Madonna is pouring millions of pounds into orphanages in Malawi whwere children are indoctrinated in her bizarre Kabbalah faith. And friends say that's just the start of
One scorched summer's day in the mid-19th century, Dr Livingstone emerged from the African scrub, battered and bruised, on to the glistening shores of Lake Malawi.
He and his missionaries brought with them the Presbyterianism that the Malawians adopted as their religion and still follow to this day.
This week another enlightened missionary arrived in Malawi. Just like Dr Livingstone before her, she had travelled a long and arduous journey, all the way from the UK, but this time on a gold and silver Gulfstream IV private jet.
It was Madonna, and her mission is to spread the word of Kabbalah across Malawi. She has reinvented herself - yes, here we go again - as Mother Madonna, a leather-booted hybrid of Mother Teresa and Angelina Jolie.
Ridiculous, perhaps, but in a country where 46 per cent of the population is under 14 - and many of them are orphans - the effects of her evangelism could be profound.
As a generation of children grow up with Kabbalah, Malawi could, in effect, become Mother Madonna's very own state.
In Dr Livingstone's day the country was called Nyasaland; for 21st-century Malawi, why not Madonna-land, the world's first Kabbalah nation? After all, with her fortune of £248million, she could afford to buy a quarter of the country.
"When you get down to it, she is looking to have her own state with her religion," says a source.
The singer arrived in Malawi on Monday morning with her daughter Lourdes, 10, and 18-month-old David Banda, the Malawian boy she wishes to adopt.
Guy Ritchie, her film director husband, was not with her, choosing to remain in London with their six-year-old son, Rocco.
It had widely been assumed that Madonna was here on a shopping expedition to adopt another child. But the truth is more complex - and more disturbing.
Last year the singer set up a charity, Raising Malawi, to help the nation's orphans. Her partner in the project was Michael Berg, the son of Philip Berg, rabbi and Dean of the Kabbalah Centre in America.
For the past six months, construction has been under way on her Raising Malawi orphan care centre at Mphandula, 30 miles outside the capital Lilongwe, which will provide day care for up to 4,000 children. On Thursday, Madonna officially opened the site at a "handing over of the keys" ceremony.
She is also providing funding for several other orphanages, care homes and villages in Malawi - in Mchinji, Salima and Blantyre, among other places.
Her charity is providing food, medical supplies, exercise books and other provisions for children at these centres.
So far, so charitable. What is not widely known in Malawi, however, is that in return for their financial support, Madonna and Michael Berg have instructed staff to teach Kabbalah to the orphans in their care.
To that end, last November, a team of Malawians were flown out to the States for an intensive three-month course in Kabbalah, so that they could teach it to orphans back in Malawi.
Many children in the orphanages she is supporting are already being tutored in Kabbalah and in the coming months, 7,000 orphans across the country - which has a population of only 12million - are set to receive instruction.
Perhaps to disguise its Kaballah origins, the course is entitled Spirituality For Kids (SFK). The majority of Malawians are members of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, and until now have been perfectly happy with it for spiritual enrichment.
So church groups will be deeply concerned when they learn just how widespread Madonna's Kabbalah programme already is.
When word got out last year that she might be bringing the religion to the country, there were worried murmurings from religious leaders, particularly from the Roman Catholic Church here.
That is why a shipment of blue Kabbalah 'bibles' to Malawi remain undistributed, for fear of a backlash.
And you can see why. Madonna's brand of Kaballah has little to do with the traditional, mystical form of Judaism with which it shares its name.
Philip Berg's version is a kind of Kabbalah lite with a distinctly wacky edge. He believes, for example, that most mentally ill people are not mentally ill, but possessed by evil spirits and that "unseen extraterrestrial forces affect terrestrial affairs".
It is now the task of Malawi's orphans to figure out what the hell he and his celebrity acolyte are talking about.
The mission is well under way. The Consol Homes orphan care centre, 30 miles outside Lilongwe, was one of several sites chosen for the 'pilot' project - 40 of the 200 children, aged eight to 13, were selected to take part.
Now they are being taught to look at things in a different way. Berg's Kabbalah teachings are centred on the belief that nothing in the world is random and everything is the result of some prior action.
In blunt terms, if you are a good person and do good things you will have a nice life, and if you suffer misfortune, that's because you've been a bad person.
How this will sit with all these orphans who have lost their parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is hard to fathom. The children recently completed phase one of the three-phase Kabbalah course after weekly two-hour lessons for ten weeks.
Jacinta Chapomba, project officer for orphans and vulnerable children, talks me through it. Each of the students has been given a paper 'tree of life' planted in a small pot.
On Mrs Chapomba's desk is one belonging to one of the orphans. On one of the leaves, the child has written: "I had a bicycle accident because I did bad things"; on another: "When travelling I hit my foot on a stone because of the bad things I did."
Mrs Chapomba explains: "According to the teachings, because they have done bad things they must expect bad things to happen to them. When they do wrong they have a bad ending. When they do right they have a good ending." Simple.
