During our first week in Zim, the kids made fast friends with the neighbor children. The first day, their play consisted of helping round up the cattle that had gotten out of the kraal (pen) and bringing them back home. The next day, it was the goats (mbudzi) that had gotten loose. This whole time, we kept hearing the kids refer to one of their new friends as “Blessing,” which is not an uncommon name here in Zim. But the other day, the parents of “Blessing” came to visit and we told them how much our kids love playing with “Blessing.” A puzzled look came over their faces and at first we thought we had made the embarrassing mistake of assuming they were his parents when they weren’t. But suddenly came a knowing look and then one of laughter as they realized their son Zvikomborero had introduced himself as “Blessing” as this is a form of the Shona word for “Blessing.” At age 9 he was already acting as a cultural accommodator for our kids!
This story reminds me of one of our first Sundays here in Zim when we visited FBC Mkoba. One of the hymns we sang that first Sunday was “Zvikomborero.” Of course I did not recognize the words right away, but as soon as I heard the tune I knew what we were singing about was “Showers of Blessing.” The words of this hymn rang all too loudly as we were singing in the midst of a drought the likes of which Zim has not seen since 1992, and even that one (many say) was not this bad. From the time we arrived (12/27), there had not been any rain since the prior week and there wouldn’t be any rain until just a week or so ago today. So there was well over a month with no rain at all. Zero. And this during “rainy season.” The result of this has been sparse vegetation, resulting in a downturn in crops as well as starving, ill, and dying livestock. Many farmers have been forced to sell emaciated cows for $50/head (less than 10% of value) simply to be able to recover some of their costs. For a primarily agrarian society, this is devastating. Never before had I had I heard believers cry out to God like many OT saints for rain to fall from heaven. It was gut wrenching to see something so essential to life, yet something we had largely simply taken for granted our entire lives (water) in such short supply.
But as in the OT, the Lord has heard our prayers and “opened the good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain” (Deut 28:12). In many parts of Zimbabwe we are now hearing reports of the rains beginning to fall, including almost daily gully-washers (or as our supervisor might say, “frog-chokers”) at our place in Gweru. Please do not hear me as saying all of our problems are solved, as many places are still without rain (particularly toward Tongaland) and still need much prayer. But I bring up this example as an illustration of how we are learning to trust our God who hears and answers prayer. Even when there seems to be no sign of rain, we can cry out to our God who hears from heaven and pours out Zvikomborero in His good timing. We have seen this to be true one-hundredfold since we have been here in Zim.
Time would fail me to list out all of the specific blessings and answers to prayer our God has provided since our arrival. I have actually tried to make a discipline of sitting down once a week and writing in my new journal (thanks MG!) these specific things so that in days to come we can look back and reflect on God’s faithfulness to us along the way. Because many of you have been praying with and for us for these things, I thought it would be appropriate to update you on some of them:
- Within our first week here, we received news that all of the seminary’s debts (to power company and all) had been paid up to date! This extraordinary development (dare I say, miracle?) enables us to move forward with many plans for getting the seminary back on track which would have been seriously hindered otherwise.
- We had asked for much prayer regarding the kids’ and specifically the dynamic that they would be the only whites in a somewhat racially charged environment. We are happy to report that, thus far, the schooling could not be going better. The kids are not only loving their new school, by all appearances the school seems to love them. They have seem to have been openly embraced into virtually every facet of the school from the academic side to the athletics side and even hearing about many friend eager to learn from our kids about “what things are like in America.”
- Another thing for which we had prayed and requested prayer was a trustworthy and competent helper for the younger kids and around the house. In God’s grace, our new helpers the Mandimutsiras (David and Miriam) have moved from Harare to Gweru and are now assisting us with these things. David will be helping with the lawn and general maintenance around the house, while Miriam will be watching Juliet and Johnny during our language study and also helping around the house cleaning, etc. The Mandimutsiras come with the highest recommendations both from our previous LCs on the field as well as some of our friends who now work with BGR, but who had employed David and Miriam during their years in Zim.
- I know we came here as cross-cultural missionaries, but any missionary who says they don’t find some satisfaction in discovering “westernish” comforts on the field, is lying! 🙂 Since being in Gweru, we have found SO many unexpected comforts we had originally assumed we would go without. Not all of them are entirely affordable, but it is still neat to know things like Coke Zero, Chicken filet sandwiches (nearly rivaling Chick-Fil-A…I said nearly), new release DVDs ($1 each), and even a NICE (by that I mean one of the best I’ve ever had) steak dinner are available if/when needed.
- Another thing many had told us to prepare for in coming to Africa was a sense of isolation from relationships. Coming from a church like Redemption Hill, where “Community” is one of our core values, we knew this would be a struggle for us. Obviously we realize there may still be some sense of this to come in the months/years ahead. But one huge answer to prayer has been an almost immediate sense of community through some new relationships we have been able to forge here. To make a long story short, God providentially placed some folks in our path within our first week who are our age, from a South African (more westernized) background, and who have 4 children the same ages as ours. This relationship has opened the door to several others like it and we look forward to building on this sense of community we already feel.
I could literally go on and on about the things God has done and is doing to make our landing and deployment here as smooth and effective as possible, but as I said before, time would definitely fail me to do so adequately. So I will just leave you with this report- God is hearing and answering your prayers! “Zvikomborero!” Thank you for lifting these things up to the Father over the past months. The prayers you have prayed and are praying are paying big dividends for us on this side of the pond! So keep it up.
On that note, I would be remiss not to add some new things to your list 🙂 :
- Pray for the upcoming semester at BTSZ which starts on 22/2 (Feb 22). We have a completely new set of degree programs and curricula we will be launching with an entirely new administration and staff. A complete reboot, if you will. Pray that God blesses our efforts and prayers and that BTSZ makes some headway to becoming one of the premier theological training institutions in Southern Africa.
- Pray for plans we are in the process of making to bring training to 1000+ leaders across Zimbabwe in 2016. By God’s grace, and with a little help from our friends at World Hope Bible Institute, we will see pastors, deacons, and lay-leaders from each of our 20+ Baptist associations in Zimbabwe enroll in sound theological and practical ministry training this year.
- Continue to pray for our language study as we are moving steady along at 20+ hours per week in Shona. The good news is we are already finding ourselves understanding more of the daily conversations we hear. The bad news is, when people see us they almost always revert to English, so we are at a disadvantage not being fully “immersed.” Anyway, pray for continued progress and fluency. Supernatural ability would be much appreciated! 🙂
- Pray for a relationship to be forged deeply and quickly with our new helpers. For someone to virtually live with us and act as surrogate parents/caretakers is a huge step. Even more so when you have just met that person! Pray that we would have a beautiful gospel friendship with this brother and sister and that much fruit would come from our partnership.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment regarding meeting needs. The needs here are so overwhelming from the macro level (national food and water shortage) to the micro (untold beggars and orphans on the streets in genuine need). Please pray that we would have divine guidance as to the most wise way to engage poverty and need here in this country and to provide helping that really helps rather than hurts.
Blessings to you until next time!