WELCOME to the warm heart of Africa! With its lovely climate and friendly people, Malawi is indeed a warm country with plenty of appeal. Especially appealing to many is the heartwarming message of Bible truth being preached by more than 40,000 Witnesses of Jehovah God.
There was a time, however, not too long ago, when these humble servants of God faced much tribulation. Instead of their being shown warm friendship by their neighbors, they were subjected to the fierce heat of persecution, horrors reminiscent of the pogroms against the Jews and the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. The record of what they experienced and how they endured is a remarkable example of integrity under adversity. Before we tell their story, though, take a look at the country itself.
A Look at Malawi
Although it is a very small country, Malawi boasts a beautiful variety of mountains, rivers, and lakes. Mount Mulanje, in the south of the country, is particularly breathtaking. From the low surroundings of the verdant tea estates below, it rises majestically to a height of 9,849 feet [3,002 m] above sea level, making it the highest mountain in this part of Africa. Probably the best-known attraction, however, is 360-mile-long [580 km] Lake Malawi. The famous explorer David Livingstone called it “the lake of stars” because of the way the sun glistens on its surface. In it are found hundreds of species of fish—more, it has been said, than in any other freshwater lake in the world.
The friendliness of Malawi’s 11 million inhabitants is welcoming. They flash broad, warm smiles and manifest an eagerness to help. Love for God’s Word is also evident. The Bible has been available for about a hundred years in Chichewa, Yao, and Tumbuka, major languages spoken in Malawi. Almost every household owns at least one copy, and many people read it regularly. Most Malawians are poor in a material way, but by accepting the help offered by Jehovah’s Witnesses, some have found great spiritual wealth within the pages of their Bibles.
The activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi stretches back to the early part of this century. It was introduced to the people here in quite a dramatic way.
‘Like Wildfire Catching the Grass’
Our story begins with Joseph Booth, a colorful but controversial character. Fired with enthusiasm after reading some publications of the Watch Tower Society, he met C. T. Russell in 1906. He convinced Brother Russell of the need for a representative of the Watch Tower Society in southern Africa. Since Joseph Booth had previously worked in Malawi, or Nyasaland as it was then called, it appeared that he might render valuable service. Unknown to Brother Russell, though, was the bad reputation that this man had in this part of the world. He had become known as what a writer later described as a “religious hitchhiker,” using one denomination of Christendom after another in order to pursue his own aims. As a result of this, Booth was very unpopular with the local authorities and was no longer even welcome in Malawi. Once again, though, this experienced “hitchhiker” had successfully thumbed a ride!
Knowing that he could not go directly to Malawi, Booth first established a base in South Africa. There he met up with Elliott Kamwana, an old acquaintance from Malawi. Before long, Booth instructed this young man to return home. On his arrival, in 1908, Elliott Kamwana began a campaign of public preaching, loosely basing his message on some of the Watch Tower Society’s publications. McCoffie Nguluh, who died as a faithful elder a few years ago, had his first contact with the truth back then. He described Kamwana’s preaching as being like “wildfire catching the grass.” The effects of Kamwana’s preaching, with his dramatic open-air baptisms, did indeed spread rapidly, like a bushfire, through Malawi. Thousands responded, and many “congregations” were soon established.
However, neither Booth nor Kamwana had ever left “Babylon the Great.” (Rev. 17:5; 18:4) Their aims were really politically motivated. It was not long before the dubious preaching methods of Elliott Kamwana were attracting the unfavorable attention of government authorities in Malawi. He was soon deported to the Seychelles. By 1910, Joseph Booth had also moved on and was finished as far as the Watch Tower Society was concerned. Sadly, these two men had done more harm than good, but there was one redeeming feature: Many publications containing Bible truth had been distributed throughout the country. During the next few years, honesthearted ones, such as McCoffie Nguluh, would respond favorably to what they read.
“Watch Tower Movements” Cause Confusion
Following this unsatisfactory start in Malawi, the Society sent William Johnston, a well-qualified brother from Glasgow, Scotland, to investigate the situation. He found that many so-called congregations had been established but that their grasp of Bible truth was poor. However, there were some genuine truth-seekers. From among these Brother Johnston trained a few local men to take the lead before he moved to South Africa. Then a long time passed before further attention was given to the work in Malawi. Terrible confusion developed. This caused adversity for the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, and tested their integrity.
In imitation of the charismatic style of Elliott Kamwana, many movements sprang up that mixed some Bible truth with false doctrines and unscriptural practices. Because such movements used Watch Tower publications to some degree, they often included Watch Tower in their name. This caused problems for our few genuine brothers in the country. Without their having proper oversight and needed spiritual food, it is remarkable that the activity of these genuine brothers did not fade out altogether. Yet, they continued to meet together and to witness to others, and they endeavored to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.—1 Pet. 2:21.
Taking advantage of the situation, the local religious leaders slandered the Bible Students by falsely identifying them with the movements that had dishonestly adopted the name Watch Tower. In time, however, the difference between these local sects and our brothers became clearly evident. Prompted by disturbing reports from members of Christendom’s clergy, the chief commissioner of police made an investigation in the early 1920’s. In disguise, he personally attended several meetings of the Bible Students. His reaction? Disgust at the wicked lies being circulated about them. Nevertheless, the confusion caused by these false “Watch Tower movements” continued for many years.
Organizing the Work
In 1925 the Society once more turned its attention to Malawi. John Hudson spent 15 months in the country, giving talks in the congregations. He endeavored to help our brothers to appreciate the importance of keeping in touch with the Watch Tower Society, which was being used by “the faithful and discreet slave,” and accepting its leading and direction.—Matt. 24:45-47.
Gresham Kwazizirah, from Ntcheu, was one who benefited from Brother Hudson’s visit to Malawi. In the same year that Brother Hudson went to Malawi, Gresham got baptized. He was promptly confronted with a serious test. At the instigation of clergymen of his former church, he was charged with subversive teaching. As a result, he was placed in custody. What would he do? Would fear cause him to renounce his faith? After a month, following an investigation by the provincial authorities, Brother Kwazizirah was cleared of the charges and released. Of far greater importance, however, was the fact that he had determined to be loyal to Jehovah and his organization. Jehovah could use people who manifested such a spirit. Following a period of work in Mozambique, Brother Kwazizirah himself enjoyed many privileges as he shared in spreading the Kingdom message and building up the congregations in Malawi. (See The Watchtower, November 1, 1972.)
Brother Hudson’s visit also proved to be a real stimulus to McCoffie Nguluh and Junior Phiri. These two brothers later moved to South Africa, where both served faithfully for many years. Richard Kalinde likewise benefited from his association with John Hudson. Before leaving the country, Brother Hudson arranged for Richard Kalinde to provide oversight for the preaching of the good news until further help arrived.
However, not all were happy with Brother Hudson’s visit. Brother Nguluh described the reactions of such ones. “We shall not get our teaching from men in Cape Town,” they said. “We shall do what we think is right.” Unwilling to accept the Society’s direction, these set up their own “Watch Tower movements.” On the other hand, those who were genuine truth-seekers showed a more humble attitude. They kept in touch with the Society’s office in South Africa and showed appreciation for the instruction and guidance provided through that channel. It soon became evident to the branch there that this small nucleus of sincerely interested ones needed more help.
A Permanent Representative in the Country
An exciting event in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi occurred in 1933. Application for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to have a permanent representative in the country was made. The governor said that he “would welcome such a move,” and he approved the request. At last, arrangements could be made to carry on the preaching of the good news in Malawi on a more consistent basis. Accordingly, under the direction of the South Africa branch, a literature depot, along with an office, was established in May 1934, with Bert McLuckie overseeing the work.
Having been baptized in 1930, Brother McLuckie was still quite new in the truth. However, he had proved himself to be a very effective pioneer in his previous assignments in Madagascar and Mauritius. On arriving in Malawi, he obtained a small two-room facility in the capital, Zomba, in the south of the country. One room was used for the literature depot and office; the other for sleeping accommodations. Brother McLuckie, who was single at the time, described this new assignment as a lonely one, “bringing greater responsibility than ever before.”
Of great assistance to him was Richard Kalinde, who became a close companion. The main task at first was to clear up the confusion that affected our brothers as a result of the existence of the false “Watch Tower movements.” This did not prove to be as difficult as had been expected. For one thing, most of the officials recognized that the indigenous sects had nothing to do with the genuine Watch Tower Society. Also, the office in South Africa had given Bert McLuckie clear guidelines on how to handle the situation. Following through on these, he visited group after group in all parts of Malawi, with Brother Kalinde acting as his interpreter. Such visits to the congregations helped many to withdraw their support from the improper “Watch Tower movements” and their leaders.
Jehovah’s blessing was evident. A solid theocratic organization was finally being established. Field service reports were also collected for the first time. In 1934 these showed an average of 28 publishers.
New Assignment at Zomba Depot
After working in Malawi for about a year, Bert McLuckie was recalled to South Africa. Subsequently, he served loyally in Jehovah’s service in other parts of southern Africa for more than 60 years, before his death in 1995. Another member of the McLuckie family, his brother Bill, replaced him in Malawi.
Prior to this, Bill McLuckie was pioneering in South Africa, though he had not yet been baptized. George Phillips, the branch servant in South Africa, asked Bill if he would like to take up an assignment in Malawi. On accepting, he was told: “Of course, you will have to get baptized first.” Bill got baptized and arrived at the Zomba depot in March 1935. He was 26 years old. This faithful brother proved his integrity in Malawi under much adversity until his deportation in 1972.
What was it like in those early days? Bill McLuckie, 89 years of age in 1998 and living in South Africa with his family, still remembered the cramped surroundings of that depot in Zomba. He said: “The bedroom was no wider than a fireplace [four feet six inches] [1.4 m]. It was rather stuffy, so I used to keep the windows open at night until a policeman stuck his head in one night and said: ‘Bwana [Sir], you had better close these windows. Leopards stroll about these streets at night.’ So I closed them.”
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, it proved to be most advantageous to have the depot in the capital city. With the government offices and police headquarters nearby, Brother McLuckie was able to respond quickly to any charges made against the Society as a result of the continued confusing of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the false “Watch Tower movements.” As his brother had done before him, Bill McLuckie worked patiently with the officials to iron out any misunderstandings. Jehovah’s Witnesses had come to have a favorable reputation.
Cleaning Up the Organization
Bill McLuckie worked hard with the brothers to build up appreciation for Jehovah’s standards as set out in the Bible. This included helping the brothers to understand that such unscriptural practices as sexual immorality, spiritism, and misuse of alcohol could have no place in the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Rev. 22:15) Of invaluable help in this work was Gresham Kwazizirah. He served extensively in the traveling work, especially in the north of the country. Brother McLuckie described him as being made of “mature, honest material.” Brother Kwazizirah became known for loyally upholding the Bible’s righteous standards at all times. Whenever he came across any who were engaging in immoral conduct while professing to serve Jehovah, Brother Kwazizirah would boldly confront them. If they admitted their unchristian conduct, he would take away their publications, telling such ones that they were not true Jehovah’s Witnesses. He would also prevent them from sharing in the field service anymore. Many cleaned up their lives as a result of such firm action. It was Brother Kwazizirah who sadly reported that Richard Kalinde had taken up practices that were inconsistent with the Christian way of life. Consequently, this formerly zealous brother could no longer be used to represent Jehovah’s clean organization.
