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  • Writer's pictureChristina

Cathedral



I was exhausted, hurt and confused. It was only 10 am, but it was dry and hot and we were a bit lost. I crumpled on a rock under a mango tree.  The day started out promising enough with an early morning enjoying the waves of Likoma Island and a nice breakfast. By 8 am we started an uphill trek across the island to the famous cathedral, and by 9 am we arrived.  We had been told we might have to pay if we wanted a tour of the inside, but there was a morning prayer service going on, and the last thing we wanted to do was to play the tourist and interrupt the faithful worshipers. So I wrapped a pretty skirt around myself and we walked up to the door where several locals had just entered for prayer.

A man intercepted us.  “You can’t go in without paying” he told us. “You need to be part of a tour to enter.”  “But I just saw many people go in just now,” I said, “and there is a worship service going on. We are Christians, we would like to go and worship.”  “You can’t go without a guide” he said firmly.  “Did you know before that there was a service going on?  I am also a Christian, but this is how we do things. You have to pay to enter”

I didn’t mind paying, but I didn’t want to enter as a tourist and have a loud guide interrupt everything because I was a paying foreigner and that took priority over anything else happening in the place of worship. I had hoped to take a holy moment in this sacred place, and to pray in the shadow of the hundred-year legacy that was this rock-hewn cathedral.

The conversation happened so fast, and our decision not to interrupt the prayers if we couldn’t join them was equally quick. After an hours walk to get there, we found ourselves walking away from the Cathedral. The goal-oriented one, I was perhaps more dejected than Greg.

“Give me my money” a small child called out to us as we walked down the street.  “Ndilibe ndalama yanu – I don’t have your money” I replied.  “I want money” his frined yelled back.  “Inenyso – me too” I called back.  This was a very usual conversation any time a white person walked through a Malawian village, but today it hurt more than usual.  We walked for another hour, drinking down the water Greg insightfully brought for us.

That brought me to the slight uphill, which I just couldn’t manage in the heat, and my position under the mango tree. Why did this hurt so much, why did it feel like such a deep wounding? Sure, I was upset because I was exhausted and I didn’t get to reach my goal of praying in the cathedral. But it seemed like the hurt came from the realization that, after seven years of living and working in Malawi, of trying my best to bring hope and healing and to uplift God’s kingdom, I was still seen as a source of money and profit, not as a fellow human or someone who could worship God alongside Malawians. I was honestly shaken. What have these years been for?  What would more years like this bring?

Greg poured the last of our water over my head, and I dejectedly limped back to our lodge. After a bit of wailing and some napping, the day got better and we ended up having a delightful vacation.  We spent 9 hours traveling back by boat and car, and then Greg jumped back into training pastors and I had some rewarding chances for helping others inside and outside of the clinic.  Deep down, I continue to feel some unrest, a sense of being an outsider who will never fit in, and wondering how much of what we are doing here will have a lasting impact. If even a beautiful cathedral becomes a moneymaking scheme that keeps people out, what could our legacy here be?

We have hope, we try our best, and things are going well. But every once in a while, the tension in my heart and the pain in my back reminds me that I am carrying burdens which are not quite settled.

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