I’m finding it difficult to carve out time to write while traveling in Zimbabwe. Besides the constant power outages which end up depleting all my electronic devices, it’s been a whirlwind of unanticipated activity. I have been on the most extraordinary journey the last couple months, which at times has left me in awe and speechless. It seems daily I’m finding myself meeting someone new or experiencing a part of Zimbabwean society previously unknown to me. At times I find that I’m on sensory overload from all the new experiences. While my mind has always moved fast, my heart moves slow. I have this desire to understand the fulness of what is happening to me which is processed through pondering. To be contemplative though, I need solitude and quiet, neither of which is happening at the moment. It may be that will come at the end of May when I return to the US. That cabin by the lake is calling me! My path to rest and seclusion though first has to travel through a family camping trip with the grandchildren and a drive to Chicago in order for my 90-year-old mother see I survived Africa.
In full disclosure, something which I have been struggling with even before this trip started, is the dynamic tension between my upbringing, my business background and what on the surface seems to be an irresponsible risky lifestyle…walking by faith! It’s been a constant battle in my head as the two mindsets wage war. I grew up with a father who was determined to instill in me the understanding of the value of money and being responsible. The concept of walking by faith was a non-starter in our house as it was deemed too ethereal and life was about survival in the moment while planning for long term security. Me against the world was the perspective passed down. Taking this paradigm into adulthood, I found myself consistently cast into the role of being the one “responsible” to build all the “by faith” guys visions. While they dreamed and cast vision, I was down in the hole building the foundations and infrastructure which everyone else needed to experience what these guys were talking about. I found myself either in the role of Executive Pastor or CEO of a new business enterprise. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work carrying the burden of those dependent on its success weighing on my shoulders.
The one anomaly in this otherwise responsible journey has been my history with Zimbabwe and its people. When I first visited the country in 1984, I had no idea as to what to expect. I was on a search for something which I had not been able to find the previous nine years…a place where former enemies had learned how to forgive, reconcile and live together treating each other with mutual respect. Once I found it here in a land few knew, my heart was captivated. My heart and soul became indelibly tied to the Community of Reconciliation and its peace efforts in Zimbabwe. With the untimely deaths in 1987 of its founders, and the destruction of the facilities, I was left wandering in an emotional wilderness for the next two decades. I had no idea what to do with anything I had experienced, neither did I have a map leading me out of the desert I was lost in. I was alone, very alone. Writing the book “Saving Zimbabwe: Life, Death & Hope in Africa” in 2008 was a cathartic journey which resulted not only in my own healing, but that of many others as well. For that I will always be grateful. Even with the completion of the book the story wouldn’t leave me alone though. I kept feeling there was more to this journey and yet from time to time was beset with doubt. I often asked myself, was my obsession driven by my own need to make something out of nothing. Was I searching for personal relevance? Those of you who are internal processors know exactly the mental battles we have as we explore all the angles of a story. Those who have had to live with me have had to endure my deep and visceral attachment to something they don’t understand, and I often struggled to articulate. At times I didn’t even understand it myself!
From 2008 through 2013, due to the book being published and through a not-for-profit I established (Compassionate Justice International) I was able to stay engaged with the people of Zimbabwe. I spent those years sending over containers of medical supplies for rural clinics and books for rural schools. The country was in a serious economic crisis during those years and every little bit helped. The vast amount of work to be done though was practical and tangible, the extent of my walking by faith was raising the funds necessary to purchase containers and ship them over. Truthfully though, there was very little risk in it personally as if the monies didn’t show up, the supplies simply remained on pallets sitting in the warehouse. In 2013, we needed to relocate to another state, and I no longer had a warehouse or volunteer team at my disposal to help me with the logistics of sourcing, transporting, inventorying and repacking supplies. I suddenly found myself again feeling lost and proceeded to refocus my energies on my second passion, the “Joseph’s”. These are the men and women God has called to make an impact for Himself in those sectors outside the institutional religious world. I formed a consulting business, Joseph Company Global, and set out to share my perspectives and paradigms in book and seminar formats. Those books are currently with my publisher and co-author Brad Cummings being fine-tuned with new material being added. You should start seeing them available later this year.
