July 18, 2011
By Dr. Robert Reese, Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Ministry
What a way to begin a first trip outside the United States! Three MACU students (Brian and Annie Barr and Aaron Everett), some of whom were leaving the States for the first time, found themselves with me on a 15-hour non-stop flight from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa. That was just the beginning of many adventures that took us to Zimbabwe and Botswana. In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe we joined up with a team from Creekside Christian Fellowship in Irvine, California, making a group of 13 Americans.
Contrasts were immediate: first, it was quite cold, especially at night without any central heating. Then our accommodation at the Theological College of Zimbabwe was suffering from lack of maintenance during Zimbabwe’s decade of economic collapse. For instance, water from the bath tub leaked onto the floor, but there was no other way to bathe. Despite many such minor inconveniences, Zimbabweans are typically cheerful, and we learned lessons about coping with economic stress from these pros.
Our daily schedule was packed with events both for learning and sharing. We began by learning from such people as Bafundi Mpofu, current president of the World Convention of Disciples of Christ/Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Eddie Cross, a white Christian politician in the opposition party in Zimbabwe. We shared with orphans in home-based care, where relatives take in children orphaned by the current HIV/AIDS crisis and receive assistance with medications, food, and school expenses. Aaron and Brian got to preach at a Sunday church service.
We took part in a gathering of 85 rural church leaders who came to town for an annual Bible school and enjoyed eating a lunch of sadza (stiff cornmeal porridge) with them for a whole week. We taught a VBS to the orphans and to 200 church kids. Aaron and Brian were a great hit as the two of them combined to make up one very short Zaccheus.
We visited a new agricultural project that teaches teenage orphans farming skills, as well as several urban ministries to orphans, the homeless, and prostitutes. These Christian ministries are making a difference in difficult circumstances and they really challenged us to use our talents and to sacrifice for the Lord.
After two weeks in Bulawayo, we headed to a rural area for a series of church meetings in Nkayi district. Here the language and cultural barriers were deeper, the nights on the concrete floor of a school were colder, the food consisted of more sadza with goat meat, and the bathrooms were outhouses. But again the Zimbabweans’ enthusiasm shone through with some of them singing all night. We held an outdoor church service on Sunday where numerous skits by our team illustrated Bible messages.
At the end of a full time of ministry, we enjoyed a few days soaking in the natural wonders of the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park in Botswana, renowned for African wildlife. We arrived back in the States exhausted but filled with awe at what God is doing in Africa.