This last weekend I was privileged to accompany the Namikango Bible team on one of the camp meetings they hosted in Western Malawi. These camp meetings are local events that bring together the churches from an area for a weekend of theological teachings and reflections. Beginning on Friday, the team taught lessons surrounding our theme for the year, “Loving God by Loving your Neighbor.” The classes ranged from stories and parables in the Bible exemplifying this principle, to the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and John exhorting the church to love your neighbor fully. As John says in 1 John 4, you cannot hope to love God if you cannot even love your neighbor.
While the camp meeting was a great, it was located in the hot, desert-like Western part of Malawi. The ground was sandy and the prevailing plant life consisted of dried-out thorn bushes. While temperatures soared during the day, the village we stayed in did not have its own borehole (well). Therefore, the women of the congregation made multiple daily trips to the nearest borehole, a roundtrip distance of 3 miles. Lines of women carrying buckets of water on their heads were a common sight as we taught and reflected throughout the day. Saturday was particularly hot, and we went through the water reserves so quickly that we had to stop the camp meeting so that more water could be drawn from the borehole. What was incredibly striking to me, however, was the engendered roles of work at play in Malawi. Drawing water is a specifically women’s job, so Saturday afternoon when the teachings paused, all the women gathered their buckets, traveled the 3 mile distance in the blazing mid-afternoon sun, and returned to fill the water reserves. These women, undaunted by the amount of physical work they just accomplished, sat back down on the ground and listened and participated in the next lesson. What an incredible testament to the strength of Malawian women, and to the continued gender inequality that women here face every day.
While I feel very happy that I was able to participate in this experience, it was a good reminder of just how much work is left to be done here in Malawi, as we seek to empower women and strengthen churches, all for the glory of God.