News on Ebenezer Training Centre, Shalom and Maleme Farm

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It is now just over a month since the news that the decision to acquire Maleme Farm, which includes the Ebenezer Training Centre, had been reversed by Vice President Mphoko (see our post from the 1st April). Rodney Mashingaidze, a district officer in the President’s Office and a senior official in the CIO (the secret service) had decided that he was going to take over (steal) Ebenezer Training Centre, Shalom and Maleme Farm. As usual for people in his kind of position in Zimbabwe, this was without any legal process and with what he thought would be impunity. However, the intervention of Vice President Mphoko has thwarted all this and we shouldn’t underestimate just how significant his decision and action is!

It is good to be able to report that business has returned to normal at Ebenezer, Shalom and the farm. We are told that there has been a real sense of celebration for the people living in the community around Maleme and near to Ebenezer. This is combined with a great swell of faith as they have seen with their our own eyes the very real way in which God can answer prayer! Their lives would have been deeply affected if the planned acquisition had gone ahead, with many of them losing their jobs on the farm and as support workers at Ebenezer. People in the community have also benefited from being able to graze their own cattle on large areas of the farm for many years at no cost.

Apparently there is still some work to be done to secure the official paperwork confirming the reversal of the acquisition, but once that is completed they will celebrate with a thanksgiving service for the community at Shalom. We will let you know once we hear that the official paperwork is complete.

In the past four weeks, much work has also been going on at Shalom and Maleme to revive neglected crops and re-establish normality. Everyone is enjoying being back at work and we are told bookings at the Shalom Camp Site are flooding in once again. At Ebenezer the apprentices are enjoying a sense of security now that the project no longer faces the threat of closure. In the words of one staff member, “We are at home and no one is now going to tell us to leave.”

One of the good outcomes of the situation over the past few months is the way in which it has raised the profile of the work of many churches in Matabeleland to help see the potential of small scale farmers fulfilled. Ebenezer has also been propelled into a greater position to bring hope and light to the nation and to further build the capacity of small scale farmers throughout Matabeleland and Zimbabwe.

In light of this there are plans for the expansion of the work at Ebenezer which include putting in a further 30 hectares of vegetable production this year, bringing the total to 60 hectares. Thereafter, the plan is to put in a further 50 hectares each year for the next 4 years, bringing it to a total of 260 hectares (642 acres). This will in turn greatly increase the capacity at Ebenezer for the number of apprentices. Bear in mind that Foundations in Farming, the method of agriculture being taught at Ebenezer, is what is generally called Conservation Farming which is pretty much all done by hand – there are no tractors! Alongside this they are planning to increase the broiler chicken (bred and raised specifically for meat production) capacity to 100,000 birds and the layer (egg production) capacity to 30,000 birds.

Since his visit to Ebenezer and his meetings with the area Chiefs and people in the community, all this will be in line with the Vice President’s own wishes. He has spoken of his desire to see Ebenezer (together with the establishment of other Ebenezers in different parts of the country) be a harbinger of change in Zimbabwe and help in the the growth of sustainable productive agriculture amongst its indigenous people. What a great turn around! We can pray that this will continue to be the case.

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Blessed are the poor!

Having arrived home we are being blessed with some wonderfully warm spring weather and are enjoying temperatures matching those of the cooler highveld in Zimbabwe at this time of year. At the same time, we would appreciate your prayers for Alison. On our last day in Bulawayo she suddenly had a lot of pain in her abdomen and back. She saw our doctor when we got home and he has initially diagnosed renal colic/kidney stones. Alison is having a scan next week so the medics can investigate further what is going on.

The primary purpose of our most recent visit to Zim was to spend time with ONM and their staff as we continue to deepen our relationship with them and understanding of what they do. Martin Barrow, ONM’s director, has asked us to help them with a number of aspects of their work. Gaining more experience and a greater understanding of what they are doing has better enabled us to reflect on and speak into the work more clearly, helping to shape ONM for the future. They are facing some important decisions and need real wisdom as the work continues to grow. Growth of itself isn’t always meritorious and as in all organisations, wisdom is needed in how to maintain the core ethos, values and character of the work and the essential nature of its praxis.

DSCF3035ONM say “our mission is to minister to the poorest of the poor in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.” The verb “minister” means service – to serve and attend to the needs of others. Far too often, many mission and aid organisations have been prescriptive to those they are seeking to serve. The “we know what you need” attitude, even with the best of intent, has all too often brought supposed solutions which have in fact only produced more problems and lasting damage, not least the syndrome of apathy and dependency. We are continuing to help and serve ONM because they are seeking to see and realise the opposite of these outcomes. The poor are not just to be pitied and patronised, they are to be helped and empowered to realise all of their potential as fellow and equal human beings made in the image of God.

