The John Bradburne Memorial Door
John Bradburne & Malawi
The crowning test and crux of all that led him to the Cross
Was when he met the leper and exchanged for gold the dross:
By kissing then the leper's hand he handed up to God
His heart and mind with art consigned to Christ the Master's nod.
It may well be asked why John Bradburne, an Englishman who settled, after long wanderings, in what is now Zimbabwe, is an appropriate figure to depict on the West Door of a church in rural Malawi. After all, his name was previously unknown in Malawi; and, although there is broad cultural continuity across Central Africa, for much of the congregation life outside Kasungu district, let alone England and Zimbabwe, seems impossibly far away.
In the first place, the holiness of John's life is manifest to all people of good will: it has an appeal which is as universal as that of the Gospel which he lived. Moreover, there is much in the scenes which the carvers have chosen to depict to allow the congregation to relate to John's life: the African village, John's affection for animals both wild and tame, building projects, the ceremony of the Mass and the funeral. Even the scourge of leprosy has not been forgotten by the Agogo; and those who do not remember it make the appropriate comparison to HIV / AIDS. One or two of the residents at Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement had made the long journey from Nyasaland (Malawi) to Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in search of work and, although 'cured', found themselves unable to return. Matthew is one such leper:
Befits a king
His quiet dignity, his manners are
Come with him from Malawi on afar.
However, for those who are prepared to look beyond appearances for their moral significance, John's life constitutes also a bridge between England and Africa in a way that seems especially necessary in a village which contains quite such disparate communities as Mtunthama. For John was not an ambassador of some NGO, of the sort which passes through Mtunthama with tedious regularity, leaving hand-outs and condescending advice and the dust of its 4 x 4 vehicle in its wake. Nor, for that matter, was he an expatriate schoolmaster at Kamuzu Academy who finds himself in a position of much greater influence in the community, for good or for ill, than he would occupy at home. Rather, he was a poor white man – which is a self-contradiction for many in Malawi – who chose to live in Africa as an African, offering an example of love and service to the poorest of God's poor. This is rare indeed, both in a village society such as Mtunthama, in which duty is seldom thought to extend beyond family, church and tribe, and among the urban elites of Blantyre and Lilongwe, for whom success is all too often understood as material acquisition and the old injunction that 'noblesse oblige' as mere folly.
If John's example encourages compassion in Mtunthama village toward the outcast – whether through illness or want or lack of status – and inspires the sons and daughters of Blantyre and Lilongwe at Kamuzu Academy to consider those less fortunate than themselves, it will prove not least among the miracles required for his beatification.
Ten Years On
The substance of what is written above dates back just under ten years to a week of reflection in the Alps on completion of St. Mary's Church. It will be appropriate here, as the tenth anniversary of the church itself approaches on 6th December, 2019, to bring the story up to date. It is, for the large part, a happy one, and it may be noted now that a small community of Third Order Franciscans emerged shortly after the church was inaugurated and has been active throughout.
Pemphero la madalitso ndi chifundo cha Mulungu laJohn Randal Bradburne (Chichewa)
Chauta Mulungu wathu, kapolo wanu John Randal Bradburne adaonetsa mphamvu ya chikondi chanu mmoyo wake pansi pano, ngakhaleso mu imfa yake.
Chikondi chake pa Yesu Khristu ndinso pa Mariya Amayi ake ndinso machitidwe ake pa anthu onse owoneka otsika ndinso opondeledzedwa, akhale chitsanzo kwa ife tonse omutsatira.
Choncho tikupempha zodabwitsa zake kudzera mu pemphero lake, kuti pakutero chikondi chake ndi kuyera kwake kuzindikirike mu mpingo wathu wonse.
Tikupempha zimenezi kudzera mwa Yesu Khristu ambuye athu. Amen.
Atate athu... Tikuoneni Mariya... Ulemu ukhale...