Project Canterbury

A Life in Order: The Memoirs of Brother Francis SSF

Brisbane: The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

[53] Chapter Eight: Zambia Again

In 1962 the Chapter agreed to my return to Zambia to work with John Kingsnorth in the Chipili district of the North West. At Chipili I used to go on a tour round the villages for four or five days on a bicycle with one or two boys or young men to carry my gear. The first missionaries used to take a team of about 20 men to carry all sorts of things like tables and chairs, beds, cooking utensils and mass requirements. But all this was too expensive now. At first I used to take a camp bed, but this I soon dispensed with and used the straw mattresses common in the villages. It was one way in which I could show that the white man was not superior to the black man. We used to sleep in school classrooms or between the pews in the village churches. Holy week was always a great time. People came in from the villages, school children bringing palms and singing psalms to popular African tunes. The palms were a bit painful to carry because they had sharp thorns on them. The attendance at the Maundy Thursday watch was a bit dicey, but by the afternoon the school boys and girls kept up a continuous watch till well after 11 pm. Good Friday was better observed than any of the other days in Holy week. Stations of the Cross were conducted, including a procession all round the mission station, with an immense crowd of six or seven hundred taking part. For the baptism service, we had a bath for total immersion at the back of the church and on Holy Saturday about forty boys and girls would be baptised in it and confirmed if the Bishop was present. The holy fire would be lighted by two sticks being rubbed together. Easter day began at 3.30 am by girls, representing the women at the tomb, singing round the mission area.

Tours round the villages were sometimes difficult, crossing over rivers and streams on bridges made of two or three logs of wood. Once I fell into a muddy stream with my bicycle. Some women came along and with much laughter threw buckets of water over me to wash off the mud. I had to retire behind a bush to dry my clothes! Once we borrowed a canoe to cross a very reedy river. We met another canoe in the middle of the river, the occupants of which claimed that the canoe we were in was theirs and insisted on us changing canoes in the middle of the river! I was always afraid of crocodiles in the rivers as I had a [53/54] dog which was killed and eaten by one at Chipili. Most of the villages had catechists who looked after us and interpreted for us if necessary. I had taken lessons in the Ci-bemba language from a lady ex-missionary at the U.S.P.G headquarters in London. Zambia got its independence before I arrived in 1965 under the wise guidance of Kenneth Kaunda. Young men of the Nationalist Party stirred up a little trouble, trying to prevent people from going to church one Sunday. In one village I visited, the children were stirred up to shout "bye bye Wellensky" to me. Wellensky was the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. But, on the whole, the event went peaceably.

It was while I was at Chipili that a disturbance broke out in the Eastern Province, not far from the Msoro Anglican mission station. A woman belonging to the Presbyterian Church named Alice Lenshina began taking an independent line, introducing African cultural customs into the worship of her church. There was some violence, when a school teacher was attacked, and Alice's followers formed a new sect. Kenneth Kaunda the President became concerned about it and sent some troops up there to keep the peace. Some of the men leaders were arrested, and a number of women were put behind a wire fence for safety at Fort Jameson. Kaunda appealed to the churches to send a delegation to persuade them to go back peaceably to their villages. Muriel Wisdom, our Mothers Union worker at Chipili, and I were asked to join the team, headed by Colin Morris, the Methodist Minister at Chingola. We were flown there in rather uncomfortable seats in an Air Force Hercules plane. We were expected to go amongst the prisoners and persuade them to go peaceably back to their villages. This was successful to a certain extent. But Alice Lenshina herself was deported to Livingstone, where she remained for some time. When some of its members got married, the Fellowship of the Transfiguration came to an end as U.M.CA. missionaries were expected to remain celibate.

Fiwila Mission

It was in 1954 that Brother Peter came out to Zambia to make a tour of the mission schools. He spent some time at the Mapanza mission. At Easter that year, Fr. David, now the Minister General, came to investigate the possibility of having an S.S.F. house in Zambia. Bishop [54/55] Oliver suggested our visiting the Fiwila mission station. He also encouraged us by telling us that he knew of six men who were considering the religious life. Two of them came from Southern Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. So David and I went to Fiwila. We were specially attracted by the fact that there was a leper colony there. It was Fr Hewitt, the founder of the Fiwila Mission to the Lala tribe, who started the leper colony. One day he was visited by a leper, who said that his village would not accept him, and that he was considering committing suicide. Fr. Hewitt gave him a small house near the mission house. After him other lepers arrived, and gradually a leper village for about 200 lepers was built up. A former member of the S.D.C., Br. Stephen, was there, helping him with the lepers and still wearing the' grey habit of the S.D.C., but he died before we got there. We were attracted too by the mission house, built in monastic style with cloisters and a chapel.