I recently read and found helpful the Micah Network declaration on integral mission. A section titled “Integral Mission with the Poor and Marginalized” says this:-

DSCF3032“The poor like everyone else bear the image of the Creator. They have knowledge, abilities and resources. Treating the poor with respect means enabling the poor to be the architects of change in their communities rather than imposing solutions upon them. Working with the poor involves building relationships that lead to mutual change.
 
We welcome welfare activities as important in serving with the poor. Welfare activities, however,  must be extended to include movement towards values of transformation, the empowerment of communities and co-operation in wider issues of justice. Because of its presence among the poor, the church is in a unique position to restore their God-given dignity by enabling them to produce their own resources and to create solidarity networks.

We object to any use of the word “development” that implies some countries are civilised and  developed while others are uncivilised and underdeveloped. This imposes a narrow and linear economic model of development and fails to recognise the need for transformation in so-called “developed” countries. While we recognise the value of planning, organization, evaluation and other such tools, we believe they must be subservient to the process of building relationships, changing  values and empowering the poor. Work with the poor involves setbacks, opposition and suffering. But we have also been inspired and encouraged by stories of change. In the midst of hopelessness we have hope.”

This sounds very much like the gospel (good news) of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated. His ‘gospel’ was not just about forensic doctrines of the need for divine justice and personal salvation. Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom brought change (often even miraculous), transformation and hope for the future to individuals and even whole communities.

In what we know as the Beatitudes (Matt 5 and Luke 6), Jesus states “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” There are a multitude of commentaries and thoughts on this – it is after all, part of Jesus’ most famous sermon. I’ve written before that I find some thoughts from Philip Yancey very helpful. In his book “The Jesus I Never Knew,” he says this when commenting on these words of Jesus:-

“I now view the Beatitudes not as patronizing slogans, but as profound insights into the mystery of human existence. God’s kingdom turns the tables upside down. The poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the oppressed truly are blessed. Not because of their miserable states, of course – Jesus spent much of his life trying to remedy those miseries. Rather, they are blessed because of an innate advantage they hold over those more comfortable and self-sufficient.  People who are rich, successful, and beautiful may well go through life relying on their natural gifts. People who lack such natural advantages, hence under-qualified for success in the kingdom of this world, just might turn to God in their time of need.

Human beings do not readily admit desperation. When they do, the kingdom of heaven draws near.”

(Philip Yancy, The Jesus I Never Knew, Marshal Pickering, London, 1995, pages 114 & 115).

Thanks again for reading,

Andy

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Makokobo Bead Making Project

Gathered beneath the limited shade of a solitary tree, a group of 15 or so women of various ages are excitedly laughing and sharing life together under the care and direction of Mercy Barrow.  They are surrounded by lines of washing drying in the hot, smoke laden air and hoards of children playing and squabbling over a few broken toys in the dusty compound outside their homes. Home for these ladies is in the near-derelict and overcrowded blocks of flats of the Makokobo Township. Most of the windows in the buildings appear to be broken and rotting refuse is stacked up outside the dark and sinister dwellings of this crime-ridden suburb of Bulawayo.

I (Alison) was privileged to be able to join these women at their weekly bead making project and was quickly made to feel welcome and included with a large basin of freshly cooked corn cobs being brought out to share. The project has only been running for a few months, but in that time Mercy has instructed this small group of dedicated women on how to make beads from glossy magazine paper. Now they are confidently making a whole range of jewellery from this recycled material.

Selling the jewellery provides a supplement to their meagre income and even in a small way, this also provides the dignity of engaging in productive work. Equally important in all this is the opportunity for building a positive community spirit in the midst of what is often just hopelessness and despair. The group always share and discuss a Bible passage, talking about the reality of living with a different hope to that which is surrounding them.

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The High Density Suburbs

There are many areas around Bulawayo known as the High Density Suburbs. Tens of thousands of people live in these areas and while they are not the absolute poorest compared to those who live in the remaining squatter camps, the people have very little. With over 80% unemployment, it is extremely hard for these people to make ends meet. The very small and simple houses they rent are mainly owned by the city council and most are crumbling away with no maintenance ever carried out.

The ONM team with the two lads who live at this house with their grandmother who was out

The ONM team with the two lads who live at this house with their grandmother.

There are a hundred and one ways people try to get enough money to buy food and pay their rent. Some collect plastic bottles for recycling from the rubbish tips and get a dollar for a large bag full; others collect bones from food waste on the same rubbish tips and sell them to the glue factory by the bucket full for a few cents or SA Rand. The money they receive is often spent on other produce which they then re-sell for a small profit. There are many little kiosks housed under a piece of plastic sheeting or old tarpaulin wrapped over a wooden frame. They sell fruit, popcorn, sweets, batteries, matches and the like, making just a cent or two profit on each sale. Then there are the appliance repairers, bicycle repairers and an array of other services on offer from people just trying to survive from one week to the next.

