This article was presented before 600 delegates, Reverends and leaders of Livingstonia Synod at their Synod General Session on 6th august 2008. It was a wonderful ocasion the pleasure for which I will for ever cherish.Reverend Nkhoma,Mezua Banda,Nyondo and Maurice Munthali were gracious to me.Here with please enjoy a reproduced verbatim of my speech titled:
"THE SPIRIT OF DR ROBERT LAWS"
I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the call to witness the opening of the Livingstonia synod general session. As I am expressing my appreciation, I want the outgoing general secretary and the general synod at large to know that I was moved and continue to be deeply moved by the sincere gesture shown to me through an invitation forwarded to me by the general secretary Rev. Matiya Nkhoma.I must confess here ,that much as I was going to honor the invitation one way or the other, the fact that it was going to be here at Livingstonia paralyzed any excuse that would have gone in the direction of turning down the offer.
I say so because I have heard quite a lot about this place. Some of the Braviest sons and daughters of this nation had their character modeled to an extent where they became an influence to be recon with.Such names include late Rodwel Munyenyembe whose last word on earth was order! Order, Desmond Dudwa Phiri Malawi’s accomplished writer, eminent orators such as Clement Kadali the trade unionist whose work is much more respected by the ruling ANC in south Africa than his Nkhatabay natives, eminent scholars like Mpalive Msiska,Gwebe Nyirenda,Goodal Gondwe,Lewis Mughogho and finally my mentor the award winning novelist Legson Kayira a young man who was inspired by the Livingstonia’s mission motto” I WILL TRY”He trekked to Sudan on foot in pursuit of knowledge. Year’s letter, he wrote an autobiography in memory of this place’s motto I WILL TRY.
Famous for his extensively quoted quotation thus: “I learned that I was not as what other Africans think, a victim of circumstances but rather a master of them” his achievements symbolizes the greatness of Livingstonia mission. It is a place that makes one to discover the warmth and sense of community that the people of Malawi possess - their sense of hopefulness even in the face of great difficulty. As I was coming here, I was enjoying the scenery, the meandering 19 or is it 21 corners and up here, I discovered the beauty of the land, a beauty that haunts you long after you've left.But when warned that I might be asked to say a word or too, I was gob smacked and a little bit numb.
I was not too sure of what to say before this large body of Gods workers. Certainly I couldn’t dare to enter into the un chartered terrain of scriptures in the mistaken belief that I will talk sense to the men of God, themselves masters of that revered art.At first, I entertained the idea of centering the theme of my presentation on the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments that we've been seeing over the last several years.
I thought this would be easy on my part, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible; As a media man, I thought the religious Malawi could get some advice from little gained experience in the media and link it to the press as part of the church’s strategic growth stratagem and from there we could discuss the religious call to address poverty and environmental stewardship and where time permits us, tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exist between religious Malawi and secular Malawi.Political divide in this country has fallen sharply along religious lines.
Indeed, the single biggest "gap" in party affiliation among Malawians today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called regional blocks and the phenomena of the tribal belt, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t. A religious body that is backing candidate A vs a religious body denouncing Candidate B.But when my mind reflected on the history of this nation, in particular how history recalled a kind hearted person upon whom this synod is named after, a full citation of his famous quote made in 1857 at the Senate House in Cambridge, England knocked my heart, I could hear his echoing melodramatic voice from a distant horizon, it was a voice of hope full of inspiration, a voice that saved us from becoming Portuguese speaking natives, but above all a voice that resembles true commitment to humanity.
His words and I quote. ”I go back to Africa to make an open path for commerce and Christianity. Do you carry on the work I have begun? I leave it to you.” End of quote.Immediately after recalling this historic event, my focus changed from the mighty subject of religion to the life sketches of a missionary worker and by extension a gospel minister in plentiful site here.I've had the opportunity to take a look at their work experience in Malawi and by extension the challenges faced by the present church regardless of denomination. It is filled with outstanding achievements in the domain of doing greater good to the nation moral wise and prescriptions for much of what ails this country.But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the Malawian people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.
From a purely personal point of view, frankly speaking I don’t share the idea of mixing religion and politics. Religion and politics are a deadly, explosive mixture. Religion becomes more important than individual rights and political power provides belief enforcement.History is replete with examples of over zealous religious beliefs becoming the law of the land because that person had the power to enforce those beliefs. Do not get me wrong, I am not against religion in favor of government or government in favor of religion. In fact I am a practicing Christian. Government and religion are both highly desired by the majority of people.The type of government or religion varies but both are usually deemed necessary in some form. Government is necessary to prevent chaos, to provide services, to provide some form of justice, and to provide direction for the individual but more so for the group through its laws and rules.
