadawati. As you will remember Rev Kadawati was the person who provided the invitation that did so much to facilitate our way into Malawi and into Malawian life. Peter’s grandfather, Rev Jonathan Kadawati was a colleague of my father’s over thirty years ago. The wedding was to take place at St Michael and All Angels CCAP in Blantyre.

The evening before the wedding there had been our second of two wedding rehearsals. Afterwards we were invited to eat at the Kadawati’s house and the place was buzzing with untold numbers of guests, relatives and friends. Outside at the back the women were dancing round the fire, you could only just hear the drums above the sound of their voices. They were clearly enjoying themselves. It was at that point that I was looking for Amelia but the only white face I could see in the dim light was David’s. David was going round the fire in a chitenge on the back of one of the dancing ladies. He looked surprised but not overly fazed about his situation.

We had to head back because the next morning would be a very early start and Ruth is used to going to bed early. It was no longer early.

Very early in the morning we NEARLY arrived at the house where the girls of the bridal party had slept and were getting ready – but we could not find it and they had gone anyway! Instead, while trying to find the house we found out that they were at a hairdresser near Kamuzu Stadium. As luck would have it we drove straight to where it was despite not being too sure of the exact location. Now our plans were under pressure as we had done a lot of driving about and now had to wait. Ruth cried at first when her hair was put into bands. The problem was that I had intended to head straight back to our house in Namiwawa after dropping off Amelia, Ruth and David so I could get dressed in my kilt. Now the morning was getting on and traffic was getting up.

After getting one of the other girls to come with us I was shown the house we had to go to in Nyambadwe and then I sped (drove sensibly and carefully within the speed limit) off back to Namiwawa to get on my kilt for the second Saturday in a row. I now know that passers by in continental Europe react much more strongly to the sight of a kilt than people in Malawi do. Perhaps it is Malawi’s Scottish cultural heritage?

I had just enough time to get back to Nyambadwe and pick up the family to get to church. Well, we were not in time actually, but we were there before the bride – which is what counts. Actually, as luck would have it, the timetable slipped enough for me to be able to enjoy a breakfast at this nice house in Nyambadwe while I waited for the bridal party. It was amazing the way everything suddenly came together including the flowers for Ruth’s bag.

At church I hung around outside at the back to try to help and encourage Ruth (age 3) to carry out her duties correctly and responsibly… After a moment or two I changed my mind and concluded that daddy could be as much of a distraction as anything else and it’s best to just leave Ruth in the hands of the ladies there. I found Amelia and David somewhere in the middle of the church.

Leading the Procession

Here Comes the Flower Girl

The bridal procession started and pairs started coming in with a kind of dance thing up the aisle. (Ruth would be at the back just in front of the bride). Then…before Ruth appeared the Vice President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, came up the aisle in a very colourful outfit..with entourage. She is one of the most high profile people in the country. Then of course in came Ruth with the lady in waiting and the bride.

It was hard to get photos in the church given the concentration of cameramen and lighting engineers following the movements of every key member of the bridal party.

Peter beams with pride. His beam only grew bigger at the reception later.

Then the service began. There was a big turnout of the great and the good not only from Blantyre Synod but the two other Malawi synods – Livingstonia and Nkhoma. Of course this was because a General Secretary’s son was getting married. In attendance and taking part was ‘senior minister’ Silas Ncozana, a former General Secretary and one time ambassador to Germany as well as the new General Secretary. Silas gave the two of them a quiet and serious talk. Other parts of the service were more noisy including the ladies dancing celebration which Joyce Banda joined. Just because she is Vice President of Malawi does not stop her dancing like an Mvanu lady.

Behind the groom is his father Rev McDonald Kadawati and between and behind the bride and the Vice President is Rev Silas Ncozana with his wife.

L to R: Mrs Kadawati, the new General Secretary, Rev Victor Banda (Nkhoma Synod), Peter, Rev Chimesya Prison's Chaplain (purple), Linda, Rev Kamponda (minister at St Michael's and All Angels).

Most of the Manners and most of the Taylors

Following the service it was photos at Tina’s Garden’s in Namiwawa so I found myself back in Namiwawa for the third time that day. Ruth was beginning to show signs of tiredness and perhaps did not realise how important a role she still had to play. It was now hot and going about in a kilt was hotter.

Gathering at Tina's Gardens

Amelia and the bride at Tina's Garden's, Namiwawa, Blantyre.