Four generations in a small room and kitchen

Four generations who all share a small room and kitchen (the baby is being held by her grandmother; the mother was not there)

With the problems of inconsistent water supply and poor sanitation, inevitably it is easy for people to become ill from the related diseases, but of course there is no medical care other than what they can pay for. Many people are living with other chronic conditions but receive no medical care whatsoever and cannot even afford the most basic over-the-counter medication. Medical insurance is unheard of in such communities and the state of the clinics and hospitals that these people can access if they can pay is appalling.

DSCF3113Visiting these suburbs triggers a mix of responses, both from within oneself and from those who live there. Firstly, it is clearly a rare event for white people to be seen there and almost without exception, people turn their head and stare. You can see the obvious question on their faces: “what are you doing here?” The children all shout after you, smiling and laughing at what seems to be a real novelty. These suburbs are mostly quite a way out of the main city where white people are more common, so many of the children do not see or meet white folks very often.

We were accompanying an ONM team, continuing to see and learn how they are working in these suburbs with individuals and families. They are assisting in various small ways, supporting and mentoring, seeking to help people better help themselves. While initially it can feel awkward for people like us to go to these suburbs, the people there are thrilled and delighted that you have gone to visit them. They feel neglected and forgotten by the world and just sitting down with them listening to their story is a gift we can easily undervalue. They have so little in their lives and they see it as a big day when they receive a visit. They always ask us to pray before we leave and as we’ve learnt before, the poor can often teach us some lessons in simple practical faith and so many other things too. In the context of aid, donors and recipients, giving and ministering to the poor, we can often perceive the giving as something that flows in one direction. When we see people as inherently valuable, treating them as equals and with respect whatever social status or material wealth they do or don’t have, we may find ourselves surprised at the profound things we can learn and receive from them!

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Joys and Frustrations

Together with the regular power cuts, the internet is working less well here than it has for a couple of years and trying to upload a blog post is proving to be a challenge again. If you’re reading this then we have obviously eventually managed to do so!

In a full and busy week we’ve again experienced many of the joys and also frustrations of Zimbabwe. One of the joys was meeting up with some of those we’ve been privileged to work with over the past few years and witness their growth in ability and maturity. One such occasion was our visit to the Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre on Saturday. If you’ve read our recent posts you’ll be aware of what has been happening there and before we left the UK, we didn’t expect to be able to visit the Centre because of the political problems. However, on Saturday they had their annual Graduates Day when previous apprentices are invited to come together for a reunion and to share about their ongoing experiences. We received an invite and with the political problems resolved, it was okay for the community to have us (two white Brits) travel down there.

Andy & Brilliant together on Saturday

Andy & Brilliant together on Saturday

It was great to see how Ebenezer continues to grow and develop and a delight to meet up with many of the past graduates. A young man we’ve talked about before is Brilliant, who was one of the very first apprentices. He and his wife Sithabiso who was also a first-year apprentice are now both staff members and are expecting their first baby in the next couple of weeks. Brilliant was an orphan from an early age and to see how he has matured as a young man and what he is doing now is a great testament to the work of Ebenezer.

Brilliant & Sithabiso

Brilliant & Sithabiso

Some of the frustrations we’ve experienced are perhaps specific to the country, others are more of a general characteristic of Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the constant frustrations for people with our cultural perspectives and world view is the concept and use of time. It would be unfair not to note that there are exceptions, but the idea of punctuality and good stewardship of time is generally rather different to our own!

Whether we are people of faith or none, it’s probably fair to say that people from our culture see time as a finite resource and gift we are each in possession of. Time is a precious commodity that we feel we should not waste. As individuals we can all have our lazy moments and perhaps not always be the best stewards of our time. There are those circumstances which sometimes work against us and our ability to be punctual, but generally our own culture seeks to minimise such circumstances and sees a lack of punctuality and a poor handle on time as a negative.

Some of our mechanistic perspectives and world views have their own deep flaws and there are things we would do well to learn from other cultures. For all practical purposes though, it’s fair to say that each of us, wherever we’re located in the world, has a finite amount of time at our disposal. Hence, when seeking to work and serve into a culture that does not share those concepts and for whom apparently timekeeping is not important, it is easy to become very frustrated and to feel that often your own time is being robbed from you.

