At the onset of the millennium, when it was scientifically and spiritually known that the body of Jesus Christ was suffering from HIV and Aids, the African Church, especially in my Senzani village, chose to look elsewhere and opted for self-righteousness and finger pointing.
When governments and NGOs were doing their bit to confront the pandemic and promote proven methods of fighting HIV, some men of the cross thought it sinful to take to the pulpit and speak of a condom. To them, this was denial of the Gospel. Little did they know, they denied men and women.
I grew up in a Senzani village in Malawi's Central Region district of Ntcheu that had been ravaged by HIV and AIDS. While the Church lived in denial, what these self-absorbed men could see, but not see, was that with the virus, the average church leader’s work in the village had doubled. There were more sick people who needed visits and prayers; there were more grieved relatives who needed not just a visit but encouragement.
Then there were orphans, daily increasing in number and beyond the absorption capacity of their overburdened extended families but needed care, hope, comfort, guidance and love. The village, with help from external support, set-up some day care centres to fill in this role. But it still wasn’t enough.
Besides, there were many desperate widows, grieved by loss and impoverished by the long-term sickness of their fallen husbands and dispossessed by relatives. These needed counselling and tangible support to provide for their children. And the challenge started here.
Soon the village had more grandparents grieved by the death of their children who had to turn back the hands of time and play the role of mother and father, to their orphaned grandchildren. This was a burden many of them took with hope, and worked as hard as they could, even to death.
Amid all this, there were many who were dying across all our 210 villages and needed to be prepared to reconcile with God, die peacefully and be buried with dignity. Our villages were lost in hopelessness, despair and fear, but they needed to see and know God’s unfailing presence during these difficult days. While the Church did all it could to stretch itself, cover every funeral, it ignored the living. The majority who were not infected and who had to be helped to stay safe- it took the Church too long to know this was its role.
It took Churches in my village ages to realise that the pulpit had the potential to transform lives, on earth and for the kingdom to come. Our church, by virtue of being the heartbeat of our villages, a place with close knitted relationship of individuals and families, and their knowledge of every person as God’s own version, and their role as God’s servants, became transformative.
Therefore, much was expected from them. It took them too long to know that the role of the Church was not just that men and women would wonder the earth, die and go to heaven but to ensure that each of their days on earth accounted for something. The Church realised that the fight against HIV and Aids was their fight, because Jesus Christ himself was in pains.
The challenge centred on confronting a village African church. But still, it did see sense.
Cognisant of Christ's attitude towards the suffering and the marginalised as recorded in the Holy Bible and Quran, I believe that faith bodies should learn from what they did during the scourge of HIV and appreciate the need for the new Pregnancy and Abortion bill and the people it stands to serve.
The Malawian Church needs to accept, as the bill says, they hold the largest numbers of women and girls who seek abortions. As such, they must abandon this “holier than thou” attitude and adopt a forthright and compassionate attitude in their engagement with the subject of abortion if they are to remain true to their call as messengers of the Good News to a troubled nation. More than that, the Church should preach behaviour change so that its folk live worthy of the gospel, they confess, so this conversation does not come at all.