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Blantyre Synod

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.

Important point from Blantyre / Malawi history

After an earlier blog post on St Michael and All Angels and the style of service I thought I should write about a particular point from the history. On it’s own the blog post comparing a particular Malawian church service to a traditional Scottish presbyterian service could be quite misleading.

One of the great men of the very early days in Blantyre’s history was DC Scott. He was a Scottish missionary and the leader after the first five years (of failure). He was the one who built St Michael and All Angels church – totally against the will of his ‘superiors’ back in Edinburgh. The achievement was extraordinary in various very different ways.

He was also the missionary (in Blantyre) most intimately involved with and trusted by local people. His views on the role of the mission were often in conflict with his bosses in Edinburgh, other missions elsewhere and then the new colonial authorities.

There is a complex but fascinating history leading up to the point that I want to mention. The history involves international relations, different views of mission, politics, slavery and related excruciating dilemmas as well as tribal relationships and wars. Ultimately slavery was defeated here, tribal wars and genocide was followed by decades of peace leading to a national consciousness, and Christianity took root in Malawi. I can think of no way of summarising what happened in a few words and have been puzzling (and delaying) over how to write about it on this blog.

However, after writing about a Scottish ‘style’ service I thought I better address something which could otherwise be quite misleading about what people ‘suppose’ about what the history was like.

DC Scott had a vision of Africans and Europeans worshipping together and not separately. There was already a strong feeling about what had gone wrong in what is now South Africa. He believed that all of those local traditions that the missionaries encountered that did not explicitly contradict Christian belief should be preserved, encouraged and continued within the African church. His view of African civilisation is interesting also. While he fully supported modern education and health he believed that local society would work out their own African civilisation. It would be African Christian civilisation taking it’s place within the wider global civilsation and not European civilisation transplanted onto Africa. The difference in thought between different Christian missionaries at the time is an interesting topic on it’s own. Without going into details the results of this manifested itself in different practical ways.

The Scottish missionaries believed in a full education for the people, not simply primary school only. They had learned from the mistakes of an earlier failed Anglican mission (and some early mistakes on Blantyre mission) that had sought to take on the slave trade directly. Taking the view that their own society had been exposed to Christianity for 1,000 years they did not think that African Christian civilisation would emerge immediately. They were in many ways playing the ‘long game’.

On the expansion of Christianity there are some important points to make. Health and education were in no way tied to making any form of Christian commitment or confession (though they were not allowed to bring their slaves with them when going to school). No one was to be approached asking whether they wanted to be baptised and so on – the request had to come from the other side.

Although DC Scott built the Blantyre church for Europeans and Africans to worship together he had a policy of not building any other church building or any church in the villages. Any church in outlying areas had to come from the initiative, will and work of local people (what a contrast to today…).

DC Scott was a pragmatist. The failure in Blantyre before his time was largely to do with the missionaries attempting to offer civil government as well as mission work. This was actually against the will of some of those missionaries who were under pressure from an individual in their committee back in Scotland who believed in the concept of mission colonies which would also be a refuge for former slaves. That idea failed.

DC Scott however did not throw the baby out with the bathwater and was seen locally as a leader – like a chief. He therefore took part in the traditional and local forms of decision making as if he was a kind of chief. Therefore he was intimately involved in the ways of local decision makers and was one like them when the elders would come together in their traditional manner to oversee various judgements and decisions. Of course he spoke the language.

Consider how early DC Scott was in the history of Malawi. Only David Livingstone and the first five years of failure were before his time of leadership. Europeans would still have been something like aliens from Mars at that time.

He believed in preserving these traditions and using local music, drums, traditions and so on as much as possible.

So, my earlier blog post could have given the misleading impression that the missionaries came in and imposed a kind of traditional Scottishness over the heads of the local culture. Not so. However, as I said in that blog post – Scottish ways of doing things can still be seen, if you know where to look and what to look for. When I wore a kilt recently a senior minister came over and told me how that reminded him of ‘the old days’.

