A Voice from Zimbabwe

Many of us in the United States are consumed with discussing the economic crisis here. While not meaning to make light of a very real situation, I would like to give all of us a little perspective. I have a friend in Zimbabwe and this is a letter I recently received. I am keeping the name confidential. It is long, but it is one that I think is valuable to read. This is one person’s heart-cry on behalf of many. I beg, dear reader, that we keep perspective and we pray.

In case you are unaware, here is a brief summary from my friend of the economic reality in Zimbabwe: “Every aspect of society and the infrastructure of that society has deteriorated. The economy lies in tatters, there really is no Zimbabwean dollar based economy to speak of, on Wednesday Nov. 12th. the stock market derived value based on the cost of an Old Mutual share, of a single US$ was Zimbabwe$30,60 quadrillion (Z$30 600 000 000 000 000) having begun that same week at the value of Z$670 600 000 000 000 ($670 trillion), these figures after our central bank having knocked of 10 zeroes just a few months ago. Inflation figures are no longer spoken of, they run in the millions of per cent.”

The rest of this post is his letter.

November 2008
I am acutely aware that at the moment around the world, there are Christians and non-Christians alike, made and loved by the Creator, the difficulties of whose situation and circumstance make our own pale into insignificance.  God has warned us often of self-pity and self-centredness and though the letter that follows will dwell on the challenges of our situation here in Zimbabwe, I share these first with the realisation that there are hundreds of millions whose lives are more difficult than ours and who do not have access to communication, support and prayer as we do, and second with a request that you would lift your concern from our own little world here to suffering believers and non-believers around the world, situations far worse, trials much greater, suffering far more profound, and plead, pray and where you can, support them.  This is a sad world still, one of tears, desperately needing the balm of Gilead and the drying of eyes by the Redeemer.
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Jack died, and so did the little girl.  Victims both of the Zimbabwean situation.
“victim” – an unfortunate person who suffers from some adverse circumstance.
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It has been nearly 2 months since I sent out my last letter, I have started this one several times, eventually wrote most of a letter and then discarded it.  Previously I spoke of Habakkuk and how much like him we felt; wondering at the strange working of God in our situation, struggling with faith, wrestling with doubt, directing open, honest, hard questions to God from hearts that continue to cling to faith that He is God, and He is good, no matter what.  I would love to say that we have come through like Job, restored, healed, enjoying again the freedom of a life without the struggles once known.  We have not reached that point yet.  We pray we will.

In the mean time, what is happening here?  There are many things I might share; the farce of power-sharing talks, the collapse of infrastructure, the breakdown of the economy.  But my concern is not so much for the institutions of government, or of health, or education, it is not so much the state of the roads, the condition of the water supply, the demise of the economy.  My concern is for the people of our land and how they have suffered and continue to suffer.  Allow me, please, as a pastor yes, but first, simply a human being transformed by the Spirit of God, to share with you some of the burdens many of us carry for our people, victims, unfortunate sufferers from adverse circumstances.

I spoke of Jack earlier, and the little girl.  Who are they?  Sadly more correctly, who were they?

Well Jack was an elderly man, a pensioner now without a pension, living supported by kind groups and people, one of a group of such people that my wife cares for.  He had a prostrate operation, financed at significant cost by friends from the UK.  The night after the op, he died.  My point?  The hospital is running on minimal resources, the nursing staff are few and often inexperienced, the beds and rooms not up to correct cleanliness, the drugs scarce, the attention to medical detail poor.  Though the official post mortem verdict assigned no blame to medical inefficiency, those involved directly would differ.  Jack, a victim of a collapsing country.

And the little girl?  Well, she was there in the emergency room when Miriam checked Jack in, she was resting alongside her mom and sister, on the third row of benches of patients waiting to see a doctor.  Suddenly a wail, mom has looked down at her, and she has died waiting in line patiently for help.  A shuffling orderly walked across, then wheeled the stretcher near, the little body carried out.  And the waiting line of patients simply adjusted to the gap formed.  A little girl, victim of a collapsing country.

I have watched for years and been concerned about the deep damage done to the people of our country.  My conviction is that the vast, vast majority are victims, like a family living in a dysfunctional home of oppression and fear, traumatised deeply, often so deeply it is unseen and unrecognised.  But scars will be there for years and years to come.  And some wounds will never heal.

When one thinks of the victims of the situation in Zimbabwe, there are several obvious categories of victims who might come to mind.  There are the ones who have been murdered, sometimes in acts of normal crime in a situation where the police force are not operating as they ought, and sometimes in acts of political violence, when murder, along with other terrible deeds, is condoned and even promoted.  There are the ones who have been raped, or mutilated, had body parts cut off, screw drivers rammed through ear drums, buttocks cooked over flames.  There are those whose property has been destroyed, homes burned, farms stolen, shacks torn down, food confiscated at government road blocks.  There are those who have been assaulted at political meetings, who have disappeared at night never to be found, who have been chased and harassed and persecuted for holding views deemed to be “treasonous”.

