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Photo Friday: Founding Macha

In this undated photo, Macha Mission founders H. Frances Davidson (left) and Adda Engle (right) stand in the midst of the makeshift mission station compound. Davidson recorded the couples' hardships in her journal, and later in her 1915 book, "South and Central Africa." (Brethren in Christ Historical Library and Archives)

2011 marks the 105th anniversary of the founding of the Brethren in Christ Church’s Macha Mission station in Choma, Zambia. Today, Macha Mission serves as a hub for innovative medical research other programs, but at its founding in 1906 the site was a place for evangelization and education.

The mission station was launched in that year by two women — H. Frances Davidson and Adda Engle. Theirs was a remarkable feat, not only of physical endurance (the two women set out on their own from present-day Zimbabwe in order to establish the station almost 500 miles away) but also of entrepreneurial spirit. At the time, the Brethren in Christ Church did not recognize the leadership abilities of women; that Davidson and Engle accomplished their feat — and with incredible success — speaks to the freedom that these early Brethren in Christ missionary women possessed.

Davidson recalled her experiences in founding Macha Mission in her 1915 book, South and Central Africa. Drawing on her journal entries from 1906, she wrote evocatively of the founding, and of the intense physical and psychological toll the effort took on her and her compatriots:

These have been busy days; much work has been crowded into them. Building and making furniture have occupied the attention of all of us, and everything has had to be done with native material and few tools, which have increased the amount of labor. The poles had to be hauled five or six miles and some of the grass for thatching was brought fifteen miles. . . . Sister Engle and I have been bending all our energies toward helping with the building in the more technical parts, so that the work might be accomplished as soon as possible, and we have been spending some of our time in making furniture. There has been no difficulty in securing natives to work for us . . .

There seems to be nothing to mar the work and location thus far, except the savage beasts, which prowl around at night, a terror to the domestic animals and to ourselves. When we pray, ‘Keep us from harm and danger,’ it is a more genuine prayer than formerly. Many nights the howls of of the wolves and hyenas are to be heard, and one night some of the boys awoke to see in the firelight the eyes of a hyena glaring at them. Some of the natives built a high, strong pen for our cattle, and the first night they were enclosed in it a lion tried to force its way in, as indicated by the spoors the next morning. Leopards have also been seen. These evidences, as well as the stories told by others, convince us that there are wild beasts in the neighborhood, yet the Lord is able to keep and has thus far kept us from harm.

For more on Davidson’s and Engle’s pioneering work, see H. Frances Davidson, South and Central Africa (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Publishing House, 1915), and E. Morris Sider, “H. Frances Davidson,” in Nine Portraits: Brethren in Christ Biographical Sketches (Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Press, 1978), 158-212.

NOTE: You can download South and Central Africa for free, courtesy of Google Books!

5 responses to “Photo Friday: Founding Macha

  1. I read Francis’ book 40 years ago when I came upon it at a used book sale. I found it fascinating and inspiring. I did find it distressing that the freedom experienced by the two women at the founding was later reigned in when some male missionaries entered the work.

  2. Thanks, great info and download was easy! Now I’m off to a new adventure. Have been reading family diaries from 1906-1909, they will probably seem mild in comparison to life for these two ladies during that time period.

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