While my energies were refocused, Zimbabwe remained ever present in the back of my mind. The problem was I had no way to stay engaged other than the wonderful relationships which developed through the Facebook community. The government of Zimbabwe had made it very clear that neither I nor my book was welcome here. In November of 2017, Zimbabwe went through the most significant transition in 37 years as it had its first change of government since Independence in 1980. I instinctively found myself wondering…does this mean anything for me? Just over a month later I began to realize it did though I wasn’t sure in what way or just how much. An invitation to speak at a Peace & Reconciliation conference in early March of this year with men I greatly respect; Brian Oldreive, Craig Deall, Patrick Kuwana and Chuck Bentley was something I could not pass up. With the change of government, I decided to take a leap of faith and risk coming over. I found my head on a swivel while passing through customs looking for CIO or Police operatives walking towards me. Once I was settled in my ride headed away from the airport I breathed a sigh of relief.
There is an untold story though about what I went through in the couple months between making the decision to come here and purchasing my ticket. I found myself then in what now seems like a silly angst. I was conflicted and here’s why… that voice inside me was telling me that I needed to purchase a ticket for a three month stay in Zimbabwe. My logical mind kept reminding me that I only had three days of meetings scheduled! What was I going to do for the remaining 87 days? It was there in that space that I decided to embrace walking by faith in a way I had never done before. I embraced the illogical and through a shaky voice, gave the travel agent my credit card details. That voice kept saying “Trust Me”. As most all of us do with a little mileage under our belts, when we hear those words we run! It took everything I had to stay in the space of faith.
In hindsight, now almost two months into my time here, I can say “I got this so far!”. In fact, my faith has never been stronger than it is at this moment. I have observed the most amazing developments take place which in some cases have brought me to tears. Each day I wake up wondering, God’s what on your agenda for today? What surprise do you have in store for me? I’ve spent my whole life planning, forecasting and establishing and suddenly I’m in this space where I have no idea what’s coming next! Its strangely liberating and at the same time exhilarating. To see the hand of God at work has also been reassuring. He hasn’t forgotten me and the deposit He’s put in me over the years has suddenly found an audience who values it. My passion for Peace & Reconciliation has found expression at the highest levels of government. At the moment, I am in the southern regions of the country which in the 1980’s suffered a most devastating genocide. It is the very region where my friends were killed in the 1987. I’m in the process of building relational bridges which in the future healing will pass over.
During my time here, I have been honored to meet a great many of the influential church leaders in the country who have asked for my perspective on what God is doing here. We have had the most frank and serious discussions as to what it is going to take on their part to call the people back to God’s ways. The culture has descended into a moral and ethical quagmire with corruption saturating virtually every sector of the society including the church world. We have been dialoging about how corruption is to societies what cancer is to the human body. It eats away at the culture often with a death sentence attached. Transformation of the soul is the soul of transformation. I have been equally privileged to meet some of the nation’s leading business people and had the opportunity to share with them God’s perspective on their lives. In the course of doing so, I realized that my writing efforts over the last few years have not been in vain. There is a great need for fresh perspectives about what God is doing and who He is doing it through. I’ve been having a great deal of fun watching the excitement in the souls of the Josephs as they are discovering their divine mission here.
BIG CHANGES ARE COMING
Zimbabwe is at a very significant transitional point right now. The ruling generation (the Grandfathers) those who fought the war of Independence, are dying off and the last of them are currently in power but only for a brief time. Time is moving them off the leadership stage. The next generation which I will call “the Fathers” generation was devastated by an AIDS epidemic which swept the country starting in the 1990’s. It wiped out a significant percentage of that generation and left Zimbabwe with the highest per capita of orphans in the whole of Africa. Today, 60% of the voting population is under 40 years old! This means that the “Grandchildren” generation is about to wield its political power. I have had the opportunity while here to interact a great deal with this generation and they have several characteristics which are unique. First, they are carrying very little baggage from the past. They never lived under the oppression of Rhodesian society nor are scarred by the Bush War. Unlike their grandparents and parents, they are not prisoners of their past and are only looking forward. They have seen enough of what they DON’T want and very clear on what they DO want for their nation. They are also the most globally connected generation and have far more of a global perspective than either of the two-previous generations. They are determined to realize the full potential of Zimbabwe’s vast resources and rebuild the nation.
It is becoming increasingly clear that my life and this nation will continue to intersect. My heart is with these grandchildren Millennials and by faith, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and pour into them everything I’ve got to help them succeed. These are exciting days in Zimbabwe and I’m grateful to play a small part in its resurgence.