He came without a bag of maize or rice to Bowe Catholic Parish in 2004. Yet, when he celebrated his first mass, Reverend Father Emmanuel Edindo from Nigeria said he had not come to Malawi to evangalise to hungry souls.
“I want food to served first before I embark on preaching the gospel,” Fr Edindo had said, leaving the parishioners wondering if this was the best joke a priest could make to hungry Christians.
The desperate believers thought the priest had not come to Malawi to serve and save their souls from sin, but to mock them.
Here is a priest whose personal effects included nothing but a breviary (book of daily prayers), hymn book and a Bible.
Yet, he is claiming he had to serve food first before preaching the gospel.
Where is he going to get the food with which to save the hungry and desperate parishioners?
After all, isn’t it the responsibility of Christians to feed their priest, and not the other way round? So, what is Father Edindo talking about?
Zaina Kapachika says these were some of the questions that kept lingering in people’s minds.
According to Kapachika, the priest had noted confusion among the congregants and he offered to expound on what he meant through his proclamation.
Recalls Kapachika: “In his explanation, the priest emphasised that he would not serve a hungry community. He said hungry people cannot appreciate or experience God’s love and care; hence, it was necessary that a pastor should feed believers first before preaching them the gospel.”
“He said: How will I justify God’s love and care to someone who is sleeping on an empty stomach?” Kapachika adds.
It took the Nigerian priest only a few weeks to mobilise the resource-constrained farmers into groups and clubs because no one was ready to stay in abject poverty forever.
Through these groups and clubs, the Father Edindo wanted to lift the poor families from perennial hunger.
He also wanted to sustainably improve the incomes of economically active poor farming families and also enable them produce enough food for themselves and for sale.
“And to achieve his dream, Father Edindo assisted the groups to access loans for buying certified seeds and fertilisers,” explains Kapachika.
She says with this support, the farmers realised bumper harvest.
“In fact, we produced more than what we could consume. Yet, we had nowhere to store our produce, and this prompted us to ask the same priest to allow us keep it in the church hall, which he agreed,” she narrates.
Kapachika says the bumper harvest inspired more farmers to join. This led to the birth of Bowe Farmers Association.
The association continued to grow both in membership and annual crop production. To date, the association has been providing certified seeds and fertilisers to its members to facilitate high yield.
However, as yield was growing each passing year, the church hall was also becoming smaller and smaller to accommodate the association’s produce.
Kapachika recalls that it was at that point, in 2014, when the Rural Livelihood Economic Enhancement Programme (Rleep) came to their rescue through Churches Action in Relief and Development (Card).
Rleep gets its funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) and Malawi Government.
And as if living the Father Edindo’s vision, the goal of Rleep is to sustainably improve the incomes of economically active poor rural households and individuals engaged in the production and marketing of selected agricultural commodities through their integration with the emerging commercial sector.
The programme has one component which focuses on the provision of infrastructural support for accelerating of agricultural commercialisation in rural areas.
The component involves construction of warehouses for cooperatives and association, processing and marketing buildings, and construction of bridges and rehabilitation of rural roads.
Kapachika says through Card, Rleep constructed them two modern warehouses to ease storage problems.
“Apart from selling our produce to private buyers, we keep some, particularly food crops, which we sell to communities surrounding this association. Every year, we have 300 villages depending on us for maize [for food] during lean periods because the nearest market is Chulu, which is 27 kilometres away,” she explains.
As she takes leave of the inquisitive media personnel, Kapachika attempts to recite what Father Edindo said 12 years ago: “Food has to be served first. Otherwise, no one can experience and appreciate the love of God. No one can actively participate in development activities while hungry.”n