Jehovah Always Cares for Us
AS TOLD BY ENELESI MZANGA
It was 1972. Ten young men, members of Malawi’s Youth League, broke into our house, grabbed me, and dragged me into a nearby sugarcane field. There, they beat me and left me for dead.
Numerous Witnesses of Jehovah in Malawi suffered vicious attacks such as this one. Why were they persecuted? What helped them to endure? Please allow me to tell you my family’s story.
I WAS born on December 31, 1921, into a religious family. My father was a pastor of the Church of Central African Presbyterian. I grew up in Nkhoma, a small town near Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. When I was 15 years old, I became the wife of Emmas Mzanga.
One day a friend of my father, also a pastor, visited us. He had noticed that Jehovah’s Witnesses lived near our home and warned us not to become involved with them. He told us that the Witnesses were demonized and that if we were not careful, we too could become demon possessed. That warning alarmed us so much that we moved to another village, where Emmas found a job as a shopkeeper. But we soon found out that our new home also happened to be located near Jehovah’s Witnesses!
Before long, however, Emmas’ deep love for the Bible moved him to speak with one of the Witnesses. After getting convincing answers to his many questions, Emmas accepted the Witnesses’ offer to study the Bible with him. At first the Bible study was conducted at the store where he worked, but later the weekly study was held in our house. Each time Jehovah’s Witnesses came, I left the house because I was afraid of them. Nevertheless, Emmas continued to study the Bible. About six months after he started, he was baptized, in April 1951. However, he did not tell me about it because he feared that the news would end our marriage.
One day, though, my friend Ellen Kadzalero told me that my husband was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was boiling with rage! From that day on, I did not speak to him or prepare food for him. I also stopped fetching and heating water for his bath—a task that according to our customs is considered a wife’s duty.
After enduring this treatment for three weeks, Emmas kindly asked me to sit down with him, and he then told me why he had made the decision to become a Witness. He read and explained several scriptures, such as 1 Corinthians 9:16. I was deeply moved and felt that I too needed to share in preaching the good news. So I decided to start a study of the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. That very evening, much to the relief of my loving husband, I prepared a fine meal for him.
Sharing the Truth With Family and Friends
When our parents heard that we were associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses, they severely opposed us. My family wrote us a letter telling us not to visit them anymore. Their reaction saddened us, but we trusted in Jesus’ promise that we would have many spiritual brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers.—Matthew 19:29.
I quickly progressed in my Bible study and was baptized in August 1951, just three and a half months after my husband. I felt compelled to share the truth with my friend Ellen. Happily, she accepted my offer of a Bible study. In May 1952, Ellen was baptized and became my spiritual sister, which strengthened our bond of friendship. Today, we are still the best of friends.
In 1954, Emmas was appointed to visit congregations as a circuit overseer. At that time, we already had six children. In those days, a traveling overseer who had a family spent one week visiting a congregation and then stayed home the next week with his wife and children. However, when Emmas was traveling, he always made sure that I conducted our family Bible study. We tried to make the study with our children enjoyable. We also spoke with heartfelt conviction about our love for Jehovah and for the truth from his Word, and we shared in the preaching work as a family. This spiritual training program strengthened our children’s faith and served to prepare them for the persecution we were about to face.
Religious Persecution Begins
In 1964, Malawi became an independent nation. When officials of the ruling party learned of our neutral stand on politics, they tried to force us to buy party membership cards. * Because Emmas and I refused to do so, members of the Youth League destroyed our field of maize—our main food supply for the coming year. While Youth League members chopped down the maize, they were singing: “Of all who refuse to buy Kamuzu’s [President Banda’s] card, termites will eat their green maize and these people will cry for it.” Yet, despite this loss of food, we did not despair. We felt Jehovah’s care. He lovingly strengthened us.—Philippians 4:12, 13.
Late one night in August 1964, I was home alone with the children. We were asleep, but I was awakened by the distant sound of singing. It was the Gulewamkulu, a feared secret society of tribal dancers who attack people and pretend to be the spirits of dead ancestors. The Youth League had sent the Gulewamkulu to attack us. I quickly woke up the children, and before the attackers reached our house, we fled into the bush.
From our hiding place, we saw a bright light. The Gulewamkulu had set fire to our grass-roofed house. It burned to the ground, along with all our possessions. As the attackers walked away from the smoldering rubble of our home, we heard them say, “We made a nice fire for that Witness to warm himself up.” How thankful we were to Jehovah that we had got away safe! True, they destroyed all our property, but they did not destroy our determination to trust in Jehovah rather than men.—Psalm 118:8.