So, in 1965, Fr Stephen, Br Randall, Sister Kathleen Dolton a Tertiary Nurse and I flew out to Ndola. We were met by Fr Kenyon, the retiring missioner at Fiwila, who drove us to the mission. Fiwila is a very beautiful spot with a range of mountains behind it. Wild animals are to be seen such as gorillas, duikers, lions, and elephants. There are some very ancient paintings on some of the rocks. Most of Zambia is a plateau some 2000 feet high so it has very mild climate. But hardly any rain falls between April and November so, if the rains are late, we have a serious food shortage. They sometimes asked, "Why cannot the Christian priests bring rain like the witch doctors used to do?" There was a stream behind our house which gave us a water supply through pipes specially laid by Fr. Stephen. Fiwila served a large mission area belonging to the Lala tribe. There was a primary school up to grade seven for girls and boys. At first the schools in the Mission Area were in our hands and I was the schools inspector! But soon after our arrival the government took over the schools and an African manager was provided. There were about six schools, ranging from about eighty miles from the mission. As at Chipili I used to go for a few days once a month, visiting the villages in a land rover or on a bicycle with one or two boys or young men to help me. Sometimes I would find that the villagers were having a beer drinking party. The women used to fill a 40 gallon drum of beer made from corn or millet. They would then invite [55/56] the people in the neighbouring villages to come for two or three days to imbibe the beer. Once I arrived at a village and found the villagers very drunk. I told them that they must stop their drinking after 11 o'clock at night or I would not celebrate Mass for them next morning. This they did. Usually I arrived at the village towards evening and some would join me for Evensong. Then we would collect some wood to make a fire to cook a meal, usually something out of a tin and some rice. Afterwards I would have a wash in the water hole or stream. In the morning, after Matins at about 6 o'clock, I would go the church, if there was one, to hear confessions. We would celebrate Mass on a table out of doors if there was no church there. Most of the villagers attended. We had to start early because they wanted to go out into their gardens while it was still cool. After breakfast I met with the elders to hear any cases of adultery or other crimes. I was expected to impose a penance and after a certain period the offender would be reconciled to the church again. We would then move on to the next village. All the villages were Anglican, except for a few Jehovah Witness villages.

There were a number of English and Rhodesian farmers in our area. Once a month the Anglican ones would gather at one or other of the farms and Fr. Stephen undertook to visit them and celebrate the Eucharist with them Fr Stephen and Brother Aidan, who came out later, were kept very busy keeping the vehicles on the road. We had an 11 ton truck, a Dormobile ambulance, and a Land Rover. The nearest Garage was fifty miles away. As there were no stores in our district, the truck had to be driven into Kabwe once a week to do the shopping and collect the post, not only for ourselves but for the villagers. They used to bring their requests for shopping to me in the office. This kept me very busy on shopping days.

We also kept a store for people in the hospital and the leprosy patients to buy corn, Kapenta, a small fish from the lakes, and sugar and salt. The trouble was that the young man who administered the store tended to be too generous in giving people more than they paid for, so we sometimes lost a lot of money, upsetting the diocesan treasurer. There were also a large number of people wanting lifts into the town as there was no public transport; a trial to the brother driver.

[57] The leprosy patients were a cheerful lot, and in spite of damaged hands and feet they managed to tend their own gardens, especially tobacco for which I brought them newspapers in which to wrap their cigarettes. In those days there was not as much known about the dangers of smoking as there is to-day. Some of them looked after our cows, and bravely drove away the lions who dared to approach them. There were also elephants in our area, but they never came near the mission. Catharine Dalton and Jonathan Mutakasha were in charge of the hospital. They also tended the leper's wounds. A new drug administered by injection was introduced, which kept the leprosy at bay for those not too advanced. This meant a reduction of numbers, as those who were receiving this treatment could remain in their villages. These would gather together once a month to receive the new treatment; Stephen set to and built some more cottages and a welfare hall for them. He also built a new ward for 30 men at the hospital in time for the two Franciscan sisters, Veronica and Alison Mary, when they arrived to take over from Catharine Dalton who was returning to England. Before she went I was asked to take a retreat for the missionaries at Milo in Tanzania, 7000 feet up in the mountains. I took Catharine Dalton with me and we drove up a very rough and muddy road full of pot-holes. The journey took four days. On our way back we skidded off the road and hit a tree stump, breaking our chassis. However we managed to get back slowly to Fiwila, much to the surprise of Fr. Stephen.