It may seem simplistic, but if you’re here regularly and for any longer period, it becomes apparent how this issue of ‘time’ so affects the outcomes and and ongoing development of the continent. One example is subsistence farming. Generally the seasons are fairly consistent and there is a well known and accepted date by which maize (the staple cereal crop here) should be planted so as to benefit from the rainy season. Many farmers complain about their failed crops and sometimes there are other abnormal factors, but you can ask which date they planted and it’s not unusual for them to have been weeks late! Somehow though, despite the serious consequences of a failed maize crop for such people, many never seem to learn and make the adjustments necessary to have a better chance of a good harvest the following season by planting on time.

The issue for us is how real and lasting change comes into being in such circumstances? How do people become free from the things that contribute to them being enslaved by poverty? The subject of large-scale aid is something others are far more qualified and experienced to comment on. If you’re interested in such things, two books to recommend are 1. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo the Zambian Economist, which is a devastating exposé of the outcomes of years of aid into Africa; 2. Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton.

Again, this may sound simplistic, but we are coming ever more firmly to the conclusion that for us, the way to work is with individuals and small groups, such as Brilliant and the other apprentices at Ebenezer. As followers of Jesus, it doesn’t escape our notice that while at times he spoke to and dealt with large numbers, his work of primary influence was with just a small group of people and other individuals. We have seen many large-scale programmes and projects costing millions which in the long run just evaporate into nothing and which don’t bring any lasting change to people and their communities. In fact they can often just contribute to the deeply embedded dependency that is so problematic and which enslaves people even more. At the same time, we are privileged to see lasting change that brings people into a place of dignity, productivity and freedom from poverty because they have been nurtured and mentored in long-term relationships where there is mutual respect and accountability.

If you’ve read this, thank you for your interest. Thank you to those who have sent messages and to those who offer their prayers for us.

Love and blessings,

Andy & Alison

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Thank You from Isaiah’s

The internet has not been working for several days and we’d originally tried to post this on Tuesday evening. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with another post or two over the weekend.

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Alison with Maria Maliki and some of the children

It is great to be able to spend time with the staff and children at Isaiah’s Home again.

The first important thing was to deliver all those pants that Alison’s colleagues at Mansfield Park Surgery have donated. The staff and children are absolutely delighted with them. Having plenty of new and clean undies always at the ready will help take the strain off the never ending IMG_6672cycle of washing and drying. The care at the home is overseen by Maria Maliki who is an experienced nursing sister. Maria and her staff want us to convey their thanks to all who contributed to this new and important supply.

We were also able to deliver baby and toddler toys which have been given by friends in Alton. Again, they all say a very big “thank you” and are delighted with them. Some of the toys will be kept for a new pre-school they are planning as an extension of their work.

Here are a few more photos of the children from our times at the home this week.

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Have arrived in Bulawayo

After good and trouble-free flights via Nairobi we arrived at Harare immigration and customs hall. It was great to see all four items of luggage (you’re given 2x23KG each with Kenya Airways) on the conveyor, each case and bag packed to the limit. We always try to bring with us as much useful stuff as we can – things that are difficult to get or not available here. This time of course, we have a rather decent supply of baby and toddler clothes for Isaiah’s Home and it’s amazing how well it all compresses into the space available.

Walking up to the queue for customs, our hearts sank a bit to see people being given a hard time. Cases open and everything being taken out, the customs officials holding up all the items of clothing (and at that moment, a bunch of baby clothes from one lady’s case) and putting them into a pile next to the cases. Then a customs official beckoned to us from the other side of the booths and waved us through, no questions asked! Although we had relevant paperwork for the things we were taking, it can be a real hassle and some officials are in the habit of making up their own rules as they go, so it was a real blessing and a moment of favour at just the right time.

On Thursday afternoon we checked our vehicle over and were able to get some things sorted in Harare before driving over to Bulawayo yesterday morning. Although there were more police road blocks en route than we’d ever seen before, we had a good journey, making it in six hours. After catching up with David Cunningham over a cup of tea we popped into the ONM offices to say “hi” to everyone and confirm things ready for Monday morning. We then begin a fairly packed itinerary.

The situation at Maleme Farm and Ebenezer is still cooling off after the events of last week. Apparently the official who had been trying to take it and has been sent packing by the Vice president has been stirring up trouble in Harare this week. He’s been claiming that the Cunninghams just bribed all the chiefs, the communities and their leaders to say and do what they did and of course, wants the decision reversed. Some of it is also about saving face, so although the legal position has been made clear, the storm is not over. The long-term outcome will depend on how the current infighting within ZanuPF plays out. It seems that Mugabe’s total control over the party may be slipping as people are thinking of things post the 91 year old dictator.

Thanks for your interest and for reading. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers too.

Andy & Alison

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