Sadly today Malawi has become a bit of a playground for do-gooders and ideologues (kind of secular missionaries from the EU and UN etc). While I think a lot of the smaller projects do some real good (like those to do with wildlife and wilderness preservation and revival) I think that a lot of earlier lessons learned have now been forgotten. A lot of good is done in Malawi by outsiders but a lot of unintended harm is done also. Malawians know this and many view the motives of many westerners with some suspicion. David Livingstone, Robert Laws, DC Scott, Alexander Hetherwick and many others did not have the same problem. We should look at the debates going on back then and the lessons learned then to inform a lot of what is done now.

The same split in European thinking about ‘the African’ still exists today. It is expressed differently however.



for the potentially misleading post I refer to

Sunday at St Michael and All Angels

On Sunday we attended St Michael and All Angels Church on Blantyre Mission. This is the extraordinary building that was once described as the only permanent church between the Nile and the Zambezi. It was extraordinary because it was designed and built by a man, DC Scott, who had no architectural knowledge or experience and had never laid a brick in his life before starting working something over 120 years ago.

Ruth in the garden of the manse of St Michael and All Angels

We attended the 8.30 am English language service (that follows the 6.30am Chechewa service and precedes the 10.30am Chechewa service). One good thing about a service like this is that because it is followed by another service in the same building the service is therefore limited to only two hours. In Malawi when you go to church you throw away your watch.

As usual the service was packed full with Malawians and the only other white people I could see were called Amelia, Ruth and David. Also as usual in this kind of environment one does not feel at all self conscious or out of place due to ones colour. Actually, I have noticed that in the cities the only people who give you a second and curious look are other whites.

Perhaps one reason why it seems so familiar is that the service seemed very traditional Scottish presbyterian to me. Men, in general but not as a rule, wore suits. The hymns, order of service, intimations and style reminded me very much of an old fashioned, traditional and conservative Church of Scotland. There were no guitars. It was not happy clappy. You could feel that you were surrounded by pillars of the local (Scottish) establishment. In fact it is quite a well off and middle class church with a lot of senior people in business, finance, law and administration. Many of the hymns and responses to the sermon for example reminded me of a church in Aberdeen called Gilcomston South.

Even the humour was Scottish….

The man leading the service had, to put it politely, a dry sense of humour. The closest we got to ‘happy clappy’ was a youth choir, the leader of the choir spoke for a couple of minutes. He was eloquent and confident and wearing a stylish suit. He started off by telling us that “I am your son and you are my parents”. I didn’t listen to anything else he said. The funny bit was when he sat down and the man leading the service said “You should have been more precise in your introduction. You are our prodigal son.”

I thought it was very funny as did the congregation. His other dry contributions about other contributors I will avoid repeating (in order to protect the innocent). Whatever you do don’t believe anyone who says that Malawians don’t appreciate a dry and sarcastic sense of humour.

The sermon was conducted not by the minister but I think by one of the elders. This church has at least five or six Sunday services and each church has ‘daughter’ prayer houses. Given that there are more churches than ministers you can understand that the minister does not take every service.

The sermon was on ‘God’s love’ and was based on a biblical text. It was interesting and full of practical applications for the congregation. He brought in various other texts to support his argument. It was both intellectual, though easily understandable, and practical. He challenged the congregation over whether they visited the sick and the prisoners and specifically over whether we had bought a CD produced by the prison choir… (He made various argued theological points from his text that I don’t remember – I just remember some of the practical challenges that he issued.)

Afterwards I bumped into three American visitors – so we were not the only foreigners there (sometimes it’s hard to see everyone). They are medical students from Virginia (and Roman Catholics) and here in Malawi to explore possible links between their medical school and Malawian clinics or hospitals. I gave them a brief tour including an ascent onto the roof during the following Chechewa service. We agreed to meet later in the week to discuss their ideas.

Knowing, as I do, traditional, conservative, evangelical, Scottish presbyterians (who like to critique sermons) – I thought this service would, broadly speaking, meet with their approval.

