A living archive!


From the Archives:

A ‘living archive’ returns to Malawi!

For the next two issues we will leave our intrepid pioneers in order to spend time with a ‘living archive’. Nora Ring, aged 89 (pictured left), with her daughter Elizabeth - who was brought up in Malawi - and granddaughters Becky and Laura, recently visited Malawi, toured some of the places where Nora served, and met some of the people she helped. She spoke to Malawi Amoto twice and, in the next two issues, we will bring you her story.

On 3 April 1953, 28-year-old Nora  Murchison, left Halifax, Nova Scotia, to travel to Malawi to serve with the then South African General Mission (SAGM) as a nurse. She arrived on station at Chididi, in the south of the country, on 19 May and served in the field until 1990.

During her time in Malawi, Nora experienced a great deal of change; she changed her name from Murchison to Ring, Port Herald – the nearest ‘large’ town to Chididi - changed its name to Nsanje, the mission changed its name from SAGM to Africa Evangelical Fellowship (AEF) and the country changed its name from Nyasaland to Malawi!

Nora was able to meet old friends from her time in Malawi

Nora trained as a nurse in Canada and, soon after qualifying, entered Bible School, as she had felt for a long time that she was called to be a missionary nurse.

“I trained as a nurse but didn’t work very long because I went to Bible School afterwards and then came out,” said Nora

“Strangely enough I always wanted to be a missionary nurse from before I went to school because my mother had been a nurse, and an ‘aunt’ (she wasn’t truly an aunt but she had a connection) had been a missionary in China, and that sealed my fate!

“I came to Malawi because that is where SAGM appointed me. They thought of Angola but they knew that Daryl, my fiancé as he was then, was a teacher and they didn’t need teachers in Angola, so Malawi was their choice for us.” It would be four years before Daryl was able to join Nora in Malawi and they could be married.

Life for Nora, and the rest of the team, was, in her words, “surprisingly comfortable”, with an adequate social life and good fellowship. But life was very much centrered on Chididi and the surrounding area, and Nora had been on the field for 11 months before she visited Blantyre for a brief holiday.

Chididi had a ‘hospital’ of sorts – a building with three rooms which was used for this purpose. Nora remembers one room being used as the examination room, the second for preparation of medicines, and the third for maternity cases. Patients at the hospital came from far and wide and even from over the nearby Mozambique border.

“Chididi acted as a centre for the many villages that were scattered around,” Nora remembered.

“But it was not just a question of people coming to us. We had a number of villages that we would visit on a regular basis to deal with medical problems and also to bring the Word of God to the people. At least one of these villages, that I used to visit regularly, was across the border in Mozambique.”

Nora (centre) with family and members of SIM Malawi and friends

When Daryl arrived on field and they were married, he took up his work as a school inspector for both Government .

“Daryl was in charge of what we called ‘European Posts’ in those days. He would do the inspections of the Government Schools as well as the little mission schools that we had. I forget how many primary schools there were, but he would travel around and visit them and, I presume, made a report back to the Government,” said Nora.

On the whole, life on the Chididi station was good but there was a darker side to life in Malawi – a dark side which is still prevalent today to some extent.

Nora recalled some brushes with witch doctors and the impact of the occult on people around her.

“We used to have a week of preaching that was quite interesting. We would go out and stay in a village for a week and, when the children were small, Elizabeth and her brother John went with us,” she said.

“On one visit we had to borrow the government launch and they took us down-river to the village. When the week was over, on the Sunday afternoon, I was just walking around. John must have been with his father because I had Elizabeth, just talking to the women casually, and all of a sudden one of the women said “The child!” and she had wandered over the bank.

“I said to them: “I am not worried about the water, because I can swim, but I am worried about the crocodiles,” and they said: “Oh, you don’t need to worry about crocodiles because they will only come if someone sends an evil spirit on one to take your child and who would do that to you?” It just showed the darkness at that time,” she recalls.

“Another time, we heard in Chididi that in that same village one woman was set on fire because they said she was casting spells on people. But I remember one of the men who worked with me in the Chipatala [hospital] as we called it said: “Why would they use fire, because we all know that fire would kill anybody?’

“But also in those days there was still quite a lot of poisoning; there was one time after I was married we heard that somebody just across the border (it was illegal here in Malawi) was going to be tested by being given the Mwavi poison to drink. They say that if you vomit then you did not have an evil spirit. So Daryl and I walked over to Mozambique hoping we could find the person and prevent this. We didn’t know what stage it was in of course and even the children were laughing with delight that the white people could not even stop it. It was a real heavy feeling of darkness when such a terrible thing was going on and they thought it was just something to laugh about. Very sad.”

Despite these problems, Nora is in no doubt about the time she spent in Malawi and that, given the chance, she would do it all again.

“They were certainly happy times; I don’t mean they were perfect, there were times when things did not go smoothly. It didn’t feel like a job; it just felt like what I wanted to do and what I liked to do and it was a great privilege. Daryl and I often said if we were starting out again that would be the route we would take!” she said.

In the next issue we will look at some of the highlights of Nora’s recent visit to Malawi.