Religion is necessary to provide hope, to provide direction, and to control the individual as well as the group through its tenets. Government and religion are often a mirror image of each other and one can to some degree substitute for the other in bringing a just society. However, my understanding of the two is that they should be kept separate and should not share platforms at any cost for the simple reason that religion and politics often promote a narrow view of life while promoting absolute concepts.In order for one to be right in religion or politics, opposing views must be wrong or at the very least not as correct. Combining religion and politics in one person only serves to narrow the view even more; if you add power to enforce that view, the end result is a dictatorship of thought, deeds, and actions."Thankfully, Livingstonia synod has been a model church in as far as handling issues of this nature is concerned.
This model in my view has not been simply the result of successful marketing by skilled preachers and the strategic wits of its secretariat, or the draw of popular mega-churches. In fact, it speaks to a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any particular issue or cause.And if it weren't for the particular attributes of Dr David Livingston, John Dickson, Scudamore and Dr Robert Laws, I may have accepted this fate.For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the biblical tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the church leaders here today from the eighties and nineties political shenanigans . Because of its missionary past, the Livingstonia synod understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities.
And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man with the likes of Dr. Mazunda, late Rev.Aaron Longwe, Rev. Matiya Nkhoma, Rev. Mphande and many others to mention a few, I was able to see faith as only being more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope. And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship -- the grounding of faith in struggle -- that the church offered me a second insight, one that I think is important to emphasize today.My first encounter goes back to the time when Dr Livingstone entered Nyasaland.
Of particular interest was the reception offered to him by a local chief Chibisa in Chikwawa.At the time when foreign nations were blamed for wars and slavery, at the time when locals were highly suspicious of foreigners, Dr David Livingston was an exception.According to Dr. King [The story of medicine and diseases in Malawi]Dr. David Livingston was warmly welcomed by Chief Chibisa, whom Livingstone described as “a jolly person who could laugh easily”.When you are a man of God, it does not matter whether one is foreign or native. It does not even matter whether one speaks one’s language or not.A man of God is a peace maker and perhaps this was why chief chibisa could laugh easily in the presence of Dr. David Livingston.
He did not feel threatened.Dr. David Livingstone was the last member of the Zambesi Expedition to leave in 1863, after several had died of Malaria. On his last journey down the Shire River, he passed the graves of Richard Thornton at Kapichira Falls, of Dickinson and Scudamore at Chibisa’s Village, of Ferger in the Elephant Marsh, of Bishop Mackenzie at Chiromo, and of his beloved wife Mary, at Shupunga. He was not defeated by these disasters. The problems of the local people, who were beset by a brutal slave trade, by tribal conflicts, by starvation, and by disease, strengthened his determination to help them.
When God calls you, the challenges that one may face strengthens one’s spirit.On March 17th 1863 “dear devoted Dickinson, after a severe illness of eight days, had died. Livingstone and Kirk had been called from the Pioneer to his assistance, but arrived half an hour too late. He was buried beside Scudamore at Chibisa’s Village. The graves are to the south of the modern Blantyre to Chikwawa road, on the west bank of the Shire River close to the bridge.13 years later, the graves were visited by Young who in 1876 wrote “we paid a visit to the graves of Henry Scudamore and John Dickinson at Chibisa’s Village, only to find the same deep respect evidenced for their preservation.
He went on to say “future generations will come to hear of these men who wrenched the slave sticks from their fathers and mothers, and who endured the hard days of famine and destruction with them”.Where is the faith of our missionary, one may argue.Where is the commitment and dedication earlier shown to us by the early missionaries?When God does not answer out prayers there is a reason-always. Often we are that reason.
Even if our prayers is for something that is clearly God’s will, it may be hindered because there is something in our lives that makes it impossible for God to do what He wishes to do. Part of prevailing prayer consists of examining ourselves and clearing away that which hinders God from working.
Indeed one cannot conclude the history of this church without mentioning the legendary missionary and man of God Dr. Robert Laws.He made a personal commitment to work for God in 1870 after surviving a fatal smallpox attack.His quickly craved a personal motto thus:“When God wills something to be done, He will give us the means to do it”.It was a simple faith with fundamental optimism.
