By Rob Hutton
As I sit in my office about to write this article, there is a $50,000,000,000,000 note on my desk – that’s after a 10 figure devaluation! It is worthless – no-one in Zimbabwe would even bend down to pick up this seemingly vast sum of money. A country that once boasted of being Africa’s “bread basket”; was recognized as the most literate nation on the African continent; and had a booming economy is now being ravished by starvation, poverty, depravation and political turmoil. The book of Isaiah seems to have become very relevant to many Christians in Zimbabwe who believe that the solution to the problems in the country have to be found by seeking out the ways of a loving, sovereign God.
In the natural the main cause of the massive crises in Zimbabwe has been the mismanaged and reckless redistribution of land. The confiscation of farmland by war veterans who had no experience in commercial farming led to a dramatic decline in agricultural output and exports. In addition, the nation is faced with a HIV/AIDS epidemic and a drought.
Since about 1990, New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) relating churches have been working in Zimbabwe to fulfill Christ’s mandate to disciple nations by partnering with and strengthening local churches and helping to plant churches in new regions. Through the years we have seen such incredible growth and are massively grateful to God for the grace that He has poured out on our efforts. Many, many churches from down south have been involved in this work and it has been fruitful. We regularly hold leaders training times believing that if the leaders are spiritually mature and healthy so will the local churches. In the past few years a number of new churches have been planted and seen incredible growth. At the last leadership training time 900 Zimbabwean leaders came together to worship. God’s Spirit was present in powerful ways and we saw miracles of healing. God’s word was powerfully preached and prophetic words released over the nation. These have been some of our highlights.
But we also felt the agony of the Zimbabwean people in this time. Church leaders had left to find work in South Africa or Mozambique to provide for their families and congregants and leaders had died from treatable diseases because there was no medicine in the clinics and hospitals. We recognized the need to move from a mindset of preaching the gospel alone to preaching the gospel and trusting God for ways of transforming society i.e. Nation Building. We cried out to God for tangible change in the nation and out of the most unexpected place He began to set in motion a work that would enable just that.
That one act of compassion sparked a response that will change this nation’s future.
God called His church in South Africa to make a difference in neighbouring Zimbabwe. In the last quarter of 2007 a man who had not been involved in Zimbabwe was moved by the dire situation his brothers and sisters in Christ were facing in that nation. Wessie (who is on eldership at Urban Life with Craig Clark) proposed taking a few bakkie loads of food into Zimbabwe – even if he could only help a few he wanted to do something. That one act of compassion sparked a response that will change this nation’s future. God opened the way for a project to feed Zimbabweans by means of a partnership between Barnabas Fund (An UK organization that supports projects for Christians being persecuted worldwide) and a group of South African churches. With the generous support of Barnabas Fund, food is purchased in bulk on a monthly basis and made up into grocery packs. Regularly, teams from churches across South Africa collect food packs in small pick-up trucks and deliver them to churches and orphanages at approximately 26 different locations within Zimbabwe. God has not only granted these believers an opportunity to bring messages of hope and to bless the needy with food, but He has also given them an opportunity to experience the transforming power of witnessing God’s love to others. By April 2009, 15 800 parcels of food on a total number of 220 trips had been taken into the nation – that equals a total weight of 335,5 tons of food!
Some of the food aid has arrived too late and we have heard heart breaking testimonies of babies dying from malnutrition; of adults dying from diseases they have become vulnerable to because of poor nutrition and of the aged dying quietly, not telling anyone of their plight so that they would not be a burden. But we are forever grateful for the many, many lives that have been saved because food did get their in time. Not only have we had the opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love in action, but our faithfulness has been seen by Zimbabwe! God is opening up amazing doors for the gospel because that nation has seen a people who “walk the talk” about loving our brothers.