Because of this firm position regarding the Bible’s high moral standard, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to be known as people of integrity. This often proved to be a protection for them.
Jehovah’s blessing upon a clean organization became evident as the number of those actively praising him increased. By 1943 the average monthly figure for publishers was 2,464 associated with 144 congregations—a fine increase from just 28 publishers ten years earlier!
Waking Up Malawi
During 1944 the expression “the New World,” which was frequently used in Watch Tower publications, made a real hit with the population of Malawi. As explained in those publications, it referred to Jehovah’s new system of things—a new human society ruled over by God’s heavenly Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ. (Dan. 7:13, 14; 2 Pet. 3:13) From the Bible, those publications showed that in the new world, the earth will become a paradise; humans will live at peace with the animals; wars will cease; earth’s abundance will be available to everyone; sickness and death will be no more; even the dead will be raised and given the opportunity to live forever.—Ps. 67:5, 6; Isa. 2:4; 11:6-9; Luke 23:43; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 21:3, 4.
One brother, when delivering a talk on this subject, explained it this way, using some local flavor: “When Adam sinned, no children were born to him in the garden; all were born in the ‘bush’ and, friends, we are still in the ‘bush.’ We have not yet returned to the garden. But the time is near now when we will leave this matekenya (jigger-flea) world to enter the new, fully established world of Jehovah.”
Discourses about God’s new world had such an impact that in one part of the country, a crowd of interested people followed the brothers around from place to place, drinking in the Bible’s promises of Paradise. In another area, after a number of local clergymen had listened to a talk about the new world, they were so moved by what they learned that they went en masse to a European missionary and said: “Why have you kept these things hidden from us? Today we see young boys and girls calling on the people and telling them the most wonderful things they have ever heard! And here you have given us doctrines to preach that are now revealed to be false!”
In 1946 the number of Kingdom publishers in Malawi passed the 3,000 mark, and the brothers were really waking up the country.
Of course, not everyone was happy about the message of God’s new world. Earlier, the government had banned the importation of Watch Tower publications, which told about that new world. This had little effect, however, since there was a sizable stock of literature already in the country. Now, in an effort to offset the impact of the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, some clergymen tried to imitate the expressions and methods of the Witnesses. “We too are preaching the new world,” they claimed. A few even attempted to make return visits on their members, but in a few weeks, they gave up.
The religious leaders also endeavored to persuade village headmen to refuse to let Jehovah’s Witnesses preach in their areas. It was customary to ask for permission from the village headman before giving a talk in a village. But if the headman had come under the influence of the local religious leaders, no public meeting could be held there.
However, many village chiefs warmly welcomed Jehovah’s Witnesses. The brothers often received invitations to come and give talks. One village chief heard such a talk in a small town called Lizulu, where he learned the true condition of the dead. (Eccl. 9:5; Ezek. 18:4) Shortly afterward, he attended a funeral service conducted by some religious leaders. The audience was told that the child who had died “is now an angel in heaven.” The old chief grunted, climbed stiffly to his feet, turned to his headman, and asked for some snuff. Then, snuffing vigorously, he moved off the scene, saying: “Huh, at Lizulu we heard where the dead are. This is all lies!”
A Special Visit
A very special event took place in January 1948, when N. H. Knorr and M. G. Henschel, from the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, visited Malawi. This was the first visit ever by brothers from the world headquarters. A meeting was arranged at the Blantyre Town Hall for the Europeans and Indians living in the city. Considering that there were only 250 Europeans living in Blantyre at that time, an attendance of 40 to hear the public talk was encouraging. The next day, the visiting brothers attended an open-air assembly held for the African brothers. Bill McLuckie, who was by then fluent in Chichewa, acted as interpreter. For the public talk in the afternoon, there was an attendance of 6,000. As there was no public-address equipment, the brothers on the program had to speak with strong voices so that all could hear. At one point heavy rain interrupted the talk, and the public began to scatter to the shelter of trees or houses nearby. But the Witnesses remained, and Brother Knorr brought his talk to a close while holding an umbrella over his head. The very fact that this mzungu (white man) stood in the rain to finish his talk to an African audience showed the public that Jehovah’s Witnesses are truly interested in their welfare, for local Europeans would never have done that.
The visit of Brothers Knorr and Henschel gave tremendous impetus to the work. That year, 1948, the number of publishers passed the 5,600 mark, and new ones were joining the ranks very fast. In some places it was hard to find sufficient territory for witnessing!
Branch Operations Begin
In the meantime, the Society’s depot had moved from Zomba to Blantyre, the commercial center of the country, situated farther to the south. Then on September 1, 1948, after the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi had for many years been under the supervision of the South Africa branch, a branch office was established in Malawi, with Bill McLuckie as the first branch servant. The needs of the field in Malawi could now be cared for directly, with supervision from the world headquarters.
By that time there were a number of mature, experienced brothers who could serve as circuit servants to visit the congregations in order to strengthen the brothers. Circuit assemblies were being held twice a year, and Gresham Kwazizirah served as district servant for the entire country. In the office, Bill McLuckie was kept very busy too—often working at his typewriter until the early hours of the morning.
There was still much to be done, and more help was needed. So Peter Bridle and Fred Smedley, graduates of the Gilead missionary school, were warmly welcomed on their arrival in 1949. These and other graduates of Gilead gave much-needed assistance to the hard-pressed branch servant. Now it was possible to give more attention to the way that the congregations and assemblies were operating.
“I’ll Never Make This!”
Coming to Malawi, especially back then, could be a startling change for someone from Europe or North America. There were none of the modern conveniences to which such a person might have been formerly accustomed. No electrical appliances could be found in the African bush. What a local person might view as a normal part of life might be distressing to a foreigner. How would a new missionary adapt?
Recalling his first impressions upon arriving in Malawi after a tiring train journey from the port of Beira, in Mozambique, Peter Bridle says: “When we eventually arrived at the Shire River, it was just getting dark. Big beetles were flying around. They gathered around the lamps and absolutely blotted them out. They were around one’s neck, crawling in and out of clothing. I said to Jehovah: ‘I can’t stand this. This is going to be too much for me. I’ll never make this!’ We then crossed the river and went into the train, which was in the station. Its lights were very, very dim. I soon realized why—it was to stop those insects from coming in. We were served a meal, which started with soup. We could hardly see across the table to the other person, the lights were so dim. As we ate the soup, we sucked it through our teeth to keep the insects out, and I said to Jehovah: ‘Please, I think this is too much for me this time. I won’t make this!’”
On a later trip to the same area, Brother Bridle had problems delivering a public talk. Why? He explains: “The mosquitoes were unbelievable. When I gave a talk one evening, I had my trousers tucked into my socks. There was a towel over my head and tucked into my shirt. I had elastic bands round my sleeves, so that just my hands and my face were showing. I was giving the talk through an interpreter. I would say a sentence and then wipe mosquitoes off my face. Then I wiped both hands and my face again. As soon as the interpreter finished, I would say another sentence and then do the same again.”
In spite of these situations, Peter Bridle and others like him did make it, with Jehovah’s help. The majority of the missionaries assigned to Malawi served faithfully for many years. Their whole-souled efforts brought many blessings to the Malawian field.
More Mature Local Brothers
Meanwhile, more local brothers were progressing to Christian maturity. These brothers too benefited from association with the missionaries. One such brother was Alexander Mafambana—Alex, as he was most often called. Alex was a very capable individual. He was born in Mozambique, was the son of a chief, and was to have succeeded his father as chief. But after moving to South Africa to find work, Alex came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses and gained an accurate knowledge of Bible truth. He concluded that doing what was expected of a chief would involve compromising Christian principles. In order to avoid problems, he decided to settle in Malawi. Before long, Brother Mafambana became a pioneer, and in 1952 he began helping at the branch office in Blantyre. His knowledge of several languages was especially helpful in processing letters from the field. In 1958/59 he had the opportunity to attend the missionary school of Gilead, and he graduated with the class that included Jack and Linda Johansson, who were also assigned to Malawi.
Another brother who learned the truth in South Africa was Kenneth Chimbaza. After his baptism there in 1942, he returned to Malawi. It was not long before Brother Chimbaza gave evidence that he was developing the qualities of a mature Christian. After pioneering for a while, he served extensively as a traveling overseer. Some of the missionaries who arrived later enjoyed working along with Brother Chimbaza and his wife, Elisi, and their young son, Maimba. In this manner they were introduced to the way of life in Malawi.
Truly, such mature brothers proved to be precious “gifts in men.”—Eph. 4:8.
Missionaries Promote Increase
The missionaries who served faithfully in Malawi are still remembered with fondness, especially by the longtimers who had an opportunity to work along with them in those days. Some of these missionaries found that their new assignment required that they make major changes in their way of life, but love moved them to do it.
Malcolm Vigo arrived as a single man in 1957. After supper on his first night at the branch office, he eagerly wanted to know what his assignment was going to be. Lonnie Nail, a Gilead graduate who had arrived the preceding year and who was then branch servant, informed him that he would be assigned to the traveling work. After a language course or orientation period? No, there was no such provision at that time. He would start the very next day!
Missionaries assigned to the traveling work soon learned that in addition to serving the congregations, if they were going to drive a vehicle, they had to be mechanics. They also found that roads were often no more than faint tracks in the bush. Of course, the local brothers appreciated their efforts and did all they could to make life easier for them. Usually, a neat grass-roofed house and toilet would be built for use by the missionary and, if married, his wife. But for the sisters who traveled with their husbands, the eerie noises of the night could be particularly scary! It took a while to get used to the chilling “laugh” of hyenas and the “orchestra” of noises from the great variety of insects.
Jack Johansson recalls that setting up a convention in the bush was quite a challenge. First the site was cleared, and then in most instances everything was built out of materials found right there in the bush. But brothers and sisters, young and old, were happy to offer their support. At a convention site near Mulanje, an elderly brother with a happy face approached Brother Johansson, saying: “I also want to help in this work.” That did not seem unusual. But later Brother Johansson learned that the brother had spent nearly a month walking some 500 miles [800 km] to the assembly site, and the first thing he did on arriving was volunteer to help with setting up the convention facilities! With such a willing spirit, the brothers and sisters transformed the bush into a “stadium” with seating for 6,000 people!
The missionaries contributed toward improved organization of the congregations and circuits in Malawi. Such brothers as Hal Bentley, Eddie Dobart, Keith Eaton, Harold Guy, Jack Johansson, Rod Sharp, and Malcolm Vigo did good work as district overseers. The local Witnesses responded well to the loving counsel and direction they received. As a result, the congregation meetings and the preaching of the Kingdom message became better organized. At the same time, the brothers and sisters were being stabilized in the truth, in preparation for adversity that lay ahead.