We learned that the Gulewamkulu had done the same terrible thing to five other families of Jehovah’s Witnesses in our area. How happy and thankful we were when the brothers in neighboring congregations came to our rescue! They rebuilt our homes and supplied us with food for several weeks.
In September 1967 a campaign to round up all of Jehovah’s Witnesses swept across the country. To find us, ruthless and predatory young men—members of the Youth League and Malawi Young Pioneers, armed with machetes—searched for Witnesses from door to door. When they found them, the men offered to sell them political party cards.
Arriving at our house, they asked if we had a party card. I said: “No, I haven’t bought one. I am not going to buy it now, and neither am I going to buy one in the future.” Then they grabbed hold of my husband and me and took us to the local police station, leaving us no chance to take anything with us. When our younger children came home from school, they did not find us, and they became very worried. Fortunately, our older son, Daniel, came home a short time later and found out from a neighbor what had happened. Immediately, he took his younger siblings and headed for the police station. They arrived just as the police were loading us into trucks to take us to Lilongwe. The children went along.
In Lilongwe a mock trial was held at police headquarters. The officers asked us, “Will you continue to be Jehovah’s Witnesses?” We answered, “Yes!” although this answer automatically meant a sentence of seven years in prison. For those who “managed” the organization, the sentence was 14 years.
After we spent a night without food and rest, the police took us to Maula Prison. There the cells were so overcrowded that we could not even find a place to sleep on the floor! The toilet facility consisted of only one bucket in each crowded cell. Food rations were meager and poorly prepared. After two weeks, the prison officials realized that we were peaceful people and allowed us to use the outdoor prison exercise yard. With so many of us together, we had daily opportunities to encourage one another and to give a fine witness to other prisoners. To our surprise, after serving about three months of our prison sentence, we were released because of international pressure exerted on Malawi’s government.
The police officers urged us to go back to our homes, but they also told us that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned in Malawi. This ban lasted from October 20, 1967, to August 12, 1993—almost 26 years. Those were difficult years, yet with Jehovah’s help we were able to maintain our strict neutrality.
Hunted Like Animals
In October 1972, a government decree triggered a new wave of violent persecution. The decree directed that all of Jehovah’s Witnesses were to be dismissed from their places of employment and that all Witnesses living in villages were to be chased away from their homes. Witnesses were hunted like animals.
At that time, a young Christian brother came to our house with an urgent message for Emmas, ‘The Youth League is plotting to behead you, put your head on a pole, and take it to the local chiefs.’ Emmas quickly left home, but not before he had made arrangements for us to follow him as soon as possible. Hurriedly, I sent off the children. Then, just as I was about to leave, ten members of the Youth League appeared, looking for Emmas. They broke into our house but discovered that Emmas was gone. Angrily, the men dragged me into a nearby sugarcane field, where they kicked me and beat me with sugarcane stalks. Then they left me for dead. After regaining consciousness, I crawled back home.
That night, under the cover of darkness, Emmas risked his life by returning to our house to look for me. When he found me badly beaten up, Emmas and a friend who owned a car gently put me in the vehicle. Then we drove to the home of a brother in Lilongwe, where I slowly recovered from the attack and Emmas started making plans to escape from the country.
Refugees With No Place to Go
Our daughter Dinesi and her husband had a five-ton truck. They employed a driver who was once a Malawi Young Pioneer but who had become sympathetic to our situation. He volunteered to help us and other Witnesses. For several evenings the driver picked up Witnesses from prearranged hiding places. Then he donned his Malawi Young Pioneer uniform and drove the loaded truck through several police roadblocks. He risked much to help hundreds of Witnesses to cross the border into Zambia.
After a few months, the Zambian authorities repatriated us to Malawi; yet, we could not return to our home village. All the possessions we had left behind had been stolen. Even the metal roofing sheets had been stripped from our house. With nowhere safe to go, we fled into Mozambique and stayed in the Mlangeni refugee camp for two and a half years. In June 1975, however, a new government in Mozambique closed down the camp and forced us to go back to Malawi, where conditions had not changed for Jehovah’s people. We had no choice but to flee into Zambia for a second time. There we reached the Chigumukire refugee camp.
Two months later a convoy of buses and military trucks parked along the main road, and hundreds of heavily armed Zambian soldiers invaded the camp. They told us that nice houses had been built for us and that they were providing transportation to help us get there. We knew that this was not true. The soldiers began to push people onto the trucks and buses, and panic broke out. The soldiers began firing in the air with their automatic weapons, and thousands of our brothers and sisters scattered in terror.