I cannot say that this is a typical Malawian or even St Michael’s service. Strands of Scottishness do run through this country however and sometimes, just sometimes, you see a lot of them together.

I have decided that this blog post could be misleading without reading this: https://destinationmalawi.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/important-point-from-blantyre-malawi-history/

Bookshop trip

I went out at lunchtime today with Ruth to try to find the guidebook for walks on Zomba Plateau by Prof Martyn Cundy. Martyn Cundy was a colleague of my dad’s in the 1960′s and 70′s in Malawi and played a significant role in the development of the teaching of Mathematics in the UK and Africa. He studied at Trinity College in Cambridge and was awarded a PhD in quantum theory in 1932. I think I remember that my dad regarded him as a genius.


The owner of the Africana Bookshop told me that he thought that this book is out of print and he did not know anywhere that was still selling it.

Instead I looked around at old manuscripts, books and maps and eventually decided on ‘Guide to the Mulanje Massif’ by Frank Eastwood and ‘Blantyre Mission and the Making of Modern Malawi’ by Andrew Ross. There were other books and maps that I wanted to buy but I decided to space out these purchases so that it does not look as though I am spending a lot of money.

I dipped into the ‘Making of Malawi’ book and read that Ross and Rev Sangaya visited the 1,000 leading political prisoners in 1959 and they discovered that about 700 of these people were presbyterians. Ross set out to find out why the presbyterians were so involved in the dawn of the new nation and traced the history of the relationship between the early Scottish missionaries and the local people. The Scots played a central role in getting Britain to protect the land from the Portuguese and the Arab slavers. Later the Scots remained on the side of the local people as the condescending colonial powers blotted their copybooks. Throughout the whole story of this land is the story of education – the colonial authorities seemed to feel quite threatened by the idea of educated natives. I think that is probably one of the books to read if you want to find out why African-western relations are better here than in some other places.

Rev Chimesya dropped by and I showed him my purchases. He spoke approvingly of the Ross book.

Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, But Do Collect 200 CDs…

I returned this morning to Chichiri Prison with Rev Stanley Chimesya, the only full time prison chaplain in Malawi, and his Canadian assistant, Rev Ed Hoekstra.

I informed them that I was aware, via certain contacts that I have, that the prison chaplain’s work would be going up on the official Synod website very soon.

Of more interest however was the discussion en route about a new CD that is to be produced with the prison choir and using the Synod recording studios. Ed told me that the Synod international partners would be expected to buy 200 each – so that would include the Church of Scotland then… Well, I am not here via the Church of Scotland – I am merely a visitor in Malawi showing my wife and children where I came from. However, given my connections I might be expected to pass on some email addresses.

It appears as though the necessary permissions and agreements are coming through from the prison authorities and the recording people. Ed hopes that the CD will be available in the partner countries in time for Christmas.

At the prison itself when we arrived the meeting was already in full flow and we arrived to the sound of Chechewa hymn singing. I thought to myself that if you are the kind of person who likes the old style of Malawian singing rather than the new ‘contemporary style of worship’ then you could consider attending church in prison.

The meeting however was not however a Sunday service but was a bible study and Rev Ed Hoekstra spoke on the passage where the disciples (who were also fishermen) caught no fish all night until early in the morning when Jesus, from the side of the lake, urged them to throw their nets on the other side. Much of what Ed spoke about was to do with obeying Christ’s commands and receiving blessing asked for (the catch of fish). He had a translator but I was impressed to hear that most of what he said was in Chechewa.

Given my weak Christian faith, however, I spent most of the time considering the long night of fruitless fishing that the disciples endured before they saw Jesus on the shore at daybreak. I thought that perhaps my life was a bit like that long night and wondered also about how the prisoners felt about their own ‘long nights of waiting’.

So during the questions I asked about this. I was thanked for the question later by Ed as he thought that this line of questioning provoked a lot of other related questions and discussion.

I did notice that the prisoners were able to cite Scripture (book, chapter and verse) in defence of their line of argument and I wondered how that would compare with some of the clergy back in Britain.

