A Milestone in Malawi—1,000 Kingdom Halls!
“I NEVER thought it would be possible in Malawi,” exclaimed Augustine. He was referring to the construction of large numbers of Kingdom Halls, as Jehovah’s Witnesses call their places of worship. In 1993, the then 30,000 Witnesses in Malawi, a small country in southeastern Africa, had no suitable places in which to worship and study the Bible.
Now, however, the situation is very different. In Blantyre in September 2010, the Witnesses in Malawi completed their thousandth Kingdom Hall! * Why did the Witnesses grow to 30,000 before they started to build places for worship? And once they started, how were they able to erect 1,000 halls in a relatively short period in a land with limited resources? Finally, what effect has this amazing construction program had on the Witnesses and their neighbors?
In the early 1900’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as Bible Students, began teaching Bible truth in Malawi. By 1967, the number of Witnesses had grown to about 17,000. Like first-century Christians, they were known for being law-abiding and respectful of government officials. Also like the early Christians, they remained resolutely neutral with regard to political affairs.—John 18:36; Acts 5:29.
Sadly, by the mid-1960’s, their Bible-based stand had brought the Witnesses into conflict with the government, and in 1967, they were banned. Before long, many were arbitrarily dismissed from their places of employment, and lawless elements confiscated or destroyed their properties. Because of intense persecution and the fear of possible genocide, thousands of Witnesses fled to neighboring Mozambique and Zambia.
Eventually, though, things began to improve for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi, most of whom were repatriated by the early 1990’s. How they rejoiced when on August 12, 1993, the 26-year-long ban on their activity was lifted! However, they faced a new dilemma. Numbering more than 30,000 in 583 congregations, they had no suitable places to meet for worship! What should they do?
Love in Action!
For the first six years after the ban, local Witnesses did commendable work building Kingdom Halls with their limited finances. But it was not an easy task because the annual increase in Witnesses outpaced the growth in the number of halls. The solution? The application of the Bible principle found at 2 Corinthians 8:14. “By means of an equalizing,” the financial surplus in other countries “offset [the] deficiency” in lands such as Malawi. To that end, in 1999 the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses introduced a special program to help build places of worship in lands with limited resources. With this loving assistance, the Witnesses in Malawi greatly accelerated their Kingdom Hall construction program. *
Previously, congregations in Malawi held Christian meetings in school classrooms, in temporary shelters, or even under trees. Now, the 1,230 congregations are able to meet for worship and Bible instruction in dignified buildings dedicated to the advancement of true worship. As you can imagine, the more than 75,000 Witnesses in Malawi deeply appreciate the support of their spiritual brothers and sisters around the world.
Another factor that helped the Witnesses to build so many places of worship in such a short time was their desire for modest, functional halls. They did not want ostentatious structures. Rather, they wanted simple, dignified buildings that bring honor to God and provide a comfortable environment for Bible discussion and study.
Local Communities Benefit
Previously, Jehovah’s Witnesses were ridiculed in Malawi as the religion without places of worship. As a result, some Witnesses were at times embarrassed to invite interested ones to the meetings. So, imagine how they felt when they had their own attractive Kingdom Hall. Now they were delighted to invite neighbors and interested people to Christian meetings. Indeed, in one area, the local congregation was thrilled to see 698 people attend a meeting at a newly built Kingdom Hall!
Many Witnesses and others commented that they never thought they would have such a beautiful and sturdy hall in their area. Augustine, mentioned at the outset, can remember one congregation that held its meetings under a tree. “It was very pleasant in the dry season,” says Augustine. “But in the wet season—problems!” If you have ever been caught in a tropical downpour, you know what problems Augustine is referring to.
Augustine recalls one of his visits to the Chimwanje Congregation. “We held the meeting in a small shelter made of wooden poles with a grass roof,” he explains. “We did not realize, though, that the grass roof had become the home of a large, poisonous spider. Suddenly, in the middle of my talk, the creature dropped down and landed next to my foot! I heard a startled member of the audience shout, ‘Crush it, Augustine, crush it!’ Needless to say, I did. As you can see, I am still alive.” Now that the congregation has a new Kingdom Hall, they no longer have such disturbances.
“A Jewel in the Community”
The exciting Kingdom Hall construction program has won Jehovah’s Witnesses the admiration and respect of many communities and local chiefs, as the following comments show:
✔ “The construction of a new place of worship, along with the love and unity shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is a jewel in the community, worthy of imitation by other churches.”—The local chief in Chabwenzi.
✔ “What I admire most about the Witnesses is their unity. We started building our church ten years ago, but it is still under construction—and its completion is nowhere in sight. I would like to thank you for erecting such a beautiful facility in our area.”—The village headman in Chigwenembe.
✔ “It’s amazing to see the way you work. You are so quick and yet so neat! You must be very united.”—The local chief in Chiuzira.
The Kingdom Hall construction program has been so noteworthy that it has even come to the attention of the editors of the Chichewa/Chinyanja—English Dictionary, which states regarding the Witnesses: “Jehovah’s Witnesses have built many [Kingdom Halls].”
“This Kingdom Hall is a Miracle”
On January 30, 2011, the Manyowe Congregation in Blantyre, mentioned earlier, dedicated their new Kingdom Hall—the thousandth to be built in Malawi. “To have this Kingdom Hall is a miracle,” said one member of the congregation. “It is like a dream come true.”
“I did not miss a single day of the construction project,” recounts a young girl in the Manyowe Congregation. “I am very happy I could have a share in building a suitable place of worship in our territory.”
“We had difficulty getting approval from local authorities to build our Kingdom Hall,” explained one of the congregation elders. “Several times, city officials refused to sign the needed permits. However, Mrs. Liness Chikaoneka, the local headwoman, worked very hard to convince officials to sign the permits.”
One day, Mrs. Chikaoneka accompanied an elder to get a permit signed. “I want the Witnesses to build their Kingdom Hall in my village,” she told the official. “They are good people. I have never had to solve any difficulties involving them in my traditional court.” The official duly signed the papers.
Mrs. Chikaoneka was elated when the Kingdom Hall was dedicated. “I am very happy and proud,” she said, “to have this beautiful building in my village!”
Throughout Malawi, Jehovah’s Witnesses and their neighbors continue to express appreciation for the Kingdom Hall construction program. As a result of their exemplary spirit of self-sacrifice and hard work, in this country Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer have a huge backlog of places where Kingdom Halls are needed, as they did in 1993. True, they will have an ongoing need for more Kingdom Halls as people respond to the “good news of [God’s] kingdom” and as new congregations are formed. (Matthew 24:14) Hence, the Witnesses deeply appreciate the kind support and generous donations of their fellow Witnesses throughout the world. *
But, most of all, the Witnesses express gratitude to their God, Jehovah. Their sentiments are similar to those of the psalmist, who said: “All the nations whom you have made will themselves come, and they will bow down before you, O Jehovah, and will give glory to your name. For you are great and are doing wondrous things.”—Psalm 86:9, 10.
^ par. 3 The number of Kingdom Halls has now exceeded 1,030.
^ par. 9 Since 1999, worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses have built 23,786 Kingdom Halls in 151 lands that have limited resources.
^ par. 28 Worldwide, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is supported entirely by voluntary contributions.
[Picture on page 24]
Before the Kingdom Hall construction program began, meeting places were often no more than grass-covered shelters
[Picture on page 24]
Now congregations meet in Kingdom Halls such as this one