We have had so many testimonies from folk who have participated in the food drops, including this email from Bruce and Sue Douglas of Lions Den, Chinhoyi: “To all who are involved with buying, packing, distributing etc the food packs that come to Zim we thank you so very much. We apologise for not thanking you sooner. We have been thanking the guys who bring it up!! Sorry for that. We really, really appreciate all you are doing. We have a lady with three starving children who walks 40kms here to get food and 40 back. Her little girl of 2 was so thin and starved. Anyway thanks to your food, they are doing much better, and now with mielies ready to eat they are over the worst. That is just one example, there are many more. We have been giving out food from our home to poor people and it has given us an opportunity to share Jesus. One man gave his life to the Lord and we baptized him in our pool. He was very genuine and not doing it for food!! Sometimes it gets a bit wearying having all these people sitting at our gate every day for food or medicine and school fees, but we thank the Lord we have it to give and as long as we do, we will continue, thanks to our SA brothers and sisters in Christ. Once again thank you, and God bless the work you are doing. We pray we will not be needing “aid” for too much longer.”
Today, despite a Government of National Unity in place, the nation remains in crisis. Infrastructure (agriculture, industry, transport) in Zimbabwe has been so badly damaged by mismanagement that the nation remains unable to provide basic food needs for its own people. Add to that exorbitant (although slowly decreasing) food prices and a 96% unemployment rate and it is still almost impossible for many people to be able to buy basic food products.
We recognized the need to move from a mindset of preaching the gospel alone
to preaching the gospel and trusting God for ways of transforming society
From the very beginning of this work we realised that food aid was a short term solution. The question we kept asking was How do we enable Zimbabweans to stand on their own feet again? As He did when He led us to connect with Barnabas Fund, God guided us into amazing relationships with men of incredible caliber who have already been attempting to tackle the task of rebuilding the nation of Zimbabwe. They believe that the most effective way to rebuild the nation is in using the huge agricultural potential it has and equipping the local people to be faithful with what they already have. The principle is simply to make people aware of the fact that they can make a massive difference to their own predicament by teaching them godly ways of feeding themselves. Their methods (called Farming God’s Way) teach godly stewardship and faithfulness with farming technologies that assist people in transitioning from dependency to sustainable ways of providing for themselves. We believe that the way to move from food hand-outs to self-sufficiency is to partner with our Farming God’s Way friends and use their hearts and skills to equip the people we have been giving food to for the past 21 months.
So for the last 12 months Wessie, and Barnabas Fund, have been building an alliance with the leaders of Farming God’s Way in Zimbabwe. Through the NCMI and New Frontiers International networks we have reached hundreds of churches with the message of faithfulness and stewardship. Every food parcel is now accompanied by two tracts – one explaining the need to look to Father God as the provider (and not to South Africans or any other man). The second is a brief explanation of how Farming God’s Way works. The tract encourages them to attend the training that will be held in their area and to prepare their land for planting. Over the next few months the food parcels will also include seed for planting. We are convinced that this partnership will enable Zimbabwe to produce enough maize for their needs during the next harvest season in 2010.
Two examples of the fruitfulness of this venture: First, a Zimbabwean man in Harare was given one acre to use to grow crops using these techniques. After being trained he was allowed to farm the land himself. In the first year he provided for his family; in the second year he was able to sell produce so that he could buy materials to build a modest home; and in the third year the profits were sufficient to enable him to buy a second hand car! Second, a church leader, together with the church he leads, ‘borrowed’ 2 hectares of land from one of the indigenous farmers who is part of their church. They have planted the 2 hectares using FGW methods and are seeing yields up to 50 times the national average! These fields will potentially provide maize for 50 families in the church for a whole year!
The national anthem of Zimbabwe is “Blessed be the Land of Zimbabwe” (Shona: “Simudzai Mureza wedu WeZimbabwe”; Northern Ndebele: “Kalibusiswe Ilizwe leZimbabwe”). We believe that the people of Zimbabwe will sing those words again. The testimony of the church’s work in that nation will not simply be that of a nation restored to economic and political health again, but of a nation who knows where the blessing comes from. It is the hope of true revival in the hearts of 12 million Zimbabweans overflowing into the continent of Africa which fills us with the desire to see the nation transformed!
God bless Zimbabwe, blessed be the land of Zimbabwe.