Europeans Get a Witness
Some of the missionaries were in time assigned to work in the branch office, and they were kept very busy there too. This afforded some of the wives an opportunity to witness in the European part of the field in Blantyre and Zomba. Phyllis Bridle, Linda Johansson, Linda Louise Vigo, Anne Eaton, and others did much good work in this territory. At times, the Europeans were prejudiced against our work, often as a result of continued confusion with the “Watch Tower movements.” But these sisters made good use of opportunities to set matters straight and to talk to them about God’s Kingdom.
Most Europeans and Asians in Malawi owned their own businesses or had lucrative work contracts. Generally, they were satisfied with their lot in life. Nevertheless, some Europeans and local English-speaking people did respond favorably to the truth. A few got baptized—one of them in the bathtub at Bethel!
“An Interchange of Encouragement”
As the missionaries spent time with the local brothers and sisters, genuine racial harmony developed among them. This was well expressed in a note written by Alex Mafambana to some of his missionary friends: “If there is a ‘gap’ in the world, it is between East and West. As for us, we possess the most uniting bond ever created: Agape!” How different this was from the attitude of those outside Jehovah’s organization! Europeans generally considered themselves superior to the Africans and had little to do with them. Nevertheless, one thing needed to be cleared up. That was the use of the title Bwana by the local brothers. This title was often used when greeting Europeans, including the missionaries. It implied that Europeans were the lords or masters of the Africans. So whenever a local brother would address a missionary with the title Bwana, the missionary would remind him: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are brothers, not Bwanas!”
The benefits were not one-sided. The missionaries learned a lot from working along with their African brothers and sisters. Many firm friendships were forged. True to the apostle Paul’s words, there was “an interchange of encouragement.”—Rom. 1:12.
Praising Jehovah in Song
Anyone who spends time in Africa soon notices that the people love to sing. This they do without accompaniment, using only their voices, and in beautiful harmony. Malawi is no exception. Even when there was no songbook available in Chichewa, the brothers made up their own songs. Taking the popular melodies from the songs of Christendom, they changed the words to sing about such themes as the Kingdom, the ministry, and Armageddon. Although these songs were not written down, all the brothers knew them and sang them beautifully. At assemblies, when enthusiasm ran high, they would often sing the chorus after each verse, not only once but twice! When Brother Knorr visited in 1953, he was especially moved by this beautiful harmonizing. In his report, he said: “It must be mentioned that the singing was unusually delightful.”
When the Society’s new English songbook, Songs to Jehovah’s Praise, arrived at the branch in 1950, it was decided that a songbook should also be produced in Chichewa. But how could the brothers be taught to read music? They could all sing, but they were not accustomed to reading notes. The branch decided to use tonic sol-fa notation, which uses the “do, re, mi” method of indicating musical notes. Some of the brothers had learned it at school. Peter Bridle, who put much effort into this project, remembers what was involved. He says: “We sat down together with the translators and worked on it. We had to make sure that the translated words fitted well enough with the music. So bit by bit, we produced the songbook.”
The Chichewa edition of Songs to Jehovah’s Praise was very popular with the brothers. The branch printed it on an old mimeograph machine, using any paper they could obtain. As a result, those early songbooks were not especially robust and often needed replacing. But the brothers did not mind. They were happy just to have the songs to sing. Two or three thousand copies would be obtained by the brothers every time an assembly was held! Eventually, Brooklyn took over the printing of this songbook, but not before some 50,000 copies had been produced locally!
New Facilities for the Branch
Over the years, the Kingdom work in Malawi had been supervised from a number of different locations, generally with cramped quarters. In the mid-1950’s, however, the decision was made to put up a building designed specifically to accommodate the branch office, with living quarters for the Bethel workers. To that end, in 1956 a piece of property was purchased in Blantyre. In May 1958 the building was ready for occupation. How thrilled the brothers were!
A few years later, the branch office had a very well-known neighbor. The building next door, Mudi House, became the official residence of the prime minister of Malawi, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Sadly, after all the hard work involved in building the branch office and Bethel Home, this fine facility did not stay in the hands of the Society for very long.
An Encouraging Visit
In 1963, Milton Henschel from the Society’s world headquarters paid another visit to Malawi. He arrived soon after the convention in Liberia during which he, along with many local brothers and sisters, was physically mistreated by soldiers. A large national assembly was held near the airport, a few kilometers out of Blantyre. Brothers from all over Malawi attended, from “Nsanje [in the south] to Karonga [in the north],” as one old-timer put it. The audience of some 10,000 really appreciated the fine talks delivered by Brother Henschel and other speakers. Rarely did gatherings of Jehovah’s Witnesses receive mention by the press, but this time a write-up about the assembly appeared even in one of the national newspapers.
The political situation was becoming tense in the country, so it was especially encouraging to the brothers to attend this assembly. They heard how Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide take a firm stand for Bible principles. Regarding that assembly, Brother Mafambana, the chairman, said: “Remember, some delegates cycled over 400 miles [600 km] each way to attend. They felt that it was their Christian responsibility to attend and were prepared to face hardships to meet that requirement. This is evidence of the firm Christian faith held by so many.”
Rumblings of Trouble
Early in the 1960’s, the spirit of nationalism was running high in Malawi. In harmony with an agreement made with Britain, full self-rule was to be granted in mid-1964 after a general election. In the meantime, Dr. Banda was installed as an internal prime minister for the colony. Before the general election, the government arranged for a voluntary registration of voters to take place from December 30, 1963, to January 19, 1964.
It was at this time that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi first found themselves thrust into what the San Francisco Examiner (published in the U.S.A.) later described as “a religious war . . . a very one-sided war, pitting force against faith.” Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the ones that declared war. In accord with Bible teachings, they show respect for secular rulers and conscientiously pay their taxes. (Luke 20:19-25; Rom. 13:1-7) However, because Jesus Christ said that his followers would be “no part of the world,” Jehovah’s Witnesses also maintain a position of strict neutrality as to the wars of the nations and their political affairs.—John 17:16; Acts 5:28, 29.
As the fever of voter registration gripped the country, the Witnesses exercised their right not to register. When party officials noticed their neutral stand, however, violent persecution broke out. Efforts were made to force the Witnesses to change their minds and buy party membership cards. During this period reports were received at the branch office, showing that more than 100 Kingdom Halls and well over 1,000 homes of our brothers had been burned or torn down. Hundreds of fields and food stores were torched. Sadly, as a result, many families of Jehovah’s Witnesses now found themselves without food or shelter. Some fled for their lives into neighboring Mozambique. Many suffered severe beatings. Among these was Kenneth Chimbaza, a traveling overseer. Not many years after experiencing such mistreatment, he died, evidently as a result of injuries that he had sustained.
Integrity Under Trial
The experiences of keeping integrity under persecution were numerous. For example, there were two sisters not far from Blantyre who had 11 children to look after between them. Their husbands had succumbed to political pressure and bought party membership cards. Now the sisters were pressured to buy cards. They refused. The party officials told them that they would be back the next day to see if the sisters had changed their minds. Sure enough, the following morning a large crowd came to fetch them. They were then taken to a public place, threatened with rape, and beaten for refusing to buy party cards. The sisters stood firm. They were then given permission to go home, only to be brought back the next day. Again they were beaten, and this time stripped naked in front of the crowd. Still, the sisters would not compromise.
Now the persecutors changed their method. “We have phoned your office,” they said, “and have spoken to Johansson and McLuckie and Mafambana. They told us that you should buy your own cards, as they themselves have already bought their cards, like all other Jehovah’s Witnesses in [Malawi]. So you are the only two women left in the whole country who have not bought cards. You had better get yours now.” The sisters answered: “We serve only Jehovah God. So if the brothers at the branch office have bought cards, that does not make any difference to us. We will not compromise, even if you kill us!” (Compare Romans 14:12.) Finally, the two sisters were allowed to go free.
These two humble, faithful sisters were not able to read or write, but they had deep love for Jehovah and his law. Their firm stand echoed the words of Psalm 56:11: “In God I have put my trust. I shall not be afraid. What can earthling man do to me?”
Efforts to Clarify Our Position
As serious incidents escalated, the Society worked hard to get the authorities to put a stop to the persecution. Contact was made with the prime minister’s office, and an interview was granted with Dr. Banda on January 30, 1964. On that occasion, Jack Johansson was able to explain clearly the neutral stand of Jehovah’s Witnesses, basing his discussion on Romans chapter 13. The prime minister seemed quite pleased with what had been said, and when Brother Johansson left, Dr. Banda thanked him very much.
Just four days later, however, an attack was made on a group of Witnesses in the Mulanje region. Elaton Mwachande was brutally murdered. An arrow was shot through the neck of Mona Mwiwaula, an elderly Witness, and she was left for dead. Remarkably, this sister survived, and her testimony was later used to bring the hooligans to trial. When news of this horrible incident reached the branch office, an urgent telegram was dispatched to the prime minister’s office.
The result was another meeting with Dr. Banda as well as two of his ministers, on February 11, 1964. Harold Guy and Alexander Mafambana accompanied Jack Johansson. This time, though, the mood was very different. Waving the telegram in the air, Dr. Banda said: “Mr. Johansson, what do you mean by sending a telegram like this one?” The brothers calmly tried to assure the prime minister of our neutral stand and obedience to the laws of the land. But the prime minister and his companions argued that Jehovah’s Witnesses were deliberately provoking their attackers. The meeting ended on a negative note, with Jehovah’s Witnesses being blamed for the confused situation in the country. Brother Johansson was even threatened with immediate deportation. However, it appears that Dr. Banda’s anger was directed more toward the incompetence of his two ministers who were unable to present sound evidence of provocation by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Interestingly, in the trial that followed the murder of Brother Mwachande, the acting judge, Mr. L. M. E. Emejulu, found no evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses had in any way provoked their attackers, as the government had claimed. The judge stated: “I see no evidence of provocation. It is true that Jehovah’s Witnesses determinedly propagated their faith and sought to win converts, but they were alive to their civic duties and they did all they were asked to do . . . They only refused to join any political party.”
As the excitement of voter registration wore off, the prime minister appealed for peace and calm in the country. “No trouble to the Europeans, police, Indians, even the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said. “Forgive them!” In July 1964, amid much excitement, the colony of Nyasaland became an independent republic and changed its name to Malawi. The persecution finally came to an end, but not before the lives of eight of Jehovah’s servants had been violently snuffed out.
A Brief Period of Calm
As 1964 drew to a close, a time of comparative quiet had come for our brothers. Some formerly bitter enemies became curious to learn more about the “secret” that enabled their victims to take a firm stand despite all the persecution. As a result of this, the preaching of the Kingdom message surged forward once more.
In the early part of 1966, there was another opportunity to explain the neutral position of Jehovah’s Witnesses to Dr. Banda. The Watch Tower Society had requested permission for more missionaries to enter the country. Dr. Banda, who controlled the issuing of permits to Europeans entering Malawi, had asked why more missionaries were needed. This resulted in a meeting between Dr. Banda and Malcolm Vigo, the branch servant. Dr. Banda stressed that he did not want anyone engaging in politics. Brother Vigo assured him once again of our obedience to the laws of the land and our neutral stand in matters of politics.—Rom. 13:1-7.
