So it’s taken me a couple of months to come round to writing about the mission experience in 2019 in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. Well it’s more of a sequence of events immediately before, during and after the mission trip.
Disclaimer; besides all the challenges we faced as a team; understanding each other working with each other, dealing with unique temperaments, faith being put to the test, sleepless nights of unnecessary ‘and godless faithless’ fear, I must say that this turned out to be one of the best experiences we all had in our lives.
Why open minded? – Because things were happening the way God wanted and not exactly the way we planned and laid it out.
The months prior to August 2019 looked as if the mission trip was going to be done away with. Let alone the funds, they did not reach anywhere near the budget line. Rumours and comments about the trip failing to materialize were going on; nonetheless the actual planning still went underway (though with quivers of doubt). There was every reason for the trip to be cancelled however; it sure was the Holy Spirit moving the plans into place though on the surface it did not seem as so.
A week prior to the trip, donations towards the mission trip increased such that the monies went above the budget. That was one of the first miracles that the Dubai Central church, as well as the mission volunteers experienced in reference to the mission. It was as if God had made a loud-speaker announcement that this trip is going to happen whether your faith is in the right place or not! The sequence of events soon after that moved quite fast; forerunners went ahead to go put things in place (about a week and a half ahead of time) in Zimbabwe.
Well the reality of the work that awaited the forerunners was not easy. Together with a volunteer from Harare the 3 forerunners saw to it that things like accommodation (in Harare and Chimanimani), transport (from the airport, in and around Harare and to and from Chimanimani) had to be organized on the ground. The bus that was used for the main trip to Chimanimani was hired from Northwood Adventist Primary School; that bus now holds memories that changed our lives.
During that week, the donated items put together were; blankets, toiletries toothpaste, bath soap, the team that was coming was also coming with clothes. Whilst on the ground preparing, the team faced a lot of challenges from unfair charges on services to winding misunderstandings that gladly were resolved. The medical supplies and toiletries sent to Zimbabwe from UAE entailed a stressful process as there were various procedures that needed to be followed (unforeseen - more of surprise procedures). Nonetheless, without our knowledge God had already placed someone there for us. (I last saw this lady several years ago and to my surprise she recalled me by name and all). Though it was a tedious task to get the boxes cleared she was clearly placed in that office on that day (instead of taking her off on that day) to help us with the procedures. What would often take others a long time to process took us a day to do so.
After a full day of going through the clearing procedures we were able to leave the airport clearing offices in the same day that the procedures began. It was indeed a miracle! Ours was the last car to drive out of the clearing offices port and by the time we left we had made friends with almost the whole crew. I believe everyone who was at that office that day was placed there for us on that day. Now one thing you need to note is that the car doing all the transportation of these boxes (which were huge) was a small car. So though there was need to make two trips we could not afford to as the drive was long and besides the offices were about to close, so had to make sure that every box fit in the car. I tell you it was something else, because those boxes were heavy and because the offices were about to close and airport workers were rushing to go home we had to pack the ‘heavy boxes’ in the car by ourselves. Where we got the energy, only God knows and how the 7 boxes fit in a small 4 seat passenger car, I cannot comprehend; let alone driving a small car that was being weighed down by the boxes across town at the end of a working day, through traffic in Harare was something that I still am short of words for. What
I should say this now, that car was lent to us by a friend to one of the Zimbabwean volunteers, such generosity and not expecting anything in return, I believe God blessed her in ways she will never live to understand.
Anyway, back to the preparations, we had one of the Zimbabwean volunteers give up a room in her house for all the camp things and wow weren’t her sons the most helpful lot there ever was – no matter what time of the day we arrived with things that needed offloading, they were more than willing to help. God bless them. The same small car also was the one that ferried the blankets from Waverly Blankets to this house. Oh, I must say, it seemed like a joke for the Waverly team workers as the car was so tiny and we needed to transport blankets that were in large barrels. We had to open the barrels halfway and fit them into the car and then the singles we took out were squeezed in the areas were the barrel had left. What an experience it was and we sure were a spectacle. To most people who looked at us we were insane, how could we collect blankets in their hundreds with a small car? – One thing I learnt throughout this whole thing is that the things of the Lord do not make sense. When you try make sense of them you limit the sweetness of the testimony that you will share. It was not an experience meant for understanding but for experiencing.
