There is a story which the historian Luke recounts in his manuscript concerning a rather depressing day at the office for the fisherman Peter. Being a small business owner, Peter’s success depended on his ability to maximize his fishing skill sets to make a living. On this particular day he was failing miserably having not caught a single fish! Tired and irritated, Jesus seemed to initially make it worse when he directed him to again “Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4) One can feel frustration behind Peter response; Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. In the modern vernacular, Peter’s words could be translated… Really? Are you kidding me!!! His time with the Master though had taught him no matter what things looked like, Jesus had purpose in his words. Obediently, he responded with “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” For those of you who pray for God’s blessing and expect it to arrive in a tidy wrapped package with a nice bow on top; you will be surprised. Peter’s situation is more reflective of the messy chaos the Holy Spirit loves to create. When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7) When God’s blessing shows up, it can overload your infrastructure. It is similar to running 220v electricity through 110v lines; meltdowns happen. Things short out. In my case the spiritual overload of my first few weeks here resulted in me getting really sick as my body finally hit wall this last week. My nets broke, and my boat was sinking! The Good News is I’m on the road to recovery after some much-needed rest and wonderful Zimbabwean hospitality.
FOLLOWING THE BREADCRUMBS
So, what happened you ask? I found myself again following bread crumbs which led to some amazing developments and the recognition God had set up something thirty years ago for this very time! I walked into a divine set up. Now that I have your attention, l will back track and set the stage for what happened. As I wrote in my last blog, certain Zimbabwean government officials from the previous administration had opposed me at every turn about what I was eyewitness to in this nation in the 1980’s. I have been called a liar, exaggerator, troublemaker and subversive. In an effort to undermine my story, they have tried to ban me and my book from the country and in other cases their operatives have tried to discredit me online. I don’t think they understood the resolve in my soul. God made it very clear me that I was to not to let my friends blood to have been shed in vain and I have been determined to not let that happen. Significant events have unfolded over the last few weeks to insure they will not be forgotten and the testimony of their sacrificial lives will be instrumental in the healing and reconciliation of Zimbabwe.
One of the more pleasant surprises of my time here has been a developing friendship with economist and former banker Nigel Chanakira. As one would expect, we have spent a great deal of time having fun discussing what it means to be a “Joseph” in these days. I believe Nigel will play a key role in the rebuilding of this once amazing country. What neither one of us expected was God would take us down a path together which led to the most influential group of people responsible for healing the deep wounds in this country; The National Peace & Reconciliation Commission. So where did this glorious adventure begin… in the men’s bathroom at the Rainbow Towers Hotel & Conference Centre in Harare. Nigel, over the last few months has been trying to reconnect with an old friend whose contact information he had lost. On the Tuesday, the Foundations for Farming Champs conference was beginning miles away, Nigel was attending a meeting at the hotel. During an excursion to the men’s bathroom, low and behold, in walked Dr Geoffroy Chada, the very man he had been trying to reach!
THE COMPASSIONATE COMMISSIONER
Dr Chada is a very distinguished and accomplished gentleman who is a scholar and possesses a brilliant mind. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto, Canada where he completed his doctorate and later taught African history. From 1990-2001, he was the Chief Executive of the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust, the Holding Company of the Zimpapers. In 2016, Dr Chada was sworn in with the other seven Commissioners of the National Peace & Reconciliation Commission. Unfortunately for them, they have been in limbo since, waiting on Parliament to pass the bill necessary for them to move forward. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission Bill (NPRC) bill was finally signed into action in January 2108 by current President, Emmerson Mnangagwa and they are now off and running.
After exchanging contact information and laughing at the rather unconventional way they had reconnected, they agreed to get together in the weeks ahead. Little did they know at the time, but God was on a rather accelerated time table. The next day, Nigel attended my talk at the Champs Conference and while sitting there began to realize the “chance” meeting the day before was actually a divine set up. In that moment he knew the three of us had to get together and Commissioner Chada needed to receive a copy of my book Saving Zimbabwe: Life, Death & Hope in Africa. Nigel arranged for the three of us to meet at his office for a lunch meeting. Nigel’s lovely wife, Caroline, a successful businesswoman in her own right, made sure we ate well. I enjoy hearing people’s stories and the journey’s God has taken them on, so I asked Dr Chada to share his. I was fascinated by it. God also had a few surprises in store for me. It has been my experience with academics or others in positions of influence that they can be aloof and too often condescending. What I discovered in Dr Chada was a man of great humility filled with much wisdom and empathy.