In 1874, the Church of Scotland released the Rev. Dr. Robert Laws to go to Lake Nyasa for two years only. He stayed for 53 years to achieve some of the most impressive medical mission work in Africa.Immediately they set to, to build a bungalow 50 feet by 25 feet. On the first day 200 trees were cut down. Laws worked with the rest, digging holes.Back at Cape Maclear in December 1875, malaria was rife, and Dr. Laws suffered 15 attacks in a few months. Often he had to crawl from his mattress to tend others. The beauty of doing Gods work depend less on preaching powerful ceremonies or condemning sinners but it rather depends on one’s ability to serve those in need. “All those who profess to be followers of Christ as Ellen G white once said must first love all for whom Christ died for”
In September 1877, Dr. Black arrived to take charge of the Mission, in a party with John Gunn (farmer), Robert Ross (engineer), A.C Miller (weaver), and Dr. James Stewart. Black survived only 7 months at Cape Maclear before dying of malaria. Then Shadrach Nguna and John Mackay (boatman) died of tuberculosis But Dr. Laws tended them devotedly.In December 1879, they sailed together to explore the north end of Lake Nyasa, His wife Mary was sleeping on the deck and in heavy rain and strong winds, spread her skirt over the engine. One dark stormy night, the Doctor went forward to where she stood clinging to the rigging: “Well, are you afraid?” asked Dr. Laws” No… replied Mrs. Laws and when Dr. Laws asked why???Mrs. Laws smiled and replied: “because you are at the helm.”
You see when a man of God is within the community, society feels safe because he or she is at the helm. When misguided politics reaps us apart, when men of cloth are sometimes palpably seen to be bought, true men of God usually stands out to instill confidence to the heartbroken society. There are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us - when we are lost, wandering spirits, content with our suspicions and our angers, our long-held grudges and petty disputes, our frantic diversions and tribal allegiances.
But when God is allowed to be at the helm of the church, all becomes well.Equally ,when a God fearing man or woman is incharge,society should feel self,because God himself is at the helm.When Dr. and Mrs. Laws Returned to Cape Maclear in 1880, they were both very ill with malaria, and then, the Master of the Ilala, Captain Benzie, and John Gunn from Caithness both suddenly died of fever. The Doctor tended Gunn for three days: “the temperature rapidly increased, he vomited blood (coffee grounds), petechial spots appeared rapidly over his body. About 1 pm he began talking in Gaelic, and spoke no more English, nor was he conscious afterwards. At 5.5 pm he passed away. The Laws were devastated by these deaths. There were now five Mission graves at Cape Maclear. Yet Dr. Laws could see a distinct way forward. He regained his faith and positioned his spirit to do Gods work.
It was the sort of spirit that gives courage to the faint of heart, by dint of vision, and determination, and most of all, faith in the redeeming power of God. The spirit that endures the humiliation of mosquito attacks, the loneliness of a grieving couple, the constant threats by Arabic slave traders, until it finally inspired expedition to transform itself, and begin to live up to the meaning of its creed through a personal motto inscribed in his heart.“When God wills something to be done, He will give us the means to do it”.On March 29th 1881 Dr. and Mrs. Laws sailed north from Cape Maclear to go to the Tonga, Tumbuka, and Ngoni people who wanted their help.Captain E.D Young had first encountered the Ngoni by the Shire River in 1877. They were a branch of the Zulu tribe which had migrated to escape from Chaka’s butchery, and still spoke the Zulu language.
Young described them as “a merciless horde, and yet as merciless as they were, they had learned of a Good Man by the name of Dr. Laws such that In 1879, Chief M’mbelwa summoned Dr. Laws to his cattle kraal at Njuyu, four days walking from Nkhata Bay.The next day Chief M’mbelwa at last appeared to a huge assembly of warriors shouting” Bayete”(hail). He looked slowly at Dr. Laws, and at once a bond of mutual respect was established between these two strong men. Then he said.“We are disappointed that you have not come and settled with us Ngoni. Why do you like the Lake? Can you milk fish?” Laws promised to send Mission teachers to them in due course.
Before he left Njuyu Village, a lion was killed and the warriors danced the fearsome Lion Dance in celebration.In April 1882 Dr. Laws, with Dr. Hannington and William Koyi (the Zulu missionary), went again to visit Chief M’mbelwa at Njuyu. Laws asked to meet all the sub-chiefs and waited nine days for all these Indunas to arrive.