The day finally came that the rest of the 11 volunteers came from Dubai. Prior to that, their flights had been delayed due to due some error that the travel agency had made in Dubai. So instead of arriving on the 10th of August early morning they ended up arriving on the 11th of August, early afternoon. Because of those changes the team on the ground had only Saturday to reorganize everything because dates were moved and because of those changes, the houses that they were to be accommodated in whilst in Harare for the 1 night fell away because the families could no longer do the hosting as that Sunday early morning they were travelling for camp for a week). I must say, there is nothing as difficult as trying to organize accommodation in some other people’s houses especially when they only have less than 24hrs to get ready for the arrival of guests. It was one of the most stressful times I went through. I remember crying that Friday night into Saturday and asking God what on earth was going on. That all the planning to make sure the arrival of volunteers, the accommodations, the pickups from the airport, the houses they were to stay in, the bus hiring, the accommodation in Harare and in Chimanimani as well as the tourist day – all were thrown ofcourse. All these plans had taken 2 weeks to put into place and now they fell apart on Friday when I heard that they could no longer travel that day…it shook me so much…I cried. At that point I realised that there was only One who could open the doors for us – and that was God alone. Indeed when God wants things done His way He can shake any situation to make it as so; so it was with the Zimbabwe mission trip. He says in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…” Oh believe me He does and His name is always glorified when that happens as so. All the things that took weeks and months to arrange and put into ‘perspective’ only took less than 24 hours to sort out. And even the people that seemed challenging to work with in the past weeks were the most understanding at that time. The Harare accommodation fell away completely and we had to start securing accommodation from scratch (hence starting to talk to people I had last spoken to in a while). I must say that in a days-time we had families that were willing to accept strangers into their home in less than 24 hours and were not perturbed at all about how short the notice was. I know God met them at their point of need and has indeed blessed them for not thinking twice to house people who were on God’s mission.
The arrival at the airport, pick up from the airport to the restaurant then from the restaurant to the houses they were to be accommodated went very smooth, we could not believe ourselves, considering there was a list of possible challenges we were bound to face.
The day to leave for Chimanimani finally came, indeed all the challenges we had faced from Dubai, to Harare were now something of the past and made no difference because everything was in place. The trip took us about 8 hours and we were exhausted when we got there, however the drive and desire (which was reason for all this) and the working of the Holy Spirit, gave us strength – we got straight to work as soon as we arrived, by then there was already a large gathering waiting for us.
Oh! Did I mention that the bus we were on was also in tow with the car that had the doctors. The team from Dubai also had medical personnel’s however we needed some medical professionals familiar with Zimbabwean medical fraternity. It was such an enjoyable trip; driving past many big and small towns as well as seeing all that beautiful scenery, the most captivating scenery was the one we saw as we entered the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. It was captivating beauty that left one with a warm happy feeling within. And as we drove closer to the areas that were affected by Cyclone Idai it was as if a cold chill came over us. There was nothing as heart-breaking as seeing the traces of the cyclone that ripped through this beauty leaving damage as intense as a life-long scar - A scar that therapy can never be able to do away with; one that the people of Chimanimani will always have to live with.
The effects of cyclone Idai left graves whose families never had a ceremony for. Children whose perspective of life will never be innocent anymore, as the beauty in their lives was ripped away from them in an instant. Wives and or husbands whose spouses they will nolonger live to see; except that face they saw that night before bed. Cyclone Idai left only memories of families whose existence will only be a memory in the minds of them who knew them. This cyclone left pain that no-one needs to ask of – the area speaks of this pain the moment you start seeing the disaster, no words can tell how intense it is. Homes were turned into graves in an instant. Parents who managed to escape the water that swished past with so much strength, tried to hold onto their children but would wail in agony as the waters robbed the fruits of their wombs from them, never to see them and not even have the dignity of burying their child. Some only live with the hope that maybe their child was given a decent burial somewhere along the death pathway that the waters of the cyclone made as it washed towards Mozambique.
That afternoon we were at our weakest in strength and concentration but were our best in service to the Lord. That’s the irony in doing God’s work, you don’t have to necessarily be 100% perfect your heart should just be willing, God miracles the rest. Hence 2 Corinthians 12:9 says; But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
We finished around 5:30pm but at that time there were still a lot of people, from what we heard some slept near the area we were doing the mission work as their homes were in faraway villages – what a sacrifice for them and what a humbling thought for us. We settled well at Heaven Lodge, though part of their lodges were washed away by the cyclone, it still turned out to be the best choice as its homely atmosphere and hospitality was second to none. They even put a fire for us and what a joy it was to enjoy the crackling fire whilst we sipped tea that they brewed for us; it felt like a royal treatment though without the glitz and glam. The second day came into roll as easy as if we had been living there for years.
Zimbabwe is a country that is going through unspeakable economic challenges however my disclaimer is you have never tasted good food and taste the best avocados if you’ve never eaten food grown on Zimbabwean soil. The taste is (as mentioned earlier) second to none.
After the hearty breakfast we rushed to the building we were continuing with the mission work and to our surprise there was already an eager and excited crowd waiting. It was humbling to see their smiles, especially coming from people who went through the greatest of heartaches - they had the widest, warmest and most genuine smiles I had ever seen. Though they were some delays (the leadership had to go see the chief of the village as a gesture of respect before doing work in the area), the rest of the team started off without them. Since the doctors had not gone to the meeting, there was no reason to wait.
