So much happened today I could not possibly report it all to you, but let me trace a theme: how hard it is to come up against the powers that subvert love and undermine community.
Above is a picture that makes sure it does not show any faces of the girls at the home for abused girls we visited. The leaders are inventive,compassionate, determined women repairing the lives of broken girls, even becoming a self-sustaining project. MCC is helping them stand up against sexual abuse and bureaucratic madness. The government tries to undo their love, reportedly harassing them because their founder is white.
We visited the new bishop of the BICC in Zimbabwe. His plan to consolidate compassionate ministries under a new leader and with new accountability is meeting with some resistance. MCC loves the plan. But he is risking the displeasure of the old regime to bring needed change I think. When men jockey for power it tends to undermine love. When we debriefed last night I found out that several on the BICC leadership team had privately expressed alarm that the U.S. leaders might distance the denomination from MCC, since they work as one in Zimbabwe and they see MCC as a lifeline and expression of solidarity with them
We were visited by short-term program alumni from Zimbabwe: IVEP, SALT, GAMEN. What great stories of growth and subsequent impact! Their boundary crossing creates new community on a global scale and creates young people with the same kind of vision of love Jesus has. I continue to be amazed at the hope I get to participate in through the inventive ways MCC has perfected to subvert what undermines community.
Now on to Zambia. We wIll probably be out of Internet range for a few days.
In Acts, Jesus is described as “one who went around doing good.” And yet I regularly hear some suspicion about MCC because their main gift to the church is leading us to go around and do good — in a professional, creative , personal, inclusive way! They are accused of being unevangelistic, even though they stamp everything they distribute “in the name of Christ.”
Rather than being unevangelistic, I would say that MCC and other ways the church expresses God’s love in practical ways are the MOST evangelistic things we do in an age that is suspicious about words in general and particularly Christian ones. I don’t know how much personal evangelism you do, but when I get an opportunity I often hear about how uncompassionate the church is. Many people think we hate gay people and immigrants and anyone who does not agree with us. They think we are fierce competitors for government power to enforce the morality we don’t completely agree on among ourselves. We lament the shrinking church in the U.S. — I still think the antidote is intercession and compassion.
When I was connecting with the BIC about 30 years ago one of the main reasons I did it was because they were part of MCC. My friends had been to Kenya to study. One of the things they described were these great missionaries who went about doing good, were close to the people, and had a better reputation than other missionaries who seemed more concerned with building their organization than serving –they were called MCC, whatever that means. So I am glad we are hanging in there with MCC in a rather selfish age. I want to show people Jesus, especially the neediest.
I guess that’s what people say while on an MCC learning tour. We see a lot of good being done in our name. Today we visited the Zimbabwean bishop, were taken by his wife to visit the needy, visited with a peacemaker trying to undo the trauma visited on Matabeleland (having been in prison for his passion) — and that was just part of the day. The church is making a lot with the little they have. Jesus saves.
Here are two other special moments.
Sibo Ncube has been leading the BICC Compassionate Development Services for three years. My poor picture does not reveal what an articulate, passionate, intelligent leader she is. She is combining the elements of the hospitals, MCC projects and other efforts in a coherent framework. It is part of a new commitment to compassion by the church. She laments the lost generation who have grown up without integrity in a sea of corruption. She sees them enslaved by an atmosphere of fear and despair. She plans to lead the church to restore their historic character as a peace church and so restore the country. I pray she succeeds.
The National Parents of Disabled Children Organization has a big name for their struggling but blessed ministry. MCC had been funding a larger organization of parents with severely disabled children. The director stole the organization’s money and sold the van! A segment of the betrayed parents reorganized, found a man to build them a house and donate a van! In a country with completely inadequate and unaffordable health care, this is what you do. I am moved by them. They radiated joy. As we said our goodbyes several workers sang a song of love and danced in praise. That was worth the whole trip.
These people are going around doing good with Jesus in a needy, traumatized, and abused place. I am delighted MCC is in league with the BIC in Zimbabwe and so allows me to go around (and dance) with them as they do it.
Today we took a trip to the Mtshabezi mission station that was hard on our energy but even more exhausting for our emotions, I think. Today was one of those days that I think should be mandatory for North American Christians. The people we met outside Bulawayo trying to run a school and a hospital with next to nothing reveal just how absurd we are when we are mad our wi-fi is running slow. A lot of us don’t get it. Being poor is tough.
The Ekuphileni Bible School wants to train leaders for BICC churches in the rural areas of Matabeleland. It could house 60 students, but only 22 are enrolled, mainly because it costs $900 a year to attend and few rural people or churches have anywhere near that kind of money. Above is part of the school where they are tilling for the next season’s crop. We offered tips from yesterday’s lessons on conservation farming!
At the Mtshabezi Hospital the morale seemed to match the deteriorating buildings. Above we are lined up getting a tour from one of the spotlessly uniformed nurses (Even the male nurses are called”sisters,” if you know why comment. I don’t know yet). This is a 120-bed hospital, but few stay overnight, since they can’t afford to. The main business, which I think justifies the mission, is the 22 babies a month that are born there and the 1800 people who are in HIV AIDS treatment. MCC was about to ship a bunch of kits for people to use.
There are layers of issues with these missionary-founded now locally-run enterprises. I would not pretend to be very knowledgeable. But I was sad today. I suspect most of you reading this only theoretically know what you have in comparison to places like the rural areas of Zimbabwe. Just imagine this one fact. Since Robert Mugabe became the strongman, reportedly HALF the population has left Zimbabwe. Once productive farmland is fallow. A doctor is hard to hold at the hospital we visited because work in neighboring countries is so much better. Healthcare is hard to find even if you could afford it, education is similar. Being poor is tough.