By 1967 the average number of publishers had risen to more than 17,000. During this period of calm, two more Gilead graduates, Keith and Anne Eaton, arrived in the country. When they met the Johanssons at the branch office, Linda enthusiastically assured them, “You’ve come to the most peaceful country in Africa!” Little did they know that serious trouble was brewing.
Situation Worsens Again
Following a brief language course, Keith Eaton, along with his wife, Anne, was assigned to the district work. At the start, they were favored with the loving assistance of Kenneth Chimbaza and his family. Always willing to help, young Maimba was especially delighted to carry Brother Eaton’s witnessing bag whenever they shared in the field service.
In April 1967 when Brother Eaton was serving a circuit assembly at Thambo Village in the Phalombe area, he heard a disturbing radio broadcast. Dr. Banda accused Jehovah’s Witnesses of deliberately provoking party officials and members of the youth movements known as the Malawi Young Pioneers and the League of Malawi Youth. It was also claimed that the Witnesses not only refused to buy party membership cards but also persuaded others not to do so.
As in 1964, the issue of party cards was being pushed to the fore. Although the purchase of these cards was voluntary, refusal to buy one was viewed by party officials as an act of disrespect. Later it was said that buying a card was “one way in which we, the people of this country, can show appreciation to [Dr. Banda] for developing this country of Malawi.” Incensed at the firm stand Jehovah’s Witnesses took on the matter, party officials renewed efforts to force the brothers to comply. Reports of harassment and beatings again began to reach the branch.
On one occasion, Malcolm Vigo was requested by some party officials to visit a brother from the Jumbe Congregation who had been arrested for refusing to buy a party card. Before entering the room, Brother Vigo prayed silently. It was obvious from the outset that these officials were hoping that Brother Vigo would tell them that the Watch Tower Society had clearly told its members that it was wrong to buy party cards. Instead, he stressed that the Society does not tell anyone what to do and that each person must make his own decision on the matter. The party officials were not happy with this explanation. Questions were fired from all sides. In their eagerness to trip him up, the officials would pose another question even before Brother Vigo had answered the previous one. After two hours of questioning, the brother was finally released. No party card had been bought.
The situation came to a head in September 1967 during the annual convention of the ruling party, the Malawi Congress Party. One of the resolutions passed there stated: “[We] recommend strongly that the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination be declared illegal in this country.” The reason? The resolution stated: “It endangers the stability of peace and calm which is essential for the smooth running of our State.” Then, in his closing speech to the convention, the president declared: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are giving trouble everywhere. Because of this the Convention passed a resolution yesterday saying that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be banned. I can tell you this, the Government will certainly look into the matter very quickly.”
Were Jehovah’s Witnesses really a ‘danger to the stability of Malawi’? Hardly! The Witnesses in Malawi were later described by one observer as “model citizens” who “pay taxes diligently, tend the sick, battle illiteracy.” Nevertheless, the government did indeed “look into the matter very quickly.” An executive order imposing a ban was soon signed, and it took effect on October 20, 1967. The entire nation was notified by a large boldface newspaper headline: “Malawi Bans ‘Danger’ Sect.” Although it was stated that the action had been taken because Jehovah’s Witnesses were “dangerous to the good government of Malawi,” it was obvious that the real reason was their refusal to buy party membership cards. In line with their strong Bible-based convictions, Jehovah’s Witnesses simply chose to “obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:28, 29.
Advance Preparation Pays Off
Before the ban was imposed, the brothers in the branch office realized that some sort of official action was going to be taken against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although they did not expect a total ban, they did begin to take precautions. Special meetings were held in various parts of the country in order to give direction and encouragement to the circuit and district overseers. Practical guidelines were given regarding congregation meetings, the field ministry, literature supplies, and sending letters. This information proved invaluable as the situation worsened.
The congregations diligently followed through on the suggestions as these filtered down to them. No longer were any of the Society’s forms used. Instead, congregation service reports were written on plain paper and sent to the branch office through couriers. Meeting times were changed according to the needs of each congregation. One congregation decided to conduct its meetings at half past five Sunday morning, before the rest of the village awoke. As for the preaching work, no ban would stop Jehovah’s Witnesses from spreading the good news of the Kingdom. Just as was the case in the time of the apostles, our faithful brothers and sisters took the position: “We cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:20.
Shortly prior to the ban itself, the branch office received information from a knowledgeable source that the Government Gazette was preparing to announce a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses. Acting on this, the brothers quickly moved all important files and documents, even some equipment, to the homes of various brothers. Literature supplies too were shipped out of the branch in large quantities to congregations all over the country. One congregation, in order to protect this valuable spiritual food, filled two large oil drums with books and buried them for later use. When the police finally arrived at the branch in November to confiscate the property, they seemed surprised that there was so little in the way of literature, files, and equipment.
As expected, the foreign missionaries were ordered to leave the country. Before leaving, however, they did what they could to strengthen the brothers and sisters so dear to them. Malcolm Vigo visited and encouraged brothers whose homes had been destroyed by hooligans. Finley Mwinyere, a circuit overseer, was one of these. Brother Vigo said: “When we arrived, we saw Brother Mwinyere standing and looking at his burned-out home. The encouraging thing was the spirit he showed. His desire was to get right back and strengthen others in his circuit who had suffered. He was not weighed down by his personal loss.”
Jack Johansson traveled north to Lilongwe to visit some 3,000 brothers and sisters who were in detention. He was able to speak with and encourage many of them. They were still in good spirits. In fact, he came away feeling uplifted himself and described it as a faith-strengthening experience. Brother Johansson was later told by the officer in charge that the situation was embarrassing. Mentioning just one implication of the ban, the officer stated that now when the electrical service in Lilongwe broke down, it would probably never be restored. The best and most reliable workers were in prison!
The eight foreign missionaries did not leave Malawi voluntarily. As far as they were concerned, they had done nothing wrong. The Sharps and the Johanssons were taken directly to the airport under police escort and put on a plane leaving the country. The other two couples were taken to Chichiri Prison in Blantyre, where they spent a few nights—Malcolm and Keith in one cell and Linda Louise and Anne in another. Then, under police escort they were taken to the airport and deported to Mauritius. Eventually, the Vigos, along with the Johanssons, were reassigned to Kenya, and the Eatons to Rhodesia.
With saddened hearts the missionaries left behind their dear brothers and sisters. But the Malawian Witnesses were not left without help. There were spiritual shepherds, loving overseers, in the 405 congregations throughout the country. (Isa. 32:2) Alex Mafambana supervised the work locally, and oversight of the Malawi field was transferred to the Zimbabwe branch (then called Rhodesia). In the following years, the branch in Harare, Zimbabwe, arranged for the Malawian circuit overseers and others taking the lead to travel to Zimbabwe to attend district conventions and refresher courses. Through these faithful brothers, circuit assembly and district convention programs were relayed to the congregations.
A New Wave of Atrocities
Once the ban became public knowledge, however, party officials and members of the Malawi Young Pioneers and of the Youth League took the lead in a new wave of terrible persecution. The police and courts, although sometimes sympathetic, were powerless to stop the violence, now that Jehovah’s Witnesses were classed as illegal in the country.
As the persecution intensified, Kingdom Halls, homes, food stores, and businesses of Jehovah’s Witnesses in all parts of the country were destroyed. In some places the attackers even arrived in trucks to haul away the possessions of the Witnesses. While the value of such material loss may have been very little in a monetary sense, for our Malawian brothers and sisters, it represented everything they owned.
Also, reports of beatings were received from all over Malawi. For some of our dear sisters, the persecution was especially harrowing. Many were the reports of rape, mutilation, and beating of Christian women. The sadistic attackers spared nobody. The elderly, the young, and even some pregnant sisters were put through such cruel ordeals. Some suffered miscarriages as a result. Once again, thousands were forced to flee their villages. Many found refuge in the bush. Others went into temporary exile in neighboring Mozambique. By the end of November 1967, the brutal wave of attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses had claimed at least five more lives.
Reaction to the Ban
Even vicious beatings did not deter Jehovah’s Witnesses. Very few compromised. Samson Khumbanyiwa was one whose home and furniture were destroyed, all his clothing was torn to pieces, but his faith was not destroyed. With conviction he said: “I know that I am never alone, and Jehovah has protected me.” The integrity of these men and women of faith is a credit to Jehovah—an answer to the taunt made by Satan: “Everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul.”—Job 2:4.
The persecution even woke up some honesthearted individuals in Malawi. This was in harmony with what Jesus Christ himself had foretold. After warning his followers that they would be persecuted, even haled before rulers, he concluded with these encouraging words: “It will turn out to you for a witness.”—Luke 21:12, 13.
A husband who for some time had opposed his wife’s activity as a Witness was actually helped to see matters more clearly as a result of the persecution. One morning less than two weeks after the ban was imposed, a mob descended on his home. They knew that the man was not a Witness, and they shouted that they had come only for his wife. At first he would not open the door. But after they threatened to burn down the house with everyone in it, he reluctantly let them in. Quickly he found himself bound with chains and ordered to buy a party card. He realized then that his wife must indeed have the true religion. He refused to buy a card that day. He and his wife were beaten. But right after that, he began to study the Bible. The following year, this man dedicated his life to Jehovah, joining his wife as a servant of Jehovah.
Both from within Malawi and from outside the country, people voiced their concern over what was happening to innocent Christians. Some were heard to say: “Now we know that we must be coming to the end of the world, when God’s people are forbidden in our country!” The articles appearing in the February 1968 issues of The Watchtower and Awake! aroused a public outcry from around the world. Thousands of letters poured in, expressing indignation and urging the government to take action to stop the atrocities. In some post offices, additional help was needed to cope with this sudden influx of mail. So intensive and sustained was the international reaction to this situation that eventually the president issued a decree stating that the persecution must stop. At a later time, Dr. Banda even said that nobody should be forced to buy a party membership card. “I want people to be free to renew cards, from their own hearts, not to be forced,” he said. Gradually, then, another wave of persecution began to subside. This allowed some of our brothers to return to their homes and to get on with the important work of Kingdom preaching—however, using less conspicuous methods, since the ban had not been lifted.
During this time, Brother Mafambana faithfully cared for the work locally. He kept in touch with the Rhodesia branch and received timely direction through that office. But the police were constantly on the lookout for him, so he had to be very careful. Many times he narrowly missed being arrested. Sadly, in 1969 he died from what appeared to be cancer. After that, Kenneth Chimbaza gave oversight to the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi until he suffered a brain hemorrhage and died in 1971. Surely, the many good works of these two integrity keepers will be warmly remembered by Jehovah in the coming “resurrection of the righteous ones.”—Luke 14:14; Heb. 6:10.
As conditions eased, the Malawian brothers adapted themselves to the new situation. Informal witnessing soon began bearing fruit. Despite the ban, the pioneer activity flourished. In 1971 there were 925 pioneers zealously sharing the good news, along with thousands of congregation publishers. There was even one special pioneer left on the list—Gresham Kwazizirah, still loyally serving in his advancing years, in spite of much adversity and many personal trials. He continued to serve Jehovah faithfully right up until his death in 1978.