With the happy couple at Tina's Gardens

Next, back to Nyambadwe for lunch and for counseling. This is the part of the day when senior people and close relatives and friends give the new couple a serious talking to. It was now my 4th time in Nyambadwe that day and it was only lunchtime. In the rush to get off for the reception after this at the multi-purpose hall Ruth had a big fall on the steps. I heard this big ‘person falling and then crashing noise’ a brief silence and then Ruth wailing. Amelia was worried but Ruth could walk so I concluded that she had not broken her back and was actually ok.

Off we went.

The multi-purpose hall was decorated in purple and was bouncing with the sound of music and ladies dancing and singing up and down the aisles as only Malawian women can. [A Malawian woman at a celebration is a bit like a Scottish fan at an away international football match – there is a lot of signing, noise, dancing, freedom of expression and generally having a good time].

Ruth was tired and now a little bit tearful. But she had important duties to carry out. So I carried her with her head resting on my shoulder and comforted her as the bridal party procession began to line up outside the hall. Peter said to Ruth that he hoped she would not let them down now. Finally, after a lot of holding and comforting and no pressure from me for her to do anything I offered Ruth a bribe.

It was gently put, but at the point of the crescendo of excitement before entering of the hall I said to the girl draped over me that if she wanted to walk down with Peter and Linda and drop flowers from her bag I could buy her fanta, ‘crisips’, chocolate AND sweeties.

She agreed to this deal and recovered enough to go down with the happy couple. Soon she was lost within the crowd and the noise and I anxiously made my way in a circular route to the front to wait (no idea where Amelia and David were at this stage). Finally I saw her coming through with her bag looking slightly less energetic than usual. She was walking with the couple past another VIP visitor sitting in the front row – the former president of Malawi Bakili Muluzi! A few minutes later Ruth was in the seating area at the front behind the happy couple’s big sofa.

Peter was beaming. He looked so pleased with everything going on as others led the speeches, singing, introduction of VIPs, calling forward of gifts etc etc. The way he reclined, slightly puffed up with the buzz of the occasion told me that this was his big day. The former president was there, the vice-president was there – but Peter was the big man on this day. I must say that I was quite surprised by how high profile the guests were (although I did know that the Vice-President is a relative).

Ruth was crying. The lady in waiting gave up and brought her to me. I carried her out and over to the shop on the other side of the road. As she ate her ‘crisips’ and drank her fanta she recovered a bit and I hoped that this infusion of energy would help her enough. No chance.

The Manners saw us and invited us back to their house for a cup of tea – I jumped at the offer. With the party in full swing I asked if Ruth couple lie down somewhere quiet. She was soon asleep and I thought that if she slept a couple of hours she would revive enough to join the party and be able to lead the bridal party out of the celebration at the end. No chance.

She slept all she could. We realised that we could not go back in and so headed home. She was straight to bed and straight to sleep her afternoon nap and night-time sleep only interrupted by our journey home.

It was not just Ruth who benefitted from the rest offered by the Manners. It felt great to be able to sit back, drink a cup of tea and take off my kilt socks and generally unbutton. Thanks Manners family. Being the father of the flower girl is a tougher job than you think.

Craig mentioned one of my blog posts about ‘do-gooders’ in Malawi. I said that I thought that I’d been a bit cynical in that post. Hmmm. Craig and his family are doing an extraordinary amount of good for orphans and people living with AIDS… I am sure that I mentioned that a lot of people are doing a lot of good despite my cynicism about some large international taxpayer funded NGO’s. Anyway, maybe I should have another look at what I wrote.

I got thinking about the way that Malawians celebrate weddings and take part in other social occasions. They sit in long meetings and services and although there is a lot going on they do last a very long time. You have to be prepared for this in Malawi. We Europeans do not have this endless stamina for long ceremonies. In fact at my own wedding in Romania my Best Man’s speech only got as far as ‘Douglas as a baby’ before he was told that that was enough.

So, the wedding was a huge day for a little girl and it was interesting to see a Malawian wedding from the inside.

Flower Girl

Ruth is going to be the flower girl at a wedding on Saturday (actually today, the date this post is published). We have been out shopping for an appropriate dress and both Thursday and Friday this week we are / were at rehearsals.

Ruth tries a dress

The wedding is between Peter and Linda. Peter is the son of the former General Secretary of Blantyre Synod Rev McDonald Kadawati who did so much to welcome us to Malawi. We stayed in the same house as the Kadawati’s, including Peter, when we first arrived in Blantyre and stayed in the guest-wing of the General Secretary’s house.

We wish Peter and Linda and their families all the best for the big day. We will be learning something about Malawian wedding traditions. Already we have experienced the engagement party tradition. Read my previous blog post on it (and another party) here on the ‘One Day Two Parties’ post.