In the confusion, Emmas was accidentally knocked down and trampled, but one of the brothers helped him to his feet. We thought that this was the beginning of the great tribulation. All refugees ran back toward Malawi. While still in Zambia, we reached a river, and the brothers formed several human chains to help everyone to cross safely. On the other side of the river, though, we were rounded up by Zambian soldiers and forcibly repatriated to Malawi.
Back in Malawi once more, we did not know where to go. We learned that at political rallies and in the newspapers, people had been warned to watch out for “new faces” arriving in their villages, referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses. So we decided to go to the capital city, where we would not stand out as much as in a village. We succeeded in renting a small house, and Emmas resumed his secret visits to the congregations as a traveling overseer.
Attending Congregation Meetings
What helped us to remain faithful? Congregation meetings! In the refugee camps of Mozambique and Zambia, we freely attended meetings held in rustic, grass-roofed Kingdom Halls. Gathering for the meetings in Malawi was dangerous and difficult—yet always worth the effort. To avoid detection, we usually held meetings late at night in out-of-the-way places. So as not to draw attention to our gatherings, we did not applaud to express our appreciation for a speaker but simply rubbed our hands together.
Baptisms were carried out late at night. Our son Abiyudi was baptized on such an occasion. Following the baptism talk, he and the other baptism candidates were led in the darkness to a swampy area where a shallow hole had been dug. There, they were baptized.
Our Small Home a Safe Haven
During the later years of the government ban, our home in Lilongwe was used as a safe house. Mail and literature from the Zambia branch office were secretly delivered to our home. Brothers who served as bicycle couriers came to our home to pick up the shipment from Zambia and transport the mail and literature to all parts of Malawi. The Watchtower magazines that were distributed were thin because they were printed on Bible paper. This allowed the couriers to transport twice as many magazines as would have been possible had the magazines been printed on regular paper. The couriers also distributed Watchtower minimagazines, which featured study articles only. A minimagazine was easy to hide in a shirt pocket because it consisted of one sheet of paper.
These couriers risked their freedom and life when they cycled through the bush, sometimes in the dark of night, with cartons of banned literature piled high on their bicycles. Despite police roadblocks and other hazards, they traveled hundreds of miles in all types of weather to deliver spiritual food to their brothers. How brave those dear couriers were!
Jehovah Cares for Widows
In December 1992, while giving a talk during a circuit visit, Emmas suffered a stroke. Afterward, he was no longer able to speak. Some time later he suffered a second stroke, leaving one side of his body paralyzed. Although coping with his loss of health was hard for him, the loving support we received from our congregation dispelled my despair. I was able to care for my husband at home until he died in November 1994, at the age of 76. We were married for 57 years, and Emmas saw the end of the ban before he died. But I still mourn the loss of my faithful companion.
After I became a widow, my son-in-law took it upon himself to provide not only for his wife and five children but also for me. Sadly, after a short illness, he died in August 2000. How was my daughter to find food and accommodations for us? Again I found that Jehovah cares for us and is truly “a father of fatherless boys and a judge of widows.” (Psalm 68:5) Jehovah, through his servants on earth, provided a beautiful new house. How did that come about? When the brothers and sisters in our congregation saw our plight, they built a house for us in just five weeks! Brothers from other congregations who were bricklayers came to help. The love and kindness shown by all these Witnesses overwhelmed us because the home they built for us is better than the homes in which many of them live. This display of love by the congregation gave a fine witness in our neighborhood. As I go to sleep at night, I feel as if I were in Paradise! Yes, our beautiful new home is made from bricks and mortar, but as so many have observed, it is a house that was truly built with love.—Galatians 6:10.
Jehovah’s Continuing Care
Though I have at times been on the brink of total despair, Jehovah has been good to me. Seven of my nine children are still alive, and my family now numbers 123. How grateful I am that the vast majority of them are faithfully serving Jehovah!
Today, at the age of 82, I am filled with joy when I see what God’s spirit has accomplished in Malawi. In the last four years alone, I have seen the number of Kingdom Halls increase from one to over 600. We also now have a new branch office in Lilongwe, and we enjoy an unrestricted flow of fortifying spiritual food. I truly feel that I have experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise found at Isaiah 54:17, where we are assured: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success.” After serving Jehovah for more than 50 years, I am convinced that whatever trials we may face, Jehovah always cares for us.
^ par. 17 For more information on the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi, see the 1999 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 149-223, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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My husband, Emmas, was baptized in April 1951
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A group of brave couriers
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A house built with love