With the brothers proving themselves to be as “cautious as serpents,” congregation reports and other correspondence continued to reach the branch office in Rhodesia. (Matt. 10:16) These showed that the zealous underground preaching activity was very successful. A peak of 18,519 publishers had been reached just prior to the ban in 1967. By 1972, though the ban was still in force and many had fled to Mozambique, a new peak of 23,398 publishers reported, and they averaged more than 16 hours in the ministry each month.
“New Territories” Receive a Witness
Although the Witnesses were very careful as they preached, some were nonetheless arrested and imprisoned. Yet, even then they were not discouraged. They kept right on preaching, using the prison as their new territory.
Baston Moses Nyirenda spent seven months in prison in 1969. Some other prisoners asked why he would not join their United Church. What a fine opportunity to witness! Using an old battered Bible that was shared by all the inmates and that had many pages missing, he pointed out Bible truths to them. This led to a Bible study. Even the leader of that church studied. Before his release from jail, Brother Nyirenda rejoiced to be able to help four persons come to a basic understanding of God’s Word.
Activity in the English Congregation
After all the foreign missionaries had been deported as a result of the ban, Bill McLuckie, who had married Denise, a South African, was still living in Blantyre. There he ran a small business to care for his family responsibilities. The McLuckies’ home became the new meeting place for the Blantyre English Congregation. Of course, these meetings had to be held in a more casual way in order not to attract attention. So there was no singing or clapping of hands.
It was during this time that Guido Otto, who was serving at the Rhodesia branch, began to take literature into Malawi secretly. Guido’s father was running a small hotel on the shore of Lake Malawi, so Guido’s visits did not seem at all odd to the officials. Little did they know just how much Bible literature Guido brought through each time! The literature was stored in a secret underground cellar at the McLuckies’ home. When it was being dug, passersby had sometimes asked what it was for. “It’s just a toilet,” they would be told.
One night, in the middle of a meeting, a vehicle drove up in front of the house. Who could it be? The police? The brothers did not know what to do with their study books. The door opened, and Guido Otto walked in cheerfully. What a relief!
After that, as Denise explains, “Bill told the brothers that the first thing they must do if anyone tried to come in was to put all the literature into a basket that we had on hand. Then I was to drop the basket into a hole in our bedroom floor. This led into the cellar. A tea trolley was also set out each time. If anyone came in, it would appear as if we were just visiting and having tea!”
As conditions got increasingly difficult, however, the meetings could no longer be held in just one place. Various homes were used. Sometimes the group met in a forest, dressed as if they were on a picnic.
In spite of these difficulties, the brothers still managed to reach genuine truth-seekers by witnessing informally to English-speaking people. A few came into the truth. Among these were Victor Lulker, Daniel Marne, and Mike Sharma, who serve in the Blantyre Congregation down to this day.
Court Cases in Blantyre
When the police did raid the McLuckies’ home in 1971, they found some of the Society’s publications. Brother McLuckie was charged and required to appear before the magistrate in Limbe, Blantyre. The local Witnesses heard about it and, risking their own freedom, turned out in large numbers to support the McLuckies. When the magistrate’s verdict of “not guilty” was announced, the brothers burst into loud applause! But the prosecution appealed. The case now went to the high court. This time Bill McLuckie was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, they did not really want to put him in jail, so he was ordered to leave the country instead.
Thus, in October 1972, Bill McLuckie’s 37 years of loyal service in Malawi came to an end. Before leaving, he organized brothers to come and quietly take all the literature that was in his secret cellar. Brothers carried off books by the carload! Some were later stopped at roadblocks, but the police did not notice even one of the cartons. Before the McLuckies left the country, the entrance to the secret cellar was sealed with concrete. Long will the faithful, self-sacrificing service of Bill McLuckie be remembered in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi!
Third Wave of Violence Triggered
Just as the brothers were settling into a new routine, trouble flared up once more. In 1972 during the annual convention of the Malawi Congress Party, some very disturbing resolutions were adopted. One of these resolutions called for all of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be dismissed from their places of employment. Ruthlessly, without exemption, this was carried out. Firms that wanted to retain trusted Witness employees were not permitted to do so. Businesses operated by Witnesses were seized and their assets confiscated. But worse was to follow.
Another one of the resolutions adopted at the convention stated that “all [Jehovah’s Witnesses] who live in the villages should be chased away from there.” This effectively called for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be cast out of human society! Thousands of their homes were burned or pulled down. Their crops and animals were destroyed. They were forbidden to draw water from the village wells. They lost literally everything they owned in looting sprees all over the country.
Members of the youth movements again took the lead in this wave of persecution, the most intense and brutal to date. Organizing themselves into bands, ranging from a dozen or so up to as many as a hundred, they went from village to village, searching out Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Countrywide our brothers were hunted down. In Blantyre a group of brothers were rounded up and taken to the local party headquarters, which had been the Society’s branch office before it was confiscated in 1967. Among them was Greyson Kapininga, who had served in the branch as a translator before the ban. After the brothers steadfastly refused to buy party membership cards, the persecutors rubbed a mixture of salt and hot pepper into their eyes. Then they beat the brothers with planks that had large spikes in them. Whenever a brother cried out in pain, the thugs would beat even harder, saying: “Let your God come and save you.”
The vicious attacks claimed many lives. In Cape Maclear, at the southern end of Lake Malawi, bundles of grass were tied around Zelphat Mbaiko. Petrol was poured on the grass and set alight. He was literally burned to death!
Sisters also suffered terribly. Following their refusal to buy party cards, many were repeatedly raped by party officials. In Lilongwe, Sister Magola, along with many others, tried to flee the trouble. However, she was pregnant and could not run very fast. A mob, acting like a pack of wild dogs, caught up with her and beat her to death.
At the campus of Bunda College of Agriculture, just outside of Lilongwe, six brothers and one sister were murdered and their bodies were horribly mutilated. The principal, Theodore Pinney, protested the atrocities in person to Dr. Banda. The result? He was deported!
With genocide looming on the horizon, a mass exodus of Jehovah’s Witnesses began in October 1972. Thousands fled west into Zambia. At the border, a United Nations observer confirmed that “many of the refugees bore cuts and gashes apparently inflicted by pangas, the huge knives common to [Africa].”
The Witnesses were placed in refugee camps at Sinda Misale, located in a triangle of land where the borders of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia converge. However, disease spread rapidly because of unsanitary conditions. In a short time, over 350 persons, many of them children, had died. News of the plight of the refugees quickly reached their Christian brothers in other places. Relief supplies fairly flooded in! Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Africa donated tons of tents, clothing, and other urgently needed supplies. With Karel de Jager and Dennis McDonald in the lead, a small fleet of trucks arrived at the camps from the South Africa branch. Spiritual needs were not overlooked. One truck brought 21 cartons of Bibles and Bible study aids. How happy the Malawian brothers were to see this evidence of the true Christian love that Jesus described!—John 13:34, 35.
Soon, however, the Witnesses realized that they were unwanted guests in Zambia. By December, the Zambian authorities forced the refugees back into Malawi. What a disappointment! With seemingly nowhere to run, would our brothers finally give up? Michael Yadanga summed it up this way: “I’ve lost my teeth because I would not buy a card. I’ve lost my job because I would not buy a card. I was severely beaten, my property was destroyed, and I was forced to flee to Zambia—all of this because I would not buy a card. I am not going to buy one now.” Their integrity was still intact. It is true, as the psalmist says: “Many are the calamities of the righteous one, but out of them all Jehovah delivers him.”—Ps. 34:19.
These Malawian Witnesses, both men and women, were proving that they had faith like that of servants of God described in the Bible in Hebrews chapter 11. Like those ancient worshipers of Jehovah, Malawian Witnesses “were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom,” that is, by a compromise or a renunciation of their faith in Jehovah God. Like them, they “received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons.” Like them, “the world was not worthy of them.”—Heb. 11:35, 36, 38.
Refuge in Mozambique
On their return from Zambia, they were faced with vicious persecution in Malawi once more. Staying in Malawi was out of the question. So they fled again—this time to Mozambique. At the time, Mozambique was still under Portuguese control. The authorities there treated our brothers kindly. Those living in the south of the country fled across the border near Mulanje to refugee camps in Carico, where many stayed until 1986.
Mozambique was also very accessible from Malawi’s western border, between the towns of Dedza and Ntcheu. There the brothers needed only to walk across the main road, which acted as the border, in order to seek refuge. The camps in this part of Mozambique were situated near Mlangeni, and it was to there that the majority fled.
These camps in Carico and near Mlangeni became home to some 34,000 men, women, and little ones. Whole congregations of God’s people, led by their elders, trekked to the camps. As they did so, the authorities in Malawi ordered that no one should assist them with transport.
As they settled in the camps, a new way of life began for these servants of Jehovah. Materially, it was difficult at first. They were starting out all over again. Before long, though, houses were erected in straight lines. The camps were kept neat and clean. In order to supplement the rations distributed by the Society and by secular aid agencies, many brothers began planting their own crops. Others managed to sell what they made by hand or to find part-time jobs in the surrounding villages. While not well-off in a material sense, our brothers were satisfied to have the necessities of life. (1 Tim. 6:8) And spiritually they were rich!
Organization in the Camps
Such elders as Kennedy Alick Dick, Maurice Mabvumbe, Willard Matengo—and later, others—served as a Country Committee. They were well respected and loved for their tireless efforts in providing for the brothers’ spiritual needs. These loyal elders took to heart the Bible’s admonition: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care.” (1 Pet. 5:2) They organized many spiritual activities in the camps. Following the routine that is customary in most homes of Jehovah’s people, they saw to it that there was a spiritual start to each day, with a discussion of the day’s text. Studies of the Bible with the help of the Watchtower magazine, public talks, and even assemblies were all held regularly. The refugees realized that such spiritual provisions were vital.
At first, all the meetings were held at one central location—the central platform. Here, thousands would meet daily for Bible instruction, as well as to receive direction with regard to various duties in the camps. Later on, the congregations were encouraged to construct their own Kingdom Halls and conduct meetings there. Eventually, five circuits were organized in the various camps.
The brothers serving on the Country Committee as well as others had benefited much from training received from the missionaries before the ban. This helped them to organize the camps. On the whole, the refugee camps operated in much the same way as a large district convention. Departments were set up to care for various needs, including cleaning, food distribution and, of course, security.
Even with almost all of Jehovah’s Witnesses now living in exile outside of Malawi, some persecutors were still not satisfied. Enemies occasionally crossed the border and assaulted brothers living in camps close by, so special precautions had to be taken to protect Jehovah’s people.
