Republic of Malawi
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The southern African nation of Malawi is a long narrow country, surrounded by Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, covering an area of 118,000 sq km (45, 745 sq miles). Lake Malawi (formerly Lake Nyasa) covers one-fifth of the area. 500 species of fish support a sizable fishing industry. The population of approximately 10 million people is made up of largely indigenous tribes. Among the earliest thought to inhabit the area were the Boskopoid people. The Bantu migrated into the area and eventually gained sufficient enough numbers to become the dominant people. In the nineteenth century the Yao from Mozambique began migrating into Malawi. South African Zulus also began moving into the region, overtaking the local tribes. Among the earliest European explorers were the Portuguese, preceding the British. Colonization by the British led to a protectorate under the name of Nyasaland, in 1907. Though the British had suppressed Arab slave trade in the area in the 1880s, later British expansion efforts provoked resistance among the people. Eventually the British joined Nyasaland with the Rhodesias and as a result Malawi declared independence in 1964. Dr. Hastings Banda became President and eventually dictator. His removal led to Malawi’s first multi-party elections in 1994. Today the Republic is ruled by a single legislative body known as the National Assembly.
In addition to fishing on Lake Malawi agriculture accounts for almost 80% of the economic base of Malawi and for 90% of the exports, including peanuts, sugarcane, tea and tobacco. Deforestation is increasingly a problem in Malawi as the country relies on fuel wood and charcoal for the overwhelming majority of its energy. Foreign aid heavily supports the economy as the gross national product per capita for Malawi is less than US $200.
A number of Scottish missionaries made their way to Malawi after David Livingstone traveled there in the 1850s. Despite early resistance from the indigenous people, the devastating effects of malaria and great sacrifice on the part of the missionaries, converts to Christianity were made. Today Christianity accounts for 75% of the population (55% Protestant and 20% Roman Catholic). Muslims make up 20% of the population while indigenous religions account for only 5% of the people.
The presence of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Malawi dates back almost a century and is a story of unusual complexity. The earliest work of the Movement in Malawi came through indigenous sources rather than the result of missionaries in country. According to Mac Lynn’s Churches of Christ around the World, Elaton Kundago was a Malawian in South Africa who was converted in 1906. Upon returning to his home in Zomba he shared the gospel with three men: George Masangano, Frederick Khonde (sometimes Nkhonde) and Ronald Kaunda.
At about the same time that Kundago returned to Malawi Joseph Booth, an inter-denominational missionary made an appeal to the British Churches of Christ to send missionaries. When no immediate response came he turned to British Churches of Christ missionaries working in South Africa, who sent George Hubert Hollis and George Hills, veterans of the Boer War, in about 1907 or 1908, to inspect the prospects. Tom Anderson, British missionary in Buluwayo reported the prospects back to the Foreign Missions Committee and the Annual Meeting of 1909 authorized the F.M.C. to take charge of the work. George Hollis became the first missionary, followed by Mary Bannister in 1912 and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Philpott in 1913. A mission station was established in Namiwawa, near Zomba, apparently working with the converts of Elaton Kundago. In 1915 there was a political uprising in which some members of the Namiwawa Mission were implicated. As a result Hollis was deported, the other missionaries were interned. The work of the Churches of Christ was banned and the remaining missionaries withdrew. The British Colonial Secretary then refused to permit missionaries to resume their work for the duration of the Great War and could not guarantee permission would be granted after the close of the War. Masangano, Khonde and Kaunda were imprisoned for not reporting knowledge of the uprising. Though imprisoned for seven years these three men were able to lead some work. Malawian Christians met secretly and baptized at night.
