C. THE DOROTHEA MISSION MINISTRY
RECORDINGS IN MALAWI
Malawi, sometimes referred to as the “Warm heart of Africa,” is a landlocked country which lies in a general north-eastern direction from South Africa, beyond Zimbabwe. Bordered by Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, it is a smallish country of 118,484 square kilometres with a population of 13 million people, mostly Chichewa speaking. After being a British colony, it became independent in 1964 under “His Excellency the Life President Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.” A multi-party democracy was established in 1994/5.
Malawi was another African state to which the Dorothea Mission extended its ministry. A number of its well trained African evangelists were stationed at Blantyre in the southern part of the country. From there they went on outreaches and had a significant spiritual impact on the population. As the work grew, the need arose for it to be registered with the government as an independent organisation. Because of my legal background as a magistrate, Mr von Staden sent me there to assist our workers in this matter. I snatched at this opportunity to lay a basis for establishing a radio programme in the Chichewa language.
A major challenge during those early years, when hardly any music in African languages was obtainable on the open market, was to go to the people to whom you would be directing your programs, and record as many songs as possible in their churches or with small existing choirs. This then, was what I set out to do. After having gathered all the equipment such as tape recorders, a good supply of reels of tape, microphones, microphone stands, an audio mixer, a huge bunch of cables, etc., I boarded the plane to Blantyre.
I was met at the airport and heartily welcomed by our Malawian co-workers who took me to their homes in a nondescript vehicle which they had bought earlier on. A variety of food was in short supply, but their wives had saved up some beforehand and did their absolute best, even competed, to treat me as a king. How I appreciated their hospitality and Christian spirit.
As was normal when a White person from a different country would visit an African state, I was coached by our team in the local laws and traditions so as not to get into trouble with the government officials and local people, nor to be an embarrassment to our evangelists during my stay in the country.
There was, for instance, very strict legislation in regard to dress. It was illegal for women to wear see-through clothes, slacks or jeans of any kind, or skirts which showed any part of the knee. When we later on sat waiting in an attorney’s office, I picked out a law book from his shelf and, on paging through it, found the paragraph in this regard, stating that when a lady stood erect, lifting her arms above her head, the hem of her dress was to cover her kneecap. Men were not allowed to have hair below the collar; when men whose hair was too long, arrived in the country, they were given a haircut and ladies had to go to the dressing room and dress “properly” before leaving the airport. When a young man and lady were found sitting alone in a car in a secluded spot, it was suspected that they were doing so for immoral reasons and they were summarily arrested.
Indian people had to watch their step. I was told the story of a certain Indian shopkeeper: an African lady came into his shop wanting to buy material for making a dress. Some of the rolls of material were on the very topmost shelves. She pointed to one after the other and the old man had to go up and down the ladder many times until he eventually got fed up and refused to attend to her any further. On leaving his shop, she reported him to the Government which ordered him out of the country by the next morning.
On the slope of a hillside, I was taken to a grave, complete with a tombstone, and was told that some years before, a huge procession of people was held with a hearse in front carrying a coffin. Within the coffin was said to be the earlier Federation of Central African States, established by the British government in 1953 with Malawi (then called Nyasaland) as one of the member states. This federation was dissolved in 1963/4 but after gaining full independence, the Government decided a funeral was required to formally lay it to rest. And so, as everybody looked on, the coffin was lowered into the grave and covered with soil. That was how the Federation finally became history. Interesting stories. The flipside of the coin was that serious crime was almost unheard of. If a car was stolen in the country, the news hit the headlines of the newspapers.
At that time, there was a tremendous thirst for the Gospel in the country and a visiting evangelist was immediately snatched up to preach at one place after the other, no matter for which purpose he had come to the country. My purpose, of course, was to record as many Gospel songs as possible within the short time I had available and I had no intention of preaching at all, except for holding a few Bible studies for our co-workers. They would however have none of this and arranged for me for one meeting after the other.
Many of these were lunch-hour meetings in government buildings. I would then have to stand in a place where as many as possible people could see me. Once I stood in a passage filled to capacity with listeners in both directions and directly in front of me, two open doors into rooms where scores of people stood, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of me. It actually was most humbling, almost embarrassing for me, such an inexperienced preacher, having to bring the Word of God to such thirsty people.
On that occasion I used the illustration of the country’s legislation on how people were required to dress before being allowed to set foot on its soil as illustration of the spiritual requirements for a human being, wanting to be allowed into heaven after leaving this world. I said that God had His own rules for us to be admitted into his Kingdom. Down here below, our lifestyle might not seem so bad in our own eyes for we all sin in some or other way, but no one can enter into heaven in such an imperfect state. All of us need to be clothed in the spotless robe of the righteousness of Christ. This needs to be done before we “board the plane” that takes us into eternity. At the Blantyre airport we might still be afforded the opportunity of buying and putting on clothes that comply with the country’s legislation, but when we arrive at heaven’s door, there will be no further opportunity to get rid of our soiled garments. By the grace of God this word really touched the hearts of our listeners and I was so sorry that space and time allowed no opportunity for speaking individually to those who wanted to be put right with God. All I could do was to lead them in the sinner’s prayer and trust the Holy Spirit to complete the work in their hearts.
Once the work of drawing up a constitution, having a board meeting for the founding of the Mission in Malawi and fulfilling all the other legal requirements to the satisfaction of the attorney that was to represent us with the Government, had been completed, I could devote all my attention to the recording of Christian songs. The first step was to record a signature tune. The Chichewa people are exceptionally gifted when it comes to music and in the course of one day, they wrote a song, composed music to go with it and set about finding the most gifted singers to get together and practise it. Having done so, we were now ready for the recording.
An ordinary room with a rectangular shape and hard brick surfaces, results in so much unwanted echo, that I preferred to do the recording in a mud walled little room with a thatched roof. There was no electricity and so I had to use my Nakamichi cassette recorder which operated on eight torch batteries. A number of flat stones protruded from the walls in several places. On these we placed candles, for we were doing the recording at night time when the area had quietened down. We recorded the item over and over to make sure that it was as good as possible. Since I was sitting with the recorder in the same room as the choir, it was very difficult to get a proper mix between the different voices and also between the voices and the musical instruments. Furthermore, the recorder could record on two tracks only, so there was no possibility of recording the different instruments and voices each on its own track, and doing a proper mix afterwards in the studio. For this reason, everybody had to keep absolutely quiet after each go, to give me an opportunity to listen to what we had recorded and make sure that it was as good as could be.
It was during one of these pauses, that a grown chicken that had been hiding in the dark in its normal sleeping place under the dining room table, could stand the tension no longer and erupted in a series of cackles and cries at the very top of its voice. The twelve year old son of our host was totally bewildered by this irreverent disturbing of such holy moments, pounced on it, tucked it under his arm, plucked opened the door and ran down the street as fast as his legs could carry him, intending to put as much distance between the stricken chicken and the “recording studio” as quickly as possible, while the deranged bird was cackling at the top of its voice, convinced that doomsday had come upon it. The recording proved to be a great success, was used for many years as part of our Chichewa program and became well known in many a Christian home all over Malawi. I do believe that even in heaven such events are humoured.
We recorded a good collection of usable musical items all over that southern part of Malawi. These were translated into English by our evangelists so that I would be able to understand them and use an appropriate one to go with the messages when compiling the programs. I also recorded a good supply of sermons by the different evangelists and after a very successful visit to Malawi, returned home to my family in South Africa.
BLESS THE LORD THAT DIRECTS THE FOOTSTEPS OF HIS SERVANTS AND CAUSES THEM TO PROSPER IN ALL THAT HE SENDS THEM TO DO.
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