The Country Committee assigned a group of brothers to be attendants and watchmen, guarding all the entrances to the camps. Batson Longwe was given oversight of these attendants at Mlangeni camp. His assignment involved a lot of moving around within the camp, checking on the brothers at their various posts. He soon earned himself the nickname “7-2-7.” Indeed, from morning till night (seven to seven), every day, faithful Brother Longwe was seen in all parts of the camp, playing his role in protecting his Christian brothers and sisters. Down to this day, Batson Longwe is still addressed as “7-2-7” by most of his brothers. Although some may have forgotten his real name, anyone who spent time in the camp at Mlangeni warmly remembers his loyal service in their behalf.
The temporary exile in Mozambique not only provided relief from persecution but also helped to prepare the brothers to meet trials and challenges that yet lay ahead. They drew closer to their brothers and sisters, and they learned to rely more heavily on Jehovah. Lemon Kabwazi, who later served as a traveling overseer, says: “There were advantages and disadvantages. Materially, we were poor. But spiritually, we were well cared for. Because we lived so close together, we really got to know our brothers and love them. That helped us after our return to Malawi.”
Unfortunately, this respite from violence at the hands of persecutors was brief. When Mozambique received its independence in June 1975, a spirit of nationalism gripped that country too. The neutrality of Jehovah’s people was not understood by the country’s new leaders. Refusing to compromise, our brothers were forced back across the border from the Mlangeni area and into the hands of their persecutors.
At the border the returning refugees were met by the minister for the central region, Mr. J. T. Kumbweza Banda. He told them: “You left Malawi of your own accord, and now you have returned of your own accord. Go back to your villages and cooperate with the party chairmen.” Referring to the Malawi Young Pioneers and members of the Youth League, he added: “My boys are here to see that you do cooperate with the Party.” This gave little hope that conditions would improve.
Some who were forced to return to Malawi on that occasion were able to travel right across the country and out again through its southeastern border, to join their brothers who were in camps near Milange, in Mozambique. But that did not solve all the problems. For example, Fidesi Ndalama, who served as a circuit overseer in that area until the Milange camps were disbanded in the late 1980’s, lost his wife when the camp was attacked by guerrilla soldiers. But this mild-mannered brother continues to serve Jehovah zealously.
Others who were forced back into Malawi in 1975 had to remain there. Thousands of these filled the roads as they made their weary way back to their villages. For many it was like running the gauntlet.
Initially, most were allowed to settle again in villages from which they had come. But before long, the “boys” would arrive in an effort to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to “cooperate with the Party.” Gangs of Youth Leaguers surrounded the homes of our brothers, demanding the purchase of party membership cards. The answer at every home would be the same—“No!” Refusal brought all manner of inhuman treatment. Even women and children shared in beating these innocent Christians. Depraved sexual abuse, against men as well as women, was reported. There were sickening accounts of Christian men and women being tied together in an effort to force them to commit immorality.
Even in the normal routine of daily living, Jehovah’s Witnesses faced a constant challenge to their integrity. At hospitals, markets, schools, and on public transport, members of the Youth League were ever on the lookout for any who did not have party cards. True to the words of Revelation 13:16, 17, nobody was able to “buy or sell,” or just carry on a normal way of life, without having ‘the mark of the wild beast’—evidence that he was a supporter of the world’s political system.
Through all this adversity, Jehovah’s Witnesses stood firm, never compromising. But the persecutors did not give up either. More was yet to come.
Herded Into Prisons
Whole congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were rounded up and herded into detention centers operated in a manner that evoked memories of Nazi concentration camps. Sadly, in some cases younger children and babies were separated from their distraught parents. Some of these young ones were left in the care of non-Witness relatives. Others were left with no one to provide for them. By January 1976, over 5,000 men and women were in prisons and camps throughout the country.
The conditions at first were terrible. Overcrowding bred death-dealing diseases. Cruel guards added to the misery. One of these taunted the brothers, saying: “As the government has arranged, we shall make you our tractors.” Baston Moses Nyirenda recalls that he was often forced to work from before sunrise until after sunset, with not one break for rest or food!
From the infamous Dzaleka detention camp, one brother managed to smuggle out this note written on a piece of toilet tissue: “Even though one is very sick, he or she is forced to go to work. Sick children are sent to Dowa hospital . . . They do not take care of patients who are Jehovah’s people. We call Dowa hospital a butchery of Jehovah’s people.”
It seemed as if the prison guards were trying everything possible to discourage our brothers and sisters and to break their integrity. They did not succeed! Jehovah’s people had learned to cope with adversity. A note written on a scrap of cement packaging contained these faith-strengthening words: “Pleasant news. Brothers and sisters all very happy faces, although persecuted and carrying stones.”
Many protest letters from other lands—from Jehovah’s Witnesses and from many other people—were sent to the office of the president, Dr. Banda. However, these appeals fell on deaf ears, and our brothers remained in detention.
“The Word of God Is Not Bound”
In spite of the conditions, the brothers managed to arrange for Christian meetings to be held in these prisons. Literature was smuggled in and distributed among the brothers. How was it done? Regarding a Yearbook that reached them in Dzaleka prison, Baston Moses Nyirenda says:
“There was a brother who was not a prisoner but who worked in the prison gardens. Because the guards were used to his coming in and out all the time, they never searched him. He hid the book under his shirt while he delivered vegetables to the guards. Then before leaving, he managed to get the book to one of our brothers. We were especially delighted to have the Yearbook because at that time it contained all the daily text verses and comments. We got to work quickly, copying all the texts and comments onto pieces of toilet tissue. Quite a few rolls were used! After two weeks the book was discovered by a guard. But by then we had already distributed copies all around the camp. We even managed to get copies over to our sisters in the section where they were being held.”
The Memorial of Christ’s death was celebrated in small groups in Dzaleka. A letter reached the Society, saying that “1,601 attended the assembly on our lovely day, April the 14th.” There were 13 who partook of the emblems in Dzaleka. The report also said: “Almost every cell sang songs before the talk, and they did so after the assembly.”
In time, conditions in the prisons began to ease somewhat. Some guards eventually became quite friendly toward the brothers. After his retirement from the prison services, one of the guards even embraced the truth. Now he is Brother Makumba. His son too has dedicated his life to Jehovah. It was just as the apostle Paul declared: “The word of God is not bound.”—2 Tim. 2:9.
Serving Jehovah Under Ban
The intensity of the persecution gradually wore off once again. By 1979, most of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been released from prison. Curiosity abounded among their neighbors. “Why were you sent to prison?” “Why is everyone persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Such questions opened the way for Bible discussions, and many themselves became servants of Jehovah. They could clearly see that if they became Jehovah’s Witnesses, they too would be objects of hatred, as Jesus had foretold; yet they recognized that Jehovah’s Witnesses indeed practice the true religion. (Luke 21:17; Jas. 1:27) Interestingly, there were more newly baptized ones coming from people encountered when witnessing than from among the children of those who were already Jehovah’s Witnesses.
How did Bible literature, for use at meetings and in the field ministry, get into the country at that time? During the late 1970’s, care for the Malawi field was transferred to the Zambia branch because Zambia has a common border with Malawi, whereas Zimbabwe does not. A number of literature depots in Zambia were strategically situated close to the Malawi border. Those very few brothers who had vehicles would drive into Zambia to collect large parcels of literature, which were then smuggled into Malawi. Because roadblocks were few in number during the earlier years of the ban, this method proved to be very successful.
With the necessary books and magazines in the hands of the brothers, meetings could be arranged. Of course, there could be no open gatherings in a Kingdom Hall. Instead, the brothers met secretly, often at night, and out of earshot of neighbors and other villagers. Some brothers in the villages had their ancestral plots of land, usually just outside the village. These were practical places to meet. Of course, a large crowd walking to the meeting at the same time would obviously attract attention, so the brothers traveled in small groups. Once everyone was there, the meeting could begin. There was no hearty singing of Kingdom songs—only muted voices. Neither was there any enthusiastic applause after a fine talk—just the soft rubbing together of the palms of the hands.
Nevertheless, all at the meetings appreciated the timely spiritual food and felt united with their brothers and sisters earth wide who were enjoying the same program of instruction. Such meetings also equipped the brothers well for the all-important preaching work. This they had to do very discreetly.
Although literature was brought into Malawi without much difficulty for a time, during the mid-1980’s the situation changed. Roadblocks began to appear in all parts of the country. The police became more vigilant in searching vehicles. No longer could the brothers use automobiles to ferry literature from the depots in Zambia. What could be done?
Bicycles were put to use more extensively. Cycling through the bush, the brothers were able to bypass roadblocks and border crossings. It took great courage and strong faith to serve as a courier. But their loyal service was clearly blessed by Jehovah God. Consider these experiences:
Letson Mlongoti was cycling through Lilongwe with a sack of magazines on the back of his bicycle. When he noticed that large crowds including policemen and Malawi Young Pioneers were lining the streets in anticipation of a visit by the president, he grew very nervous. Then, to his horror the sack fell open when he was going around a corner. The magazines spilled onto the ground in front of everyone! People quickly gathered around him. Our brother expected the worst. But he soon realized that they were only helping him to put the magazines back into his sack. Relieved, although a little shaken, he was soon on his way again, thanking Jehovah for blinding the eyes of the police and the Malawi Young Pioneers.
Fred Lameck Gwirize was carrying an important consignment of congregation mail. He was cycling fast down a hill near Kasungu when he saw ahead of him a roadblock manned by members of the Youth League. Before reaching it, he stopped, turned around, and quickly cycled in the opposite direction. The members of the Youth League called out for him to stop. “Where are you going?” they shouted. The courier replied, “I was going so fast down the hill, I missed my turn!” To his surprise, they accepted his explanation. He thanked Jehovah for protecting him.
But a number of these courageous brothers were caught and spent time in prison. Most of them were family men.
A Regular “Tourist”
Starting in 1987, regular visits were made to Malawi by Edward Finch, a member of the Zambia Branch Committee. Malawi was a popular tourist destination, and Brother Finch had a relative in Blantyre, so it was easy for him to enter the country for a “holiday.” When he was just 19 years old and was pioneering in Rhodesia, his home country, Ed Finch had joined Guido Otto on some of his trips into Malawi to stock up the McLuckies’ secret cellar. Now, having graduated from Gilead School, Brother Finch was assigned a further role in connection with Malawi.
His visits were prompted by concerns in the Zambia branch that not enough Bible literature was getting into Malawi. When Brother Finch met with the Country Committee, they were thrilled to have a foreign guest there to encourage them and provide further direction. A series of secret meetings were held with the Country Committee, the circuit and district overseers, and the couriers. Everyone was enthusiastic about doing his part to provide for the needs of the congregations. Literature that had become stockpiled in the Zambian depots close to the border of Malawi again flowed into Malawi on a regular basis.
Brother Finch, often with his wife, Linda, made many encouraging “tourist” trips into Malawi. He traveled the length and breadth of the country, not to sightsee, but to encourage and train as many brothers as possible. His visits were especially appreciated by those brothers who were taking the lead during the ban. They were grateful for the love and patience he showed when working along with them.