When a man of God is charged with a mediation process, where his services are required, he must be prepared to be patient. There’s nothing like a deadline because God himself is not in a hurry. And so did Dr Laws. He waited for nine solid days for the Ngoni indunas and finally to the joy of Dr Laws, they all arrived.They were addressed first by the handsome Chief Mtwalo who asked Dr. Laws to leave the Lake and settle in the hills with the Ngoni. Laws, was very ill with fever, but went on and said he wished to preach Christianity so that all the people might be happy and strong. “The mission wanted to teach children how to read the Bible and to give medicines to the sick. This would be better than war”. Chief Mtwalo was impressed and Chief M’mbelwa made a formal pledge of protection for the Tonga of Bandawe ratified by an exchange of cattle and blankets.
Tonga and Tumbuka memories of Robert Laws at Bandawe were:“Dotolozi was a charmer; he charmed the whole district so that the Ngoni would not come near us.”When he came, he stopped all fighting between the chiefs.” When a believer enters a place, his or her main job is to bring peace. If people were fighting, their fighting should come to a standstill and the Tongas remembered him for that.In 1894, the Laws, with Yuriah Chirwa, at last moved their work to a hill station at Kondowe where we are, 4,500 feet above sea level, looking down on Lake Nyasa. The Ngoni people came to help the Mission, leveling roads, building houses, and bringing their children to school. The vicious tribe to which I am a member laid down their armory and helped in building a mission station.Mawerela Tembo son of the feared witchcraft doctor became the first Ngoni to be converted to Christianity.
The Laws’ first house was blown down by a tornado the night after its completion. But he was not discouraged.Then the “jiggers” epidemic arrived, causing bad ulcers. One day Laws removed 12 matekenya from his own toes but it only strengthened his determination.In 1904 the Ngoni gathered in their thousands, Chiefs, Indunas, and Impis of warriors, with shields and spears, to see the British Governor Sharpe with Dr. Laws. They had come to surrender their old wild way of life, to submit to authority and taxation. With the Doctor’s help, the Ngoni agreed to be a part of the Nyasaland Protectorate, with their own police.A Nyasa plea reached Scotland in 1908; if Dr. Laws is to stay in Scotland, the whole of our land will weep, and catch him, and stop his loads going to us by God.
They are not Europeans now, they are Africans.” For once a tribe only described as a merciless horde by many were now crying for a missionary man. This had to do with his character.This was later reflected in one of his writings and I quote.“It is often said that the highest qualifications are not required for the missionary to Africa. The opposite is the case. It needs also the finest character. It is not one’s preaching and work that tells on people, but the example of one’s life.”As Robert Laws left Nyasaland in 1928 there were many tributes: “He has appeared to Africans as a man of daring spirit. He had a message to deliver and that he accomplished. He is a wonderful man in his humility, meekness, patience, and compassion.” Sadly, Dr Robert Laws died on August 6th 1934 in London.
Often has my heart been ready to sink. Many times, when wondering in the forests of praise and criticism, in the pelting rain of fear for doing what is just, or on the deck of a struggling broadcasting ship, on a dark, stormy nights alone, far from home, I have almost accused myself of madness and folly to sacrifice the peace of my family and all the hopes of life, for what might prove, after all, but a dream. I have seen my companions one after another fall by my side, and feared I, too, might not live to see the end after being a recipient of unwarranted and un provoked threats. And yet, one hope has led me on; and I have prayed that I might not taste death till my contribution towards my country how small it may be gets accomplished. Thankfully this prayer is often answered.” But chief amongst the inspiration has been the story of Dr Robert Laws.The story of Dr Robert Laws and other missionaries gone long before him and after, is a lesson to the present day Livingstonia Synod.
It is a rallying call upon which the church can renew its commitment to society and the nation at large.It is the sort of calls that keeps each one of us, asking the questions, what if, why, and why not? The one that keeps you always searching for answers to those questions. The one that makes you say,"I don't have to be content with the present, because I have a role in changing the lives of others”. Next year, this nation will go through an important excise the elections. If the reports by the media are anything to go by, it appears like certain personalities are being targeted and at worse religious organization too.As a practicing Christian, I sometimes get disappointed when I hear rev A or B abandoning this sacred profession in pursuit of monetary gains offered by political entities.
There is no logic in denying that Society is becoming more and more corrupt these days, and one of the clearest evidences of this degeneration is the tendency for people, even so-called Christians, to sell themselves – if the price is right.Every time I see such a headline or come across such a rumor, I often ask myself a question as to whether Exodus 23:8 -was completely deleted from his or her bible for it says:” Thou shall take no bribe: for a bribe blindeth them that have sight, and perverteth the words of the righteous”.The saying “Every man has his price,” ascribed to Sir Robert Walpole, Former prime minister of England, is not strictly true, and it should never be true of a Christian.
