For those of you just now catching up on my current trip to Zimbabwe here is a brief summation of the backstory…
I first visited Zimbabwe in 1984 while on a quest to find a place somewhere in the world, former enemies had in fact forgiven and reconciled with one another. Nearly a decade earlier I had first discovered the teachings of Jesus, and peace and reconciliation seemed to be fundamental to his worldview. The decade which followed was filled with a great deal of confusion and disillusionment as I could not seem to find such a people. In fact, my study of institutional church history proved to be equally disturbing as Christians seemed to be at the forefront of persecuting and killing anyone who disagreed with them. Fortunately, in 1983 I met a couple of world travelers who were on the same quest and had recently been to Zimbabwe. They conveyed to me that I would find such a place there. At first, I was bewildered. Where was Zimbabwe and how could such a thing exist in such a remote place?
IN SEARCH OF AUTHENTICITY
In 1984 I boarded a plane to find this place and see if it was in fact real. I remember vividly the feeling inside when I first encountered the people of the Community of Reconciliation. The sense of authenticity and genuineness emanated from everyone. I was so intrigued by the way they interacted cross culturally and worked through the many issues which had torn their society apart throughout the previous decades. These were people who had hearts driven by the same values as mine. They were my peeps! I became deeply involved, sending families over and raising funds to expand the community’s influence. Not only were they peacemakers they were “Josephs”. They established an agrarian based economy which employed and fed hundreds while founding ancillary businesses which produced more income for the villagers. Tragically, in November of 1987 virtually all of the white Zimbabweans who made up the community were massacred in front of their African brothers and sisters. The domino effect was devastating not only on the immediate family, but on the African community who had worked so hard to change their lives as they lost everything!
A BOOK IS BORN
I spent twenty years not having any idea as to what to do with what I experienced nor the devastation which followed. I returned to the US, immersed myself in the church world followed by a decade in the music business. In 2008, after coming to terms with what had happened to me as a result of what I had experienced, I started to heal. In time the urge to write began to well up from within. I kept hearing these words “Do not let their blood have been shed in vain”. It seemed that this story was important to God and I set out to set the record straight and tell our story. The result was a book titled “Saving Zimbabwe: Life, Death & Hope in Africa” The response to the book was as I expected in the US; unless people knew me personally, my story or had a heart for Africa, there was mediocre interest. In a culture saturated with the pursuit of pleasure, people dying for their faith was not of much concern. I was encouraged when I was approached by a number of South African publishers about doing a second edition for Africa. In 2010 that edition was launched, and the publishers were able to get Exclusive Books to carry it in their stores. They had a store at Tambo Airport in Johannesburg which Zimbabweans pass on their way to and from the country. They purchased many books from that location. I returned to South Africa that year to launch the book and then made a brief trip in and out of Zimbabwe to share the books with friends there.
MY SECRET MISSION
With the royalties from the books, I started shipping over much needed medical supplies and school books to Zimbabwe in 40’ containers through my NFP Compassionate Justice International. Before loading the last shipment of books, I felt this sense that I was supposed to send over a couple pallets of Saving Zimbabwe. This was a bit risky as at this time, the Zimbabwean government was not too happy with me or the book! I had been warned by friends in the government there it would be best I not try and visit as threats against me had been issued. I was to be immediately arrested if I showed up at the airport. At first, I thought they may have been exaggerating the threat level until two friends of mine decided to visit the ruins of the community and the burial site. They were summarily arrested and spent a week in jail where they were subjected to interrogation concerning me and the book. I decided that while there was risk in sending copies of the book over, it was worth it. The first two pallets I loaded with the forklift were the books and then I packed 22 pallets behind them two high. As I suspected, the customs guys were not interested in unloading the whole container and the books got through and were subsequently hidden by friends. Over the last seven years, they have discreetly but strategically been handing them out. Other than a couple emails, I never really knew how many had been given away or to whom. That all changed last week!
A CLOSED DOOR OPENS
Since November of 2017, when there was a change of government in Zimbabwe, the oppressive heaviness which had been the norm for so long was suddenly lifted. Hope started doing what it does and gave people a renewed faith that change could come to this land with so much potential and such beautiful people. I watched from afar wondering if what was happening in Zimbabwe had any relevance to my life. I had written a blog on “Transitions” just a few hours before Zimbabwe had the most significant transition in thirty-seven years! That got my attention. As I pondered the events taking place here over the next month, it become so clear that I needed to reconnect with this nation I love so dearly. An invitation from Brian Oldreive, the founder of Foundations for Farming, to participate in their conference this year pushed me over the edge. With the theme of the conference being “I Was Hungry for Forgiveness”, I was all in! I purchased my ticket and flew over into the great unknown. Until I cleared customs and actually was in a vehicle driving to where I was staying, I kept looking back over my shoulder for the police or CIO.