Assisting the Couriers
It was impossible, of course, for the couriers on their bicycles to reach all the congregations in Malawi. So a small pickup truck was purchased in 1988 and used extensively within the country to deliver literature. The drivers became familiar with areas where roadblocks were set up and discreetly avoided these. Other courageous brothers also offered their services. Among these was Victor Lulker, who served in the English congregation in Blantyre. Using his private car and at great personal risk, he often transported literature during the night to the secret depots around the country. Prior to 1972, Cyril Long, who is now in South Africa, gave similar assistance. He was also able to obtain much-needed medical supplies for our brothers, at discount rates from a favorable pharmacy.
An important factor in providing spiritual food was the approval given by the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn to print magazines on Bible paper, books with soft covers, and Watchtower study articles in a special format that became known as mini-magazines. When Ed Finch secretly met with the couriers in April 1989 and told them about these new special editions of our literature, the couriers were moved to tears. How they appreciated Jehovah’s loving provisions! Now they would be able to carry twice as much literature as before.
This literature was easier to fold up and hide away. The mini-magazines could even be read openly on public transport. Nobody knew what they were! “The faithful and discreet slave” truly lived up to its commission to provide spiritual “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45-47) These precious “food” supplies helped Jehovah’s servants to maintain their integrity under adversity.
A Unique Congregation
Unfortunately, in 1990 the small truck used by the Society was involved in an accident with a police vehicle. When the police discovered what was in the truck, the two brothers were promptly arrested and sent to jail. One of these was Lemon Kabwazi.
On arrival at Chichiri Prison, Brother Kabwazi noticed that the ten brothers already being detained there were in a pitiable state. “Senior” prisoners were stealing all the blankets and were not allowing the brothers to hold their meetings. Brother Kabwazi knew that action was necessary. When his wife, Chrissie, visited him, he asked her to bring along to the prison some of his personal clothes. These he distributed among his brothers so that they could be properly dressed. The other prisoners were impressed. Brother Kabwazi then endeavored to befriend the “senior” prisoners who controlled all the blankets. How did he do it? “I arranged for a brother to buy ten kilograms [20 pounds] of sugar for me,” says Brother Kabwazi. “One kilogram [2 pounds] of sugar bought a blanket.” It also “bought” the friendship of the “senior” prisoners, who now allowed the meetings to be held unhindered.
With regular meetings being conducted in the prison yard, a congregation was soon formed. Its name? Corner Congregation—because meetings were held in one corner of the prison yard. In time, the Corner Congregation came to have a regular attendance of over 60 persons. With three elders and one ministerial servant, this new congregation was well looked after. Its territory too was very productive. There was always someone “at home” to talk with! From the five Bible studies that Brother Kabwazi conducted there, two persons have since been baptized!
One problem facing Corner Congregation, though, was how to get literature supplies into the prison for use in the meetings. Brother Kabwazi had a plan here too. He arranged for a brother who had just been released from the prison to return with a parcel of food. When the prison guards checked the parcel, all they could see were cassava roots, a popular staple food in Malawi. But little did they know just how “nutritious” and “healthful” this cassava was! Thin slices had been cut from the center of each cassava root. In these roots were placed rolled-up mini-magazines, small sections of the Reasoning book, and Examining the Scriptures. After two such deliveries of this “healthful” food, the brothers had all they needed for use in their meetings and Bible studies. Brother Kabwazi recalls that they had so many issues of the mini-magazines that not once in the eight months he spent in prison did they have to repeat an article at the Watchtower Study.
Happily, Corner Congregation no longer functions today. Jehovah’s people in Malawi are not forced to hold meetings behind bars anymore!
Our Brothers Earn Respect
Gradually, the attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses became more isolated. Nevertheless, incidents were still reported from time to time. As always, though, our brothers stood firm. As a result, many began showing respect for Jehovah’s people.
In the Mchinji area, Chief Mzama addressed a letter “To beloved people of God who live under my jurisdiction.” In it he said: “All the Witnesses who are in my district are very good people. My district comprises 13 villages.” After commending the Witnesses for being reliable taxpayers, adhering to high moral standards, and being clean, respectful, and industrious, he concluded: “I encourage all of you Jehovah’s Witnesses to continue abiding by your laws.”
Early in 1990, Austin Chigodi was among 22 persons arrested at a circuit assembly at Nathenje, near Blantyre, by members of the Youth League. After spending a year and a half in prison, Brother Chigodi, then in his late 70’s, was released. When some of the members of the Youth League saw that this elderly man was still alive and faithful to his God, they were deeply impressed. They even requested Bible studies. However, Brother Chigodi was very cautious, not wanting to endanger his brothers. The youths persisted. Eventually, studies were started. Happily, some progressed to baptism, and today a few even serve as elders and ministerial servants.
Another faithful brother, Samuel Dzaononga, endured four prison sentences in Dzaleka because of his neutral stand. Then in 1989, after yet again firmly refusing to purchase a party card, he was arrested for a fifth time. Members of the Youth League took him to the police post in Salima. How surprised they were when the officer in charge told them: “If you want this man to go to prison yet again, you had better be prepared to join him. It would be good for you people to know what this man has endured without ever compromising his faith. Are you willing to do that?” “No,” they replied. The officer then added: “In that case, you had better take this man back to his village and stop harassing him. He will never compromise his faith.” So, Brother Dzaononga was driven back to his village. On their arrival there, the village headman was called and warned not to allow our brother to be harassed again. From then on, Brother Dzaononga could be seen reading the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and witnessing to his neighbors—openly and without fear of being harassed.
Throughout the ban, informal witnessing was done. But when opposition was not so intense, it was done even more boldly. Early in 1990 in the town of Ntcheu, the book Listening to the Great Teacher was placed with a young woman who showed interest in Bible truth. Since she herself was not able to read well, the brothers encouraged her to invite someone to read the book to her. “But you should find someone you can trust,” the brothers warned. At the time, her brother Simon was staying with her. Here was someone she could trust. While reading to his sister, Simon quickly recognized the ring of truth. In time a regular Bible study was started with Simon. “I could see for myself from the Bible that true Christians would be persecuted,” said Simon, “so I knew that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the true religion.” (2 Tim. 3:12) Making rapid progress, Simon Mangani was baptized that same year and today serves at Bethel in Lilongwe.
In Blantyre, a sudden rainstorm brought unexpected results for Beston Madeya, a regular pioneer. He found shelter on the veranda of a small church building. While waiting for the rain to stop, he overheard some people asking their pastor, “Do all good people go to heaven?” The pastor could not say. Eager to help them, Brother Madeya went inside the church and offered to answer the question. To his surprise they accepted. Many more questions followed, and before long seven Bible studies were being conducted.
Young ones at school also used opportunities to give a witness. When asked to submit an essay, Dorothy Nakula decided to write about the origins of Christmas. Her teacher was so impressed that he showed her essay to the other teachers. “Where did you get the information?” they asked. As a result, Dorothy placed 17 magazines with her teachers.
Although Jehovah’s servants had to endure much tribulation, they never felt alone. They knew that Jehovah sustained them, and they were confident of the love and support of the worldwide brotherhood.
Besides what was done by the branches in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Zambia, mature local brothers worked hard to see that the flock in Malawi received loving care and spiritual food. The Country Committee, or Staff Office as it was called, played an important role in this. What did their work involve? Lemon Kabwazi, who served on the Country Committee for many years, explains: “Primarily, our responsibility was to make sure that the literature was getting through to our brothers. So we spent a lot of time organizing and encouraging the couriers and circuit overseers. We also visited brothers who had been victims of persecution, to determine how we could assist and strengthen them.”
Encouraging letters and supplies were sent to the various congregations. It was risky to use the postal services, so the brothers developed special codes and nicknames in order to avoid exposing one another. Letters from the Country Committee were signed “S.O.” In that way, even if a letter was intercepted, the authorities could not discern what it was all about. Circuit overseers were known by the circuit number they served, and circuit visits were referred to as “special weeks.” Even today, some are still heard to say, “We are having M-11 visit us for our special week soon.” What about the Country Committee itself? Letters from all over the country were addressed “Dear Uncle,” and the replies were sent to various “nephews” and “nieces.” Such a cautious approach helped to maintain communication during the many years of the ban.
The elders who served on the Country Committee truly demonstrated what is meant by seeking Kingdom interests first. (Matt. 6:33) Some, such as Ellyson Njunga, Havery Khwiya, Adson Mbendera, and Lemon Kabwazi, are still serving Jehovah as full-time ministers. Their faithful examples have encouraged many others to put the Kingdom first in their lives and to maintain integrity despite adversity.
When a new wave of “democratic” fervor began sweeping through southern Africa, Malawi was not left unaffected. During 1992, international pressure mounted against the government to improve its human-rights record. Responding to this, the president, Dr. Banda, announced: “Anyone forcing the people to buy party cards . . . is acting against the rules of the Malawi Congress Party.” He added: “This is very bad, very bad . . . I have never ordered anyone to do such a thing.” Dr. Banda thus stopped something that for 25 years had caused much suffering to our faithful brothers in Malawi.
Following this, Jehovah’s Witnesses found that most of their meetings and assemblies could be held openly and freely. No longer was any harassment or persecution being reported. At last there was a measure of freedom, and the brothers took full advantage of it. But they were not prepared for what happened next.
“Jehovah Is a Wonderful God!”
August 12, 1993—what a memorable day for Jehovah’s people in Malawi! The ban, which had lasted nearly 26 years, was finally lifted. At first the brothers did not even realize it. In 1967, when the ban was imposed, newspapers around the country had carried bold headlines regarding the action taken against the “‘danger’ sect”—Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now, when the ban was lifted, not a whisper was heard. Indeed, it was quite by chance that a brother stumbled on the tiny announcement in the Government Gazette. When the news slowly filtered through to the brothers, they were overjoyed, but they could not help feeling a little disbelief. Why? Brother Kabwazi said: “We prayed that the ban would be lifted one day. But we never thought it would happen while Dr. Banda was still alive.” He added: “Jehovah is a wonderful God!”
In 1967, prior to the ban, some 18,000 publishers had been actively associating with the congregations. How many were there now, after 26 years of often brutal opposition? A new peak of 30,408! The integrity of our brothers and sisters had triumphed over all adversity—to the praise of Jehovah’s glorious name!
Jehovah’s Witnesses were overjoyed at their newfound freedom. However, they also realized that more work than ever before lay ahead.
A Special Campaign
As soon as the news reached the branch office in Zambia, Ed Finch was dispatched to Malawi, not as a tourist, but to help reestablish the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi on a legal footing. During his visit, he and Linda had opportunity to work along with the English congregation in Blantyre. Most of the publishers there had never done house-to-house witnessing. Understandably, they were nervous. With a little persuasion from the Finches, though, the publishers all went out into the ministry. How exciting it was when, after a couple of hours, they returned to discuss their experiences! Many householders had eagerly listened. Others congratulated them on the freedom now enjoyed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. After this, the brothers found it much easier to engage in the ministry.
At first, getting the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered again in Malawi proved to be quite difficult. No proof that the Society had ever been registered in Malawi could be found in any of the government offices. Then, one day, Ed Finch noticed a set of old volumes in the registry office in Blantyre. He brought down the volume marked “W.” Yes, there was the original registration! The legal side of things now proceeded quickly. By November 15, 1993, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, a legal agency used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, had been reregistered and Jehovah’s Witnesses were once again legally recognized as a religion in Malawi.