Sister Veronica had an unpleasant experience in the train coming up from South Africa. Someone discovered that she had Egyptian ancestry and she was told she could not go into the restaurant car, which was reserved for white people. When they arrived at Fiwila I had to try and teach them the Lala language so that they could talk to and understand their patients at the hospital. Later Sister Teresa came out also. One day she asked me to drive her out to deal with a maternity case. The road was pretty bumpy and on the way back she asked me to stop as the woman was about to give birth. The baby was born in the back of the Dormobile. A little further on, we had to stop again for its twin to be delivered! As at Chipili I had the job of training four village catechists for local bush priesthood. I had to undertake to translate the new South African liturgy into the Lala language.

[58] We were fortunate in having a Mission Medicare Flying Doctor service, which visited us every Wednesday. Stephen got help from some of the white farmers to level the airstrip. It gave us a radio connection through which urgent medical cases could be reported and patients flown in to the Ndola hospital. Brother Aidan and Brother Desmond went to the Lilongwe Language School for six months. From there both went to St. John's Seminary at Lusaka to be trained for the priesthood. Br Tristram came out from England to help while the others were away. For a time I became Rural Dean of the Kabwe deanery, and at this time I developed phlebitis in my leg and had to go to the hospital in Kabwe for treatment. I was warned not to do so much cycling. Luckily I was asked to join the staff at St. John's Seminary, Lusaka. After a year it had to be closed down. Owing to the worsening political situation between Zambia and Southern Rhodesia, men could no longer come from the latter for their training for the priesthood.

In 1972 Bishop Oliver asked me to go up to Kasama, capital of the Northern Province, for Lent, to minister to Anglicans living in a mainly Roman Catholic area. I was allowed to stay in the Roman Catholic Archbishop's house (palace!). While he was away at the Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne, the cathedral was run by the White Fathers, who allowed me to communicate daily. One of the White Fathers stayed in the Archbishop's house to look after me, but he used to come in little bit drunk at night, and singing! I visited the Anglicans in my habit on a cycle, but the cycle got stolen, so that I then had to walk for my visiting. I led a study circle for some of them during Lent on the biblical understanding of redemption. There was an interdenominational chapel run by a Presbyterian minister, which some of the Anglicans attended. But they asked me to celebrate for them in the Archbishop's chapel. I was allowed to use his vestments and his chalice and paten. After Easter I flew back to Ndola, and was driven back to Fiwila.

None of the recruits Bishop Oliver had promised us ever arrived. But there was one from Southern Rhodesia who, because of the political situation there, had to come round by Malawi. But he could not get a resident's visa to stay so had to return. We also had two Congolese brothers who Br Desmond had met in Lusaka. I drove them up to [58/59] Chipili to see if they could get permission from their chief to stay permanently in Zambia, but without success. I don't think young men in the towns relished the idea of living in the bush. We would have done better if we had started with a house in a town. Some brothers did stay for a time in the towns. Brother Noel came out for a time and was given charge of the church in Chingola, a Copper Belt town. Brother Aidan went to serve in Ndola African parish living cheek by jowl with the Africans in a very noisy area of the town.

On June 9th 1976 it was decided to abandon Fiwila. A doctor in Masasi had a group of men who were seeking some form of community life. It was agreed that Brother Desmond should go there to help them. Desmond felt that it would be better for them to receive their training outside their home areas, so a house was found in the country district a few miles from Dar Es Salaam. Brother Stephen went to Msoro to help the Cairns who were running the hospital there, both of whom were Tertiaries. I did not leave Fiwila until September. My leave time was due and I asked if I could visit the brothers who were now in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. I had trained many of the brothers there at Glasshampton. This was agreed. The brothers at Brisbane felt they needed an older brother to live with them and so I was asked to come back and remain with them after my visit to the Islands.

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