So the Zoe challenge taught me a lot about teamwork, perseverance and what is achievable when you might otherwise think you’d never be able to. One more thing on that. A week ago Sally and I were at the Hope for Justice conference in Leicester and Ben [Cooley] was talking about mountains and faith moving the mountain. All true. In the context of the many mountains we cycled over but nearly failed, Ben suggested that sometimes God defines us by our mountains. Yes sometimes the mountain is moved by our faith, but sometimes God calls us to scale it and defeat it. Don’t fear it, overcome it! Thanks Ben!
So on to the other ‘Z’ of my sabbatical break: Zimbabwe. What a beautiful country, what beautiful people and what a time we had. It took us a long time to prepare to fly our family of 5 out for 5 weeks but every ounce of effort was worth it. God had told me he wanted me to go and serve there, that was all he said. So that’s what we did. As it often is in the kingdom of God, when you serve, you yourself get blessed. From our host, Puff (Charlene), to the team of Zimkids, to every family we met, we were shown such great hospitality, warmth and welcome. We overcame my first blunder though: as we came through the airport, the team had gone to great lengths to welcome us, so I promptly pulled the video camera out to record the moment for posterity. Ooops! Caroline Katiyo who was travelling with us immediately told me to put it away quickly. White man (with white hair!) filming in the airport a week before the elections was too dangerously like a BBC journalist, who are currently banned from Zim. Oh dear. Lesson learned.
Once the elections were over, the power cuts returned and a normal Harare existence followed with regular lack of power and water. You need a different perspective on life when you don’t have these basics on hand. It’s like taking camping to an extreme. We often imagine I the west that we couldn’t live like that – but you just get on with it – it’s amazing how much you don’t miss the trimmings like TV. And so through experiences like that you’re able to simplify life and not get so worked up about what are really not important things.
The philosophy of Zimkids volunteering is to get stuck in and bring what you’ve got. So I taught physics and did some tennis coaching. It’s really quite inspiring and humbling when kids getting up really early and walk for an hour or 2 to get there (hungry to learn – as well as hungry!). They’d be fed breakfast, do a bible study, pray, and then learn GCSE physics from ... me! The basic physics I knew would help them, along with the resources I’d downloaded from a BBC website! Many of the kids had never held a tennis racket and most played in bare feet. I had experience and knowledge, and I could pass that on. But I could also pass on care, passion and a belief that these teenagers in my class could achieve something and could get a decent job to help feed them and their families. We all have more to offer than we realise. We do ourselves down too much, we’re crippled by feelings of inadequacy and are paralysed by poor self esteem and low confidence. And yet we have so much to give and share. This is where faith can transform what we do.Bill Johnson says “if you’re willing to do what you’re not qualified to do, that’s what qualifies you”. Stepping out in faith to serve and make a difference. Anyone can do that.
One more thing that struck me was in the churches of Harare. I went to 4 different ones during my time there, all different ‘flavours’ and racial mixes, but in each one a passion for their country. They loved Zimbabwe and were working and praying passionately for its regeneration, seeing some breakthroughs in the much needed area of agriculture. It made me think what a bunch of whiners we are in the UK (yes I know the irony – even this comment might provoke a complaint as it offends someone!). We have infinitely more materials, food infrastructure, entertainment and money but we are not thankful for it and we don’t love our country a quarter of how much Zimbabweans love Zim, nor are as happy as them. I know waking up to golden sunshine every day would make a difference but ...I want to encourage everyone to celebrate what an amazing place the UK is. I know the UK is not perfect, but let’s be thankful for what we’re part of, and lets love the country we’re in, enjoying everything it has to offer, and working and praying passionately for it to be regenerated where it needs it.
One great experience was out fishing on Lake Kariba (I caught nothing but my sons did!), and watching a pair of giant fish Eagles. As we sat in our boat waiting, one of them swooped down, skimmed the water about 20m from us, and plucked a big fish from the lake, right in front of our eyes. Instead of flying off immediately, it stayed low, and flew round, circling our boat before going back up to its perch on a nearby tree, as if to gloat over his superior fishing skills. Magical! Thank you God, Thank you Zim!