Namikango Mission

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On the Road – Near & Far

Dec 4, 2013

Death Is No Stranger

As we were driving back today from what seems like the third or fourth funeral this month, I reflected on the amazing importance Malawian people place on family and friends, on community. It really shows when a loved one dies. This is true with many African cultures, and especially here in Malawi. When you arrive at a funeral you find people who have travelled long distances to come to the funeral, often taking days to travel. Whether they are family or distant friends of the deceased, both make a great effort physically and financially to be present. Today, I was struck by a parody of this; here we are at a place where so many people are very poor and by all realistic means, unable to make such a journey, yet they find the means, they find a way, they are here. We are in a place where death occurs frequently and still the community is so bonded together that their response in times of death is so generous. If this sounds pessimistic let me explain.

It was earlier this year that we said good bye to one
of our Mission staff members –
Amos Jekete Suwande.
The hundreds who turned out for the funeral of this soldier of Christ testified about the character of a
man who established 35 congregations in his
home area. He died of cancer at 75

 

It is not uncommon for people to make two or three trips back home, in a month, due to a death in the family. Now let me define family. Family here is not just the immediate brothers, sisters, Mom, and Dad. Family is any relative near and far. The closeness of the family relation between the person who has died and the family "member" is not significant. If I am the husband to the sister of the sister, who is a grandchild to the brother who has died … (I think you follow), I will be present at that funeral. Even if I live in Southern Malawi and the funeral is in the North, 300 miles away, requiring two or three days’ travel time, and at a cost of $30 (a full month's salary for many) . . . I will be there. I have been amazed at our Assistant Director, Bisani Mphongolo, who is originally from Northern Malawi, but lives in Southern Malawi and works here at Namikango. It seems to me he has spent a weekend every month this year going home for a funeral. It is important for him to represent the family. He will be there.

To emphasize Malawi’s strong respect for community, companies and institutions are required to assist in funeral expenses of their employees. This practice is in itself generous, but it extends not only to the employees; it extends to the family of the employee. The funeral I was at today was the tragic loss of the husband of one of our employees, and even though the employee’s family lives right here in our town, it was our responsibility as an institution where the spouse works, to provide the coffin and additional assistance towards funeral expenses.

I was very surprised to learn this earlier this year when we assisted in another funeral. I found this is a common practice with companies throughout Malawi, and some go even further, and cover the expenses for the death of distant relatives, far beyond the immediate family of the employee. Some companies that are owned by expatriates (non-Malawians) have tried to deny these benefits to their employees and this doesn’t sit well with the local people. I heard of one story where, after refusing to assist one of his employees in a similar situation, the employer showed up to work the next morning to find a coffin sitting on his desk, with a determined employee next to it, requesting transportation expenses to a funeral. The employer eventually gave in. This only shows how important this is to life in Malawi. For many employees, expenses related to funerals are included in their work contract, and this often determines whether they stay or leave. This practice has also caused companies to avoid hiring people who have come from a distance away, and only hire local people.

So, back to the reason I wrote this article. In a place where death is no stranger among a people who do not have an abundance of physical wealth to give, there is a level of generosity and commitment to one another that is quite amazing. I pray that God will continue to work on me so that I will not hold too firmly to what I have, and will take a lesson from these loving and generous people.

Confirmation from God

I want to let you all know about a recent Workshop – It was wonderful. God did some amazing things in these short three days. We taught on the Holy Spirit, Discipleship, Agriculture, Financial Management, and HIV/Aids; and all were accepted warmly by these brothers. Many were requesting that we add a Management Course to the Bible School curriculum, as well as furthering the ministry of Agriculture Training.

This was amazing to me as these preachers were mostly older gentlemen from deep in the villages, so I saw their openness to our moving in this direction, as confirmation from God that the time is right for us to continue in the direction we’ve been speaking of. In his closing, the Representative of the Preachers (Mataya from Red Cross Church in Blantyre), among other words of encouragement and unity for our different churches, challenged his fellow brethren to begin supporting the Mission – in addition to their own churches and families.

Also, we had three gentlemen from Northern and Central regions – Kasungu and Rumphi. The one from Rumphi has had difficulty with churches there but what we have seen in these three days gives encouragement for the good.

All in all, it was a powerful work done by the Spirit in three short days.

Thanks so much for your prayers.

Ben Hayes