I thank God for the good people who give their hearts to meaningful work in trying situations! I am glad the MCC and the BICC in Zimbabwe collaborate so well. I look forward to doing that better myself.
I am hesitant to think that everyone cares about my travels, much less about Zimbabwe. But we are here with the BICC church members who make up our MCC workforce in the country, so it seems like there OUGHT to be some innate interest among my friends connected to the Brethren in Christ. Now that I have my first taste, I REALLY think we should stay interested. So I have some questions:
1) Why are U.S. BIC churches so generally disengaged with MCC? Might be because we don’t know what is going on. We own an amazing relief, development and advocacy agency. I also know that some leaders feel concerned it has “Mennonite” in the title (they could call it “mutual Christian compassion” and get over it), but in Zimbabwe it is all BIC people running things in the Matabele homeland.
2) Can we somehow get out some more info about what Circle of Hope gave $500K towards in the last five years? Just today I learned we built new schools and teachers quarters last year so kids would have a school closer than 20 miles away. We supported a transformation project that is not public knowledge that is totally inspiring. We taught people how to do conservation farming among the neediest people in one of the poorest nations on earth. That’s just part of the first day.
We are off to Africa! Ten people from the Brethren in Christ have been invited by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to learn about how our relief, development and advocacy arm acts with and through the largest concentration of Brethren in Christ people in the world in Zimbabwe and Zambia. The ten include Rod and Gwen White, who helped organize the tour (Gwen is secretary of the MCC U.S. board), Joshua Grace and Bethany Hornak.
I intend to do some blogging about it here. We’ll see how my internet connections work out!
Today I am writing because people have asked to follow along with our itinerary and pray. It is a rare occasion when a loved one connects you with a faraway and relatively unknown place. From the look of our schedule, it appears that our hosts are making sure we don’t suffer too much hardship.
On Sunday the 17th we fly to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and settle into Sethule Lodge. Monday to Thursday we are in and around Bulawayo, the center of the Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe. On Tuesday we will take a day trip out to Mtshabezi school and hospital. On Friday, we head to Zambia by car, stopping at the Hwange National Park and then Victoria Falls on Saturday!
In Zimbabwe an estimated 1.5 million people – 16 % of the population – are projected to be food insecure at the peak of the 2015-16 lean season, the period before the next harvest when domestic food stocks get scarce. This represents a 164 percent increase in food insecurity compared to the previous season. Nearby Malawi declared a state of emergency today due to scarce food supplies after prolonged drought. The Brethren in Christ sent missionaries to Zimbabwe in 1905. MCC started working there in the 1980s. The BIC is active in renewing the life of the Church amidst the country’s prolonged struggle for social, economic, and political welfare. The leaders of the BIC Church not only urge their people to embody a life modeled after Christ, but urge other members of the global Anabaptist-related churches to walk with them in their struggle. The BIC Church- Zimbabwe has 317 congregations. Historically, the Church was based in the Matopo Mission region with extensive membership in Bulawayo. The Church sponsors the Ekuphileni Bible Institute and the Mtshabezi Mission Hospital. Lobengula BIC Church in Bulawayo is known to be the largest BIC congregation in the world.
On Saturday the 23rd we are in Zambia and begin our time at Macha Mission/Hospital. Tuesday and Wednesday we are in Choma making connections with the BIC in Zambia and MCC work centered in that area. Thursday we travel half a day to Lusaka (the capital) where we will meet with MCC staff and BIC leaders. On Saturday it is back to the airport for an all day and night travel experience.
Zambia is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. 60% of its people live in poverty. The Brethren in Christ Church sent missionaries from Southern Rhodesia to Northern in the early 1900s. MCC started a program in 1962. Throughout the 50+ year history, MCC has had an ongoing relationship with the Brethren in Christ Church. The church has congregations and ministry throughout the country, but has its headquarters in Choma, Southern Province. The majority of the church congregations remain in Southern Province. The BIC has about 180 congregations with about 15,000 members, and administers 12 schools, a hospital and nursing school in Macha, and a pastor’s training institute in Sikalongo. In recent years, MCC has focused the placement of MCC workers in Southern Province, because of the ongoing commitment to work with the BIC.
That should get your prayers started! We see ourselves as your representatives on this trip. So we will try to keep you informed.
As I acclimated to the sprawling Pennsylvania Farm Show complex in Harrisburg I ran into a parade of good memories of worldwide travel with the Mennonite Central Committee. I met Ron and Judy Zook with whom we traveled to Palestine. I saw Bonnie Klassen from Colombia who has impressed anyone who has met her since I did. A new Beachy Amish friend talked about visiting San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, like I had on my first learning tour with Ron Byler (and later I saw Steve Penner!). MCC has a big presence at the MWC /Mennonite World Conference, with which the Brethren in Christ are affiliated. I have been all over the world with our relief and advocacy mission, now I am experiencing the whole world coming to Harrisburg.
The first meeting started off with a dramatic parade. Native Americans representing those displaced by Mennonite immigrants in the 1700s came in to drums, singing and flutes. They reminded us of a recent ceremony of mutual understanding and forgiveness that took place. The ground was made clean for the meeting.
Then there “a parade of nations” reminiscent of the Olympics to begin the week. Brethren in Christ churches from Zambia and Zimbabwe were represented, banners and all.