Sometimes I hear from westerners the view that Christianity in Africa or Malawi is shallow or lacks depth. I think when I hear that question again I will now challenge them to attend a meeting at Chichiri Prison and then come back to me with that same view.

There was a seriousness and sincerity about this meeting and a lack of ‘showiness’ for want of a better word. That is typical of Malawi of course but perhaps all the more so in the environment of a prison.

On the way back we discussed the music CDs again. Rev Chimesya mentioned that they would auction the first few CDs and I asked if those CDs would be personally signed by the prisoners and perhaps also the prison governor. Ed thought that was a good idea.

I was also asked to take a photograph of Rev Stanley Chimesya standing next to the 4WD vehicle that he uses to get to the more remote prisons. Money was raised very quickly for this in Canada and we need to send a picture.

I was asked to think about organising a link with a ‘prisons ministry’ in Scotland. This provoked a few ideas in my head. I thought it would be good but I am tempted to try and get a link going with Northern Ireland as well.

I am already imagining a visit to Malawi from ex-IRA and UDA prisoners. Much as I like attending these meetings, and appreciated as my attendance probably is, a visit from people who have direct experience of serving time may be even more interesting for the prisoners.

Mulanje – Lisanjala

Bring Your Own Bench

Soon after we arrived in Malawi Sam invited me to a celebration on 8 May near Mulanje. Being far in the future I agreed and thought not much more of it.

It is quite amazing that it has taken us this long to get down the road towards Mulanje.

Mulanje mountain in perhaps my favourite place in Malawi – it is a close run competition with Lake Malawi. My brother Keith was born at the foot of the mountain at Mulanje Mission Hospital in 1972, my father nearly died on Matambale (a peak on Mulanje Mountain) in 1965, I first got to the summit of Mulanje Mountain aged 8, Chambe Peak on Mulanje Mountain has the longest rock-climb in Africa, sadly we know someone who was killed on Chambe, the plateau is where Silas Ncozana had his famous encounter with a leopard and we would have great family holidays in the mountain huts on that great ‘island in the sky’. It is a different world up there with a different climate and vegitation. In the evenings you eat and play games by paraffin lights that create their own particular atmosphere. In Dedza recently I picked up a small box made of the unique Mulanje Cedar and the scent transported me back decades to those days.

Some people think that ‘The Shire’ in Lord of the Rings was an place and idea inspired after J R R Tolkein was climbed Mulanje himself many years ago. The Shire (different pronunciation) is of course the main river in Malawi. Most experts however disagree with this view – despite the idyllic other-worldliness of Mulanje Mountain.

However, we were not going up this mountain – I was simply getting carried away.

Sam tells me the story that he was overhearing a conversation between a group of Americans who had come to partner their church with a church in Malawi. Sam asked them why they were thinking of a wealthy church in Blantyre – they should go out into the rural areas and find a church that would benefit.

So off they went and eventually found Lisanjala – a church without a building. The Americans went home, raised some money and with the approx $58,00 USD (or about £35,000) or 38 gold coins in real money, they built a church.

The Church - Old and New

Sam oversaw the project and it was built in 5 months. When we saw it we thought that it was quite impressive for that amount of money in that space of time.

The old meeting place has been left standing to remind people, and teach visitors, about the before and after. Another development thrown in with the church was a water pump.

At the same time as this initiative, in a perhaps related move, the government decided to build a village school in the same place – so there is very much a new look to Lisanjala.

The church service was partly fund-raising (for food and transport for the visiting Americans) and lasted four hours.

We had Ruth and David with us and Ruth was quite tired and this meant that for much of the service we were outside or listening at the window. (When my father was a minister in Malawi he would often talk about the packed rural churches that had more people outside the building listening at the windows than inside the church. he described scenes, which I saw as well of course, where every seat, space on the floor and even up to the steps of the pulpit would be full of church attenders). I have not seen anything like that since returning to Malawi – but the churches are full.