As we finished up the main course and dessert was served, it was my turn to familiarize Dr Chada with my story. I explained to him what had drawn me here so many years ago and the lifelong impact the people of the Community of Reconciliation had made on me. As I began to lay out the demise of the project and the tragic death of my friends I observed tears running down his cheeks. He wasn’t listening to my story with clinical detachment, he was all in emotionally! His heart was gripped, and he reached over and held my hand pulling it towards him as I finished my story. It was such a tender moment, one filled with poignant undertones and looks of understanding that filled in the gaps left by the lack of words to describe what I was feeling. We connected, we understood each other. We all had tears in our eyes! After a moment of silence to collect ourselves, Dr Chada said “Bob, you need to appear before the whole commission and tell your story. They need to hear this.” As we said our good byes and Nigel drove me back to where I was staying, he kept looking at me with that “Who are you?” look. Having meetings with grown men crying is not the norm in this culture. Actually, it never happens!
PERMISSION TO MEET THE COMMISSION
A few days later (March 14th) I received a call from Nigel that it had been requested that I appear before whole of the National Peace & Reconciliation Commission at 3 PM that afternoon. While Dr Chada had suggested it might happen, now it really was happening! Normally, in those situations I will begin to have some form of anxiety like an upset stomach and need to pray unceasingly to calm down. That day however I had the most profound sense of calm. I did not know what God was up to, but I did know whatever it was, it was going to be good. We drove like crazy to get down to where they were meeting while having to navigate the rather chaotic traffic which is the norm here. Up to the ninth floor we went while sweating and holding nine copies of Saving Zimbabwe under my arm.
Once the elevator doors opened, there was Dr Chada with his smiling face and warm welcome. Once again, he wanted to hold my hand and walked us into the meeting. As the doors opened to a large conference room, we were introduced to all the commissioners. Nigel had a pleasant surprise as one of his classmates from the University of Zimbabwe was the secretary for the commission. Once we were settled into our seats, Dr Chada introduced me to the rest of the group. I then thanked them for the privilege of appearing before them and expressed my gratitude for the opportunity. As I shared my story they listened attentively and at times I could even see their eyes watering. I wanted them to read the book therefore focused my comments on why I came here to Zimbabwe in the first place. I was hoping to draw them in and peak their interest in reading the whole book.
After talking for about 30 minutes, I then handed out a copy of the book to each commissioner and the Chairman retired Justice Selo Masole Nare. They all thanked me and started perusing the book. In the quietness, as I sat next to Chairman Nare, I could see out of the corner of my eye he kept wiping something off his cheeks. As I turned toward him our eyes locked and I could see tears streaming down both his cheeks now. This distinguished gentlemen also had been overcome by the beauty and anguish of my story. What came next floored me!!! Chairman Nare looked at his colleagues and said “I know Bob’s story to be true. I was there in Bulawayo in 1987. I attended the funeral of his friends. We all need to read this book” I sat there stunned. After 30 years of rejection, to have a man of his stature endorse my book was beyond anything I could have hoped for. Now I was the one failing to hold back the tears! So many emotions, bottled up over so many years came to the surface.
A DIVINE COMMISSION
After further dialogue, I admonished the commissioners that they had not been placed in their positions by the hand of man, but God had chosen each of them. I reminded them that God loves the people of Zimbabwe above all else and He desires to see their wounds healed and their relationships restored. While they may organizationally report to the Vice President and Parliament, they are in fact accountable to God in their mission. I was really encouraged when they all, to the person, agreed. The whole Commission recognizes the divine hand of God in their mission and they are committed to bringing healing to the masses.
I had particular fun with Commissioner Dr Golden Chekenyere who graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a doctorate at around the same time I was in High School 90 miles away in Brookfield, Wisconsin. We reminisced at how bad the Badgers football team was in those days compared with the powerhouse they’ve become today. We also had a good laugh at a Zimbabwean trying to survive the brutally cold Wisconsin winters. Here in Zimbabwe they are in their winter coats when it gets down to 50 F. It was a Jamaican Bobsled team moment!
As the meeting wound up, Chairman Nare explained to me they are having a challenging time finding much written testimony or documentation of the genocide period in the 1980’s. The military action behind it was called the Gukurahundi which loosely translated means “the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains”. He then asked me if I would be willing to enter my book in the national record for that time period. I was so honored and agreed. As Nigel and I drove back we were in awe at what had transpired between all of us in that conference room the previous couple hours. After years of resistance, to have God perform a miraculous reversal and my book suddenly find not only acceptance, but profoundly move the commissioners’ hearts left me emotionally drained. My burden had been lifted though, my mission was one step closer to completion. My heart was overflowing with gratitude as I looked out the window at the buildings of downtown Harare pass by. Once again, poor Nigel was left wondering…Who are you? My answer…a simple bond-servant of the “Most High God” who has made himself available.