Although I have only been back in the UK a few days, the business and concerns of life back home are fast consuming me and life in Malawi is quickly becoming a very distant world. However, I am keen to not to forget what I learnt or the people I met during the cycle challenge.
I was fortunate to be able to spend another week on holiday in Malawi with my husband, which provided the opportunity to see more of the beautiful country in the south, round Mulanje, Zomba and the wonderful wildlife in Liwonde National Park. We met more people living and working in Malawi and heard their stories and struggles, which broadened our understanding of the many challenges facing the country today.
My main impression of Malawi is of a beautiful, magical country that has the potential to be so much more than it is. The majority of the population (80%) who live in the rural villages, struggle to survive on subsistence small holdings, growing their own crops but they have no extra resources to fall back on in times of crisis (famine, flood, ill-health). Everywhere we saw people working hard from dawn to dusk, working the land, drawing water from the pumps, collecting firewood, selling their produce by the roadside, recycling everything and anything to support their families. Everywhere we were met with broad smiles, ready laughs and a genuine interest to know who we were. I also noticed a lot of kindness and a ready thankfulness for every small blessing, which shames me when I am reminded of how much I take my comfortable life for granted.
Although I enjoyed the cycle and delighted in discovering the country by bike, I also found the experience troubling and disturbing. The challenges facing Malawi seem overwhelming to an outsider: rapid population growth, deforestation, collapse of revenue from tobacco exports, climate challenges with recent droughts/floods and famines, limited educational opportunities, very poor access to healthcare and political corruption. But it is in this context that the church, and EMMS in particular, appears to be working so effectively, providing hope and real practical help and resources to ordinary people. One young man I met in Mzuzu, burst into smiles when I told him about our cycle challenge to support Ekwendeni Mission: he had been educated there and during times of recent hardship due to floods and famine he and his family had sought refuge at the Mission where they had been fed and cared for.
It was very moving to know that The Mission lives out our Christian calling to “love our neighbours as our selves” and is relied on to “feed the hungry” when neither the government or any other body responds.
The visit has changed my understanding about the role of the church with our global neighbours and the benefit of partnerships.
The EMMS partners in the projects we visited glowed with faith and trust in God’s goodness to provide, despite the huge daily challenges. Our visit meant much more to them than I had imagined, as we demonstrated Christian love and solidarity with their struggle, commitment not to forget them and to continue to pray and support them materially. We are, after all, the brothers and sisters of “Our Father”. As we share our material wealth, so we are blessed by their spiritual wealth.
Individualism is lauded in the west as a right and proper way to be, and yet we have lost so much from recognising our need for each other. I learnt something about the value and rightness of community on this cycle challenge. I never would have started or completed it without the support of everyone else and valued the fellowship, fellowship and special bond that formed between us over a very short period living together. In church communities too, we can achieve so much more working together than as individuals, the impossible becomes possible. And so with the work of EMMS, where heads and hearts work together with a shared vision to improve access to health care for those in the poorest communities in the world.
I have also been re-examining the injustice of global inequalities, in terms if access to the basic necessities of life, health care, food, education, and everything else that is assumed as a right in the first world. My awareness of overconsumption, excess and waste of resources has also been heightened by the visit to Malawi and I hope this will help me change by own priorities and use of my personal wealth.
Doing my supermarket shopping yesterday, I took more care than usual to ensure I bought Fairtrade goods. I have a better understanding now that improved life opportunities for people in Malawi ultimately depends on economic investment and development. Buying Fairtrade is just is one simple way in which I can promote trade and social justice, and now really is a moral obligation rather than a choice.
I am already boring my friends with Malawi talk and hope that some will be influenced to read up about the work of EMMS and support their work. I am hopeful too than my church community may be willing to become more actively engaged with EMMS, consider a partnership and become an active player in the global church to our mutual enrichment.
Rosemary King, July 2017
To find out more about setting up a Church Partnership for your church please contact our Church Relationship Manager Rev James Petticrew.