These, and others like them, are the obvious ones, the obvious victims.

My concern though is the silent mass of other victims, not so easily recognised, psyches traumatised, lives toyed with, spirits beaten.  Allow me to list a mere smattering of examples of these:

  • Orphaned children, who ordinarily would be taken up within the stable structure of the extended family, but rejected and turned out on the streets because one other mouth to feed is just too much, living without the hug of a mother, the encouraging smile of a father, a place to sleep, someone to prepare a meal
  • The Christian lady who looks after several orphans, none of her own families, raped before them because it was assumed she was getting food for them from people sympathetic to the opposition party, unable to report the rape lest it draw too much attention to her situation and invite further reprisals
  • The young single mother, whose brother was nearly killed by thugs, who later returned with death threats to him, who has no cash for him to travel hours away to the relative safety of rural family, arriving at our church without any means to continue any further
  • Children of school age, who up to six months ago, I was concerned for because they did not realise that broken classroom windows were ordinarily supposed to be fixed and that everyone was supposed to have a book to write in, but now those challenges are behind them, because they do not go to school any longer because teachers are not coming to school, because their salaries will not cover their monthly transport costs.  A generation growing up in our country, who know little of the delights of education, and who will not have the advantages of that education when they must leave home and find work
  • Poor people, but not just poor people, who walk to the municipal clinics (walk, because they cannot afford transport) to discover that there is no doctor, no medicine, no help.  Just a long walk back, unhealed, untreated, often to die.  Some, the fortunate ones, who see a doctor, or a nurse, have medicine prescribed, but priced at local pharmacies well beyond their means
  • Conscientious doctors, who see patients, who know what they need, but, prescribing drugs and operations, do so with the realisation that the patient will not be able to afford the treatment, other doctors who give a letter to a patient permitting them to draw extra cash beyond the stipulated daily maximum from a bank for a medical procedure, knowing full well that the money will be used instead to buy more important food
  • The more well to do, who go to the major hospitals, and are turned away because of a lack of finance, or doctors on strike over the appalling conditions, recently a child in our church, burned by falling into a bucket of water boiled for a bath, unable to enter the main government teaching hospital due to lack of doctors, taken into a private hospital, but only if parents ran around to find the bandages, dressings, creams, pethidine, stop-payne.  Friends, family, church rallied around, he is recovering, but what of those who have no such support
  • Marriages that are collapsing, husband or wife having left to work outside the country to earn valuable hard currency, the rest of the family left to struggle through, infidelity often arising.  Children in these homes, brought up without mom or dad and sometimes both, victims of the “economic Diaspora”.
  • HIV sufferers, who receive neither the ARVs they might be able to receive from aid organisations due to inefficiency and often official interferences, nor the balanced diet they require to maintain their strength due to the general demise of the land, living at home, in unsanitary conditions due to the lack of water and health care facilities, relatives weary and waiting for them to die
  • The masses who stand every day at our cemeteries, singing the same songs as again the body of a friend or relative is lowered into the ground, knowing they will be back in a week or two and three, four, five, even six funeral groups within a single stone’s throw, so close that each preacher’s sermon can be heard by the neighbouring groups and mourner groups merge with mourner groups.  And after a while death becomes so common, we forget; each one, made in the image of God, each one, a full person who will live forever, a human being has died
  • The many faced with others who exploit the present situation for their own well being, hard to find mealie meal (maize meal) offered even on the streets for exorbitant prices in hard currency, “entrepreneurs” cashing in on the sufferings and stresses of others, the poor and weak who get poorer while the few who are rich and powerful grow fat
  • The rural communities, already feeding on the berries, roots and leaves of indigenous shrubs, with little seed maize  for the coming season, less fertiliser and no money to buy food to tide them over to the harvest of what at best will be an inadequate crop in May, for many years exploited pawns in the power game of Zimbabwean politics, often having to exchange with wicked exploiters their cattle, (long term wealth and security), for just a few bags of maize, (short term necessity).  And when the maize is eaten and now the cattle are gone …..
  • Homes under extreme stress, the pressures of living coming home in impatience, poor health, unhappiness, tiredness excusing mom and dad from fulfilling legitimate roles, warmth and love and joy banished and arguments and disagreement in their place, children not knowing what a normal, loving home should be
  • Young people, struggling and often failing at important exams due to poor teaching, poor facilities, often little motivation, finding themselves growing older without qualifications, on the street, wheeling and dealing, acting as runners for those buying and selling forex (foreign currency), looking ahead …… to what?
  • Young girls and teens, in broken homes, living with step families, abused by adults in the home, sexually abused by a step-father, an uncle, an older cousin, unable to speak out, without a voice or protection, crying at night in the dark with no one to hear, young women at university, with no way to afford the fees, nothing to sell but their bodies and sexual favours, mothers of little children, forced to prostitute themselves to put food on tables for children, men who lose respect for women and make them nothing more than a purchasable pleasure
  • The normal Zimbabwean housewife, for whom every day is a pressurised challenge; of work (few homes can survive on a single salary), of supplying children for school (bread scarce, or expensive, what will the child eat for lunch?), of school fee top-ups (amounts paid at term’s beginning are irrelevant in an inflation environment of millions of percent per annum), of buying groceries (where food can be found on shelves, who can afford the prices, many places are using US dollars or South African Rands, but a small minority have access to these)
  • The average Zimbabwean worker, who pays an amount to ride to work not knowing if the price will not go up before the day’s end and whether he will have enough money to return home, who is only allowed to draw a limited amount of money from the bank in cash each day, an amount determined by the central bank, seldom enough to cover the cost of a loaf of bread, who needs to stand in line for hours to access that cash, and will often be frustrated when the bank runs out of money before the line runs out of people
  • The Zimbabwean business person, who has legal restraints imposed upon pricing and dealing in foreign currency, needing imported materials but receiving no hard cash from the central bank to buy them, forced to buy on the black market, constantly in fear of being caught, juggling books to avoid detection, (it is unlikely that any business can survive in this environment and also keep all the legal demands) unable to keep up with realistic salaries for employees, laying off and shutting down, struggling to pay bills (personal cheques no longer are accepted, banks limiting bank cheques, bank transfers have been stopped, banks are stopping printing cheque books because the government price control board has stipulated a charge for cheque books well below production cost
  • The countless unemployed, whose options for making money grow less and less and whose numbers grow daily, young men, strong of body, idle in the alleys, sniffing glue for a cheap escape, ransacking rubbish bins, snatching bags, running for crooks, in order to extend their hopeless lives by another year, or two or maybe three, but with no hope beyond, young women, seeking to escape poverty by marriage, ending up abused, exploited, deserted, alone
  • Those who try and help meet needs, frustrated by politically motivated bureaucracy, hampered by suspicion officials, delayed by others looking for bribes, and then after all this, often charged exorbitant prices for foodstuffs by others looking to make a fast buck from the situation
  • And the others; those who have had no water in the home for weeks, 2 or 3 families together in one small house, sharing a bathroom, having to buy water by the bucket from a well owned by a neighbour, some affected by cholera, those whose vehicles have been wrecked from unmaintained roads, or have had accidents because of traffic signals not working, or mis-timed, electrical appliances destroyed due to the daily power cuts and frequent power fluctuations, parents living miles away who have not been visited because of the shortage of money for transport, the elderly unable to keep up with the challenges, stumbling bewildered through the day, children, playing dirty in the street, not realising they should be clean, and they should be at school, teens and early twenties, hanging out with friends, listening to music, hoping their laughter will drown out the sense of hopelessness as they gaze into the future, weary pastors, burdened with their own cares and carrying those of so many others, often forced to supplement income with activities that consume time and rob energy, tired social workers, who cannot face having to hear another sad story to which they will have no answer, often retreating into the safety of a hardened heart and an uncaring manner.

