Greenock & Paisley Presbytery Faithshare Visit to Zimbabwe

 Margaret Foggie, 4 – 19th  March 2013

 The G&P Party consisted of the Rev Alan Sorensen, Moderator, the Rev Peter McEnhill, Clerk, the Rev Archie Speirs, Convener of the Zimbabwe Committee, Sandra Maxwell, Reader, and myself, a former Convener of the Presbytery’s World Mission and Zimbabwe Committee but no longer a member of Presbytery.  For family reasons I was unable to travel with the rest of the party who left on 1st March.  

My arrival in Harare coincided with their departure for Bulawayo and the “Southern Region Tour” so that I didn’t manage even to meet them until they came back.  

 I had asked to meet with Mrs Alice Chikomo, the wonderful lady who started the Street Children’s Club when her husband, the Rev Herbert was minister of City Presbyterian.  She has retired and I found her sad and feeling cut off from “her children”.  I was able to visit the Club later and believe it is still doing good work though it is less family-oriented than when I saw it in 2005.   Alice had found some of the children were supporting blind or otherwise destitute mothers so she got the children to bring them in and taught them screen-printing, sewing and knitting.  The entirely new staff is concentrating on school-work.  With the mums’ sewing group gone, the children have shop uniforms but I was told the orphans still have theirs provided and their fees paid by a trust.  It may be that funding difficulties have led City Church to take fee-paying children to subsidise the “street children”.  I didn’t see children begging though, so possibly the need is less.

 My hosts were the Rev Stan and Mrs Victoria Chatikobo with whom I had been “billeted” on the first Presbytery visit in 2005 when Stan was chaplain at David Livingstone School.  Later Stan was called as minister to St Andrew’s Church in Bulawayo where I had visited them in 2007 and again with “Uncle” Bill Wishart from St Ninian’s, Ferguslie Park in 2010, which led to Lyle Kirk’s twinning with St Andrew’s.  Stan is now Director of Christian Care, the Inter-church NGO that is one of the Zimbabwe partners of Christian Aid and also UNCHR, FAO, World Vision and several other organisations.  Like every other organisation in Zimbabwe, Christian Care had run into difficulties during the currency collapse and some of its accounting had been obscure so Stan is working hard to turn that around.  They haven’t been able to afford the car due under his contract but he borrows the NGO’s 4x4 –which I helped to push start on occasion– not quite the picture some of Christian Aid’s critics imagine.

 On Wednesday evening Stan, Victoria and I attended a Rugare Presbyterian Church “cell group service” – one or two elders’ districts meeting for worship in a township yard, most of us sitting on the ground but the elders and the visitors on chairs from the house.  As the sun set, there was singing and prayer and it was moving to be asked to lead prayer myself.  Although Stan is their Interim Moderator, he only spoke a few words of encouragement at the end and closed with the blessing.  

 The following day I was fascinated to be taken with a truckful of food to Stan’s “Rural Home” where I saw country life for the first time. Stan and Victoria were to renew their marriage vows in celebration of their 15th Wedding Anniversary so the cake and I were to share the family feast.  Stan’s mother, the first wife  lives in a small concrete house Stan built and his father, and two of his other three wives, some daughters in law and grandsons live in a family clachan of round huts and farm strips father has given them. 

 I was amazed to feel the damp earth at the root of maize grown in the Conservation Farming Projects we visited on the way, twice and more the height of that in the neighbouring fields and bearing huge cobs where the traditionally grown maize had none.  The women are more open to the new methods than the men but the sight of such harvests must make the men turn soon to “farming God’s way”.  Even Mr Chatikobo Senior wouldn’t try it but he has allowed Victoria to dig hundreds of little basins in her strip, lay down a mulch of coarse “hay” and plant 2 grains and a spot of fertiliser in each basin- with results as spectacular as Mrs Gowlu’s.

 The (Kirk) Session of Rugare Presbyterian Church had decided that the planned quiet family occasion should be shared with their whole congregation as an encouragement to all to honour their marriage vows.  With a life-expectancy of 37 in the townships, 15 years is a major achievement.  Armed with 25 home-made fruit cakes and dressed in our best we attended an exuberant service starting at 7.30 for 7.00am and lasting over 2 hours with “a cup of tea” afterwards that lasted till noon.  In spite of the heat, our Moderator had given in to Victoria’s pleas and come in his kilt and Stan wore his “as a tribute to their Scottish friends who had done so much for the church”.  It is always a revelation to see the spontaneous prayer and singing of an African congregation that pops up just as it did in the township garden, even in a carefully planned service like the Anniversary.  The congregation has outgrown its church building so worship was held in the school hall and it was full apart from the seats set aside for Presbytery guests who had mostly gone to their own churches.  They knew not to expect the service to finish at 9.00am as promised.  It was well after 9 before the Moderator began to preach a very well received sermon on love.  I realised the skill with which he pitched his vocabulary so that the many in the congregation who were of Malawian ancestry and listening in at least their third language, could understand.  There was no need for simultaneous translation.

