It’s been nearly three weeks since I returned from an 11-day trip missions trip to Zimbabwe Africa. Ever since the day I returned, I’ve been trying to figure out how to best blog about the trip. Each time I get started, I find that it’s an overwhelming task for which the proper words just don’t exist.
Many people ask me, “So, did you have a good trip?” I’m never quite sure how to answer this question. In many ways, the word “good” isn’t nearly a strong enough word to describe what I experienced. In many other ways, the word “good” is far too strong of a word to describe some of the things I experienced as they were anything but “good”.
When people ask me to tell them about my trip, I’m never quite sure where to start. One of my friends asked me, “Well, why don’t you start by telling me the purpose of your trip.” That sounds like as good a place as any…
I was one of ten people from Rich Fork Baptist Church and New Directions International that went to the Hwange area of
My primary purpose was teaching The Book of Romans at a
When I wasn’t teaching, I was helping James “Red” McAdams in doing masonry and building a new schoolroom for the
Traveling to and from
The first two-and-a-half days of our trip were spent just getting to our destination. I’ve often said, “It’s a small world,” but it’s not. The world is HUGE! I logged over 23,000 air miles over the round trip. Amazingly, sitting in an airplane seat for over 14 hours is exhausting work. Those 5-hour flights from
The two long legs of our trip were served by Emirates Airlines. I must say that they are the nicest airlines on which I have ever flown. While most of our airlines in the
I was especially intrigued by the ice (information, communication, entertainment) system that was in the back of each seat. A touch-screen monitor gave each passenger access to information about the flight, which included cameras in the front of the plane and under the plane, ground speed, duration of flight, and a visual map. The Communication section allowed passengers to communicate with the ground by phone and email. The Entertainment section gave us access to hundreds of movies, television shows, music, audiobooks, and video games.
We flew from
Economic Situation in
Because of the inflation rate, most people prefer to use the US dollar–which holds its value–and trade on the black market. In fact, no one can afford to trade legally any more. Food, fuel, and other necessities of life are in very short supply and can usually only be purchased on the black market or by traveling to other countries. Essentially every Zimbabwean has had to become a criminal in the eyes of the government, just to survive.
The economic situation was reflected in our accommodations and food as well.
Accommodations and Food
While we were there, we probably lived like kings and queens as compared to most of the Zimbabwean citizens, but it was still much worse than how most of the people below the poverty level in
We stayed in two different lodges for the first two nights. The first night we stayed at Gertie’s Lodge. The second night we stayed at Miombo Safari Lodge. These two placed were much like authentic African dwellings with the thatch roofs. They weren’t like hotels or inns in
I would compare our hotel for the week to a rundown Interstate motel from the 1960s. Sometimes we had water, sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we had electricity, sometimes we didn’t. The electricity went out the second night we were there and the hotel staff brought everyone a candle and a box of matches. We did have electricity most of the time though and so we had air conditioning at night. We could usually have water if we were willing to wait up to 15 minutes for it after we turned on the faucet.
The food at the hotel was much the same as at the lodges–they served us what they had available. We did have meat each night–usually buffalo steaks, chicken, or sausage–served with potatoes, rice, or sadza (we call sadza grits in the southern
I never considered myself a very picky eater until before this trip. However, I found myself with a lack of appetite the whole week. We were warned that there may not be any food for us besides rice and sadza so I took plenty of beef jerky, crackers, peanuts, and cookies with me. I didn’t even feel like eating more than a few bites of that at a meal. If you’ve ever been invited for dinner at the home of someone that has poor housekeeping habits, you’ll understand the feeling towards food that I had most of the week.
I want to make a couple notes about our water too. We could drink the water at Miambo because they had a deep well and there is lots of carbon in the soil to filter the water. Although the areas we were in were served by public water, they can no longer afford the chemicals to properly treat the water. We had to filter all the water we drank. Some of us had water bottles that would filter as we drank and we also took filtering pumps so that could filter several gallons at night and store it for the next day.
Victoria Falls and
Since we arrived on Saturday, and didn’t have to get started working until Monday, we had some time to do tourist type things. Saturday evening we visited Victoria Falls. This was a breathtaking display of the beauty God has given us in this earth. It is huge beyond belief–pictures just don’t do it justice. If you get the opportunity, you really must try to visit this.
