This was published in our local paper, The Border Watch, today.
The skies in Zimbabwe at during September are a vivid blue, uninterrupted by the blemish of clouds. Around the horizon a haze fades the blue to grey as your eyes lower to view the landscape. The departing dry season of winter leaves a brown and dusty landscape behind. The Jacaranda trees are bare, their branches stretching toward the sky.
But we have not come to appreciate the beauty of a foreign land; we have come to meet its people. Mount Gambier Presbyterian recently sent me to spend two weeks as a guest of the Highfields Reformed Church in Harare, Zimbabwe. We arrive at the airport on a Monday night, happily posing for photographs with the welcoming group, hoping never to see them as we’ve just spent 24 hours in transit. Three cars of welcomers drive us to the city where our first night of accommodation beckons. They all make their way to our hotel room, very excited about our being there. We pray. We sleep.
Over the following two weeks we get to meet many people, and also get the opportunity to know a few. It surprises us how many folk have children who live or study in Australia.
Many ask us how we are finding Zimbabwe; how our experience of the country lines up with the perception we may have been led to have by media reporting. We are able to tell them their country is beautiful and the people are very welcoming and friendly. We are also glad to see the worst of the economic troubles seems to be behind them, though the situation is still very challenging and uncertain.
Mostly we are encouraged to find our hosts are very keen to share the message of God’s love through Jesus with their fellow citizens. Only that good news enables them to make sense of their past and present, and provide them hope for their future. They are not interested in a message of instant prosperity or quick fixes. They have experienced too much to put their hopes in human institutions. They are set for the long haul. Some even feel sorry for their Christian brethren in Australia, a land of much unbelief.
From our cultural perspective we have gone to meet and think about the possibility of relationship. Our hosts, from their cultural perspective, have already been in relationship with us ever since our contact began, and are thankful our relationship now has a living expression. Residing with our host for two weeks gives us an insight into the depths of friendship and relationship in their culture. Friendship brings a very willing and un-selfconscious obligation of support and care.
I think I gain an insight into Jesus’ words to His disciples that He no longer called them servants, but friends. It reminds me again of how the kingdom of God is not meant to be an organisation or society, but a family.
As we prepare to depart Zimbabwe we notice that the Jacaranda trees have blossomed. Bare branches disappearing under a purple blur of petals. It’s only a short time, but the change is striking. Our time in Zimbabwe was brief, but the change of our enlarged circle of relationships will remain.