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Jesus seen in faces of orphans

10 January 2014

Pat Ashworth admires the subject of a didactic biography

Happy in their labours: Annie and Lewis Chikhwaza, who work together in Malawi. From the book

Happy in their labours: Annie and Lewis Chikhwaza, who work together in Malawi. From the book

Mother of Malawi: The story of Annie Chikhwaza, who created an oasis of love in a country of orphans
Al Gibson
Monarch £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10 (Use code CT604 )

I APPLAUD the Dutch-born Annie Chikhwaza for what she achieved in overcoming a self-harming adolescence, an abusive first marriage, resentful, vilifying stepchildren, and mob violence that brought her close to death. It illustrates the resilience, deep faith, and obedience that led her to build the Kondanani Children's Village in Malawi, regarded as a model of how to do it in Africa's poorest country, home to one million orphans. The orphanage attracted global attention in 2006 when the singer Madonna adopted two children from there.

But this is a teeth-clenching book. Her biographer is Al Gibson, communications officer for GOD TV, and there's the rub, because its tabloid style and intention inevitably reads like GOD TV in print. He regards Annie as "an example of a life redeemed from destruction", and the book has a strong didactic purpose as, typically, here: "Through her obedience in forgiving those who had harmed her, God had been able to intervene on her behalf. . . Thankfully satan's [sic] plan to destroy her work had been averted."

Gibson is passionate about the work and rightly proud of the achievement. But there are sweeping generalisations that make one uncomfortable. The United Nations "keep the people of Africa as subjects of charity, just throwing bags of maize or rice at them". Abortion is "similar to child sacrifices of ancient times when children were slaughtered to appease the Ammonite deity Moloch". Divorce is a sin for which Annie, the victim, must feel remorse.

The book does redeem itself in parts. Kondanani means "Love one another," and Annie says of the children in her care: "We see Jesus in them when we feed them, we see Jesus in them when we give them something to drink, we see Jesus in them when we dress them." A gospel truth that couldn't be more simply put.

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