The Reverend Dr. Mary Ludvigsen was our pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Monticello, Illinois. She died last summer at the age of 55, having lost her battle with cancer. As a woman in a nontraditional role, she led the church with understanding and love, personified the church’s mission and unified the congregation. She will be missed.
Prior to my leaving for Malawi, a woman in the church donated money for a well in Pastor Mary’s name as a memorial. My impression was that there could be some sort of recognition of memorials on the wells themselves and I would be able to bring back to the congregation a personal account of Pastor Mary’s well. My impression was false. It is important for the villagers to know and understand that the wells belong to them, that although donations come from Christians in America, the well is truly theirs. The only writing on the well states “To the Glory of God” in English and the local language. As I left for Malawi my wife Gay asked how I would identify Pastor Mary’s well. My response was that this was a spiritual trip and I was confident that I would know at the time, which well was hers.
A little background. The social order in the northern part of Malawi where I was sent is patriarchal. Men are in position of leadership and responsibility. Women take care of the home and children. When a well is installed, it is the men that gather around the well and assist with the installation of the pipes and pump. Women gather a short distance away. Upon completion of the installation, there is a dedication ceremony. A leader of the village offers a prayer thanking God for the clean water. Following the prayer I speak about the well as a gift from Christians in America and that their donation was made to the glory of God. I go on to ask the villagers to think of the love of Christ when they draw water from the well and share that love with others. This is followed with comments by a village leader or the chairman of the well committee. They would thank me and acknowledge the contribution from the U.S. They would go on to state what the well meant to the health and life of the village.
During the first four days of installations, the village leaders were exclusively men. On the fifth day in the field we came to a well and were greeted by a woman and her six children, alone at the well site. The men of the village were away in the fields. After the pump was installed, it was the woman who gave the prayer and spoke about how the well was such a tremendous gift and that she would no longer have to worry about her children becoming sick because of the water. Her speech was so moving that I thought to myself, this must be Pastor Mary’s well. After a few photographs of the woman and her family I was comfortable that I had assisted with installing Pastor Mary’s well.
A couple of days later, on Sunday, we were given the choice of working or taking the day off. We felt that we could praise God best by serving his people. It would be better that we were putting in wells than sitting in church.
Late in the day we completed a well where there was a fairly large number of villagers celebrating around the site, singing and dancing. At the dedication the men of the village asked an older woman to lead the prayer. Everyone knelt as she thanked God for the blessing that had been bestowed on this village. The speech following the prayer was given by the well chairman, also a woman. As I took a picture of the women pumping water from their new well I thought of the strong women of this village in nontraditional positions and asked myself was perhaps this Pastor Mary’s well.
The “shallow well project” is being implemented in seven regions of northern Malawi. Each region is assigned a field officer who has the responsibility to identify well sites, work with the villagers, and ensure the installation of the pump. These field officers work with builders who are responsible for the actual digging and building of the well structure. The first week we worked exclusively with men.
On our ninth day we stopped to pick up the builders that would lead us to the next well and perform the pump installation. Among the builders was a woman. When I asked, I was informed that she was a trainee, learning how to build and maintain a well. This was the first woman I had met that actually was involved in the construction of a well. When we arrived at the well site she jumped out of the back of the truck and grabbed a pipe wrench and led the team to the well. I stood there watching her assist with the installation, saw the joy on her
face, and her personal satisfaction as she tested the pump and clear water came flowing from the well. Maybe this was Pastor Mary’s well.
Later in the day we came upon a beautiful well, which had perfect cement work. The cement was smooth; the dimensions of the structure and apron were also perfect. I inquired about the builder and was told that her name was Elizabeth. It was an interesting coincidence; my mother’s name is also Elizabeth. Once again, I thought to myself, another woman in a nontraditional job, could this be Pastor Mary’s well?
At the end of the second week we had just finished installing a well and had returned to the truck. A frail old woman came up to me and in her outstretched hands were two small eggs. In Chechewa she said this was her personal gift for the gift of life, water. I thanked her recognizing how precious a gift this was. I took off my cap and placed the eggs inside, thanking her over and over, yewo, yewo, yewo chameni. Was this the sign? Was this Pastor Mary’s well?
As we drove away I looked at the two eggs sitting in my cap on the dashboard and I realized that this WAS indeed Pastor Mary’s well………….…..but so were the others. All the wells that had strong women taking care of their families, providing leadership to their villages, working in nontraditional jobs, sharing the love of Christ……..that is where I found the spirit of Pastor Mary.