These days, people who preach on buses are a common sight. But in preaching in buses, are they not violating other people’s right to be left alone? Bright Mhango discusses the issue.
At Wenela Bus Terminal in Blantyre, there are buses going to every other part of Malawi, some to Nsanje, others to Thyolo, but they all do not enjoy one thing that the Lilongwe and Mzuzu bound buses enjoy: Prayer time.
The practice of travengelism is getting more common and looks like it is spreading to other parts of Malawi and some people are worried that the practitioners of travengelism should get ethical.
The buses take a long time to load, hours even, and when they finally do and pull out of the depot, a man who usually looks like any other passenger booms out and calls the bus to order for some prayer time.
The preacher synchronises his message so that by the time the bus gets to Lunzu or Kameza Roundabout, he should get off the bus.
One such concerned person is George Thindwa who heads the Association of Secular Humanists.
Thindwa is a confessed atheist too and two years ago he was in the news after he was booted off one such bus for protesting against a travengelist.
In an interview, Thindwa said the practice of preaching in a bus is one that Malawians should not accept and he described it as “foolishness of the highest order.”
“These bus evangelists are achieving nothing and are just mere noisemakers. Their practice’s main objective is to prey on the Malawian weak minds. As usual, Malawians are so feeble to be subjected to such stupidity without raising objections,” said Thindwa.
Sheik Dinala Chabulika, national coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, also spoke strongly against the practice and appealed for ethics in religion.
Chabulika began by acknowledging the importance of prayer when one travels, but he said how that prayer is conducted is what bus preachers should carefully consider.
“Prayer should never be an inconvenience. It should happen in designated spaces or open spaces where people should choose to listen. Some people are sick, some are tired and some do not believe in God in the public buses.
“Prayer is good but don’t make it a burden to others,” he said.
But the Bible (Mark 16:15) said ‘go ye and preach to all nations.’ Are these travengelists not just obeying God by doing so?
“You cannot preach to a mad man or a drunkard, what if they curse God? These actions of forcing prayer on people can cause some to curse God and that sin would be shared by the preachers,” said Chabulika.
How about the Mosques that use loud speakers to call the faithful to prayer? Is it not the same case scenario?
No, said Chabulika. He said where he stays in Namiyango in Blantyre churches can do overnight prayers but as long as they are happening in designated places, there is no issue.
To Thindwa, time is now for the “madness” to end.
“Bus owners or passengers should one day stand up and stop this madness. It is easy to see that it is fraud at best; the so-called evangelists demanding money when they
disembark from the bus!” said Thindwa.
Some people suspect the preachers of killing an easy living because they always ask for alms at the end of their message.
Some loathe the fact that the preachers always like to remind travellers that the bus is fallible and can overturn; they also love to remind travellers of Satan who they say sent his agents to travel with innocent people so as to cause accidents.
For some, it is the fact that they only preach on the intercity buses that irks them. They claim that the preachers are only targeting the affluent because if their aim was to preach the universal gospel, even those buses going to Nsanje or Thyolo could be blessed with their presence.
In The Caribbean Island of Jamaica, so many people complained against the practice that the public bus company decided to ban the preachers and the head of the company Admiral Hardley Lewin argued that the practice constitutes a breach of peace offense.
The preachers protested and said it infringes on their right to religion and expression and they complained against what they called an attempt to secularise the Island.
“They are trying to shut up the gospel and if they do, the devil will take over Jamaica. What kind of message are we sending to young people?” Atchrine Taffe, a bus preacher told The Gleaner.
The issue caused a heated debate on an Internet forum called nairaland.com with some trashing the practice and others hailing it.
“Our people are very gullible. They just need miracles by whatever means. The bus preachers usually pray for accident free journey and prophecy prosperity on the passengers and at the end they collect offering. They hardly ever preach a good sermon on repentance; all they do is to manipulate the passengers to give good offerings. Because “God loves a cheerful giver”,” said one contributor to the debate.
We should pray for the nation
This Friday, March 29, several churches and ministries will stage a prayer walk in Lilongwe. Organisers say this year’s walk will be unlike the nine previous occasions. BRIGHT MHANGO spoke to Pastor Elias Sauli of the Way of the Cross [A grouping of interdenominational churches and ministries] to hear more about the Good Friday Way of the Cross Prayer Walk.
Who else is in the prayer walk?
We have the Harvest Friends Ministries, World Alive Ministries, Revival Life Church and Lilongwe Christian Church, just to mention but a few.
You have been holding these prayer walks for the last nine years. What is the theme of this year’s walk?
We want to build a platform for unity of the church. Churches have their own programmes and projects but there is need for the church to come together once in a while. We want to prayer together as per Psalms 133 which speaks of the beauty of praying together. We want to foster unity in the body of Christ.
We also want to pray together believing that when many churches pray together, it makes a big difference.
Why is the walk happening on Good Friday?
There is a seasonal advantage; many churches the world over celebrate the suffering, crucifixion and salvation Jesus Christ bought for us on the cross. We aim to celebrate that and to pray for our nation and nations beyond.
How will it be done?
This year’s walk will be very strategic. There will be four teams who will all start from Lilongwe Community Ground at 8:30. One group will take the Chidzanja Road, one will take the Mchesi Road while the third group will take the Paul Kagame Road. The other group will get the M1 road via Area 18 roundabout and all will end at the City Centre Botanical grounds.
Each group will be led by a pastor who will lead the prayers and each will have a praise team in a lorry to lead the praise.
Another group will leave Lilongwe around 5am on the same day and head to Dedza at Linthipe. You know, that is the accident prone-area and some people will pray there.
What is the significance of all this? What purpose does it serve?
It is all strategic. Each group will take as a prayer element anything they pass. Those passing banks and shops will pray for a good economy and investment; those passing hospitals will be praying for the healing of the nation.
The prayer walk has worked. It has seen God answering our prayers. Malawi has been spared from bloodshed and calamities because of the prayers of the saints and we are calling on all Christians in Lilongwe to come and join us. If they cannot, they can still be part of the events because it will all be live on Trans World Radio.