Writing this on Valentine’s Day, when the world celebrates love, I’m aware there is a much higher form of love, the kind of love Annie Chikhwaza exemplifies. This is the God-kind of love. It is called ‘Agape’ in the original Greek. It’s the Love that our Heavenly Father lavishly bestows on us equally, no matter who we are. It’s a love that extends to everyone including the widows and orphans we read about in James 1:27. It’s unconditional, selfless, a love that never gives up no matter what. A love that never fails… Does that sound familiar to you? To me it describes Annie Chikhwaza perfectly.
When she had the option to live a comfortable life in the trendy Northern suburbs of Johannesburg, Annie decided to restart her life instead and go on a mission to Malawi that has spanned some 25 years. She started Kondanani with one HIV/AIDs baby, and through her sacrifice and selfless determination she has saved many, many children’s lives. But this has not been without many hurdles as you will know if you have read Mother of Malawi – the biography of Annie Chikhwaza which we published by Lion Hudson in 2013. It’s nearly 10 years that the book has been out and I know it has tugged many heartstrings. It’s a book full of the many obstacles Annie had to overcome in the first part of her life and how God came through time and time again.
However, the past decade has brought several more challenges to this dear Dutch missionary to Africa and I remain in awe of her ability to keep pushing through. Yet that is what an apostolic pioneer does. She is indeed “an inspiration” as The Sunday Times described her. Annie will be 78 this year and still hasn’t retired unlike others much younger than her. Over and above this, she has survived these additional setbacks in the last 10 years including the recent devastation Covid-19 brought to the Children’s Village.
Our hearts were broken when Annie’s long-serving colleague Cherie Martin went home to be with the Lord. She had been a missionary at Kondanani from Australia from the very early days of this far-reaching mission to Malawi. Cherie will always be remembered for all she did. She had a great love for Jesus and for the children and the loveliest of smiles. Cherie and her daughter Tandazi brought so much joy to Kondanani so it was devastating all round when she died, including for Annie who lost a dear friend as well as a key team member.
It was a very hard time for all at Kondanani and especially the children. Then, Annie got the virus herself and on top of it Malaria. How does one recover from that? But she did and we are grateful to the Lord for sparing her life. Despite ongoing health challenges and the need to visit the Netherlands regularly for treatment, Annie remains committed to her dream of a nation that is transformed by the Kingdom of God at work in ordinary believers.
‘The Word of God is invigorating’ – Annie Chikhwaza
In Mother of Malawi you read about the mob of villagers that attacked Annie and destroyed everything she had done to help the Malawian people. Even that did not deter here. She chose the path of love, forgiveness and restoration. It’s no wonder Annie’s central message is all about overcoming obstacles. Sometimes going around the hurdle, over it or through it.
While we were on a book tour of the UK in 2013 Annie got a disturbing call concerning her daughter Esther who had been diagnosed with tongue cancer. Sadly Esther and her husband both passed away last year leaving a huge hole in her heart. How do you recover from that? Only God can bring the Heavenly comfort that enables us to go on in the face of tragedy. There is a huge ray of hope however, as the Esther Meyer Memorial Children’s Hospital is now saving the lives of babies and toddlers from the impoverished villages surrounding Kondanani.
“The Word of God is so invigorating,” Annie told me, when I asked how she was coping. “I won’t give up,” she says, “God’s Word is so powerful and that’s what keeps me going.”
Returning to the theme of Agape love I remember what the word Kondanani means “Love One Another”. That is what life is all about, and true Christianity is about being there for those widows of which Annie Chikhwaza is one. And of course for the many orphans we come across whether physical or spiritual. Annie reaches out to both and that is an example we can all follow in our quest to keep ourselves unstained from the world.