Shelter for Dispossessed Widows, Massinga
By David Malloy
It is a hot day in the Massinga District of Mozambique. There are five of us traveling in a small truck. We ride on the left side of the road which is the correct side to drive in Mozambique. The driver is Rev. Dr. Zefanias Chihulume, director of Connectional Ministries of the South Mozambique Annual Conference. He is our translator/guide for a tour of the projects and mission outreach efforts of the conference. There are few cars on this long stretch of paved road but lots of traffic. Men, women, and children walk on both sides of the road, carrying food, leading goats, and hauling water in the sweltering sun.
We turn off the paved road on to one of dirt. A tall sign with fading white paint is noticed when we go "off road." The familiar Cross and Flame logo and the words 'Igreja Metodista Unida Centro de Apoio Velhice' in bold black letters are painted on the sign. The words translate to the United Methodist Church Center to Support Old Age.
The truck leaves a trail of dust as we move along a bumpy road. We approach a clearing with four traditional huts and a big tree in the middle. Under the shade of tree is food spread out on the ground. Several elderly women are sitting under the tree on handmade mats. Corn, bowls of nuts and beans are spread along the ground. As our group approaches, the women greet us with smiles and offer chairs under the tree away from the hot sun.
As the population of Mozambique continues to age, families struggle to find the means to support each other. As the pressure mounts to make ends meet, many of the country's oldest inhabitants are shunned away.
There are 28 elderly women living at the United Methodist Hanhane Women's Shelter in Massinga. All are there because their families accused them of witchcraft and drove them from their homes. These "witches" are cared for by the South Mozambique Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"The district superintendent who was here started collecting all the elderly people who were accused of being witches and he accommodated them here," said Rev. Chihulume. "Bishop Machado was able to get some funding and the shelters were built to help these women."
"We help them feel better here; we help to end their suffering" says Rev. Chihulume, "Many suffer at the hands of their own children."
Rev. Chihulume says this ministry is needed because Mozambique does not have a good retirement system. The elderly rely on their children to take care of them in their old age. Many end up living with their children who are beginning their own young families. The economic hardships in Mozambique make it difficult to provide for extended families. Many children end up forsaking their mothers. The children of these elderly women conclude that the best way of driving them away is to accuse them of witchcraft and take their homes for their own families.
The shelter opened in 1992. Over the years the women have formed a close knit community. They grow their own food and help support one another. The conference helps with medical assistance when needed and a nurse visits twice a week.
The women offer our group food and water. They have generous hearts and a willingness to share what they have. They have welcomed strangers into their community although they have been turned away from their own. The ministry of the United Methodist Church in Mozambique has offered them hope and care. The women offer hope and care back to anyone who visits them.