MONIRE MOSE – for you MZUNGU’S (non-Malawians) out there, that means, “Hello everyone” in TUMBUKA, the native language of the region in Malawi that I visited.
Your reply is YEWO
I will remember that on 65 occasions I or Jim Nussbaumer, my partner, greeted villagers that way as we dedicated their shallow well upon its completion. From there our native translator assisted as we went on to say something like this:
“I bring you greetings from the Marion Medical Mission. The Marion Medical Mission is a group of Christians in the United States that heard of your need for clean drinking water. They also heard that you were a hard working people that were willing to dig the well, gather the stones, and make the bricks for a well. ”
“Out of their love for Jesus Christ the people in the United States gave the money to buy the cement, the pipes and pump to partnership with you in building this well. That is why there is written on the top slab in both English and Tumbuka “To the glory of God.” “Ucindami Kwa Chiuta.” We hope that every time you come to this well you will see these words and give thanks to God and God alone for clean drinking water.”
“Now that the well is completed it is a gift to you. It belongs to you. Because it is your well you are now responsible for caring for it. That means keep the area clean, keep the animals away, (maybe even build a fence), don’t allow the children to play on the well.”
“You have help in caring for your well. One of your neighbors (name) has gone to school and learned how to keep the well working. If you have problems you can call (name). He/she should visit your well within two or three days. You should know he is a volunteer; he doesn’t get paid for being a maintenance man. So if he fixes your well quickly it would be right for you to thank him with a small gift. Maybe some vegetables, or eggs, or even a chicken.”
“Then I would add ‘But NO cow!'”
“As a village you have also agreed to pay a maintenance fee of 500 Kwacha or two bags of maize a year. (A Kwacha is worth roughly a penny.) This will purchase spare parts for wells in the zone. It is very important that you pay your fee because if you don’t there will be nothing with which to repair your well.”
“There are others who are not here now that will use this well. You should tell them what you have heard today. If you do this, and you all work together, you should have clean drinking water for many many years.”
I will remember some of the responses as the villagers were then called upon to dedicate their well with a prayer:
- One village elder stepped forward to pray but before doing so he took off his shoes as though he were standing on Holy ground.
- Another, an elderly lady, thanked God for loving them so much as to send them clean drinking water.
- Another said, Oh God we were anxious. We did not believe they would come and give us clean water. They have. God you are good.
- Another thanked God that the children would have a chance for a long life.
- Another said, Oh God we have drunk water with the animals since the beginning of creation – now we can drink clean water by ourselves – thank you God.
I will remember that when the ceremony concluded there was great joy. Almost always singing and dancing. The women would frequently make what is called “the joy sound” by whipping their tongues from side to side. One elderly woman scooped water out of the bucket and with both hands repeatedly threw it up in the air and patted her body down with it.
All the teams were able to put in a total of over 500 shallow wells. That meant clean drinking water for roughly 125,000 people.
I will remember: the beauty of the African sky undimmed by electric light – the pain caused by the bite of the tetse fly – the excitement of the villagers as they saw a Polaroid picture of themselves. (We took 2 at every well – one for the donor and one for the shallow well chair of the village.)
I will remember: the moan of hippos at night – a child’s eyes so dulled that he did not brush a fly away from sitting on one – the song “We have seen the love of God” spontaneously sung – three flat tires and a jack that didn’t work – and holding live chickens.
The Malawians are a people that prize hospitality and at almost every well site we were given something. A chicken, bananas, ground nuts, (which we call peanuts), cabbages, or eggs – not to accept their gift would have been very hurtful to them.
I will remember the church of Malawi. In the Northern half of the country 75% of the people are Christians. Over half of them are Presbyterians. It is the church that gives us instant credibility and acceptance. Like the early days of our country it is the church that provides the educated leadership of the country.
Many churches have thousands of members, with multiple worship services. Usually they gather once a month with their prayer houses for the sacraments. On the other Sundays they worship in the congregation’s smaller local prayer houses, each of which has a choir. Their services last for 3 or 4 hours. Sunday is truly a day set aside for worship, not one in which you sandwich in going to church. The worship is very formal. The elders rhythmically parade in the elements singing a beautiful chant. There are always multiple choirs from the various prayer houses participating. Clergy are robed and wear collars. Mine said on the back “eliminates fleas and ticks for up to 3 months.”
I will remember: children fascinated and delighted with the squealing of a balloon – rain on the tin roof of a church – highways that would not be tolerated on our farms and roads that would not pass for hiking trails – wondering for two days who was elected President of the United States – stopping at an isolated school and giving the head mistress a Frisbee but first having to demonstrate what it was – giving, what we would consider a lay preacher, my Bible because he had to walk 4 miles every week to use a pastor’s Bible to prepare his sermon – four poles with a thatched roof sitting on top of a 10 foot termite mound so the villagers could sit in the shade and watch and prevent baboons from raiding their maize crop – the staple of their diet, Nsima, which is like thick mashed potatoes made from maize and water and is eaten with the hand.
I will remember: drinking 6 quarts of water in one day of 120 degree heat, (the temperature was usually more pleasant than that) – baptizing 36 babies at one worship service – the singing as they carried their dead to their graves – being as excited seeing baboons in the wild as the children were to see me, in many cases their first muzungu – warm cokes, that cost a quarter and had tops that had to be taken off with a bottle opener. (They are for most Malawians a holiday or party treat) – mongoose running across the road and people dressed in winter clothing because it was all they had.
I will remember the constant wood fires, for cooking – coming upon a truck overturned that had children packed like sardines in the back – my four wheel drive buried in mud up to the transfer case – a guest house that I stayed in, that cost $1 and was worth 10% of that – a pastor who told me that a lady asked to join his church that morning because she wanted to be a part of a church that provided clean drinking water.
Malawi is part of the area covered by David Livingstone. It is called the warm heart of Africa. I was humbled by their love, their gifts, and their hospitality. They allowed me to stand in their pulpit and to baptize their children.
Visiting Malawi has changed my view of life, the church, my faith, my ministry and the world.
As the President of the Marion Medical Mission, Tom Logan, would indicate, I have been to the front line of the war on terrorism. Everyday 9,500 people die in the world from a lack of clean water. That is three times the number that were killed on 9/11 – and it is happening every day of every week of every year. Dirty drinking water is a terror. Water is life.
I will remember most of all as I come to this table, the universal nature of the body of Christ that is nourished and fed by these symbols of love and sacrifice. To forget that is to deny the very essence of the Christian faith and our salvation.