Anyway, the fact that we were outside allowed us to take photos and avoid most of the lengthy service.

We also saw tea growing around Mulanje – a first on this trip. I hoped that Amelia would be impressed by the imposing mountain next to us – I think that she was. I told her that we should be ‘up there’ – she agreed.

A coincidence

On several occasions since arriving in Malawi I have experienced something which has felt like a very helpful coincidence – usually meeting the right person at the right time.

Anyway, we went to the Mount Soche swimming pool on Saturday and chatted to the Azungu (westerners) sitting next to us. They were from Australia and had just arrived in Malawi to do some work with orphans. I think it is a day centre for orphans, there are huge numbers of orphans in Malawi (perhaps quite literally in the millions) because of AIDS – which is now on the decline here.

The usual way in Malawi is for children to be looked after by the extended family – aunts and uncles rather than being placed into orphanages. Although I think that is a good thing, the extended family being the preferred and typical option, I am not therefore against other ways of looking after orphans here – every person and circumstance is different and I have not visited the other orphan charities to see what they do, how and why. I think the alternatives are probably good and necessary also.

Anyway, I think that the work that this Australian family do is a support centre that works with orphans and their extended families – it is not an adoption thing.

Craig gave me his card and I saw that his name was ‘Manners’.

“Oh. I know a ‘Manners’ in Australia. He is a facebook friend of mine.”

(I am not a facebook friend collector – I think it is better to prune facebook friends actually. I have very few facebook friends who I have not met personally – there has to be a good reason like a lot in common and / or several close friends in common – to the extent that one might feel that one knows the other person quite independently of facebook).

They both gave me the kind of look which suggested to me that there are not many people by the name of Manners in Australia and there was a ‘go on’ look in their eyes.

So I said, “His name is Ron and he lives in Perth.”

“That’s my dad…”

We agreed therefore that ‘it is a small world’ and I decided to categorise this as a ‘Three Continent Coincidence’.

Two Interesting Meetings Today

Had two interesting meetings today.

Firstly with Mr Sitolo, headmaster, and pupils of HHI Primary School. I was handing over letters from pupils at Elie Primary School in Fife. We posed for pictures beside a major local landmark (several Elie primary pupils had asked about landmarks). We also posed next to two of the four sewing machines that Elie had raised money for. The products of this hard work made in Malawi were sold later in Elie – so there is a market for these things in Scotland.

The second meeting was with Mr Mkandawire who is in charge of grounds and botanical gardens. I introduced him to a botanist who Amelia met recently. Together with five small children in tow we did a tour of the old botanical gardens and agricultural area set up by the first Scottish missionaries.

We also saw the coffee plants, still in existence, which are the parents of the coffee grown in Malawi. Tea in Malawi also started here.

No time to do a full report with pictures on either of these today. However, we have the material and we have the photographs so watch this space!

Kiera & Teaching at HHI in Blantyre, Malawi

..'....I interrupted a game of volleyball yesterday to interview Kiera. That was the 'cold' day....'

I keep threatening people with the thought that I am going to interview them for my blog. The problem is that I meet more people doing interesting things in Malawi than I have time for writing.

Kiera Hoekstra is one such person but with less than 24 hours before she leaves Malawi I knew it was now or never. She is going to France for seven weeks…and then back to Canada. One of my motivations for writing about such people is the hope that it will encourage others to try something similar here.

Kiera is from Canada and has been teaching English for about five months at HHI Secondary School here in Blantyre. She volunteered to teach there and was warmly welcomed – this is normal in Malawi.

HHI stands for Henry Henderson Institute and is in fact one of the oldest schools in Malawi (second oldest I think). Henry Henderson himself was one of the very early Scottish missionaries in Malawi. One of the great legacies left by such people was the establishment of education in Malawi. The HHI Secondary School building is an impressive sight just a few yards from St Michaels and All Angels Church – a national monument now, once the ‘first church between the Zambezi and the Nile’ and a place with a very interesting history of it’s own.

