It has been some years since we lived in Malawi working with the Zambesi Mission, so it was with a sense of uncertainty that I revisited recently.
Would Malawi have changed under its new president? Would my old friends still remember me? Would the church have made progress?
The answers were all positive, and the past memories — even the language — came flooding back. In the excitement of a brief two-week visit four matters stood out.
First, there had been numerical growth in the churches. There are new and larger congregations and churches in areas previously untouched — it was remarkable to experience the zeal of the people to bring Christ to the nation.
Secondly, the Likubula Bible Institute has become the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi. It has more students, more classrooms, extended accommodation for married students, and a new curriculum leading to nationally recognised diplomas.
All this contributes to a sense that the college is truly meeting needs. The unity, enthusiasm, and spirituality of all concerned were a delight to behold.
Add to this the development of a lay-training school called the Zambesi School of Ministry, and there are unmistakable signs of dynamic church growth.
AIDS is a major catastrophe in Africa, and Malawi has not been spared. The extended family (the usual means of helping orphans) has been unable to cope with the numbers of orphaned children, so emergency measures have had to be adopted.
One such project — an orphan village — has been built 15 miles north-west of Blantyre. It is funded by a UK charity called Aquaid Lifeline Fund, under the supervision of a graduate of the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi.
It has also become a centre for teaching essential skills, such as good farming methods, the use of organic fertilisers and tree conservation. The vision is inspiring, the work daunting and the love overwhelming.
Fourthly, there is Mozambique. There was a brutal civil war raging in Mozambique during our term in Malawi, so my main contact with Mozambicans was in a refugee camp on the Malawi border.
What remarkable survivors these people are! I travelled again into Mozambique to spend a weekend at a church near Vila Ulongwe. This village had experienced a particularly bloody massacre when Renamo rebels killed 42 people in cold blood at a funeral wake.
The pastor lost his wife and six children. Villagers fled as refugees, losing all their possessions.
What a remarkable weekend it proved to be! I found a church vibrant with life and love. Hundreds of people attended Sunday morning worship. Here is a congregation of believers who have put the past behind them, and are looking with eager anticipation to the future.
Materially poor, yet spiritually rich. What a lesson to the West, where we are often materially rich and spiritually bankrupt!
Life in Africa is not easy, Disease and poverty abound and social welfare is often non-existent — but there is a spiritual depth to church life which seems to evade us in the West.
For those despondent about decreasing congregational numbers and apathy towards Christ, a trip to Malawi and Mozambique can be better than a good tonic.