WHEN HEAVEN CAME DOWN
I gave myself a few days lead time to allow my body clock to adjust and have the chance to re-familiarize myself with the FfF team and the country. It seemed so long ago I was last here. I was asked to speak at the event and had prepared a talk but wasn’t sure until I got here whether it was relevant. The event started on Tuesday March 6th with worship leader Lou Huck and her team setting the tone. It was my first time meeting her and what I found was a woman with a heart so precious she cried most of the week! After years of attempting to get people to soar in worship, under the heavy cloud of oppression, this year’s conference was a whole new experience and off she went to new heights and we all were right behind her! The first speaker was the CEO of Foundations for Farming Craig Deall. In my view, his story of seeking to forgive under extraordinary circumstances set the tone for the rest of the week. I think all of us were challenged to the core as we listened to Craig’s journey of learning how to forgive the man who had taken everything away from him!
In between speakers we heard reports from various FfF national leaders throughout Africa and Europe. They were inspiring as the methodology is working and people are lifting themselves out of poverty. I particularly enjoyed the rather frank testimonies of Africans who had to overcome family and other cultural dynamics to implement the FfF way. Change is hard and often the people most resistant are the ones closest to you. The afternoon was spent being given a tour of the property and seeing FfF in action.
On Wednesday Patrick Kuwana, a Zimbabwean businessman living in South Africa, was first to speak. His message was on the topic of “Redeeming the Land” and it was brilliant. At the end he did something extraordinary and proceeded to wash the feet of Brian, Craig & myself. I had never experienced that before and frankly was a bit uncomfortable having a black man washing my feet. I kept feeling it should be the other way around! Nonetheless I positioned myself on the chair and when he looked me in the eyes and sincerely asked forgiveness for the tragic death of my friends I lost it. Even now I’m having a hard time seeing my computer screen through watery eyes. It was a most poignant moment which was profound and beautiful at the same time. As we took a tea break, a common occurrence in these former nations of the British Empire, I was wondering how I was going to pull myself together… I was the next speaker! Following “Jesus” is a nearly impossible task and I was feeling it. Nonetheless, in my weakness, I think I was able to communicate what I felt was on God’s heart. Using the turbulent history of ancient Israel and the centuries long conflict between Israel and Samaria, I talked about Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritans. It was the antithesis of the cultural and religious norm of the time. Jesus didn’t look at the world through the many man-made institutions and their perspectives we so revere. He interacted with people via the transcendent POV of the Kingdom of God which sees us not through our culture, our gender or any other human construct. From the positive feedback, I think I made my point.
The next day, Chuck Bentley the President of Crown Financial gave another inspirational message. Crown has been in partnership with Foundations for Farming for a number of years through a program they call “I Was Hungry”. The Crown team has been instrumental in training the FfF students financial management through budgeting. It’s an extremely vital aspect of keeping people out of poverty and helping them plan for the future. People who exist in poverty have no long-term vision, they are simply attempting to survive the next few days. In a situation like that, there are few opportunities to teach financial planning. As FfF students begin to prosper, money management becomes key to maintaining their new found financial freedom. Crown Financial plays a key role in Africa’s future development.
MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
For me personally, the surprise of the conference was the feedback from the many people here who had read the book. I had never met any of the conference attendees and they did not recognize me until I spoke. Once that happened and the connection was made, my life would be forever be changed. I have walked a lonely road these last 30 years often carrying things inside me what few have understood or cared to. The incredible feedback and thank yous I received over the next few days, were words of life in season when I really needed to hear them. They melted my heart and buoyed my spirit. One of my favorite stories came from a new friend Ron Miller from Bloomington-Normal, IL who discovered my book at a garage sale there and purchased it. As he was listening to me talk he kept wondering where he had heard my name before! When he made the connection he about fell out of his chair! To come here and realize that something so precious to me as the story of the Community of Reconciliation was being read by people all over the continent was both humbling and encouraging. I listened to story after story about how the book had transformed people or challenged their perspectives. To know my little project was making an impact… well it just doesn’t get much better.
As a result of my talk and people becoming more familiar with the story, some very significant meetings are opening up on the national level and I covet your prayers. I will do my best to keep you all abreast of developments here. If we aren’t connected on Facebook and you are interested in seeing images of Africa, connect with me there as I’m posting photos which will give you a panoramic view of Zimbabwe. Until next time…