Malawi before Christian Missionaries

I am working on a new edition of a book entitled, William Murray of Nyasaland which should be released in a couple of months or so, Lord willing.  The book is centered on the Rev. Dr. William Murray of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa who went to Malawi as a missionary in the late 1800’s.  It’s an interesting read.  One of the most remarkable things in the book is the transformation which the gospel has brought to Malawian life and culture.  It’s quite powerful to see how far we have come as a people because of the gospel.  I share with you this long excerpt from the book.

This was what life was like in Malawi before the arrival of the missionaries as reported by the then Evangelist Namoni Katengeza who became the first ordained minister in the Nkhoma Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (C.C.A.P.):

Maji_majiThe state of affairs was terrible because the Native chiefs were like roaring lions, – I mean the Angoni chiefs who had conquered the inhabitants of this country.  They thought no more of killing people than one would think of killing a fowl and had no idea of the value of a man’s life, such as the Word of God teaches.  The Angoni had conquered the Achewa of this country and looked upon them as slaves without any value.  They showed them no mercy and if a man hated another and wanted him out of the way, he would accuse him of some crime before the headman, even if it was not true.  It was useless for the accused to deny the accusation, – the headman simply had him put to death.  If someone should accuse a man of being a mfiti, that is a sorcerer who eats human flesh, or of being a thief, then a small army, or “war” as they called it, was sent by the headman to seize all in that kraal, men, women and children, and to bring them back as prisoners, – not a soul might escape.  Every man was killed and the women and children were sold as slaves.  If a man had a wife with a pretty or attractive face, the Ngoni-chief would say: “It is not fitting for a slave to have such a pretty wife” and he would take her for himself.  Her husband would be killed so that he might not find a way of recovering her or of poisoning the chief.  Or suppose the headman had married a wife from a far-away kraal.  If she visited her own kraal too frequently or stayed away too long, the headman would say:  “She is insulting me” and he would send for her and her mother and would put them both to death.  All such victims were done to death with assegais. 
A Ngoni warriorBut the Angoni-headmen had another custom, namely that of the poison-cup, – Mwabvi.  The chief would say:  “I want to clear my country of mfiti and thieves and adulterers,” and would send for a mwabvi-doctor and his poison bag.  Messengers would then be sent to all the kraals to summon his people to his headkraal to drink the poison-cup.  Everyone had to be there on an appointed day and those who refused or fled were put to death unless they had a  lawful reason for not coming. All present had to drink the poison-cup and if large numbers of them died, the chief and his indunas rejoiced and said that the country had now been cleansed of all its evil inhabitants.  If parents were among those who died of the poison, the headman would give their children to the witchdoctor as payment.  Those who escaped death by being able to vomit the poison were very happy because they could say:  “We are good people who have not practised sorcery or done any other evil.”
Another means of testing people was boiling water.  If a woman was accused of adultery and was ordered to appear before the headman and she denied the accusation, he would say:  “Come back to-morrow morning early and we shall see if you are innocent.” On her return the following day, he would order a pot of water to be put on the fire and as soon as the water was very hot, she had to thrust her hand deep down in it.  Should her hand show traces of burns the next day, she would be judged guilty and the man who had shared her sin would be brought and the two be put to death without mercy, as the tribe believed that if such people were allowed to live they would be the cause of an epidemic of small-pox or some other evil.
These Angoni customs resulted in the depopulation of the country and to-day there are many people who have lost their families and friends because of it.
To obtain clothing was also a reason for going to war.  The first prisoner taken, – woman or child – belonged to the headman, but if more than one was taken, the headman would allow their captor to keep the others so that he could buy clothes for his wife and children.  The Angoni looked upon captives as the money with which they could buy clothes, and the Arab slave-traders, who were the merchants of that time, bought these prisoners as slaves and carried them off to far distant countries.  The currency in which they paid the Angoni for their slaves was clothing. 
Such were the dreadful things in this country which were causing the extermination of the people before the Word of God was brought to them.
koyi-ngonichiefWhy did the first missionaries encounter such terrific opposition?  Because they wanted to put a stop to these wars and raids and opposed the poison-cup and the ordeal of boiling water.  They told the headmen:  “You must stop making war on each other because you are destroying your own nation.  See how empty of inhabitants your own country has become!”
The result was that the Angoni headmen were bent on killing these messengers of God because they forbad these evil deeds and opposed them.  But the Lord softened the hearts of some of the headmen who had influence, and not only they but also their great chief, CHIWERE, became the friend of the messengers of the Lord and did not betray them. (These extracts are taken from a missionary magazine, Die Koningsbode, Feb., 1931).

Look out for the book coming out in a couple of months.  God bless!