Sunday evening we participated in a game drive through Hwange National Park. We got very close to many elephants, giraffes, antelopes, water buffalo, monkeys, and several other types of wildlife. We didn’t get to see any lions, tigers, or other cats though. I really wanted to see a kill, but it was a good outing even without it.
Although food is in extreme shortage, the people seem to really understand the concept of conservation. Monkeys are as plentiful as squirrels are here in
On Monday morning we got to work. As with most things in
The students would sit on the rough cement floor, or on very primitive wooden benches that weren’t very comfortable. Because there is no cooling system, the door and windows are always open. One day when I was teaching, my translator had to go outside and run off some guineas that were cackling just outside the door—I’ve been interrupted by a lot of sounds in the past while teaching, but this was the first time it was a bunch of chickens.
The students also have some mud huts where they cook food and perform other activities. I think that most students sleep on the floor of the prayer chapel or classroom at night. They have outdoor toilets and a place where they can bathe outdoors. Student life is probably very much like primitive camping in
Pastor Simon is one of the few people that I would call “a great man of God.” He is a wonderful spirit to be around and to fellowship with. He, and his converts, have started over 400 churches in that area of
Pastor Simon started the
Teaching at the
Academics are an important part of Zimbabwean culture. Because of the lack of formal training for most of these pastors–and pastors wives, I discovered–I initially underestimated my students. I expected that it would much more like teaching a Sunday School class here in
My students asked very hard and very deep questions for which I was not prepared. Several times, I would stop when they asked a question and ask God to give me the words to tell them because I didn’t know what the answer was myself. I think the most amazing thing on the entire trip was how in each of these situations God would give me the words to tell them. I became just a vessel for God to speak through and we all became students together of our Teacher, the Holy Spirit.
The students seemed to study all the time. Before class, during breaks, during lunch, and after class, I would see my students studying their Bibles and taking notes. They don’t take notes like we do either. They all seemed to have notebooks which were probably about 50 pages of thin paper stapled together with a card stock cover. They write on every little area of a page because those cheap notebooks are probably very expensive to them and incredibly precious. They don’t take anything for granted.
It was hot! Where I live in
I quickly came to realize that the total lack of moisture in the atmosphere isn’t good either. It’s like everything just gets pulled right out of you. In the heat of the day, I found that I could only work for a few minutes before needing to take a break and replenish fluids. I probably drank over a gallon a day and wouldn’t use the bathroom all day until I was back at the hotel and cooled off some.
I couldn’t teach for long without having to drink water too. There are several scriptures that use thirst and heat as metaphors to convey a point. I realize now why God used these analogies. Many of us in
What can I say about the people of
The people of
One of my students started a question by saying, “Because you are from
One member of our team asked them if they had somewhere they could obtain new clothes. The student’s reply was that they don’t think about clothes–they’re mostly concerned with where their next meal is coming from. Everyone did seem to have at least a few changes of clothes, but much of that could be left over from the more prosperous times in the country. They seem to take very good care of everything. Most of our team left most of their clothes, and all of our leftover food, and in some cases other belongings. We realized that we could always buy more after we returned to
One of the students mentioned a prayer request to a member of the team. He shared how he had a wife and two children. He had some land on which he grew food to provide for the family, but his two oxen had died. The rainy season was only a few weeks away and he didn’t have any way of working the ground. My friend planned to get his church involved in raising the money to replace his oxen after he returned. He shared the story with me and I inquired about the cost of an ox. I was told that an ox costs $40US–not several hundred like I expected. A couple of us had enough cash to go ahead and take care of that need.
Did we make much of a difference in Africa, of
Except for the fact that I missed my wife immensely while I was away, I could easily have made the decision to stay in Hwange and continue to work with these people. That’s quite amazing when you consider that before this trip I never had much of a heart for
My last day there, my students asked me, “When will you be back?” I wish I knew. Because of the current extreme conditions, and the possibility of civil war within the country, our church isn’t currently planning to do this same trip again next year. Although this was my first foreign missions trip, I was told that these are the worst conditions into which our church has ever sent missionaries. I don’t know when I might be able to return, but I do hope that God gives me that opportunity again.
Also, on my last day, my students prayed, “Lord, although his body returns to