This morning we woke early. Andy and I both had been up since 2:30 am, in part because we both heard someone pounding on a nearby door and had been warned there are sometimes thieves. We are staying at Mazvita and Gift Machinga’s home which is very beautiful. The flora and fauna, as well as the weather, is much like Southern California (sans smog). There are pepper and locust trees, cacti, and the surrounding mountains often look like the stony peaks of San Bernadino.
One of the concerns as we prepare for the workshop has been how to talk about the suffering that has taken place here. “It is a reality that can’t be ignored,” we have been told by one local pastor, and yet we have also been told the violence that occurred in 2008 has not totally abated and there is still fear that political conversation can be dangerous.
For real healing and reconciliation to take place, people need to tell their stories, particularly the victims, but there is some concern that if victims tell their story the event will be perceived as a political gathering rather than a pastor’s conference. At the invitation of organizers, the government will be sending representatives to observe the presentations and discussions, so for the well-being of everyone, it is important that we do not allow the conference to become politicized. It is also important that we are sensitive about how we represent our experience in this blog.
One of the real hopes among the organizers of the conference is that pastors will recognize that they have the authority and responsibility to take on the real work of truly reconciling victims and perpetrators in ways that don’t paper over the realities at hand. We have been told that many people are waiting for the government to heal what has taken place; one of the hopes of this conference is that churches will recognize that part of their purpose is to heal broken lives and relationships.
Some facts we learned today:
- Zimbabwe was referred to as the “the breadbasket of Africa,” but after fast-tracking land redistribution in 2000, there has been a drastic decline in commercial farming.
- Unemployment in Zimbabwe is 90-95%.
- Approximately 3 million Zimbabweans fled the country in 2008. Most of them have still not returned.
- Approximately three million people are suffering with AIDS. Unlike in the United States, many people die within a few years once they are diagnosed with HIV, leaving thousands orphaned. (Mazvita spent this afternoon caring for her four nephews and nieces who lost both parents, within one year, to AIDS.)
People have to be incredibly creative and resourceful in putting food on the table each night. In Zimbabwe everyone now seems to be waiting and hopeful that something will change.
A DAY WITH GIFT
We have developed a deep awe of Gift Machinga, our host and one of the pastoral leaders in the United Methodist Church of Zimbabwe. Gift, a former student of Frank’s and Andy’s, pastors two congregations in Mutare (one with 600 hundred members, the second with 1500 members, and the oldest Methodist church in the country), sits on the board of a number of committees and non-profit groups, and is highly respected by persons across the political spectrum.
We spent the day with Gift, at his invitation, heading into the rural areas of Manicaland (the region in which Mutare lies) along with Gift’s friend and lay colleague Petros. Our first stop: a pastoral call on the mother of one of Gift’s church members. The church member’s husband is a member of Parliament from the ruling party. Part of the wonder of Gift’s pastoral brilliance is his ability to be a compassionate presence to individuals, no matter what their political connections – while never surrendering his work for gospel healing, reconciliation, justice, and peace. We were invited into a lavish home, and seated in front of a huge, flat-screen TV. The three of us listened to Gift and Petros offer their care (in Shona) to the ailing matron of the household. At one point, at the woman’s request, Petros began singing, and immediately it became a beautiful, 3-part harmony, with the woman and her young caregiver kneeling in prayer.
Sometime after we left the house, Gift noted that a car had followed us for a time from the restaurant where we’d eaten. He assured us that there was nothing to fear (and we believe him for many reasons I won’t go into here), telling us that our presence in Mutare is very noticeable and potentially suspicious, simply because in this city of tens of thousands, we stand out.
Our next stop was the “Old Mutare Center,” the original site of the city of Mutare, established with Zimbabwe’s first Methodist presence in 1897. The city was soon moved because no trains were able to climb the mountain. But the Methodist presence remained, and now includes a 900-student primary school (consistently the best in the country), a 600-student secondary school (with 150 boarders), a hospital, and an orphanage. Gift is on the Board of Trustees, and helps the Center play a significant role in working for better education, medical care, and spiritual care in Zimbabwe. We also passed Africa University, a Methodist institution (with historical links to CST) whose main sign along the highway announces its programs to combat HIV/AIDS.
While traveling with Gift southeast of Mutare, we were privileged to witness some of the majestic landscape of Zimbabwe—towering stone mountains, terraced red hills, deep lush valleys dotted with traditional thatched huts, and waterfalls hundreds of feet high. It reminded us of Yosemite Valley and felt like it was the kind of landscape where the Hebrew bible should have taken place.
Gift and Petros showed us the rural landscape around Mutare and taught us some of the history and culture of the region. At one point, as we crested a mountain, a group of women and children waved at us and held up plates of bananas for us to buy. We were so taken by their beautiful faces and colorful dress that we stopped – and Gift wanted to buy some sugar cane. Immediately we were surrounded by plates of bananas, all for sale, one dollar per bunch. We wanted to buy some, but did not know whom to choose to buy from. We deliberated while all these exuberant woman waited, staring at us through the windows of the truck. Then an idea struck: We would buy one bunch of bananas from every woman and child and give these bananas as part of the morning snack at the conference.
Our guide Petros offered to negotiate and had everyone line up, counting banana plates to try establish the number of sellers. All of us, women, children, strangers, guides, were laughing, talking, passing babies back and forth, and trying to learn names. Andy and I pulled out our digital cameras, took photos of the children, and then showed them their image on the camera screens. They howled with laughter, “Most of these people have never had their picture taken,” Gift explained. Women with babies came over and asked if we could take their photo with their new baby. Two elderly women politely asked if they could have their photo as well. I took the picture and then showed it to them, and the two elderly women doubled over in laughter. We hope to mail these photos to Gift, after we return to the U.S., and he said he will deliver them to the people.
When we finally loaded the bananas in the back of the truck and made sure everyone was paid ( including the $2 that Frank discreetly slipped to a beautiful and quiet young girl with avocados; as we drove away I found out Andy had done the same thing upon our arrival), we waved and the women clapped and then gave us “uvulations” (sp?) — a high-pitched vocal trill that women do when they celebrate, while the children jumped up and down waving. We left with huge grins and hearts full.
Back at the Machinga’s home, as we prepared dinner for our hosts and their other guests (pastors who will be coming to the workshop), we reflected on how good it had been to connect with people, to see the beauty of who they are, the beauty of Zimbabwe, before beginning the workshop in which we will hear so much about the horrors that the people of this country have suffered.
-Mark (with Andy)