1. Looking for Properties with Lloyd Mwale
In mid-January 2016 Jonathan Nkhoma, a returned missionary from Kenya, and faithful Zingwangwa member, called, saying a gentleman had come to the Zingwangwa building, claiming to own or know of some property suitable for building a church. Occasionally, we get unsolicited calls about possible building sites, since neighbors know of our interest in finding property, as the Zingwangwa building is simply too crowded and noisy, and not ideal for Sabbath worship. I am game for checking each property lead, because you never know but what one might get lucky and find just the right parcel. All Jonathan knew was the property in question was somewhere near Chilobwe. Virtually all of the prior sites we inspected have been either in Zingwangwa or Chimwanhkunda, located toward the eastern side of the current branch boundaries. The Zingwangwa members find themselves scattered, in a broad arc, stretching from the east flank of Mt. Soche (east as far as the Quarry), sweeping around to the north side of the mountain, and then on to the west flank (west as far as Green Corner). When we first started looking for property, we identified what we called our “sweet spot”—an area within the township of Chimwankhunda—circumscribing a large rectangular area, several kilometers in length along each of the four sides--bordered on the north by Zingwangwa Avenue, on the west by the road running from the current building site up to Zion Market and then on to the dirt road below the Mwales; flanked on the south by the dirt road running pass Soche Baptist Church on to the Living Waters Church; and hedged in on the east by the road from Living Waters back to the Puma Station, at the intersection of Zingwangwa and Napeni Avenues. The area is ideal because virtually all of our members could walk to anywhere within the sweet spot within 30 to 40 minutes. Only one or two of our member families have cars and drive to Church.
But, given our efforts to date, spanning roughly a year of searching, it looks as though it will be challenging to find property within the target area, because virtually all buildable sites have already been used, primarily for small brick single-family homes, small shops, and the occasional church. The remaining vacant land consists solely of irregular sized lots, rocky or steep parcels, and land along ravines and creeks, none suitable for constructing a building of the size the Church needs. If some of the existing churches had an interest in selling their property, that option might be feasible. The only way to build within the area would be to assemble six to ten adjacent lots, raze whatever existing structures are on them, and then build a new structure, with space for parking, not a current need, but anticipating changes in the future. Stitching together parcels in this fashion is not out of the question, because the local homes are usually little more than modest brick (or in some cases even mud) dwellings of relatively little value. But many home owners are naturally reluctant to sell their homes; it is what they know, they have friends and family in the area, and they are not interested in being uprooted. Perhaps, however, if the prices were right, they could induced to tolerate the disruption. Of course, what makes the task so daunting is the sheer numbers—likely it will be necessary to convince, not one or two owners, but close to six to eight—the logistics, with the negotiations, can quickly be out of hand.
Chilobwe itself is slightly west of the target area, but not so far out as to be totally out of consideration. After meeting Lloyd Mwale (who we discovered to be an agent and not the principal) and Jonathan at Zingwangwa, I was directed to drive to Chilobwe Center, situated at the end of the paved road, branching off Zingwangwa Avenue. The Center is located close to the Chilobwe Police Station, a handful of concrete block stores, and a small local market, with the customary vendors of vegetables, chickens, cooking oil, dried fish—it is also where the local mini-buses congregate. The congestion in the area is so bad that it can take 10 to 20 minutes to pass through the main intersection, where the paved road gives way to several unpaved roads.
Malawi drivers do not deserve high marks for road etiquette or driving skills. Rarely do they drive defensively or with much of a sense of anticipation---but the worst of the worst are the mini bus drivers. They have no regard for the rights of other drivers—they stop wherever they want, whenever they wish, frequently blocking the road, even if there is enough of shoulder to pull off to the side. They have no sense of urgency, pull into traffic without signaling, and arrogantly presume to have the right of way, whether or not they in fact do. More than anything else in Malawi they have tested my patience and equanimity—Carole is tired, I am sure, of my muttering, but they are infuriating.
What makes the Chilobwe intersection especially treacherous is the left edge of the road, when driving westward, featuring an enormous pothole, not large enough to swallow the truck, but deep enough to envelope totally the left front wheel; that feature alone leaves me edgy when trying to pass through the Chilobwe Center since I am always crowded to that side by parked mini buses, anxiously waiting passengers, but leaving little space for others to maneuver.
Close to the Chilobwe Market we picked up the property owner and were then directed to another dirt road, deeply rutted and rocky, below the Chilobwe Center, running parallel to the main paved road, this time travelling back to the southwest, roughly in the direction of Mpembe, a village between Blantyre and Chikwawa. Carole and I have been in the area a couple of time, first when looking for a possible rental building for Zingwangwa, and later when going to the cemetery where Lucy Tembo’s family buried their son. I assumed the property in question would be found somewhere in that vicinity; several large residential lots are perched on the slopes cascading down the hill toward the cemetery. But rather than stopping, we keep driving westward on the narrow road, barely wide enough to allow two cars to pass at slow speeds, going through several small markets. It was soon apparent that, wherever the property might be, it would be too far away from our members to be a possible church site. Yet we kept driving down the lane, getting further and further away from Chilobwe Center. Finally the narrow road gave way to a narrow country lane, side bushes crowding in from both sides, almost touching overhead to form a canopy.  Finally, I refused to drive any further, saying that if the property weren’t within walking distance, we would skip the visit. Assuring me that we were almost there, we parked the truck off to the side, disembarked, and then marched in file another couple hundred meters; no longer in Blantyre, we had passed into the countryside, into a rural area that I subsequently learned is called “Chata Village.” We were totally surrounded by maize fields and the occasional brick home and outbuildings. The parcel in question was relatively flat, large enough for a chapel, parking and grounds, but miles away from the bulk of our members.
Needless to say, the property was not an option, and the trip had been a waste of time. Not surprisingly, I felt annoyed, but an even more prominent feeling was that of shock and incredulity. How in the world could Lloyd and the property owner have thought the Church would be interested in that parcel? They knew we were looking for property for our current congregation. So even if we hadn’t spelled out in detail our criteria, anyone could have guessed that this out-of-way site was totally inappropriate for our purposes. Showing it to us was only likely to cause annoyance and cost them credibility in our eyes. Perhaps, the property owner could care less; it was only property he had for sale so it didn’t matter whether or not we were annoyed; if we were interested, super; if not, what did he have to lose. The agent surely had more at stake.
But what I found most astounding is how they choose to respond to the comment that the site was too far away from our members. They didn’t see that as a particular problem. If the Church were to build a meetinghouse on the site, they were confident the immediate neighbors—indeed, everyone within walking distance of the property—would join the Church. We would soon have a new congregation, large enough to fill the new building. Certainly their response was baldly self-serving, but it did touch upon an attitude quite prevalent in Malawi. Christian churches are pretty much alike—the doctrinal differences really don’t count for much—so why shouldn’t one elect to attend the church closest to home. Proximity is grounds enough to select the “right” church for the family. Why would anyone travel miles to attend a church, when other Christian churches are closer to home? They are not alone in holding this view. Many nonmembers, both here and at home in the United States, share the same sentiment--all Christian churches are functionally equivalent and the Mormon claims of being the “only true” church sound arrogant and offensive to others.
A week after the first visit with Lloyd, he called again, showing me two additional parcels—one close to Baluti village—too far out of town and not suitable for Zingwangwa—and the other a parcel close to the Tsegulas’ compound in the Three Ways market area. We had previously thought about the latter property and perhaps it might be an option.
 We have found Malawians, because they don’t drive, never anticipate the hazards of getting stuck in tight lanes.