Our Epic, Whirlwind Visit to Zimbabwe

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A typical Zimbabwean homestead

Thursday evening we packed as much of the car as we could. I had been planning and packing little by little all week, choosing clothes and food and sundry other necessary items to take along. I had been to Mozambique before in 2005, but I was newly married then, with no kids and very little experience to inform my very few expectations. I told Seth there are positives and negatives to crossing the border and traveling as a now experienced missionary with kids. The positives are that I am now more knowledgeable and experienced to know what to expect and how to prepare. The negatives are that I am now more knowledgeable and experienced to know how expectations are not enough preparation, and further, to know more specifically the fears of the dangers and risks involved in taking a family into Zimbabwe.

There were a lot of things to be concerned about, such as car problems, safety on the road (a Zimbabwean family in our town church just had a tragic car accident with fatalities traveling to their home in Zim earlier this year), malaria, sunburn, picking up strange diseases or viruses, toilet and hygiene concerns, drinking water, car problems, and logistics of the trip to the Great Zimbabwe ruins. But my greatest concerns were the border crossing and the police traps inside Zimbabwe.

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I had to laugh–our first view of the police was at a construction point in SA before we even crossed the border.

The border crossing was so memorable in 2016 for Seth because at one point he almost fainted from heat, dehydration, a 10-hour ordeal in line with the stress of angry officials. I hoped that the crossing wouldn’t be that difficult this time, and it wasn’t. Both crossings (the SA side and the Zim side) were fairly quick and painless entering the country. On our way back home on Monday, the SA side had a hiccup when their computer system went down. We had to change lines twice, which is a shoving, pushing affair we always lose out on with five little ones to try to batter through the mess of people. After an hour and a half we got through and were home! The kids were tired of waiting, but I was happy. It could have been so much worse.

My next greatest fear was the police traps. The last time Seth went to Zim, he was in country for 30 hours (and probably only half of that was driving; the rest was at the funeral for the aforementioned tragedy); he was stopped 29 times by the police and “fined” several times for various “offenses.” I want to point out here that corrupt government officials are a big contribution to why Africa is poor.

On this trip, we counted 22 police traps, but only got stopped 5 times, and “fined” only once! This was because, even though we’d bought all of the things required for our vehicle, the “reflective stickers” we put on the back of our car per their requirements didn’t have a “honeycomb” pattern, and because our reverse lights “didn’t work,” which of course they did, we knew, and the next policeman didn’t fine us for them. Then since we paid in SA Rands, the policeman made us pay at an exorbitant exchange rate. We had to sign a device, but he only listed the amount as $20, so the extra money from the R320 we gave him went right in his pocket. Seth evangelized him after paying.

They were going to fine us two other times, but Seth begged for mercy, and they gave it to us. So we didn’t run out of money. I was concerned we would run out of money for all of the bribes fines, and then Seth would be put in prison. No joke. That was my greatest fear. Praise the Lord, that didn’t happen. In fact, we believe having children with us helped us get through more police traps without harassment. Logically, that should happen. They shouldn’t terrorize tourists, right? 🙂

I cannot describe in one blog post all of the pictorial images needed to give you a good impression of a modern African country. But I will try to give you just glimpses. When we crossed into Zim, you could immediately see evidences everywhere of the deterioration of the country. I was also worried about taking the trip right now, because for the last two years, Zim has been going through economic crises and riots reminiscent of their troubles in 2008, but not quite as bad. Their troubles recently hit a peak, and we weren’t sure if petrol could be found everywhere. So we stopped for petrol (and the toilet) wherever we found one, and we managed just fine. We never ran out of petrol…until the end. I’ll get to that later. *roll eyes*

After the border crossing, you cross a big bridge over the Limpopo River, the boundary between SA and Zim. (I talked about it more here.) I took a video, but my blog doesn’t support videos. Passerbiers could walk on another bridge. Many had loads on their heads. One of the pastors we were visiting said you could hire men to help carry loads for you. The river does have crocs and hippos, but we didn’t see any.IMG_4234

For several hours we drove to Wastemore, one of our LBI graduates who is planting a church in his rural village in Zim. Zimbabwe’s scenery is majestic in the huge rocks everywhere, including underground. Otherwise, close-up it’s not very pretty. Dry red or brown soil, little vegetation, unless you count all the thorn trees and bushes. There were cows and goats roaming all over, even on the main road; several police traps; and school children walking or being escorted home. Wastemore met us at a little assortment of shacks and shops. He then directed us several kilometers back a dirt road to his home. Seth had written down detailed directions from his last visit, so he tried to remember the way on his own and got it almost completely right.