So it follows, presumably, that the famously friendly and delightful Malawians must until now have been a pretty bad lot, given the scale of the AIDS epidemic - an estimated 38 per cent of the population are HIV positive - famine, drought and disease that beset their country.
Unlike Mother Teresa, Madonna does not plan to go about her work quietly. Following her around everywhere she goes is a camera crew, filming everything.
According to friends, the singer is making a film about her work - working title Raising Malawi - to be released in cinemas worldwide. No need to take a wild guess as to who's going to be the star. "She wants to take Malawi to the world," says a friend.
Madonna also has plans, says the friend, for orphans to make those red string Kabbalah bracelets that celebrities like to wear to make them think they are spiritual people.
The idea is for the bracelets to go on sale in branches of H&M, with which Madonna recently launched a fashion range, and give the profits back to Malawi. This scheme gives some idea how completely Kabbalah is entwined with Madonna's charity work.
But drive down one of the main avenues in Lilongwe - where each day workers are busy making coffins in the street along the entire stretch of road - and the scale of the country's problem is all too evident.
There is no question that Madonna is throwing money at the country. A £750,000 orphan care centre has just been completed which she officially opened on Thursday; she is promising hospitals and schools and providing clothes, shoes and mosquito nets.
How can they refuse if she wants to impose Kabbalah on them? You could call it bribery. "The view of the Malawian people is if the government cannot sort out its problems then how can they refuse Madonna," says one official. During a visit to the Home of Hope orphanage in Mchinji, where David came from, Madonna announced that she planned to take it over when the current pastor retires.
"I have the welfare of all of you at heart and I love you," she told the children. "I will try to support you all and take care of you in the same manner as David."
Madonna, 48, took David back to the orphanage to be reunited with his 32-year-old father Yohane, who placed David in the orphanage after his wife died a week after childbirth.
"I was so excited and could not believe my eyes when I saw him, although it pained me that he had to leave after just a few hours,' Yohane told me afterwards.
"This visit reminded me of David's two other brothers, who have died, and his mother, but at the same time I was happy because I could see that my son is in good hands and has a bright future with Madonna.
"It felt as though he was not my child. I held him and felt like crying because he was not OK at the orphanage but now he is healthy and strong."
There has been no end of controversy about David's adoption. Last October, Madonna was accused of using her money and status to 'fast track' the adoption.
Under Malawian law, a prospective adoptive parent from abroad must be resident in Malawi for at least 18 months before their application is considered.
Unusually, a judge granted an interim order allowing her to take David back to Britain. She will learn next January whether her application to adopt him has been successful. The chances of it being refused are less than zero.
Sources at the orphanage say she was very interested in a 15-month-old orphan girl called Chisomo, but then changed her mind when she saw David.
"There was concern about Madonna adopting David because his father was still alive, which complicated things because he was very attached to the child," says a source.
So is she going to adopt another child? During her travels she has been greeted by locals holding placards with messages such as: "Well done Madonna, and we love you - adopt more!"
It has been reported that she has "set her heart" on a three-year-old girl called Grace, after watching a video of the child playing in the orphanage.
It is reported that she is desperate to adopt again but Guy doesn't. All is thought not to be well between the couple, not least because he does not share her obsession with Kabbalah.
This week Madonna has been holding court at her luxury lodge, having morning meetings with various officials, before heading out to orphanages in her convoy of 4X4s.
She has begun discussing a charity project with Nelson Mandela, the details of which are not known. According to friends, the singer plans to build a country estate in a rural location outside the capital, to base herself when she comes here.
Wherever she goes, specially composed songs are performed; there is dancing and poetry recitals. So gratifying for one's ego.
On Monday, the singer, dressed interestingly in combats, knee-length lace up boots and a Panama hat, visited Mtanga, a UN-funded Millennium Village which she is supporting financially.
The villagers are enormously grateful for her help. They see her as a saintly figure and have no idea about her previous incarnation as the Material Girl, who made an album called Erotica and dressed up as a dominatrix for a pop video.
"We don't have TV and only a few of us have radios, so we didn't know much about her," says John Manway, a 32-year-old father-of-five who is chairman of the Millennium Group in the area.
"The villagers were suffering from malaria very badly, but Madonna has provided us with netting over our beds and that has helped a great deal. She has promised to build a school and a hospital.
"She is a mother to us." Music to Madonna's ears.
Yesterday she visited a tiny new medical outpost in Salima which she is believed to be funding.
Word had got round the nearby villages that a very rich white woman was visiting (they'd never heard of Madonna) and dozens of women breast feeding their babies turned up in the belief that this saviour was coming with medicine for malaria.
Unfortunately, for them, after waiting seven hours in the heat, Madonna planted a tree and then left. The misunderstanding was not her fault, of course, but that was no consolation for the women.
The singer then visited a graduation ceremony of 22 teenagers from the Social Rehabilitation Centre in Lilongwe, who have completed their Kabbalah course. They wore T-shirts with the SFK logo and on the back the slogan, in Chichewa: Give so that you receive blessings.
Kabbalah, of course. Welcome to Madonna-land.