Malawi: An Epic Story that Began with Prayer

The story of Mary’s Meals began with prayer. It started with a personal journey of faith; it was nourished by family prayer; it responded to faith seen in others; it asked for blessing and was led on an ever-increasing adventure. 

Back to all stories | Posted on 23 May 23

In The Shed That Fed 2 Million Children, Magnus movingly recounts how prayer was interwoven with the unfolding events of a famine response in Malawi, giving rise to a charity that now serves life-changing meals to more than 2.4 million of the world’s poorest children as they learn.

“On the last morning of the first visit, before heading to the airport, we rose early to climb through the woods to the top of Michuru Mountain, where they had started work on the foundations for their huge concrete cross. The view from there was breathtaking. The whole of the city of Blantyre was spread beneath us, with the vast plains and hills beyond. We prayed a rosary with Gay as we drank in the vista. When we had finished we took from our pockets some pebbles carried from our own hill in Scotland – the one behind Craig Lodge on which Dad had built ‘Stations of the Cross’ – and some from the hill in Medjugorje where the apparitions of Our Lady first took place. These we placed into the open foundations, already full of Malawian stones, and we prayed for blessing upon this project and upon Malawi. And I promised the Russells I would be back very soon.

“On our return home we began fundraising furiously … Three months after my first visit, in November 2002, I returned to Malawi, this time to visit those we were by now funding and other groups that Gay knew needed help … By now, as predicted, the effects of the famine had worsened.

“… The planting season here had already begun. Some recent rains encouraged many to plant maize, but without a single shower since, the people were terrified that this crop would be lost. They had no more seeds to plant. Life here was terrifyingly precarious.

“I rose early to attend Mass in the simple church as the first beams of sunlight drifted through the windows. The small congregation, dressed in ragged clothes with calloused hands, looked as if they were on their way to the fields. At the end of the Mass, as most made their way out in silence, I noticed a lady walking up the aisle with a bundle on her head. This she rested on the bottom altar step and Father Owen came to it, prayed over it and blessed it. The lady then placed the bundle back on her head and serenely walked out towards the sun rising over the fields. I realized that within that cloth were the precious seeds that she was going to plant that day. I pondered for a while during the ‘after Mass silence’ on the act of faith I had just witnessed. Those seeds represented her own and her family’s future. Within them lay all her hopes and all her fears. Everything. Even life and death. She had been able to lay down all of that and in one simple heartfelt gesture had given it all to God and asked for His blessing. How much more difficult would it be for me to make the equivalent offering? With our Western layers of security and complexity this would not be an easy thing to do. How might it feel to be so utterly dependent on when the next rain will fall and on the God who created it? Or at least to be so acutely aware of it?

“… There were many encounters during those days that moved me deeply and left me questioning things and looking at them in different ways. Everywhere was life and death and very little of the stuff that most often obscures them. I had a strange sense of preparing for something and that this was some kind of intense training course … But I didn’t expect that my next meeting with a suffering family would change my life in the way that it did, and lead to the birth of Mary’s Meals.

“… Thus it was I came to meet that family whose picture remains on the wall above my desk: Emma surrounded by her six children, including fourteen-year-old Edward, who, when I asked him about his hopes in life, gave me an answer I will never forget. “I would like to have enough food to eat and I would like to be able to go to school one day” had been his stark, shocking reply to my question.

“… Thus, the mission of Mary’s Meals, to provide one good meal every day in a place of education, for hungry impoverished children, was launched by Edward’s words.”

The Shed That Fed 2 Million Children
Chapter 6: A Famine Land