We drove to Wastemore’s son’s high school to meet his son, who is about to graduate and is interested in being trained for the ministry. He stays in a hostel close to the school and apart from his family during the school week and comes home on the weekend. Then we went to Wastemore’s house, which is situated on some neat rocks. The boys had brought a soccer ball as a gift for Wastemore’s second son and some of the orphans he cares for, and they played next to a massive rock that slopes gradually out of the ground where Wastemore’s church (named Rock Baptist Church, can you guess why?) meets.

I expected chickens, goats, and cows, which were there, but I was shocked to see that Mary (Wastemore’s wife) also kept a flock of American turkeys! She cooked us turkey for dinner with their typical southern African staple food, maizemeal mush, which we ate in the dark around a fire with our hands, and it was so delicious! Then we treated them to s’mores.

After an encouraging fireside conversation when the kids were in bed, and a virtually sleepless and rainy night (funny story!), a yummy breakfast, and packing up, we were off for our trip to Great Zimbabwe. The sun came out in full force for our entire tour of Great Zim and then dissolved into rain again a few hours after we left. I praise the Lord for His kindness to make that tour possible! That was a highlight of the trip for me and something I’d wanted to do for a few years ever since I realized we’d be covering it in history this year.

After Great Zim, we had to travel back down almost to the border, then take another main road northwest to visit Justice and Jastone, twin brothers who also graduated from LBI. We had a lot of trouble finding the turnoff to their road, especially since it was after dark and raining again by then, but we eventually met Jastone who directed us back several kilometers down a dirt road, through interesting territory, and very “interesting” bridges to Justice’s home.

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This one was actually on the way to Wastemore, but a typical example. Actually, many weren’t this built up.

What a blessing to see the Christian worldview informing these two brothers’ families. It was exciting to see their homes and their work. They about doubled the size of their home recently, with bricks made by hand, mainly for our visit. We felt very honored, especially by the new bathroom they installed just to care for our hygienic needs more comfortably! They don’t have running water yet but were expecting it this last week as a company was scheduled to come drill a borehole (well) for them. (another long story)

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I got the baby!

I have also been waiting all year to meet their new baby! They have had trouble working out the paperwork and passport for him to visit SA, so I was thrilled to get to meet him. He is wearing hand-me-downs from my boys in this Sunday morning picture. I really tried not to overpack. Thinking (and researching) that it would be hot for our visit, I brought only one long-sleeved shirt per child, and one blanket per child. But it was cold and rainy that night! I’m so glad I at least brought that extra shirt per kid. I almost didn’t.

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Carson, below, Colin above

Ladies and gentlemen, can you imagine a five-hour church service? Many people were staying with Justice, including his brother and his family. The brothers had combined their two churches (stationed two villages and several kilometers apart) for the day’s baptismal service, so Justice kept many of the guests in his house. After feeding the lot of us in the morning, several people walked to church (which meets in a public school nearby), while I drove the mothers and babies. Somehow when almost there, Carson (5 yo) got lost. I found him 20 minutes later, far down a dirt road, crying in front of another school. Poor baby. “I thought I would never see you again,” he sobbed. I was almost in tears as well. I was so glad to be reunited with him! We then gathered the search parties and began church.

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Service in a school classroom. There’s Fancy, behind the chairs.

A couple of bullet-point memories of the church service:

  • They ran Sunday School into the worship and church service with no break.
  • Two sermons, one by each man. Jastone taught the Sunday School sermon on baptism. Justice preached the main sermon.
  • Tons of babies and toddlers alternately cried, slept, and ate (less of this) throughout the day.
  • The church service was followed by an almost-hour long session of baptismal testimonies, translated for Seth’s sake, so he could approve if they were ready. Seth understands Venda pretty well, and I even caught some of the sermon’s Venda, even though it’s been years since I studied Venda.
  • Fancy: the German Shepherd we gifted to Justice was humorous. She had to be dragged in and laid down in the back to keep her from terrorizing shepherding the goats in the area. That was a kind of funny element to the church service. Ita vita!
  • We enjoyed their God-honoring music.
  • They let the kids out for the testimony time, but no one supervised them. I went out with them, and, dredging up my very rusty, crusty, in-the-dregs-of-my-brain Venda, I managed to run some games in the, by that time, full-on sun. We played Freeze Tag and North-South-Central. It would have gone much better had I remembered more of my Venda.
  • By now the kids were all tired, hungry, and thirsty.
  • We walked, far or close depending on your perspective, to the river for baptism. This river was nicer and deeper than our SA Elim or Valdezia rivers for baptism. Seth was asked to do the baptisms.
  • One toddler screamed (it was hilarious, not pitiful, really) while her mother was baptized. Her mother, by the way, gave the best baptismal testimony Seth has ever heard. How refreshing!
  • A LOT of the church members and guests then came to Justice’s house afterwards. The teens were scheduled for a Bible quiz competition. (something they learned from our old youth groups!) 🙂
  • The boys enjoyed a soccer ball we brought for Lisa’s nephew, and then I managed to get it away for the girls to play “Box Ball,” a mix between netball and Frisbee soccer.
  • That evening, Lisa and Mamsi, the wives of Justice and Jastone respectively, cooked for about 40 people impromptu, as all of the youth and children, and many adults and guests, stuck around until they were fed. I have to admit, that I think this is another reason Africans are poor; but also, this is a respectable element in their culture from the view of the hospitality shown.

