“That meeting, I went to it and got [reimbursed for] my transport, then I forgot. But when they called me later, I remembered.” Reverend Nixon Nzunga, the District Superintendent tasked with overseeing more than 200 churches in our area, reflected with us over a late lunch. Greg spent the morning driving into the new-to-us region of Mkhwalasa to hear stories of transformation. Amazing things had been happening in this community long before we arrived; some years ago, a nonprofit organization called World Relief had gathered a committee of faith leaders and traditional authorities in this area to help the community manage issues like COVID and HIV. Because Nixon was a leader of church leaders, the organization invited him to an initial vision meeting, but it was the story of what the local people had done with local resources in the meantime that had us all talking now.
At first the committee of faith leaders wasn’t sure what they should do. But one of their members was a local Nazarene pastor who attended the world view training we helped coordinate in the Mphewa region last year with The Word Transforms. This pastor helped guide the committee through ideas of sustainability and techniques for asking community members about their existing resources and priorities. So the committee sat down with the Group Village Headman (GVH), the chief who was over the other chiefs in the area. They explained their intention to help the community, and asked about the resources and priorities of the area. After some time, they identified priorities of education, health, and clean water as priorities for the area.
Education seemed particularly pressing for the community. The nearest school was far away from Mkhwalasa, on the other side of a river which became impassable during rainy season. Children could not go to school at all during Malawi’s rainy months, and many stayed home altogether. The GVH was so impressed by the need for education in the community, and trusted the committee of faith leaders so much, that he used about $600 of his own money to buy a big piece of land and handed it over to the committee so that they could start making a difference.
Then the entire community came together to build a school. Men gathered together to form bricks and women gathered fallen tree limbs to fire them. Community members, mostly subsistence farmers, saved money from their harvests so that they could contribute along with their chief to pay for cement to hold the bricks together and for a builder to ensure that a 2-room schoolhouse was constructed properly. When the walls were up, the community contacted their local member of parliament, who was originally from their region, and he provided a metal roof for the schoolroom. By the time Greg, Nixon, and others went to hear about what the community had done, they were expecting government-funded teachers to arrive and had started making bricks for a second room. Some villagers had even started leveling of a football field for the children on the donated land. The Nazarene pastor had been asked to build a church on the donated land near the school, to help oversee future projects dealing with water and healthcare.
“I like this because it is a wholistic approach” commented Pastor Moses, the librarian at NTCCA where Greg teaches and the head of the Extension Program which brings theological training into pastors in the villages. “This meets spiritual and physical needs.” Moses and Patrick, another pastor and a village leader in the Lombadzi area, have been tasked with developing and leading community development projects among Nazarene churches in our region. Together with Thoko and another female pastor, they have just returned from a week-long Community Health Evangelism training in Blantyre and are evaluating how to best implement these programs in the church. Today they helped provide advice about logistics for the program in Mkhwalalsa, including property titles for the donated land and reinforcing community rather than church ownership of the new school. They also visited with some minor chiefs in the area and discussed how what the community was doing now was different from times that they sat still and waited for nonprofit organizations and well-wishers to come and help them. “They have to take total responsibility for the project which is happening” Moses explained towards the end of dinner. As we reflected on the miraculous coming together of this community, and discussed plans to follow up with pastors who were engaging in projects in other areas, Moses and Patrick were taking what they had learned in training, seeing it applied in communities, and envisioning how they could help guide and advise communities in the future.
“It changed my life.” Patrick concluded. “Now I can implement [CHE] and change the lives of others.”