 In the afternoon I was able to join the other Scots for a planning meeting and then to attend the official “de-briefing” on Monday morning and these are jointly reported to Presbytery and the World Mission Council.

 Monday evening saw me travelling in style on the luxury bus to Bulawayo (“No smoking” even though tobacco farming is still a staple of the economy) to spend some time with Lyle Kirk’s twinned congregation of St Andrew’s.  Though feeling bereft of their minister and his wife and family, St Andrew’s has welcomed a few new families since I was there before.  They have been blessed by the leadership of their Locum, Bill Ryce, a pastor who is subsidised by Highlands Church in Harare to look after them.  Bill has been working hard to prepare the SW Region for the division of Presbytery that may be coming.  He has over twenty elders from all over the Region in training every Saturday.  They are studying the different committees they will need to staff, their remits, the standing orders and financial matters.  If the General Assembly doesn’t agree to their independence they will at least make for a much more effective Presbytery of Zimbabwe.  We went out to the David Livingstone School where the burnt out dormitory has been rebuilt and the iron bunks cut down to give the girls single beds.  The insurance provided new mattresses and a blanket but the gift of the profit from our Fair Trade stall was much appreciated.  Each girl will receive $10 to buy what she needs and her family has not been able to provide after all their belongings were lost.

 Faithshare guidelines suggest a day off per week and my two days off were very busy as the Chatikobos took me to Victoria Falls, 6 ½ hours’ drive away from Bulawayo.  The collapse of agriculture and cattle ranching was plain to see in the hundreds of miles of scrub we passed with a few pathetic patches where people had been re-settled to make what they could of it.  A problem is that people have been moved so often that they are living on different soil in a different climate from their forebears but still trying to use what Grandfather taught them.  It was stunning to see the Falls at almost the height of the rains and very special to look at David Livingstone’s statue with this Presbyterian family from the DL School.  I felt he’d be proud of them and also of the prices in Vic Falls – Christianity, education and trade!  Just what he hoped for Africa.

 We got back in time for supper with several members of Session and the following morning we all worshipped together at 9.00am in St Andrew’s.  I was able to pass on our greetings, to tell the congregation of our gratitude for their loving support in prayer as we faced our “buildings decision” and to use our Sunday School’s gifts of the things they had made as the basis of the children’s address. The Sunday School has been staying in church for the first half-hour since Bill Wishart from St Ninian's Ferguslie Park and I suggested in 2010.  Later at the essential cup of tea after the service, I handed over Lyle Kirk’s gifts of a new saltire for their flag-pole (by special request) and money for the congregation’s School Fee Fund.  I was given letters and drawings by St Andrew’s Sunday School to take home and they are now displayed in the Pirrie Hall.  Bill preached on the same verses from Isaiah 43 as Ian Johnson was giving in Lyle Kirk.  Bill’s take on it was “God is doing a new thing” so while we may treasure our heritage we should not to cling to it for we too must be ready for new things.  It was so appropriate for St Andrew’s launching out as a multi-racial congregation and looking as they sang, at the war memorial windows commemorating the Rhodesian Forces and looking side-ways at each other with their different racial, tribal and party allegiances.  It was appropriate too for that was the Referendum Week-end.  I was sorry that some of the white Zimbabweans were not going to vote because the new Constitution would not compensate the farmers or allow prosecution for atrocities of the past but others said “It’s better than the current one and we have to start somewhere”.  Please pray that God will keep them all safe through the election season.

 We drove to Harare that afternoon and spent some of Monday and some of Tuesday morning waiting in a clinic while Stan was tested to see if he had flu or a recurrence of his malaria.  It was a private clinic and very much smarter than the Parirenyatta Hospital where we had waited to get his mother’s medication to take to the Rural Area but the upshot was much the same – a prescription, but only the cheapest part could be dispensed free and the rest had to be bought privately at full price.  Where so many are unwell, and so few have dollars, illness is a nightmare.

 Since my last visit there has been progress in many ways: most noticeable was the availability of food in the cities - in the streets and the re-opened Mbare Market as well as in supermarkets, and of fuel for traffic.  There was a choice of newspapers on sale in the streets and bill-boards reminded people that “Peace is the way to democratic elections”.  Lastly, and what struck me as profoundly important, we were stopped by the police many times but always waved on without any demand for money.  Certainly, Morgan Tsvangirai’s offices were raided and some of his staff arrested but perhaps at least for ordinary folk, the Rule of Law is coming back.  

Photographs from Visit


If you would like to download a copy of the official visit leaflet(PDF) click on link below