Toward the end of that year, a special tract campaign was conducted throughout the country. Appropriately, the tract What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe? was offered in the three main languages. It served a twofold purpose. First, it helped the brothers and sisters to get busy in the public ministry once more, and second, it helped the public learn for themselves the facts about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Over one million copies were distributed, and many letters expressing interest flooded into the branch office in Zambia. Once again, public proclamation of praise to Jehovah began to be heard from house to house and on the streets in Malawi!
Reorganizing the Work
The first class of the Ministerial Training School for southern Africa was being conducted in Zambia when news about the lifting of the ban reached there. This generated much excitement among Bethelites and students alike. How thrilled two of the students were when they received assignments to Malawi! They were the first foreign full-time servants to be assigned to the country since 1967. These two brothers, Andrew Bird and Karl Offermann, are now serving at Bethel in Lilongwe. Bernard Mazunda, the first Malawian to receive such training, also in the same class, is now serving as a circuit overseer, along with graduates from later classes of the school.
In the meantime, brothers from the Zambia branch continued to deal with problems involved in reorganizing the work in Malawi. They soon discovered that although Jehovah’s Witnesses were no longer banned, their Bible literature was. A most profitable meeting was held with the Minister of Justice in order to clear up the matter. He immediately took steps to lift the ban on the Society’s literature. More than that, he offered his help in locating suitable land for a new branch office. As a result, a fine 30-acre [12-ha] plot was made available for purchase in Lilongwe. Work is already under way on the construction of a new branch facility on this centrally located property.
As congregations began to meet openly once again, how delighted many were to meet friends they had not seen since before the ban! Meetings went overtime, but nobody seemed to mind. The audience was no longer limited just to rubbing their hands together in appreciation for the brothers’ talks. Instead, there was enthusiastic applause for everyone who appeared on the platform. Kingdom songs no longer had to be sung with voices muted. The brothers could now sing out loud and clear. The song that quickly became everyone’s favorite was “We Thank You, Jehovah.”
Nevertheless, the brothers appreciated that they needed help to be brought up-to-date on organizational matters. The elders humbly and eagerly accepted direction from the Society’s office and other specially trained brothers. It did not take long to notice rapid improvements in organizational procedures in the congregations. The number of publishers too continued to rise. In the service year following the lifting of the ban, 4,247 new disciples were baptized and 88,903 attended the Memorial of Christ’s death.
More Help Arrives
Much excitement gripped the country when the news spread that two missionary couples who had served in Malawi prior to the ban would be coming back. Keith and Anne Eaton, who had been serving in Zimbabwe in the meantime, arrived on February 1, 1995, to assist with office work in Lilongwe. Later, Jack and Linda Johansson, who were in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), were assigned to the missionary home in Blantyre. Both couples have had permission restored to them to be permanent residents of the country. What happy reunions have been enjoyed between these longtime missionaries and the Malawian brothers and sisters who served with them before the ban!
In February 1995, Malcolm Vigo, who is now in the Nigeria branch but was branch servant in Malawi when the ban was imposed, was privileged to visit Malawi as the first zone overseer here in many, many years. His wife, Linda Louise, was with him. His reaction? “It was such a thrilling experience and a privilege! It felt like coming home.”
Meanwhile, other missionaries and qualified brothers from nearby branches were also assigned to Malawi. Letters poured in from the field. There was certainly “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Cor. 15:58.
Imagine how the Malawian Witnesses felt when, during July and August 1995, it became possible to hold district conventions for the first time in 28 years. As is true of most conventions in Africa, families brought along all their katundu (luggage), including blankets, pots and pans, and even firewood for cooking their food.
Most of those in attendance could not remember the last series of conventions held just before the ban. Either they had been too young, had been born after that date, or had not yet learned the truth. So for the majority, this was their first district convention. How appropriate that the theme was “Joyful Praisers.” On arriving at the convention sites, some rubbed their eyes in disbelief and said: “I am not dreaming, am I?” They were thrilled to be united with fellow worshipers worldwide for this convention program. All together, nine conventions were held in various parts of the country, and there was a combined attendance of over 77,000! A new tool for use in the field ministry, the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, was enthusiastically received. Though it was released at the convention only in English, the brothers were pleased to know that translation into the Chichewa language was already under way.
There was an English convention too. Although it was small, it was quite an international affair. Visitors came from Mozambique, South Africa, Zaire, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Interestingly, this convention was held in the Kwacha Conference Center, in Blantyre, which had been specifically constructed by Dr. Banda to hold some of his political-party gatherings. Visitors listened eagerly as two local brothers, Widdas Madona and Lackson Kunje, were interviewed concerning their experiences during the years of the ban. Ed Finch was also there, and regarding that happy occasion, he says: “How long all of us had prayed for this day! Now there were many tears of joy flowing on the faces of those gathered. We had tears in our eyes and also big lumps in our throats as we watched Victor Lulker baptize his daughter Angeline, not secretly in a bathtub, but publicly.” As the convention came to its end with the stirring song “We Thank You, Jehovah,” hearts swelled once more and tears flowed freely. All nine of these conventions will be long remembered by the joyful praisers who attended them.
Branch Operations Resumed
On September 1, 1995, the office in Malawi once again became a branch, operating under the direction of the Governing Body. This time, the office was in Lilongwe. There were 542 congregations and more than 30,000 publishers, so there was much to do.
Now things really got moving! The ten Bethelites were hard-pressed at first to cope with the volume of work. Since then, more Bethelites and other brothers volunteering their support have been brought in to help. The Chichewa and Tumbuka translation teams have also transferred from Zambia back to the “home” of those languages.
The branch has been busy helping the brothers to cope with new situations that test their loyalty. These include flag saluting, immorality, drug abuse, and bad associations. The Hospital Information Services desk has been established in order to help those who are confronted with issues involving blood transfusion.
Of great assistance also have been two brothers, along with their wives, reassigned to Malawi from the traveling work in South Africa. They are doing fine work as district overseers.
More recently, on March 20, 1997, another exciting event occurred. During the lunchtime radio news, Witnesses throughout Malawi were delighted to hear that the government was returning the former branch property to the Society. It had been confiscated in 1967 by the former government and had been used as Southern Regional Headquarters of the Malawi Congress Party. But now it was back in the hands of its rightful owners—after a break of some 30 years. What a witness it was to the entire country when this news was repeated in every news broadcast in every major language throughout the day! Now this building is again being used as a place for regular Christian meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah Makes It Grow
Jehovah has truly blessed the work of his servants in Malawi since the lifting of the ban. Many householders have eagerly invited Jehovah’s Witnesses into their homes and accepted their literature and the offer of a free home Bible study. On the occasion of one of the recent “Faith in God’s Word” District Conventions, a woman was amazed to see the large crowd of Jehovah’s Witnesses gathering together near a town called Namitete. “Where are all these thousands of people coming from?” she asked. “It is amazing! You were under ban for so long.” Moved by what she saw, this woman joined the happy crowd of worshipers and listened to the program. After that, she too agreed to study the Bible.
Some former enemies have also responded to the truth, and some have been moved to apologize for their actions during the ban. “It was not us,” they say. “The government made us do these bad things to you.” The brothers are only too happy to welcome such ones to our meetings. Even the former government minister who “welcomed” our brothers on their enforced return from Mozambique in 1975 and told them to return to their villages and cooperate with the ruling political party has been having a Bible study with a pioneer in Lilongwe.
None of the Witnesses display a bitter spirit. None seek revenge. (Rom. 12:17-19) All they want to do is praise Jehovah God now that they have the freedom to do so. They are eager to learn how to use whatever tools will help them to be effective teachers in the ministry. By their using such instruments as Reasoning From the Scriptures and Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, as well as the Society’s videos, they are helping thousands of interested people to start studying the Bible.
How long Jehovah will allow us to continue to search for people “rightly disposed for everlasting life,” we do not know. (Acts 13:48) What is evident, though, is that there is wonderful potential for spiritual ingathering in this country. June 1998 saw a thrilling new peak of publishers reporting—42,770! For the “God’s Way of Life” District Conventions held in 1998, the total attendance was 152,746, and the Memorial of Christ’s death, celebrated earlier that year, was attended by 120,412!
Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi see a very bright future indeed. Before Jehovah’s day arrives, they anticipate being able to help many thousands more to come to an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. They also look forward to the day when they can welcome family members and dear friends back from the dead—Christian brothers and sisters who were willing to die rather than compromise their precious faith. With eager anticipation, they wait for the day when Malawi will be part of a global paradise in which everyone will dwell in security and all who love and serve Jehovah will be able to enjoy perfect life forever.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi have endured serious challenges to their faith. Their integrity under adversity has been a source of encouragement to the entire worldwide brotherhood of which they are a part. And their eagerness to preach the good news in both ‘favorable season and troublesome season’ has been an example worthy of imitation. (2 Tim. 4:2) Those who get to know them cannot help feeling that in them they have found “the warm heart of Africa.”
[Map on page 191]
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Sinda Misale camps
[Full-page picture on page 148]
[Picture on page 153]
Gresham Kwazizirah, baptized in 1925
[Picture on page 157]
Bill McLuckie in the Society’s Zomba office
[Picture on page 162]
A typical Malawian village
[Picture on page 165]
[Pictures on page 170]
Witnesses arriving at convention near Mount Mulanje in 1966
[Pictures on page 177]
Witnesses banned; gate of branch property locked
[Picture on page 178]
Though Finley Mwinyere’s own home had been destroyed, his concern was to strengthen his brothers
[Picture on page 186]
Bill McLuckie with his wife, Denise
[Picture on page 192]
Central platform, where Bible instruction was given and camp duties were assigned
[Picture on page 193]
Batson Longwe, known as “7-2-7”
[Picture on page 194]
Nazipoli refugee camp near Mlangeni, with homes built by Witnesses for their families
[Pictures on page 200, 201]
Though previously imprisoned for their faith, Witnesses continued to serve with joy
[Picture on page 202]
Couriers who risked their freedom to get spiritual food to their brothers
[Picture on page 204]
During the ban, Ed and Linda Finch were regular visitors to Malawi
[Picture on page 210]
Elders gathered for school in an open-air classroom
[Picture on page 215]
Keith and Anne Eaton, Linda and Jack Johansson—happy to be back in Malawi
[Pictures on page 216]
Branch Committee (top to bottom): Lemon Kabwazi, Keith Eaton, Colin Carson
[Pictures on page 217]
Above: Witnesses enthusiastically volunteered to clean the former branch property when it was returned
Right: Brothers getting congregation literature supplies from the branch
[Picture on page 218]
Malcolm Vigo reunited with Widdas Madona, with whom he had served in the branch before the ban
[Picture on page 220]
A thatch-roofed Kingdom Hall. Kingdom Halls are needed for another 600 congregations!
[Pictures on page 223]
Joyful Witnesses continue to proclaim the Kingdom good news in Malawi