What is it that enables a Christian to turn down a bribe, even if he should be offered the whole world? The answer is simple: His affections are set on things above. Why? Because his treasure is laid up in heaven.I am reminded of a story I once read from one of my devotional booksWhen the managers of Standard Oil of New Jersey were looking for a representative to promote their products in china, they turned to Dr. R. A. Jaffrey, a missionary, who not only spoke Chinese fluently but also had the confidence of the people. A company agent offered him a salary of $5,000 a year if he would work for Standard Oil. At the time he was earning a mere $300 a year. He turned them down. They came back with an offer of $10,000, then $20,000, but he still refused. But the company was persistent.
They instructed their agent to “get him at any price.” Kindly, but firmly, Dr. Jaffrey told the agent, “I cannot accept any offer. You are offering me a big salary with a little job. I have a big job with a small salary, but I am content.” Such absolute dedication to God’s cause is rare these days.Livingstonia synod has a big job with or without money. The church is not and should not be offered for sale. As a church, is it teaching its followers to lay their treasures in heaven? Is the church setting its affections on things above so that it can teach its followers to refuse the most attractive bribe?As stated earlier, the church plays a complimentary role to government and we must protect the integrity of the church from those whose only means to anything is through dangling monetary carrots. We must protect our democracy too. And gladly in this very point, Livingstonia synod has been modest.
By sustaining the democratic spirit no matter how fragile it has been, we have proved the warring, divided and toned nations, that the love of our country beckons us, and that we will find it not across distant hills or within some hidden valley to go the other African way, but rather we will find it somewhere in our hearts.That there’s progress in all fronts, that though with teething problems, our democracy is growing and that whenever there are differences, we resort to settle our differences in courts as opposed to machetes and pangas.But for all the progress that has been made, we must surely acknowledge that we have not yet fulfilled our potential - that the hopefulness of the post-colonial era replaced by repression is a regrettable fact.
That a post repressive administration was replaced by a decade of corruption and mob justice is another sad reality and that political despair, and that true economic freedom has not yet been won for those struggling to live on less than a few dollars a day, for those who have fallen prey to HIV/AIDS or malaria, to those ordinary citizens who continue to find themselves trapped in the crossfire of political depression needs a church’s united front that brings the nation together by turning down any offers that may come prior to elections.There is no doubt that what Malawi has accomplished within this short period is both impressive and inspiring. Among African nations, we remain a model for representative democracy - a place where many different ethnic factions have found a way to live and work together in peace and stability. We enjoy a robust civil society; a press that's free, and a strong independent judiciary.
When people are judged by contribution, not background, when the best and brightest can lead the country, people will work hard, and the entire economy will grow - everyone will benefit and more resources will be available for all, not just selected groups.In today's Malawi - a Malawi already more open and less repressive than in the past is the envy and pride of many –It is a Malawi that has been courageous enough to confront its past. A Malawi we can ably stand for and defend it in the international scenes .This sort of Malawi needs the church’s protection from political agents of mendacity who does not wish this country well. Its time to respond to the national duty of raising the flag and tell the world that Malawi is indeed the warm heart of Africa, without doubt in mind. Such an act would have attracted a standing ovation from Dr. Robert Laws.
I thank you all for listening.
Pachai: The Early History of Malawi, Elizabeth Colson and Masc. Gluckman: Seven Tribes of British Central Africa, , W.P Livingston: Laws of Livingstonia, Fredrick Moir: after Livingstone, Margret Read: The ngoni of Nyasaland, D.D Phiri: History of Malawi, T. Collen Young: The history of the Tumbuka – Kamanga people. Shephersien: Independent African, R. Mackenzie,W.A. Elmslie: Among The wild Angoni, Bible: Exodus 23:8,Gelfard Michae l–Lakeside Pioneers,Robert Laws: Reminisce of Livingstonia, Legson Kayira: I Will Try, Ransford Oliver: Livingstone’s Lake, E.D Young: The Search after Livingstone/A journal of Adventures, Michael & Elspeth King – The Story of Medicine and Disease in Malawi, Masiye Tembo: Touched by His Grace, Malopa Bright: Where Islam Acts in Silence, Elley G. White: Messages to Young People,Peter G Forster:T.Culen Young –missionary anthropologist.