What do we need?  Yes, economic stability would be good, political change excellent, provision of food, restoration of normalcy.  All these greatly needed.  But there are deeper needs; the reconstruction of lives, the healing of psyches, the revitalisation of spirits, the return to values, the reuniting of families, the restoration of homes.  In a sense, rebuilding the economy will be easy compared to restoring the people.  We covet your prayers, and thank you for your concern.

Oh yes, and what do we on the ground think of power-sharing talks?  Why speak of power sharing when there is no concern for responsibility carrying?  Two proverbs come to mind regarding these talks; “You do not sit to eat a meal with a crocodile”, and “The grasshopper who wants to measure the length of a chameleon’s tongue may well learn the depth of the chameleon’s stomach”.  Leaders who battle for power in air-conditioned comfort in luxurious hotels with plentiful meals, while their people starve and struggle to get by, do not deserve the title of leader and have no legitimate claim or right to power.  Our hope is in God alone, all hope in men is doomed to fail.

God bless you all

2 thoughts on “A Voice from Zimbabwe

  1. Karyn Post author

    I also wanted to post a little bit about what my friend and his church are actually doing. This is from another letter, “As a church we are trying to do what we can to help wherever we can, little though it be. I preached this Sunday on Luke 10 and the Good Samaritan, encouraging our people to express the love of Christ in these times of great challenge and need. We try on a church level to do that through our growing Social concerns ministry. Through the kindness of friends outside the country who supply funds, we source materials to put together at least 100 food packs per month, and have other basic food stuffs available for people who come for help. We have recently opened a weekly simple clinic attended by a kind doctor for people off the street and disburse food, medicine, clothing, transport money and other help to hundreds through the month. We receive and distribute food parcels purchased by friends in NZ and Australia, and also partner with Baptist churches in South Africa to procure food from across the border in South Africa and distribute among our sister churches (the border crossing into South Africa takes typically 5-8 hours due to the number of Zimbabweans crossing over to purchase basic food stuffs which cannot be bought here!) We also work with Baptist Global Response in regularly distributing thousands of food boxes around the country through our churches. God has given us as a church a wonderful opportunity at this time to help others, we pray that we will be a faithful conduit of His blessing to others in need.”

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