The mission program for the day started and each person (depending on situation) would start at the medical section, go through to the check-up stations, toiletry pack section, to the doctors and lastly receive counselling before leaving. By the time the leadership team arrived they found the ball already in motion and everything flowed as certainly as there were angels in our midst. The day was so busy and we did not have time to even go back to the lodge to eat and so sandwiches were brought to us. Though we were hungry we did not quite feel those hunger pangs that leave you weak, irritated and without strength. God is amazing! He does say in His word that He will give strength to the weary. Our weary nature was indeed overtaken by the Holy Spirit and His presence; all the challenges we faced on that day which were minimal were resolved one way or the other. Over 400 people were medically and emotionally attended to that afternoon and each was given a basic toiletry pack – you should have been there to see the smiles of gratitude that they had. And what audacity do you have to not be grateful when you easily access that basic commodity that you have turned out to view as a right from God and yet it’s a blessing from Him.
The day ended at around 4pm with the doctors driving back to Harare that same afternoon; what a life-changing experience and a sacrifice for them. In-between the busy schedules at the hospitals they work they made time to come all the way to offer their services for free. We finished off with the doctor and the nurses from Dubai but it wasn’t for long till we stopped for the day. The rest of the day and tomorrow morning was left to visiting the camps where the displaced cyclone Idai survivors now lived. We had managed to meet most of those victims as they came to the mission centre point but this was our turn to pay them a visit and get acquainted with them.
You see meeting someone outside the context of their livelihood doesn’t give a clear perspective not up until you see them in their exact situation. That’s why Jesus made it a point to meet the people He ministered to, at their point of need before sharing the saving knowledge. The next morning was a touching and humbling experience for us as we went inside their tents and saw their situation. We were shown and saw how much the organizations that came before us had done, however there was still more to be done in terms of what they needed and the greatest of that was, the encouragement and the counselling their souls longed for. We could only do so much as we only had a few hours, it was a short-lived camp visit and even though things like blankets and toiletries were given them – we still felt a feeling of having not done anything at all. I learnt from this experience that true service to God is fulfilling but you never feel like you’ve done much, there is always a feeling of ‘I wish I could do more’ and I believe that is one of the aspects that keeps those who serve God humble.
Our drive back to Harare seemed much nolonger than the drive to Chimanimani, however on our way out of the Eastern Highlands we managed to visit the Bridal Veil Falls. It was also greatly affected by the cyclone; the pattern of how it flowed changed and it’s pathway, as it plummets about 50 metres, was filled with the mysterious boulders that came with the cyclone that night (the same type of stones that were responsible for burying entire families at one go). You could see how amidst the aftermath of the cyclone, the beauty of nature still shone through. This was also a stark reminder in my walk with God that though challenges may assail us, God still makes sure we have something hopeful – if you look beyond your problem (just like you would look at the beauty amidst the boulders at the falls) you will see His grace, mercy, love and compassion shining through...you have to look closely (as we spent some time sat near the falls) beyond the problem and you will see the light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll have to come close to His footstool, sit and look through the problem and you will realise as written in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Now, Harare seemed so far such that arriving there at 10pm was too much for us (though it was the estimated time). The team was dropped off at one place (which was very convenient for the driver – whom I must say was the most humble man I’ve ever come across) I know God blessed him too for such a task of driving the souls that went to serve God and in doing so he was part of the great work that was done in Chimanimani.
The next day was more of a site seeing experience but it ddnt go as well as we planned nonetheless it ended with a surprise dinner that was prepared for us in Harare by one of the doctors and his family.
All in all, the Zimbabwe mission trip experience ended with relationships that were stronger than ever. Indeed it is true if you want to get to have healthy relationships you all need to grow closer to God and the relationships health will happen almost automatically. The team of volunteers that went to Zimbabwe grew to understand and appreciate each other better than before. And the bond that is between, till today, can only be understood by one who was also part of the mission program.
Mission work in Zimbabwe was life-changing and it really did open the lenses of minds and helped to view things with an open mind. The term that the volunteers constantly had on their lips whilst in Zimbabwe was “Open mind.” There were a lot of things they saw and experienced that were not familiar with them but they were encouraged to keep an open mind. As a result, they faced everything with an open mind and hardly found anything shocking as they had allowed the Holy Spirit to help them keep an open mind and influence their responses and experiences.
So it is with our walk with Christ, we ought to keep an ‘open mind’ and allow God to influence and fill our minds, so that whatever challenge we face in life will not be a shock or a disappointment but that we see it as a stepping stone towards our salvation.
Paidamoyo Michelle Guti