By 1924 the church was granted legal operations once again. Mary Bannister returned to the work in about 1927. In 1930 the former Baptist Industrial Mission, in the Gowa District, was taken over. About that time two other couples, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Gray and Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Georgeson, were sent by the British Churches of Christ. Later, a third couple, Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Gregory, joined the work and Mary Bannister retired in 1935. Ernest Gray had completed the theological course at Birmingham’s Overdale College and is said to have espoused more liberal views, particularly on the communion question, than those held by Masangano, Khonde and Kaunda, causing the latter to break away in 1931. Masangano’s group gained recognition from the government as the “Church of God.” Following the divorce of Masangano and his wife one of his followers, John Malembo, broke away from the Church of God and formed a group known as the “Sons of God.” Frederick Khonde and Ronald Kaundo, in leaving behind Gray’s “more liberal” views, established a group known as the “African Church of Christ.” All three groups seceding from the work of the British continue to exist in Malawi today.
Mary Bannister retired from service in 1935 because of increasing deafness; she died in 1940. It was because of her great persistence, faith and courage that the mission was able to survive the turmoil of the early years. She never gave up, even when the work at Namiwawa was in ruins. Ernest and Louie Gray retired in 1956 after more than twenty-five years in Malawi. By that time the mission had grown to include thirty-four congregations and about 4,200 members. Gray had been involved with the Nyasaland Christian Council since its inception and as such laid the basis for friendly relations with the Anglican and Presbyterian missions. When Nyasaland gained independence in 1964 and became Malawi, the mission became known officially as the Churches of Christ in Malawi. After twenty-two years of missionary service in Malwai Eddie Terry retired and returned home to England in 1968. Two years later Victor and Nellie Smith, veteran missionaries of twenty years, went home on furlough. These two events signaled the complete transfer of leadership of the churches to the Africans. With the Smith’s 1977 retirement no further missionaries were sent from the British churches to Malawi.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s the Churches of Christ in Malawi participated in church union talks with the Anglicans and Presbyterians, a relationship established by Ernest Gray years before. Though no formal union came about all three churches continue to work together in the Malawi Council of Churches.
Today the Churches of Christ in Malawi (CCM) have approximately 50,000 members in 61 congregations. The Gowa Mission is yet a thriving station with a clinic, two schools, vocational training projects a farm and a substantial congregation. In the year 2000 the headquarters of the Churches of Christ were moved from Gowa to Liliongwe (the capital city). This move was done with the assistance of the Council for World Mission of which the CCM is a member. Also a member of the Council for World Mission is the United Reformed Church of the UK with whom the Re-formed Association of the British Churches of Christ united in 1981 thus continuing the historic partnership begun decades earlier. The spirit of the Gowa Mission lives on in the new offices in Liliongwe as it bears the name Gowa House. Providing valuable income to the Church much of Gowa House is also let out to Government departments. This income is used to support the Churches of Christ in Malawi’s mission enterprises.
The earliest work in Malawi by an American of the a cappella Churches of Christ tradition is said to have been a Mr. Phillips who went to Malawi to work withthe African Church of Christ. In 1952 Paul Nichols also went to Malawi to work with the African Church of Christ but as he was of the “one-cup” stream of the a cappella Churches of Christ (distinguished by one vessel used in the Lord’s Supper and no separate Bible classes) he determined that he could not work with the African Church of Christ. Together with E.C. Severe they started a separate mission at Wendewende in southern Malawi. Returning to the U.S. Nichols enlisted the help Gayland Osborne. In the next few years more than a half dozen other missionaries joined the work, expanding it to Blantyre and beyond. At present over 400 one-cup Church of Christ congregations exist in Malawi.
The Lubagha Mission in Rumphi, in the Northern Region, was established in 1957 by Andrew Connally, James D. Judd, and Doyle D. Gilliam. These missionaries represented the “class” stream of the American a cappella Churches of Christ, distinguished by the use of separate Bible classes in the local congregation. As the work of these missionaries grew additional Americans came to aid the work, which now numbers over 125 congregations in the Northern Region. In 1958 only a few congregations existed in the Central Region so Doyle Gilliam relocated from Rumphi to Lilongwe to strengthen the work there. Joined four years later by F.P. Higginbotham the work has grown to the point where there are presently congregations in every district and a total of about 125 congregations in the Central Region. This work has been aided by a Bible school for training church workers established in 1967 at Mponela. The Southern Region of Malawi also saw the work of “class” missionaries from 1963 through 1973. Missionaries working from Blantyre included Gilliam, Higginbotham, Judd and others.
