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Assignment Africa: Teaching the Bible in Hospital Wards

27 June 2024

TWR writer John Lundy shares his experiences from the TWR Southern Africa Partners Conference.

I love Africa, and Zimbabwe has a special place in my heart. So I was especially pleased to know that TWR Zimbabwe would be represented at the Southern Africa Partners Conference this week in Malawi.

Melindah Kajilima did not disappoint.

Melindah’s title is misleading. Technically, she’s the programme assistant for TWR Zimbabwe. That was her title in 2021, when the director died. That left Melindah as the entire staff. She has carried on alone most of the time since then, finally being able to hire a part-time assistant last August.

Some of TWR’s Africa partners have large operations and big staffs. Others, including Zimbabwe, operate on a shoestring. But all are involved in the same mission of bringing the nations to Christ through mass media so that lasting fruit is produced and even the smallest have an outsized impact, some in surprising ways.

Which brings us to Karanda Mission Hospital.

Presentation Rekindles Fond Memories

My first visit to Africa, nine years ago, was spent almost entirely in Zimbabwe and the highlight was Karanda. People waited outside in long lines to be seen, none showing signs of impatience, the small staff had limited resources but high standards. The technology might not have been top of the line, but the care was.

The hospital itself is located about 124 miles, from the capital city of Harare, accessible by rock-strewn dirt roads. Since it was the dry season, we were able to drive through a river on the near side of Karanda, greatly shortening our journey.

It’s not easy to get to, yet for many across Zimbabwe, including the capital city, Karanda is the place to go for medical care.

“Most people try hard to go to Karanda Hospital for sickness,” Melindah told us in her Malawi presentation. “One, because they are certainly better compared with the government or secular [hospitals]. And also because they are … more affordable.”

And Karanda has something I’ll bet the hospital you go to doesn’t have: a Christian radio station. This is where TWR Zimbabwe comes in, leading to a partnership between two agencies with different methods but a mutual desire to bring the nations to Christ.

Karanda is operated by The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM). My visit to Zimbabwe nine years ago was on a vision trip with TEAM, long before I became part of the TWR family.

The Bible teachings have been offered on an in-hospital radio station since early 2020. Karanda had asked TWR Zimbabwe if it could provide radio programming. The answer was yes: TWR Zimbabwe had Thru the Bible recorded in the Shona language, which is spoken by 70% of Zimbabweans.

“They wired all the main rooms, in the waiting areas, the wards for those who are admitted,” said Victor Kaonga, TWR international director for East and Southern Africa, after Melindah’s presentation Wednesday at the Malawi conference. “They have no choice but to listen to the Word of God.”

That was reflected in a patient testimony Melindah shared.

“I used not to listen to, let alone read, the Word of God,” the former patient texted. “I never had time to listen to the Word because I considered myself to be too busy. When I arrived at Karanda and was admitted, I had no choice but to listen to the Word. Every time the Word is taught, I receive great teachings and I pray to God that I may be able to follow them.”

The programme is broadcast three times a week and carried over 32 strategically placed speakers, Melindah said. If you don’t see them at first, you can tell where they are. “When people visit the hospital, that’s where they stand.”

Please pray for Zimbabwe, for Karanda Mission Hospital and for Melindah and the work of TWR Zimbabwe. They face a shortage of sponsored programmes, a weak financial base, an acute staff shortage and electricity shortages, she said.

Meeting More Listeners in Malawi

Presentations were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon that I really wanted to hear. But just as we completed some lunchtime interviews for TWR Africa, I learned of a change of plans: two more listeners were available to tell their stories.

So it was off in the TWR Malawi van in the company of Dumisani Prince Tembo, TWR Malawi’s all-everything man and two other staff members through heavy traffic over roads that are works in progress. Along the way, a number of roadside car washes caught my attention, their technology consisting of buckets, water, soap and wiping cloths. This seemed like an optimistic business model in a place that is so dusty, but later I noticed a number of gleaming cars lined up as the car-wash workers were finishing their jobs.

As we drove along, I noticed goats attempting to enter stores to forage. They could be tomorrow’s supper: I’ve had goat meat a couple of times here. I’m told it can be tough if not prepared properly, but what I ate was tender and tasty. What did it taste like? Goat.

Eventually, we stopped along the road near a shanty that proclaimed itself a family restaurant. We waited for our first listener of the day, Blessing Kamtambe. She arrived on foot, wearing an immaculately clean flowered dress and white sweater. We drove on to TWR Malawi headquarters, where Dumisani set up an outdoor interview site.

Blessing, 53, was a Jesus follower before she discovered TWR, but it has become a huge part of her life. When she’s not at her hospital job, she listens to it in her native Chichewa language from first thing in the morning until night. As she encountered TWR Malawi staff at the headquarters, she recited some of her favourite lines.

She’s a joyous woman and, yes, everything about her matches her first name.

Then it was off to African Bible College, where we set up in a lovely garden and interviewed Maxwell Sainet, a fourth-year student who also listens to programmes in Chichewa. In his home district, he listened on the radio but now he listens online.

Wearing a suit for the occasion and speaking precise English, Maxwell shared that he became a born-again Christian when he was a child and was soon introduced to TWR programmes by an uncle. “For my spiritual life to grow, it took these programmes,” he said.

Today (Thursday), among other things, we expect to briefly visit with a listener group that started with a pastor connecting with people he knew and has grown to about 30. What a joy it is to see what God is doing through TWR across southern Africa, and I’ve shared only a tiny bit of what I’ve learned.