When everyone had gone, and Seth had driven Jastone and his wife and several others, including the new puppy we gave Jastone (she goes by “Sheba,” and she vomited all over our car just before they arrived in Jastone’s village!), to Zezani, and then returned to Whunga where Justice lives, we treated them to s’mores as well. Both Justice and Wastemore care for several “orphans.” (Most of them still have parents, but for different reasons, are cared for by these pastors.)

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Sleeping arrangements. If there’s a next time, Seth and I are investing in an air mattress. We’re getting too old for this.

The next morning, the kids and teens headed off to school, and then Lisa made us a chicken and vhuswa (maizemeal mush) breakfast. I got a tour of their garden and yard and learned a lot about their goals and entrepreneurial projects to support themselves. We talked about homeschooling, which they desire to do. It was all very encouraging and eye-opening. We drove about 5 k’s to get drinking water, and then walked to get non-potable water at a well not too far away. I was sunburned Saturday at Great Zim and was feeling the effects of the hot sun, especially after my time in the sun on Sunday.

We sadly left Justice and Lisa, who begged us to come visit her again soon. We then drove to see Jastone’s town-village (I’m not sure what to call it, since it looks like a village to outsiders, but it is built up more than a typical village in a semblance of a town, with some shops in the center, a petrol station, and houses close together) of Zezani. Here I was greeted by an over-friendly drunk. Bars are the majority of the small assortment of shops there. Mamsi has opened a daycare center in a back of the family shop and helps to support the family with this business. Jastone keeps pigeons! That was interesting. They are just for pleasure, not business.

On our way back to the “highway,” we got pictures at a baobab tree. Southern Africa is famous for these, but you don’t really see them until you get close to or in Zimbabwe. If you go too far south into SA, you don’t see them. They look like huge upside-down trees, with their roots sticking out, as often their leaves don’t show well. We saw a really nice one on our way to Wastemore, with a hollowed-out section at the bottom so large you could walk through it hardly having to stoop, but a police trap was set up right by it, so we didn’t want to stop there for photos!

I could feel my relaxation hit right after we got into Messina, the border town of SA. I was sleepy on the last hour home to our town of Louis Trichardt. You have to cross a mountain range to get back to our town. It’s situated beautifully, directly behind the town of Louis Trichardt. At 3 k’s up, just as we started to come down the mountain, we ran out of petrol! Seth literally coasted the vehicle all the way down to a petrol station at the bottom of the mountain. I could NOT believe he made it. I thought we’d have to slow down too much at a couple of turns or a stop sign and be stuck. It was hilariously awful. But we made it!

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We were exhausted from our trip, as evidenced here by my two youngest. I spent Tuesday sick in bed. I have a condition my mom calls “colitis,” which has never been professionally diagnosed. Basically, after a stressful time, I experience a lot of pain right above my stomach, which can cause stomach flu-like symptoms. I realized how much stress as well as adrenaline I was running on during our trip when the attack on my health Tuesday, right after I relaxed, made it impossible to homeschool or do my other duties. I was back up working on Wednesday, but still popping Ibuprofen. That to say, I don’t plan to do another Zim trip for a long time, if ever. It was amazing, and I’m so glad I got to go! But it was also difficult and very stressful. Just being the minority and the constant outsider trying to cope and fit in is tiring. But it was also a great blessing.

We hope we were able to encourage these men who are sacrificially working in hard places when they could have had nicer jobs and homes in SA. We were certainly encouraged by their faithful work in the ministry, trying to plant churches in their home villages and languages, and caring for the orphans thrust upon them. Both Justice and Wastemore had a family devotion time at night, and both showed thoughtfulness in their hospitality towards us. Please keep these families in your prayers, that they would be encouraged in the Lord’s work!

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and mother of four children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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6 Responses to Our Epic, Whirlwind Visit to Zimbabwe

  1. Kathy Mullins-Engelhardt says:

    thank you for sharing. I enjoyed seeing the pix and your explanations.

  2. Christie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing!! I really love hearing all the details and seeing the pictures. My older girls will read and enjoy it as well. Equal parts laughing and rejoicing about running out of petrol at the top of a mountain. = )

    • Amy says:

      It was getting long, but I’m sure as a mom of many little ones, you would have been interested in what and how we ate at times! It was kind of crazy, but doable for that amount of time.

  3. David Bedford says:

    Wow, what a report. Loved following along on your trip. I am tired just reading this so I cannot imagine how tired your family is. Loved the pictures. They made your journey come alive. Love and prayers.

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