Siwema was a young girl belonging
to the Yao people who lived in a small, but beautiful village in the Livingstone
Mountains near Lake Nyasa in Malawi. The abrupt death of her father sank her
family into crippling indebtedness. She and her mother were seized by Arab
slave traders in payment of the debt and led on a harrowing and painful trek to
the Indian Ocean coast. During the journey the Arab slave-caravan leader
murdered her mother before Siwema’s very eyes. After
reaching Bagamoyo, Tanzania Siwema embarked upon a
horrible sea voyage to the island-coastal slave market at Zanzibar.
Upon arrival in Zanzibar,
Siwema herself was thrown into a garbage heap by a slave
trader who was disgusted by her ill-health. There a jackal picked at her weak
body, but, rescued by a young man from Réunion who attended the mission, she
entered the care of the Sisters and became well again. Siwema’s life
changed completely. She helped the Sisters wherever she could.
The Sisters invited her to attend religious
instructions. The Spiritan Fathers, able to speak her language, told her about
God who sent his own son Jesus Christ to bring love to all. All should forgive,
all should love everybody, even enemies. Siwema was fascinated. She asked if
also she could become a Christian. "Yes", she was told and got further teaching.
She was so happy.
One night she had a dream. In her dream she saw the
cruel Arab with the white beard who had killed her mother and who treated her so
badly. He was lying on the ground, full of blood. She went to him. She killed
him. Next morning she attended religious instructions. The Father taught about
the Lord’s Prayer. He came to the quotation: "Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive our trespassers". "No, never", Siwema cried. "Never, never shall
I forgive! For all the years of my life I shall never forgive him!" "I
understand you,” the Father said. "Deep in my heart I understand you. But with
such a big sense of hatred you cannot be baptized. All of us, you and me, have
to overcome their sins. You have to overcome your hatred also."
Days later Siwema was called by the Sisters to the
hospital. A British ship had captured a ship of Arabs smuggling African slaves
from Bagamoyo to Zanzibar. The Arabs defended their load and many were
injured. One very badly. The Sisters asked Siwema to clean his wounds. Siwema
entered the room where the Sisters had laid him down on a mat. Her heart almost
stopped beating. She saw an Arab slave trader.
She recognized him. It was the cruel man with the white beard. He was
bleeding. Blood came out of his head and nose. “The Arab!" Siwema cried.
Hatred came back into her heart. But there was also something else. She saw
the cross on the wall. She saw Jesus on the cross. "Jesus, did you die on the
cross for this Arab too?" she asked. Suddenly she heard herself praying:
"Jesus, please, forgive me my hatred as I forgive this Arab."
She was not aware that she was praying in a loud voice. One of the Sisters
was in the room. "Siwema", she said, "do you know that you were saying the
Lord’s Prayer?" Do you know that you are now ready for baptism?"
Siwema cried, but they were tears of joy. The next day Siwema was baptized and
received the Christian name Mary Magdalena. Later she
entered the Sisters’ congregation as a postulant.