New Team at Blantyre Synod

The Church of Scotland’s Blantyre Mission handed over the reigns to the indigenous Malawian church. The same happened in the north of Malawi as the Free Church of Scotland Mission was passed on and the move was made from mission to local church.

The name of this denomination, whether from the Free Church of Scotland in the north, the Church of Scotland in the south or the DRC partners in the Central Region is the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian).

The CCAP has played a central role in the shaping of Malawi from the earliest days (as mission) where age old ethnic conflicts between tribes ceased and slavery was defeated, until the advent of democracy and beyond.

While their roots lie in Scotland and through that therefore the wider history of the global church, the CCAP is now Malawian. Every four years a new administrative team is elected for Blantyre Synod (covering the more populous Southern Region of Malawi) and this has gone on since the very first Malawian General Secretary (who I remember from my childhood). The Blantyre Synod of the CCAP have just elected a new General Secretary, his deputy, a Moderator and a new Vice-Moderator.

from left to right: Rev. Andrew Kamponda, Vice Moderator, Rev. M. Chilapula, Moderator of the Synod, Rev. Alex Maulana, General Secretary, Rev. Cliff Charles Nyekanyeka, Deputy General Secretary

This is the picture of the new team that I took following their elections. It is now up on the blantyresynod.org website.

Much to my surprise on the day of the elections I was called in to help count the votes. I and three other foreigners connected with Blantyre Synod counted the votes along with an observer from the Anglican Church and the Zambezi Evangelical Church. Like the more dominant presbyterians these are other denominations born out of the British missionary and anti-slavery zeal that followed David Livingstone’s exploration. The partnerships between the heirs of the early missionaries continues despite a huge influx of new denominations in recent years.

We are sad to say goodbye to the Rev McDonald Kadawati the outgoing General Secretary who did so much to welcome Amelia and myself both to Malawi and under the wing of Blantyre Synod. At the same time we welcome the new team and I hope that I can continue to help their communication efforts and update their website.

Temporary Employment Permit

I have been granted a Temporary Employment Permit by the Malawi Immigration Authorities. This allows me to do a couple of things. Firstly, it allows me to be here in Malawi for a few months with the family. Secondly, as the name suggests, it allows me to do some work here even though that work is on a voluntary basis.

When we first planned to come to Malawi our intention was to travel and explore this country during Amelia’s maternity leave. However, we came to realise that we cannot just come here and stay for several months as the immigration authorities have tightened up a lot on foreigners in recent times.

Amelia, being from Romania required a visa for entering the country in the first place. This we applied for while still in the UK. As part of the process we required from her a letter of invitation. Who better to write that letter of invitation than the General Secretary of the Blantyre Synod of the CCAP? Rev McDonald Kadawati was someone I had met in Malawi in 2009 for the wedding of a friend. He was very welcoming then and we had indicated to him when he visited Scotland that we wanted to come to Malawi for some months. He wrote a formal letter of invitation for Amelia and she was granted a 12 month visa by the Malawian High Commission in London.

At the same time as this letter of invitation Rev Kadawati invited us under the wing of Blantyre Synod. My family is well known to Blantyre Synod as my father worked for them for a long time during his sixteen years in Malawi. He was a minister in the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) and was ordained and inducted in Zomba Presbytery. At that time he requested a church and congregation where no one spoke English, as a way of forcing himself to learn Chichewa. This turned out to be successful and my father is a fluent and expert Chechewa speaker. So, because of this we were thought of by many of the older people here as long lost family members of Blantyre Synod.

I should explain that Blantyre Synod is the part of the CCAP that covers the Southern Region of Malawi. They are the child of the original Blantyre Mission from the Church of Scotland that was set up following David Livingstone’s missionary expeditions. For that reason they could not be more part of Malawian nationhood, society and history.

I was happy to do some voluntary work for Blantyre Synod in a voluntary capacity. This has allowed me to make connections and explore Malawi, particularly the Southern Region. It has given me access to some of the more interesting things going on in Malawi as Blantyre Synod overseas, schools, hospitals, orphans work and many other things. What I have learned the most however as come from the access to prisons.

If I can help Blantyre Synod to source skilled volunteers in the future from abroad then I will have achieved one of my objectives. As I explain all the time, volunteers coming over here gain a lot more than they give. I think that Malawi should be marketed as a country that has a great deal to offer the outside world. That is far better than characterising Malawi as a desperately poor country in dire need of help.

Baby David is very much a mummy’s baby and it would be hard to see how Amelia could return from her maternity leave any earlier than she currently plans to do. We are aiming to return around November / December time. If I can maintain a serious ongoing link with Malawi from the UK after this trip then we will be pleased.


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