When I arrived home, the first thing I did was walk around the house and down the street into town to look at things. Just look. I wanted to compare my town with Mutare; to wonder about what it would be like to have the buildings and streets and whole infrastructure slowly crumbling for lack of tax money and jobs and financial stability; to ponder the possibility of neighbors and acquaintances being perpetrators of violence or victims of beatings or worse; and to consider whether those of us here who pride ourselves on a can-do spirit would truly maintain — as my Zimbabwean friends have — hope, resilience, fortitude, centeredness, faith, and internal stability in the face of rampant bleakness. Yes, I looked at what I have — and I continued to marvel at the strength of the people I met in Mutare. Nothing there is easy. The unpredictability of every moment builds patience. Even I became more patient while I was there (though quickly reverted upon returning home).
A few things stand out for me:
The growing realization that Christianity really makes sense there: people living in poverty, fearing physical harm at the hands of authorities, do find solace and inspiration in a someone who has been tortured and killed, but still embraces forgiveness and restorative reconciliation.
The image of our friend Petros calmly leaning against the truck for over an hour outside the lone internet spot one evening as we posted to our blog: His stance and attitude (“Impatience would kill us.”) calmed even me, as I worked frantically to shorten the time he had to wait for us.
How so many of the workshop participants spoke of moving from a disheartened place to a sense of hope and renewed purpose as they told stories of attrocities, offered a listening, compassionate presence, and together developed concrete strategies, processes, and programs to take back to their communities: At the end of the workshop there was a palpable sense that things could and would change in their country. One pastor and his family had been beaten, and their home was burned down before they fled to another part of the country. Although he has started a new congregation where he now lives, he talked about an abiding sense of dejection and hopelessness. But as a result of the workshop, he said, his hope was restored, and he was deeply excited to begin putting into practice the processes of healing and reconciliation he had learned.
How at one point during the workshop I spoke with a participant who has been associated with those who have helped perpetuate the violence: I told him of a very difficult time in my life. In turn, he described deep difficulties in his own life — and asked to meet with me again in order to tell me more about his life. We met, he revealed to me parts of his life that brought him great shame and frustration, and he expressed great sadness that he was unable to find a way to leave the work he did (work associated with the systems of violence). What he wanted, he said, was the chance to finish university courses that would lead to a different career than the path he is currently on. If only he had a few hundred more dollars, his life could change. If only he had a few more resources, he could begin again. If only a way would open, he could be free of a life that troubled him. But there seems to be no hope that a new life could begin for him. So he lives in quiet agony, afraid of what his future holds. As we talked about his life, the only hope that shone for him was the possibility that he might be able to tell his story to someone, a wise confidant, a listening presence. He was placing me in that role because he had no one else to turn to — his situation meant that he could trust very few, if any, of the people he knew. At the end of our talk, though, he assured me that he would try to find someone to speak with — perhaps an elder in his church who seemed a compassionate person, or perhaps a counselor at a counseling center he knows about. For him, to find such a person could lead to freedom.
As I consider each of these memories, I am struck by how little of the power of that place and time my words convey. I wish I could speak more accurately of the people who befriended me, tell more fully the story of who they are apart from the political situation (as well as in relation to it), describe more completely their steady hope, their centered faith, their fearlessness, their gentleness. In any case, we had promised (and I am determined) to tell about who the people of Zimbabwe really are — and I intend these words to be the beginning of my telling.