The following story of compassion and hospitality was shared with CRIHI by Christina Mhina, from All Saint’s Anglican Parish in Edmonton.
My grandfather, the late Canon Samuel Stephen Mwinyipembe was a special influence in my life. He was a loving, caring and compassionate person.
I remember when I was a child, about nine years old, there were rumors that neighborhood witchcraft was a problem in the village that I was born and raised.
It was believed that this was a problem in neighboring villages too. These were village communities where the inhabitants largely rely on each other. Accusations of witchcraft were usually due to personal disputes, jealousy, and conflicts between neighbors or family over land or inheritance. In many cases those who were accused of practicing witchcraft were shunned away from their families, and in some cases they were murdered.
My grandfather, as a faith leader felt that he had a moral obligation to support those in need, therefore he invited the suspected witches to come and stay at our home until the tensions in their families were resolved. Our family structure was a big extended clan, so I and my siblings thought we were related to everyone that lived in our house. Now there were three old women, who lived at our home who were quite isolated and who did not take part in any household chores (as they were not allowed to do chores such cooking, cleaning, fetching water for the fear that they might try to poison the family.) Because they had lots of time sitting around, my siblings and I spent a great deal of time interacting, listening to the stories they shared and playing with these old women.
Then one day, at night while everyone else was sleeping, I was awakened by voices of people talking. As I listened carefully I realized the voices of my grandfather and my grandmother arguing. In their argument I heard my grandmother furiously saying “you have to send them away, they are witches, and they will bewitch our grandchildren”. My grandfather responded calmly and with confidence, “there is no certainty that these women are witches, but we know for sure that these are human beings in need. They need our support. They will stay with us. I assure you, our grandchildren will be safe.”
That night, I could not get back to sleep, I kept thinking of the three isolated old women that played with us, and that all this time they had been “witches!” The following day I interacted with them being cautious, but within a few days’ time, I forgot about my grandparents’ arguments. We continued to live with the accused ‘witches’ who seemed to be friendly and harmless to me and my family members.
Since that time I always remember my grandfather’s concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others which has influenced me in my interactions with others. I try to pass on what I have learned from my grandfather down to my children and those I interact with.