Monday, November 9, 2015

Our Liwonde Members - Carole's Post

In essence, it was a fact finding mission, but it was more than that.  Our visit to Liwonde a week ago was an opportunity to connect with the earliest baptized LDS members in Malawi.
George has written about the Liwonde Group, part of the Blantyre district but about 1 1/2 hours away from the other four branches.  In July 1992, 75 members of Sitima Village (across the Shire River from Liwonde) were baptized when the first missionary couple were allowed in Malawi. These members were families and neighbors who had been meeting together and studying the doctrine as best they could for up to 14 years, waiting for the missionaries to come. 
The following are excerpts from a November, 2000 Church News article:
The missionaries who were sent in 1999 were Elder Dan D. and Sister Berylene Frampton...They served in the Zimbabwe Harare Mission from 1999 until October 2000, and were stationed in Blantyre where they visited Sitima Village weekly.. ....
They taught as many as they could, then interviewed them and prepared for a baptismal service. "We baptized more than 20 each week for four weeks," said Brother Frampton. They were assisted by Malawians Leonard and Mary Nchika, well-established members living in Blantyre, fluent in the language of the village, Chichewa. Two young elders stationed at Blantyre later accompanied the Framptons.
Sister Frampton said that as the first day's interviewing drew to a close, others waiting outside "were weeping because they were not included in the baptismal service for that day."
"We bought up all the white clothing we could find from the street market, but it still wasn't enough," said Sister Frampton. "We held a little baptismal service. They sat on mats under a thatched area, out of the sun, and when they were ready to go for their baptism, the women carried boxes of baptismal clothing on their heads, and their babies in slings on their backs and carried umbrellas, and walked to the warm springs." The river was closer, but because of a danger of crocodiles, they went to the springs, she continued.
"The women were singing and halfway to the springs, I pulled myself out and stood and and looked forward and back. I thought to myself, 'This is an experience I would have missed if I had chosen not to come on a mission, and I will be ever so grateful to have this memory.'

"At the warm springs, the women changed on one side in the high tooleys, and the men on the other side. A number of them changed into wet baptismal clothing, and never, never did you hear a word of complaint; they were so grateful to have the gospel and to be baptized."
In 1999, a branch of 200 was established in Sitima Village but it was discontinued in 2008 because of the challenges of its remote location and the inability to meet its administrative needs.  In 2011, a group was established in Liwonde which included some of the original members of the Sitima Branch.
Very few of the members speak English but they continue to have an attendance between 40 and 60 except during the rainy season when many of the members cannot cross the streams or major river.
The first time we visited was when we accompanied the zone leaders who try to visit monthly.  It was in February and the weather had been terrible.  There were only six members in attendance, most of whom lived close by and not on the opposite,or Sitimi Village side of the river.

The man in the suitcoat is President Makinganya, who at that time was branch president of Blantyre 1st.  He traveled with us that day because the Liwonde group is under the auspices of that branch.

Before that meeting, I waited inside with Elder Barnard, a zone leader.  Elder Barnard completed his mission last spring.

Isn't this a marvelous building?  It is only a few years old and it makes those of us from Zingwangwa so envious!

The pulpit.

The outside of the main building.
It is connected by covered walkway to the original building on the property, a house that is used for classrooms and an office.

President Makinganya standing in the house by the largest classroom.

Standing with Brother Petros.  He served as the translator that day.

In June a busload of the Liwonde saints joined us in Blantyre for a district conference.  Since most do not speak English, they needed an interpreter, something that is not usually done at district conference.

In July we went through Liwonde again, this time  with our son-in-law Tomicah.  We decided to make a quick stop to show him the property which is not far off the main road.

There were about four members working on the property to trim a large tree.
When I talked to this member, he told me that there were some problems with the maize field harvests and the members were having problems.

About two weeks ago, George and I returned to Liwonde, this time with our new district president, President Matale, along with the new Blantyre 1st branch president, President Banda.
President Matale was very concerned about the temporal needs of the Liwonde saints.  

This time when we arrived, one of the first things I noticed was bulletin board with several pictures of group activities.

Also on the bulletin board was a hometeaching list with all of the assignments.

When we arrived, Brother Benjamin, the group leader, was waiting for us along with his two assistants.  We were also joined by Aaron Benjamin, his son who had recently returned from his mission.

At first we met in the building to see what the leaders could tell us about the needs of the members.  There are 32 families and almost all have about two-acre farms where they are normally able to grow enough food to feed their families for a year.  However, this year with the terrible flooding, the fields were flooded and the harvests were reduced substantially.

After meeting for about an hour, we piled into our truck to go
visit two member's homes.  We crossed the Shire and quickly drove onto the dirt roads that crisscrossed the fields and took us to Sitima Village.  It is so dry this time of year but it was obvious that many of these roads would be impassable when the rains hit.

We parked the truck and walked the last hundred yards or so to the first farm.

George with President Matale.

When we arrived, the good sister brought out a mat for us to sit on but the men found a thin log which they carried over to the mat.

We made several  jokes about the five "birds" perched on a log.  President Matale, tried for a selfie.
They asked her many questions about last year's harvest, the state of her food supply, how many were in the family, etc.  
 Members can always tell you the year they were baptized and her baptism year was 1992.

She told us that she now had a bad leg which made it difficult for her to work in the fields.  It meant that she could no longer walk to church and could only get there if someone could carry her on their bicycle.

A few chickens and

her home.

One beautiful tree among all the dry fields.
Those of us from Blantyre felt we had better idea of the living conditions of our members.
We had to drive a ways to the next house.  Pointing in one direction, Brother Benjamin said it was over there that the first original meetings were held.

Once again, we had to park the truck and walk across a field to get to the next house.

Once again, we sat outside on a mat and listened as this good sister told us of the disasterous year for maize.

We looked out on the dry fields and I wondered why they were not prepared for planting since the rains were within weeks of coming.

In Chichewa, she had explained to the leaders that the soil here, so close to the Shire River, was different than other farms. It was so hard that they had to wait until after the first rains when the soil softened, and then work very fast to prepare and plant the fields.
Our understanding is that these fields, being fairly close to the river, flood every few years during the rainy season.

She had also been baptized in 1992.
We asked where her husband was, but he had gone off to look for any kind of work or a way to get food.

One of the most heartbreaking moments was when she explained that all they had to eat right now were mangos, and she would boil them for their meals.
She brought some out for us to eat since one should always offer something to their guests.

These were whole mangos that had been boiled.

 Her daughter was visiting.  We know some of these were grandchildren but it is very difficult for us to understand family relationships and how many stayed in the home.

They walked with us back to the truck.
 And there we said our good-byes.

As we drove along the dirt roads to get back to the main road, we spotted children in the distance.

Truly, the old mud hole never fails to delight, even in difficult times. 
And then, back at the Liwonde building, we said our goodbyes to the leadership and promised that we would be getting back to them.  For one member, he now had a two hour walk back to his home.  President Matale made sure they had enough to buy a little something to eat because it had been a long day for them.

We made one stop on the drive back home because

it's mango season! 
 Everyone bought mangos and I bought the least.

For 300 kwacha (50 cents), I bought a large bag of 15 green mangos.  

Still, it is sobering to think that I was able to purchase these easily and they will be made into smoothies or salads.  For the Liwonde members, mangos off the tree are hardly a treat, but rather a lifeline right now.  The district presidency will be making arrangements for visits and immediate assistance to this part of our district.