Kiera is a student who has taken several months out of her studies to be with her family in Blantyre. Her sister and two of her brothers have joined their parents for most of the last few months of their parents time in Malawi. Kiera’s sister Elleana is working as a midwife at Mulanje Mission Hospital and her two brothers here (Jake and Nico) are at St Andrews Secondary School. I wrote about Kiera’s father Ed in an earlier blog – he is the assistant minister at St Michaels and helps also with the prison ministry supporting Rev Stanley Chimesya the Prisons Chaplain. Kiera’s mother Jackie is working with a Canadian NGO in Malawi – to do with HIV / AIDS I think. So Kiera is perhaps an unusual volunteer with most of her family also in the country.

I asked Kiera what the teaching is like. She told me that she was given a great deal of freedom to write and construct the syllabus that she thought best. Rather than blackboard or memory / rote learning she introduced…what’s the word for it?…a more discursive and exploratory style I think. She told me that the memorising and blackboard learning is more typical. Again however, I was not surprised to hear that the Malawian school was happy to let her use her own initiative and style.

.....'HHI Secondary School from St Michaels and All Angels. This was today. Cloudless this morning and beautiful'.....

Another of Kiera’s innovations was to bring HIV & AIDS topics into the different aspects of the studies. Kiera is studying Development with an emphasis on gender and this also I think she linked with the different things studied and discussed.

What about the teaching experience in terms of behaviour and how does it compare with teaching children in the west? Kiera said that they were very respectful of her at first when she was new. Of course no one is perfect and she said that they were not all perfect angels all the time… Still, in Malawi education is highly valued and is a place, generally, where the pupils are respectful and want to learn.

An interesting point that Kiera made was that if other students were to think of doing something similar to what she has done then it could possibly be used to count towards their own degree course – perhaps worth a few credits or points overall. She said that that was not the case for her own University / College but could well be the case for others and may well be something worth investigating for others interested in doing something similar.

Of course, while interrupting a game of volleyball, I also wanted to find out how she had enjoyed life in Malawi quite apart from the teaching. She told me that since October she thinks she has been to Lake Malawi about seven times (hardly surprising) and up Mulanje Mountain three times including to the top of Sapitwa once. Given the great outdoors, the natural beauty and the adventure available in Malawi the question is not so much – why do this kind of thing, but why are not more people rushing over to The Warm Heart of Africa.

Anyone interested in doing gap year work, a year / several months out in the middle of your career or something with your skills after retirement – please get in touch. I am sure we can find the right contacts for you…

In the meantime – have a good time in France Kiera – and then back in Canada. If there is anything not quite right in this post or that should be added or subtracted then please let me know!

In Prison

I went to prison this week with the Prisons Chaplain, Rev Stanley Chimesya, and his assistant, Rev Ed Hoekstra. Ed said I could go when I asked a couple of weeks ago.

Rev Chimesya is clearly very committed to his work and enthused about the work in all the southern region prisons (22 prisons, Blantyre Synod basically covers the Southern Region of Malawi plus Ntcheu in the Central Region).

Chichiri Prison (Blantyre) is one of the largest in the southern region, which is the most populous part of Malawi, so I imagine it is one of the largest prisons in Malawi.

Chichiri Prison has been designated as a ‘Prayer House’ of the St Columba CCAP church, a large and wealthy Blantyre congregation. In Malawi most churches have several ‘prayer houses’ which are in fact daughter churches or church plants. As they grow they can become individual churches in their own right. Chichiri Prison is a special case of course and will not develop into a full church.

Quite a number of people attended the bible study this morning which was led by Ed, mainly in English. One of the prisoners translated. The talk was followed by questions and a choir. There was also a bible recital. Some of the inmates have been memorising hundreds or thousands of verses. I was surprised to hear that the recital was in English. I have heard Sunday School children (many, they seemed to go through the whole Sunday School) belting out large tracts of Scripture from the front of the church in Chechewa, so someone doing it in English was new on me.

As is often the case in Malawi the guest is asked to speak so I explained myself and why I am in Malawi.

One aspect of the chaplains work which has been difficult is transport and reaching some of the more outlying prisons on some of the rougher roads. Ed managed to put together an appeal via his church in Canada and they raised the money for a large 4WD for Rev Chimesyas work. So, when Ed returns to Canada in a couple of months his legacy will remain.

This is not the only practical way in which the church and church members help the prisoners.

I was invited to return for their service on Sunday which I think is Easter Day. Prison on Easter Day? I thought that seemed quite appropriate.

Our neighbour – Ed Hoekstra

In the Early Days (from David Livingstone onwards) and for most of the time until Our Time (ending 1981) there were a lot of Scots about. We were welcomed by the people here, we highlighted the horrors of the slave trade (and helped defeat it), we learned from some mistakes, we started health clinics, we learned from the people here, we translated the bible, we built with local people what is now a national monument etc etc. We have a shared history.

Now, there are a lot of Canadians about…and not a lot of Scots. We like them, the Canadians are happy, the Malawians welcome them…even though they ask us Scots where we have gone.

Anyway, one of the Canadians here is our neighbour (Bristish English spelling – Malawi English is British English), Ed Hoekstra.

Ed, Assistant Minster at St Michaels and All Angels and involved with prisons work

I first met Ed and his wife at a wedding here 18 months ago when I was a best man. Ed was one of those officiating when Rev Kadawati married Ian and Carrie Tallach.

Ed is the Assistant Minister at St Michael’s and All Angels. He also supports the prison work and assists the Blantyre Synod Prison Chaplain. This work sounded very interesting and I asked to join him behind bars.

Actually, Ed talked about what he has learned from the prisoners and the questions that they ask. He said that questions he has never thought of, from the text, would come up in their prison bible study. It sounded to me as though he meant theological questions rather than ‘why me?’ questions. Malawians, on the whole, are not nearly as self pitying as many westerners.

I asked whether those in the prison bible study became Christians before or after being sent to jail. He said a some before, some after. Of course, I was not surprised. Only those hostile to Christianity seem to suggest that Christians are somehow supposed to be perfect and not subject to the failings of human nature.

In addition Ed helps with the Ndirande Disabled People’s Project which we visited the other week – actually we got a lift with Ed for that trip.

Sadly Ed and his wife and four of their five children will be leaving Malawi in a few months. Ed talked about a conversation over Skype with their eldest, in Canada, who asked them how they would cope with the change that life in the west will impose on them. The problem of apathy in the west was the particular point that Ed discussed – though we did discuss wider problems with living in Canada / UK – places like that.

I would like to blog about the other members of his family here – they all seem interesting in their own way. One of his daughters is a mid-wife at Mulanje CCAP Hospital, another is a volunteer teacher at HHI Secondary School, one or two is / are pupils at St Andrews International Secondary School.

Church on Sunday

I know I am running a few days late in my blog posts. The target I set myself was a blog post a day…not an up-to-date post per day. At the weekend I decided to interpret my target as one blog post per weekday.

It won’t be long til this target falls apart.

Anyway, we had said to our hosts the Kadawati family that we would like to go to church with them at the church where Rev Kadawati is the minister. Otherwise we would be expected to go to the English language service at St Michaels and All Angels…(or visit the churches where my father was minister (Chechewa of course)).

Amelia required a visa to come to Malawi and that visa required a letter of invitation. Rev Kadawati invited us with such a letter and he and his family have done everything to help us feel welcome and we are staying in the guest wing of their house.

Rev Kadawati is the General Secretary of Blantyre Synod of the CCAP. Blantyre Synod covers the southern region of Malawi and is the most heavily populated part of the country. As well as being General Secretary he has his own congregation, which in his case is Chigodi Women’s Centre.

There were several choirs and I whispered in Amelia’s ear that what we were hearing was a very different style to what I was used to here as a child. It is the so called ‘contemporary’ style which has been adopted to halt the departure of the youth away to the pentecostal churches in Malawi. However, Malawians are very good at singing and dancing. They always were. In the old days I suppose that the long term western missionaries would have mentioned this from time to time.