“Non-Class” a cappella Churches of Christ, distinguished by the absence of separate Bible classes and in some cases a located preacher, also have a strong presence in Malawi. An appeal for missionaries for Malawi was made, the result of correspondence between Malawian Garnett Limani of the Church of God and American G.B. Shelburne, Jr. Investigating the appeal C.B. Head made a visit in 1958. Roland Hayes (1961-1964) and G.B. Shelburne III (1961-1980) answered the appeal and went to Namikango. Garnett Limani had been working with about 15 congregations in 1961 in the Naminkango area. With the arrival of the initial missionaries a Bible School was begun and relief efforts put underway. The mission station grew with the arrival of additional missionaries, including Lendal Wilks, Kelvin Wilks, Wade Alpin and James P. Albright (1980-2003). The station also grew when it was able to attract other existing churches into fellowship, including about 25 Churches of God led by George Musangano. By 1989 the non-class congregations numbered 800 in the Southern Region with an approximate membership of 50,000 served by 1,800 indigenous preachers. In 1993 over 6,000 baptisms were reported. It is reported that the “class” and “non-class” traditions work very well together on a cooperative basis. In 1997 there were an estimated 75,000 members of a cappella Churches of Christ.
An indigenous work related to the a cappella Churches of Christ was begun when Oman Magaso of Nasanje became acquainted with the Movement after an issue of Church Growth came into his possession and he began to correspond with editor, Clayton Pepper. Inspired by his new understanding of the Gospel Magaso began sharing the Good News throughout scattered villages and soon assembled small groups, baptizing nearly four hundred. He eventually established sixteen congregations. As a result Clayton Pepper assembled a team to go to Malawi to strengthen the work of this zealous native worker. Several other American missionaries have worked in Malawi under the sponsorship of many American congregations.
International Churches of Christ have a church in Blantyre.
American Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ have also had a presence in Malawi since the mid-1970s. At present the World Convention’s information regarding the missionary efforts of this stream of the Movement is insufficient to give an accurate overview. Among the missionaries who have served in Malawi are Jeff and Karen Kennedy of the Kennedy Mission and Jeff and Dawn Yates of Malawi Christian Mission, all of whom served in Blantyre in the late 1990s. MCM was assisted in its relief efforts by the International Disaster Emergency Services of Kempton, Indiana to distribute food in drought and famine stricken areas. In April of 1996 the Christian Churches of Malawi held a National Conference in Blantyre with more than 600 people registered. The registrants represented more than 150 churches in eight districts and included 75 evangelists. The unity theme for the Convention was “Amodzi” which in Chichewa means Oneness or Togetherness. Among the presenters for the Convention was James P. (Jim) Albright of the a cappella Churches of Christ.
The Christian Churches in Malawi are reported to be very strong and becoming more so each year. When the Yates Family went to Malawi they worked toward a goal of church independence. Upon returning to the United States two years later they were confident that the work would continue, becoming fully nationalized. Returning on a short term trip in 1998 they found this largely to be the case with the churches and leaders in Malawi operating independent of any missionary.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway, August 2, 2016
For further historical reference:
Let Sects and Parties Fall, David Thompson, Berean Press, Birmingham, England, 1980.
History of the British Churches of Christ, A.C. Watters, Butler School of Religion, Indianapolis, IN, 1948.
Churches of Christ in Malawi
Private Bag B328
Liliongwe 3, Malawi
See national church office above
For online directories of the a cappella Churches of Christ see:
Sunset International Bible Institute has associate schools in Karonga, Dedse, and Mzimba.
See the Churches of Christ in Malawi office in Liliongwe.
James P. (Jim) Albright of the a cappella Churches of Christ gave copious amounts of labor towards developing a Chichewa Concordance. For more information contact him at:
5421 W. Airport Road
Stillwater, OK 74075
Telephone: (405) 624-9995
Former Christian Churches and Churches of Christ missionaries in Malawi, Tim and Dawn Yates
Jimmy Judd, pioneering missionary to Africa, dies at 85, Christian Chronicle Blog