What Most Malawians Don’t Know About Scotland

David Livingstone
It is a given fact that most Malawians are fully aware of the wonderful spiritual heritage that Malawi has received from Scotland through Dr. David Livingstone who was the first missionary to come to Malawi.  Later, through his efforts and appeals to Christians back in Scotland, many of them (especially college students), followed his steps to Africa where they laid their lives down for the Lord, His Gospel and His people in Malawi.  As a Malawian I am humbled by this and I give praise, glory and honor for such men as David Livingstone and his colleagues for their passion and commitment to see the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ spread to my home country.  Through their sacrifices people like me have received and are now experience salvation from sin and its eternal consequences and have come to know Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives.  To Him be all the praise, glory and honor now and forevermore!  Amen!

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How the LORD Used My Time in Malawi to Bring Me Back To Himself – A Testimony from John Campbell

Yesterday, after our morning worship service, I had the wonderful privilege of talking with John Campbell who is visiting some relatives in town who happen to be members of the congregation that I serve here in New Westminster, British Columbia.  As we talked, he shared with me how the LORD used his time in Malawi in the early 70’s to bring him back to Himself.  John lived in Malawi for two years and worked as an engineer with a Canadian volunteer organization.  Little did he know that the LORD would use his time in Malawi to bring open His heart to the gospel.

I asked John if he would share this wonderful story of God’s redemption in his life with us on camera and he kindly agreed to do so.  Thank you John!

A number of things resonated with me as John and I talked after the morning service.  These are the things that made me think that this story ought to be shared with a broader audience:

1.  How wonderful and amazing is the LORD in His ways – especially with regards to the salvation of sinners and the forgiveness which He offers through Jesus Christ (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36).

2.  The way John talked about Christ as a Friend – a real personal and trusted Friend who is always with him everywhere he goes.

3.  John also said something that resonated with me when I asked him about his hope of glory.  Without missing a beat and with a smile on his face, he said, “I can’t wait to get there!”  He goes on in the video to explain what he means by that, “I certainly don’t fear death…”  How wonderful!

4.  Finally, he shared his concern for Canada which has become so secular and very much against Christianity.  He expressed a strong and passionate desire to see the people of Canada who have turned their backs against the LORD being brought back to Him.  Canada is a wide open mission field indeed and we definitely need help here!

I hope that you will watch the video yourself and get a glimpse of what John and I shared today.  Please pray for us as we continue serving the LORD here!

For more information on this or anything else that might be of interest to you, please contact me at: or visit our website at:  God bless you!

‘Why I want the right to die’ in Scotland

I was greatly shocked when my wife shared this article with me this afternoon.  Al Jazeera published this article on their website.  I encourage you to read it here.  Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Margo MacDonald has launched a fresh attempt to give terminally ill people in Scotland the right to choose when to die – which in my mind is outrageous and grossly immoral, cruel and careless.  It totally degrades the intrinsic value of human life as given by God the Almighty, who is our Creator (Genesis 1:27) and the Creator of heavens and earth!  This “End of Life Assistance” Bill sets out that anyone over the age of 16 could request assistance to die if that person was diagnosed as terminally ill and that he/she finds life unbearable.  Ms. MacDonald tried to get this bill passed in December 2010 but it was defeated.  According to the Huffington Post (UK), “A series of scrutiny sessions were held at the Scottish Parliament, taking in evidence from doctors in countries where forms of assisted suicide are permitted.”

I find Ms. MacDonald’s arguments flawed and unconvincing – but that’s not all that disturbs me.  The bill that she is pushing is in direct violation of the Sixth Commandment:  “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).  This bill seeks to give man the legal freedom to take one’s life or that of another with impunity.

Here are some quotes from the article:

Assisted Suicide (“Mercy Killing”) – currently banned by law in Scotland & the UK:

In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, it is currently a crime to help someone end his or her own life. A doctor who injects a patient with lethal drugs in order to kill them could be prosecuted for culpable homicide or even murder.

Margo MacDonald wants that legal ban repealed:

“If it came to the worst and I was faced with a very bitter and protracted end, I should have the right to ask for help to end my life earlier than nature intended,” Macdonald told Al Jazeera.

She added: “I would like the insurance policy of knowing that if it gets near, and I would like to shorten it, I would not be putting my family at risk. It is not about pain, it is about making sure you are still yourself.”

Margo wants autonomy not dignity – She has a warped view of “dignity” according to what she says here:

She told Al Jazeera that the same debate is going on all over the world and if her bill is passed: “Scotland would be seen as a place where humanity, above all, and individual autonomy is respected. This legislation is really about the right of a person to see their life through and keep their dignity to the very end.”

Some church leaders are fighting against this:

When this issue was last debated, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, told a special Mass for Healthcare workers: “Laws need to be objective in their statement of principle. It is wrong in principle for someone to take their own life; it is wrong in principle for someone to help them to do so.”

Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, told Al Jazeera: “Nothing has changed. Deliberate killing, even when assisting someone who is in a state of despair, is always wrong.”

Many doctors are concerned:

Many doctors are also concerned that legalizing assisted suicide could lead to frail or elderly people being coerced into taking their lives.

My Thoughts:

I hope that this bill is defeated once again in the Scottish Parliament.  I also hope and pray that Christians in Scotland and around the world will continue to speak out against this and similar violations of God’s law and order for His people.  From a human stand-point, Ms. MacDonald seems “unstoppable.”  She probably thinks so.  She is quoted as saying:

Since the defeat of my original proposal in December 2010, the volume of correspondence I’ve received on the matter, coupled with the continuing public interest, stimulated in part by some high-profile statements in favour of the general principle of assisted suicide, indicates to me a consistent level of support for individuals suffering a terminal illness or condition, for whom life becomes intolerable, to have the legal right to request help to end their life before nature decrees.

But those of us who believe in the Sovereign LORD who rules over the universe, know that the LORD is ultimately in control and that He has the power to stop this and all ills that have plagued Scotland and the world (see Proverbs 21:1).

Why Am I So Concerned for Scotland?

Just for the same reasons that I would be concerned if this was happening in any other country primarily because it goes against the will – it goes against the Law of God clearly stated in Scripture.  That’s the main reason why this disturbs me.  But there is more:

As one who has not in the least sense benefited from what the Lord has done through Scotland over the years, I cringe when I read this kind of stuff about Scotland or coming out of Scotland.  I feel a special affinity to Scotland for various reasons.  Let me mention three:

1.  The first missionary to bring the gospel to my home country (Malawi) was Scottish.  His name was Dr. David Livingstone.  Malawi is replete with monuments in honor of Dr. Livingstone and his work there – not the least of which is Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital which was named after Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland where Dr. Livingstone was born.  I had the privilege of visiting Blantyre (Scotland) a few years ago and saw the house in which Dr. Livingstone was born and raised.  This house is now the home of the David Livingstone Center.

2.  As a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian and church minister, I owe a lot of that to what the Lord has done through Scottish men like John KnoxSamuel RutherfordRobert Murray McCheyne, Professor John Murray, from centuries gone by (just to name a few) – but also from contemporary theologians and preachers like Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. Alistair Begg, etc.

3.  I am now a gospel minister with a denomination that is rooted in Scotland, the Associated Presbyterians Church (APC) – and I feel for so many of my dear brothers and sisters in Scotland as I consider all the challenges and the spiritual battles that they face in their pursuit of Christ, His will and purposes.  I am concerned and this moves me to pray more fervently for the work of the gospel across Scotland and the UK.

Let’s Pray for Scotland, the UK and the World

Prayer is ultimately the answer – and our sure hope.  “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Please join me in praying that God’s will may triumph over evil and that Scotland may be turned back to the Lord.  He has done it before, He can do it again.  Even though it seems like a dark cloud is hanging over Scotland and much of the western world, the LORD God can change that.  May the Light of Christ once again shine in Scotland even from the “farthest” corners of the world (like Malawi and such places where the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is now flourishing).  Perhaps it’s time to send missionaries back to Scotland!  Our God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we can ever ask or imagine according to His power which is at work in us (see Ephesians 3:20-21).

Mining For Gold: What I Have Learned From Reading Christian Biographies

It was Dr. David Martyn Lloyd Jones who said:  “Nothing is more profitable, after the reading of the Bible itself and books that help us to understand it, than the reading of biography or autobiography of a great Christian man (or woman)” – parenthesis added.  There is certainly great wisdom in that because it is Scriptural.  Hebrews 13:7 tells us:  “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” 

I commend to you the following essay entitled, “Mining For God:  What I Have Learned From Reading Christian Biographies” by Steven J. Cole.

Here is a brief summary of the essay.  Cole writes:

It’s a gold mine available to all but mined by few.  The pressures of our fast-lane lives crowd out the time for settling down with the greats of the past.  What can they teach me about problems I face?  Plenty!  I’ve found that the mine is rich and worth the effort many times over.

Then he goes on to talk of four specific ways that reading Christian biographies has helped him.  I will just give you the points and some excerpts of what Cole himself says:

HERITAGE:  Christian biographies give me a sense of my place in the Christian drama

Reading Christian biographies has helped me appreciate my spiritual roots.  It helps me put our times and my particular circumstances in perspective.  It makes me realize that I am carrying the torch handed to me by those who went before, and that I must hand it off intact to those who come after me.

MODELING:  Christian biographies give me great examples to follow

We learn by watching models who “flesh out” Christian principles in their daily lives.  When I was younger in the faith, I wanted someone to disciple me.  I tried several different men, but it never seemed to work out the way I had hoped.  But in a very real sense, I have been discipled by some of the greatest Christians who have ever lived, by reading their biographies.

SPIRITUALITY AND DOCTRINE:  Christian biographies give me theological perspective and balance

We are all limited by the fact that we are creatures of our time and culture.  We tend to view issues from the grid we almost unconsciously absorb from the theological and social climate in which we come to Christ and begin to grow.  It’s as if we’re born in the forest and start walking, not quite sure where all the various trails come from or lead to.  Reading Christian biographies is like climbing a high mountain so that you can get a feel for the lay of the land.

HUMANITY:  Christian biographies give me an understanding of people and myself

If you read more honest biographies…, you will discover that God has used some very rough instruments.  You find that the great strengths of some of the giants were also the flip side of great weaknesses and blind spots.  Men and women who were unswerving in their commitment to Christ were sometimes stubborn and ran roughshod over people.  And yet God used them greatly!…

…God did significant things with these imperfect men and women.  Thousands of lives have been changed.  In some cases, the history of nations and of western civilization has been altered through these godly, yet very human, instruments.  Maybe there’s hope that God can use even me!

I highly commend this essay to you.  But much more so, I commend all the good Christian biographies out there to you.  Read them and learn from them.  Let God inspire, challenge and teach you through them.  May you see the amazing grace of God working through imperfect and ordinary people to do great and extraordinary things to His glory and the blessing of His people among the nations!  One of my seminary professors, Dr. Hywel Jones used to say, “God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.”  However “crooked,” God can use us if we are willing to be used by Him.  That’s a valuable lesson and encouragement that you will most certainly glean from reading Christian biographies!

Growth Without Depth?

The Lord in His providence is pleased to send His messengers into the world at various times to accomplish specific tasks which He sovereignly assigns to them for His own purposes and for His glory.  Some are sent to break the ground and thus “prepare the way” for the gospel.  Some are sent to sow the “Seed” of His Word while others are sent to water the Seed.  Some are sent as harvesters to reap what others have sown.  The One Common Denominator in all of these various callings is of course, the Lord God.  He is the Only One who “gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7).

It is indisputable that men such as Dr. David Livingstone were called by God to do the hard work of breaking the ground and preparing the hearts of many unconverted Africans for the “Seed” of the gospel.  They no doubt did this work by faith trusting that the Lord would one day be pleased to give the increase.  There is no proper record of how many people came to saving faith as a direct result of Dr. Livingstone’s ministry.  But one thing is sure – millions of African Christians can trace their spiritual birth to this man.  For generations now, Africans have been converted to the Christian faith in their masses in an unprecedented fashion.  A cursory look at the church in Malawi bears clear testimony to Dr. Livingstone’s words:

“Our work and its fruits are cumulative.  We work towards another state of things.  Future missionaries will be rewarded by conversions for every sermon.  We are their pioneers and helpers.  Let them not forget the watchmen of the night, we who worked when all was gloom and no evidence of success in the way of conversion cheered our path.  They will doubtless have more light than we, but we served our Master earnestly and proclaimed the same gospel as they will do.” – David Livingstone

There were no indigenous Christians when Livingstone first arrived in Malawi in 1859.  Today, Malawi registers 11,925,756 Christians with a 3% annual growth rate.  This number indicates that 76% of the population of Malawi is Christian (see Operation World, 7thEdition, p.552).  Certainly, this is a remarkable growth and praise be to the Lord for He alone can save sinners!

However, this growth seems devoid of real depth in the lives of many Christians.  When asked to describe the church in our day, one of the leading evangelical leaders described it in three words, “growth without depth.”  Such is the sad description of the church today.  It is something with which every serious Christian must be concerned especially those who have been called to minister the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Looking at the current landscape of the church in Malawi, one hardly sees any depth accompanying this growth.  Much of what is seen is evangelism without discipleship.  While many of our churches are full on Sundays, it is shocking to note that only a handful of these people have a deep and firm grasp of the Christian faith and doctrine.  This problem is compounded by the fact that this is also true among a good number of clergymen not in many of the evangelical churches in Malawi.

There is therefore a great burden laid upon the shoulders of the church and all ministers of the gospel in Malawi and around the world today.  First, the church needs to make sure that its ministers are receiving adequate theological education from Christ-centered institutions which take the Word of God seriously.  Secondly, for the ministers, they need to strive under God to help their congregations grow not only in numbers but especially in depth.  The Lord expects all Christians to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18); and that beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, they might be “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  This, the Bible says ultimately comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  May all those who have been called to be ministers of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, pray and preach for growth with depth to the glory of God!