Now, short term visitors from the west are the norm and you know what people like that are like. No doubt they would rave to Malawians about how wonderful and powerful their singing and choirs are. Malawians on the whole are modest, understated people – a bit like their Scottish cousins I might like to claim. However, I am sure that Malawians now know that they are very good at these things. Despite that I am sure that this has not gone to the heads of most Malawians. Proud, showy, grandstanding Malawians are rare. There is a clear shortage of things like arrogance in Malawi. I hope that continues.

An atheist or two I know back in the UK go to church…but not on a Sunday and not for services. They go round looking at and appreciating the architecture. You can understand them not going for the ‘music’.

In Malawi on the other hand you can understand why people could go to enjoy taking part in or appreciating the musical side. I had to admit that although I prefer the more traditional form of Chechewa singing, they are good at this contemporary ‘pentecostal inspired’ style.

Car Crash News

I was talking to Linda Inglis on Monday morning when she took a phone call. Her face fell and it was one of those “Oh no” moments.

Loni Ncozana had been in a car crash on the road to Mulanje. Her husband Sam had been with us only about ten minutes before and knew nothing of it at the time. Loni is Sharon’s mother, Sharon who’s 13th birthday party we had all been at two days previously.

The problem was that we did not know how bad the crash was or how bad the injuries are. Linda was worried because she describes the new road to Mulanje as a fast road. She was upset also because she explained that her husband who called sounded upset. He had just spoken to Sam who apparently was upset on the phone to Glenn Inglis – he did not know how serious the crash was…just that there was one.

Later in the day we discovered that our worst fears were allayed. The news that Loni had only broken her foot but was being kept in hospital for observation and checks and that her passenger had only suffered a dislocated shoulder all seemed like good news and quite a relief.

Sam said I could blog about this – apparently he was all over facebook with the news.

We drive slowly….by the way.

Ndirande Disabled People Project

Amelia was invited by Linda Inglis to attend a project being run in the neighbouring district of Ndirande. Linda is from the Presbyterian Church in (of?) Canada. The PCC are one of the main international partners of the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian). (My father was a Chechewa speaking minister in the CCAP via the Church of Scotland – another international partner – and it is because of that family history that we are guests now).

When I realised that there would be room for me and the little ones also, I decided to tag along.

On our arrival I read the signs on the building and assumed that it was a joint project between Blantyre Synod (CCAP) and the Roman Catholic Church. I was later informed that it is not that and is a more informal volunteers gathering with a long running group of disabled people supported by the PCC / CCAP. They welcome anyone I think as we got to meet a couple of Germans who are here with some other charitable organisation.

Ndirande has a lot of poor people and those who are disabled here can do with some help. Linda explained to me that this group has been running since 1982.

Ruth was tired anyway after a long hard morning at nursery and seemed at first to be overwhelmed by the surroundings. However, she soon turned her mood round (within the space of a second?) and took full advantage of her status as a strange curiosity.

Outside the hall a Canadian called Nico played football with the boys, Ruth reminded me of the Pied Piper with her amused following, Amelia fed David, some people pumped water, a ladies choir rehearsed in the next hall and I took photos.

There may be a pose element here but the pumping was even more enthusiastic before the camera appeared

Inside the hall there were a lot of crafts done as well as stretching exercises, spontaneous singing (Malawians are very good at that), preaching and prayers. At the end the speaker told us that we were very welcome and that we should throw away our passports. Linda told me that they have Christmas parties and various other activities that must do quite a bit to bond the group over time. Elsewhere they have accommodation for the most severely disabled and they try to point people in the best direction or organise wheelchairs or other help.

We wanted to see a small segment of the volunteer work that some of our neighbours involve themselves with. The people who live and work around us on the historically important Blantyre Mission are a nice group. They have all welcomed us and it is a good start point for our time in Malawi.


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