April 7, 2005
Mulanje Mission was founded by Scottish missionaries in 1890 to promote the faith and stop slave trade in the area. Since that time, it has undergone many changes to become one of the most vital Mission stations in Blantyre Synod.
In 1887 most of the people in the Mulanje area had been chased there by the Angoni, either from the Zomba region or from Mozambique. There were no permanent settlements, but three tribes headed by chiefs Chikumbu, Chipoka and Nkanda inhabited the region. Life was described as, “uncertain, cruel and short.” So Mr. and Mrs. Henry Henderson from the Blantyre Mission made an exploratory trip to the Mulanje region to inspect sites for a new mission station. Mrs. Henderson was the first white woman ever seen in the area and they were warmly received in the villages. However, there were many problems and it wasn’t until three years later that Dr. Scott finally selected a site and sent Robert Cleland to plant the mission. After three days in May of “tiresome bush bashing,” he reached the area and began building a school. It was operational by July. The villagers in the area welcomed the missionaries, except for Chief Chikumbu who launched an attack on a neighboring village. Fortifications were built.
In November Clelend became ill, and died of Blackwater Fever. Dr. Scott took over his work and tried to bring peace to the area. Forty more acres were added to the mission property. By November of 1891, a house and other buildings were completed. Brick making, bridge building and construction continued despite tribal unrest in the area. During that year the mission had its first baptism and the girls in the mission school were taught sewing and laundry.
In 1895 trouble came when Chief Nkanda and his people attacked a village below the mission killing and wounding many people. They also took hostages. The mission was temporarily shut down until 1897 when Nkanda accepted peace terms offered to him by the Mission. Only the Rev. Harry Kwambiri remained at the station during this period of uncertainty.
Although some thought that the mission would never succeed because of all the problems, by 1904 worship was attracting 200 church worshipers, baptisms were on the increase and 86 villages had been evangelized. There was a great interest in education and by 1905 new schools were opened in four neighboring districts. The Mission station school had 140 students. Things progressed well until World War I. Despite the absence of able bodied men at the mission, the work at Mulanje continued, although the budget was overspent by 10 British pounds. By 1917 Rev. Joseph Kaunda was the Headmaster of the school and more ministers were being ordained.
In the ensuing years, the Mission station grew more and flourished. Today it is known as a “Class A” Mission station because it has a church, a school and a hospital. It also houses Mulanje Presbytery’s headquarters and operates a lukini pala mill.
The Mulanje area is now the most densely populated region of Malawi. The mission schools are bursting at the seams. Over one hundred children are crammed into each classroom. It is known as the best school in the area.
The Mission Hospital also gets very crowded during malaria season. It almost always has a full census of 300, but at times there are patients under and beside each bed. The HIV rate among patients is 80%. The hospital is not like a hospital in the United States. The families of the patients share in the care for their relatives. The hospital has no cafeteria or food service, but buildings are provided where families can cook for the patients and sleep. Parents can often be seen sitting outside the wards with sick children in their laps, enjoying the fresh air, sunshine and beautiful gardens.
Dr. Sue Makin, a full time PC(USA) missionary, specializes in Women’s Health. She performs surgery in the operating theater (the only air conditioned building at the Mission) and delivers babies that, as she says, “don’t want to come out.” She works closely with the Malawian staff, which runs the hospital and she teaches in the nursing school. Not long ago she gave us a tour of the grounds and proudly showed us the new men’s hostel (dormitory) for male nursing students. There is a critical shortage of nurses in Malawi, and so expanding the nursing school is an important step. Her dedication to her work and enthusiasm for it are contagious.
Over the years many people have worked at the Mulanje Mission station. Some have even sacrificed their health and lives for it. Today it is nestled beneath the “island in the Warm Heart of Africa,” Mt. Mulanje, which looms over it. It is located miles off the main road, in a region that is ravaged by sickness and drought. Despite this, it is thriving, although there is always a struggle for funding, equipment and salaries. The decades of hard work have produced a Mission Station which serves as a beacon of hope for the area. It’s rich tapestry of history has woven a blanket which has warmed the bodies and souls of those in need, and will continue to do so.