Monday, March 9, 2015

Helping Hands--Malungas, Makawas and Magomba--George's Post


Three other families in the Zingwangwa Branch have borne the brunt of the recent storms in Blantyre.  
The Malungas, who live on Soche Mountain, close to the Bandas and Phiris, had their home's front wall collapse, forcing them to vacate their residence in the midst of an awful storm.  They have now moved to a small one-room building, on the same site, while they try to piece together a plan for restoring their home. 
Here is a photo of Sister Malunga and one of her three daughters.  Their home is located on a rocky knoll, surrounded by large boulders, similar to the ones shown in this picture.

Sister Malunga is painfully shy and seems quite uncomfortable with us; like many of the Branch's sisters, she struggles with English, making it difficult to communicate.  She was serving as the primary president when we arrived, so Carole was anxious to work with her, President Chikapa having singled out primary as one of the areas where we could most help.  But Sister Malunga has only been to Church a couple of times during our four months in Blantyre, leaving it to Carole and Sister Thoko to run primary on their own.  And Carole, despite her best efforts, hasn’t been able to train Sister Malunga.  

Sister Malunga, with Janet (19) (her oldest daughter) and  Olivia (10) on the family property.  Not pictured are Chimwemwe (15) and  George (12)


Sister Malunga in front of her home before the storm. 

The rains caved in the front wall, forcing the Malungas to relocate to a nearby one-room shed.


Several weeks after the rains, when I was going to visit with the Bandas, I met Brother Malunga for the first time.  He stopped me on the uphill trail, inviting me to accompany him to his makeshift home.  On what was another day of lousey rainy weather, the entire family was  found huddled in a one-room shed, all of their earthly goods piled high in the room, leaving the family with less than half the floor space for sleeping, eating, and passing time.  It was clear Brother Malunga wanted to share with me his story.  He briefly reviewed his history in the Church, saying he was one of the earliest members in Soche, and the one responsible for introducing the Bandas, Phiris, and others to the gospel.  He felt he had legitimate grievances against the Church, because years ago he had not been awarded a construction contract to do some work on the chapel, even though he had taken the time to put together an estimate for the work.  The work has been awarded to others, something he found most unfair.   Brother Malunga explained he was then working in the Mulanje District, some 40 miles east of Blantyre, overseeing the cultivation of local maize crops, and hence not around to help his wife with the day-to-day challenges of making ends meet and taking care of the kids. Several years ago, the Church took disciplinary action against Brother Malunga, owing to the defalcation of funds, so there is much more to the story than Brother Malunga let on.   But whatever the total story, and wherever the ultimate blame might lie, the current living circumstances of the family are undeniably bleak.  
Next to the Nthendas, the Makawa's home sustained the greatest damage.
They have lost two main exterior walls, leaving four of their six rooms exposed to the elements.  This battery of photos gives a sense for the scale of the destruction:


Our first visit to the Makawas, before the storms, left the impression that their home, though high on Mount Soche, was one of the nicer ones we had visited: it had six rooms (rendering it larger than most), a nice concrete floor (not compacted dirt), well fitted doors and windows, clean, well swept floors, and spectacular views over Blantyre.  The home is located high, directly above Chilobwe Market, a 20 mile hike up the hill.  The storms however made it painfully evident that the builder had cut corners, not setting the home upon a solid foundation of crushed rock and concrete.  The rains basically washed away the foundation on the downside of the hill, leading to the collapse of the front wall, and endangering the entire structure.  
The collapse of their home has left the MaKawas numb, wondering how they are going to manage.  Brother MaKawa had, until recently, some kind of installation or service contract with ESCOM, the local utility, but that contract was not renewed upon its expiration, leaving the family without a steady source of income.   He is trying hard to find a new job, but has yet to find something.  We know he is pounding the pavement in an effort to find employment, having met him by chance several times walking home from Limbe and Soche after a day of job hunting.  He is obviously motivated to get a job to provide for the family.    The Makawas have a four-year old daughter, Gertrude, who can't stay still in primary or at Church, a characteristic one notices more here because most children are so quiet, strait laced, and well behaved. 

Still new to the Church, baptized within the past year, the Makawas are anxious to learn more about the restored gospel. The full-time missionaries assigned to Chilobwe (Elders Hiltbrand and Ngendabanda) have been reviewing with them the five basic lessons from “Preach My Gospel.”  From our part, Carole and I have recently met with them, reading a couple of chapters from First Nephi (the first book) of the Book of Mormon, both to get them started reading on their own, and to help them understand better the basic doctrines of the Church.  We have found many in Malawi to get a spiritual testimony of the restoration, and the truthfulness of the Church, quickly after being introduced to the most basic Church doctrines.  Over time, as they attend Church meetings, and institute or seminary classes, their knowledge of Church doctrines and practices is broadened.  

To some this may seem strange or possibly even suspect.  How is it possible for them to get a testimony when they know so little?  But Malawians are not Westerners—they are not jaded or cynical or closed to spiritual matters.  They are not stiff necked. Quite to the contrary, they are extremely responsive to the spirit and have great faith in God and accept Christ as the  savior and redeemer.  When introduced to basic Church doctrines, they find them intuitively true, and faith comes easy to them.  Nor are they impatient--they do not expect to learn everything at once.  Starting with the basics, and exercising faith, as they slowly move beyond that,  is an acceptable course of action. 

Sister Makawa is the secretary in the Relief Society, a comfortable position for her, since she is a close friend of Sister Banda.  She is less at ease at Church, perhaps because she finds English a struggle.   Her household includes Andrew, Brother Makawa’s younger brother (about 16).  For years, one of Brother Makawa’s younger siblings, and then another, have rotated through his home, staying for varying periods as they finished up secondary school. Almost every family in the Branch is a mixed family unit, and includes one or more brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts or uncles, or aged parents, as is typical in Malawi due to the high mortality rates among adults and absence of a social safety net. Or perhaps better said, taking care of one’s own family, which is a firmly-entrenched social tradition, is the Malawian safety net.   Someone has to take care of children who have lost their parents and the elderly.  Malawians are exceptionally welcoming and gracious in this regard.
It is hard to imagine someone more selfless or more dedicated to the Church than Brother Magombo.  At 77, he is, by far, the oldest member of the Zingwangwa Branch.  Yet his energy belies his age.  He lives miles from the chapel, on the outskirts of Chilobwe, and takes care of a young grandson.  His wife lives in some village, and we have never seen her.  Long separations are commonly accepted here as an unavoidable part of life.  We were somewhat surprised to learn that Brother Magombo was an ordained pastor for some twenty years.  He proudly showed us several certificates confirming completion of various course of bible study when we visited with him in his home several weeks  after the bad storms.  Brother Mkochi, who served as our guide in finding the Magombo home, praised Brother Magombo's faithfulness, but also wondered openly about how much he really understood about the gospel.   While Brother Magombo understands English, his English is virtually unintelligible, so it is hard to get a fix on what he understands or what he doesn't.  Yet, without fail, each Sunday he is at Church early, setting up chairs, distributing hymnals.  With the loss of one wall, his modest home is now even more cramped.
The day of our visit Brother Magombo had been patiently waiting for us to arrive.  We were late because Brother Mkochi had trouble finding the way and we wandered around aimlessly, for some time, before finding the right neighborhood.   It was clear that Brother Magombo would have been bitterly disappointed had we not come.   These pictures were taken as we were leaving his home, though neither picture shows his place: