by AmandaEve Wigglesworth
Red dust kicks up from the ground, highlighting the stark beauty of beiges and browns in the fields and the leafless trees. The rains won’t begin for at least another month – you can taste the dust coating your throat. A group of men are singing in jubilation and stomping the dust with vigour. They keep the beat with their hands alone; there are no drums in sight. The tiny village of Hurungwe has little to offer – tattered clothing, bare feet, and hungry bellies are in abundance – but today their spirits are full because today their Bishop is visiting with a Mission Team from the United States and Canada. Today, the foundation stone of their new church will be put into place; it will go under where the altar will be built. Emotions are high for everyone. The Team members assist in the service and watch their names being lowered into the foundation with the founders of this African church. As they clap and dance along to the songs of the Shona women, they know that a part of them will remain in Africa forever.
The first OCMC Mission Team to Zimbabwe experienced many unforgettable events like this as we travelled alongside His Eminence Metropolitan George of Zimbabwe. We participated in what is already happening throughout the country and experienced a reciprocal blessing between the team members and the local church (comprised of the Greek, Shona, and Ndebele people groups). Our brothers and sisters in Christ showed us love and taught us about hospitality.
They are hungry for instruction about the Orthodox Church and way of life. We found much joy during the teaching times as we shared from our own knowledge and experience and tried to answer their many questions. They also bared their souls to us by asking very personal questions before and after sessions, as well as during the gender and age-specific sessions. After two weeks of clinging to us like Velcro, a few small children will now be wondering, “Where did the white women go?”
There is so much hunger in Zimbabwe. The people are hungry for food and other supplies. Only a year ago, grocery store shelves were empty, and there was no petrol. Banks were restricting how much a person could withdraw each day; even if you had money in the bank, you could not access it when you needed it. The inflation had gone out of control. One US dollar equalled 13 trillion Zim Dollars. At the beginning of 2009, Zim dollars ceased to be used, and the country currently operates on US dollars and South African rands.
Today, things have improved dramatically. Bread is available in the cities. Petrol is available at most stations (but make sure to read the chalk boards which announce “petrol – yes, diesel – yes” if you want to be sure). Knick-knacks are available at the markets. As visitors, we had plenty to eat. However, there are still shortages. In Harare, a city of 6 million people, there has been no public water source for a year and a half (early 2008). Each building or residence has to pump water from the water table. Power cuts occur without warning, thereby affecting everything (including traffic signals and the water pumps). One night, the Metropolis was without electricity and water from 6:30pm until 9:00am the next morning. This has become a frustrating part of their lives. Despite this, the people are joyful. They know how much the situation has improved. They are survivors.
The villages are still struggling. They do not receive many of the food items and school supplies that are now available in the cities. In Chitate, a hamlet outside of the village of Mrehwa, a group of women have formed a peanut butter making co-operative. They grow the peanuts, harvest them, shell them, clean them, and grind them into peanut butter. They sell their organic product (chunky or creamy!) in the village. These women are hard-working and determined to help provide for their families.
The Team was blessed to spend time with the villagers in order to witness the peanut butter project and the spirit of the people. What love and what joy! When we arrived, the women were singing, dancing, and clapping in procession to meet us. We had never met them before, but each woman embraced every team member with such excitement, energy, and length that it appeared as though they were greeting relatives whom they had not seen for a very long time. They honoured us like dignitaries and happily showed off the village. We were also able to try grinding the peanuts and tasting the result. It tasted just like the organic peanut butter I buy at home! The women cooked a traditional Zimbabwean meal for us, including meat (something that is always rare in villages). We blessed them with food, toys, school supplies, and candy which had been sent in crates from Greece. His Eminence also blessed them by buying the entire stock of peanut butter (which he then distributed as gifts). The entire village was blessed that day…and so were we.
The communities are also lacking in school and church supplies. We received many requests for supplies. Money is also needed to carry out the work of the Church. Another project of the Metropolis is the School Fee Program. All children must pay school fees to go to school (for both public and private schools). Most parents cannot afford to pay the public school fees.
At the end of the day, it was hard to leave because of the relationships we had started to form. We connected with brothers and sisters in Christ of all colours, genders, and ages in various ways. As we shared our stories and the people shared theirs, we realized how much we have in common even when our day-to-day lives are so different. It was hard to say goodbye to our remarkable brothers and sisters in Christ after so short a time. But we know that they will be praying for us, our churches, and the next Team that will come to serve them. Already, I am wondering whether I will be a part of that Team. When God asks, “Who shall I send to Zimbabwe?” Will you answer, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”?