Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zimbabwe millionaire!


The second day of my trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe I became a millionaire! I was walking the littered streets of Vic Falls, the border town next to the exquisite Victoria Falls, when I noticed a scrap on the ground that looked like money! It was all crumpled and dirty and smelly, but sure enough, it was a 500 million dollar bill!! I’m rich! Not quite. Someone had wisely used this worthless bill as toilet paper!

Claims to Shame:

Zimbabwe's education system, once one of the best in Africa, has disintegrated over the past year. Towards the end of 2007, 85% of children were still at school but by the end of last year it fell to 20% and is now expected to fall much lower. Thirty thousand teachers dropped out of the system in 2008.

Dozens of young professional Zimbabwean women slip across the country's border to work for a few days or weeks as prostitutes. In Zambia they sell their bodies, and lives, for $2 USD.

The rate of HIV in border towns like this is 48%. In the rest of the country it is 30%.

The unemployment rate is 80%.

A cholera epidemic has killed nearly 3,000 people, with 40,000 sick as untreated sewage flows into water supplies.

Estimated 50% of doctors and nurses have quit or left the country. Most state-of-the-art hospitals are closed.

In February, the price of a loaf of bread in the country was less than 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars. In August, that same loaf of bread cost 1.6 trillion Zimbabwe dollars.

Inflation has surged from the rate of 2.2 million percent recorded in May, in August at 11.2 million percent, in November the rate of inflation is 230 million percent. Now annual inflation rate tops 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent - 65 followed by 107 zeros. Prices double every 24.7 hours. The currency is basically cheap toilet paper.

Zimbabwe introduced a $100 billion note in August 2008. January 2009 they issued the world's first 100 trillion dollar note.

Summary: Zimbabwe is crumpling under the oppressive weight of despotism. Pray for the downfall of this terrible leader.

So I went to Zimbabwe to see for myself. I met with a pastor and some leaders of a large church in Vic Falls. They were ashamed to tell me that they are unable now to even feed their widows and orphans. In better times they developed a feeding program from their own collections as a church – now they struggle. Yet the orphans increase with an almost unbelievable HIV rate of 48%. They would love to start feeding them again – can we help? So I am working out a plan to help them from a distance. Oh, I wish I lived there. Or perhaps we could fund a business that would help support some of the widows and orphans? Yes, we will work it out. Is there anyone who can say no to such a request? Is there anyone who will go and start up such a project?

Later that day we talked with Bright, a street kid. He looks street-wise – cool shades, nice clothes, good English, yet he is soft spoken – not dramatizing his tragic story, sounding matter of fact as he tells how his dad died when he was very young, then his mom moved from the village to this tourist town to find work. Soon she died as well. “So was there no one to take care of you?” “No.” – that’s all there is to it – moved away from their relatives, mom dies, the nine-year old is on the street to fend for himself. He and the other street kids fought off the baboons to get the scraps from the restaurants. That was when times were better, and tourists would come. Now kids are moving back to the villages – looking for somewhere to find food to survive for another day. “So can we pray with you?” “Sure” – and we pray and give him some of our South African currency. What can one do?

Zimbabwe has been on my heart for a year now. I read the news about it daily and pray for an opportunity to take the gospel of love and hope into this place sinking into despair. Pray that we may be able to take a team there this summer and bring hope for a few.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Can You Imagine?

Eight years ago, when he was only 19, Justin Samba found the children from Ngwenya Village digging thru the landfill garbage for scraps. Something galvanized him into action – he and his family began to feed them a daily meal when finances allowed. Then they added games and music. Then prayer , worship and the Word. The passion today is infectious – “Some of them get up at 6am and go up to the hill to pray – by themselves – no adults are even there!” brags Justin. An epileptic boy was having a bad day, so a ten-year old girl began pounding heaven’s doors with a prayer that would make a pastor ashamed and devils cower! Now the children are reaching their parents and neighbors as well. They are still in rags, ill-fed and facing all the problems of abject poverty, but there is a light in their eyes that we have come to recognize so well – the True Bread has filled their belly with Life that hunger cannot quench.

I spent five short days near Livingstone, Zambia in December. Can I give you a glimpse – a collage of encounters, and impressions? Start with 85 to 95 degree F, add 85% humidity, subtract drinkable water in most places, times the square root of the number of kilometers we walked dusty paths – just try to feel that, you North Americans encased in a snowy winter! The nice thing is that I was able to keep my shirt and shorts damp most of the time with my automatic internal sprinkler system that worked quite well.

I was able to meet people like Justin Samba in Ngwenya Village, Pastor Dennis struggling to care for the most vulnerable ones of his flock, Jamba, a righteous father of 9, living in village simplicity, yet in a prosperous compound of 4 homes, 12 cattle, lush fields of grain and a family that is educated and honoring of their family values. We saw well managed villages, dilapidated and diseased villages, street children, professional women become prostitutes selling themselves for $2. We saw the most awe inspiring water fall on earth, surrounded by herds of elephant that torment village gardens. We saw cob houses in every village, and the coolest backpackers lodge I’ve ever visited.

Could you imagine coming here with some health care workers, some good gardening techniques, some homes for abused orphans, some church planters? Could you imagine building a school, serving the least and the lost in a place like this? I can!

More reflections on this trip next week:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Singing in the Rain

“His ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts.”

In September ’07 we started construction on a spec house, something we hadn’t done for at least 10 years. Upon completion in December, we put it on the market, hopeful that the proceeds would allow us to pay off some debt and live in Africa for a period of time.

We didn’t realize that the economy was taking a nosedive, with housing sales coming to a virtual standstill over the course of 2008. Despite the continued prayers of many people, that beautiful house crafted with such high expectations remained empty all through the spring and summer, through the time when we were nearly forced to return home early from Africa—the Lord provided through the sacrificial giving of some of our friends.

When we arrived home as planned in August, we immediately put the house up for rent. Although there was interest, things fell through a number of times, and we returned to Africa in November with it still empty, trusting that we were acting in faith and not foolishness. Finances were tight--towards the end of December, we were not sure how we were going to make it through the month and keep our bank balance in the black. What do you do when you sense God’s direction but it’s not logical?

Dan had a dream about the story of Elijah several weeks ago—when he said, “Go…there is the sound of a heavy rain. Go and look” (I Kings 18:41). The servant had to look seven times before he saw the tiniest of clouds in the sky. Elijah told Ahab, “Hitch up your chariot and go, before the rain stops you.” Then the sky grew black, the wind rose and a heavy rain came down, and Elijah, soaked to the skin, outran Ahab’s chariot.

Dan felt that God was saying, “You better run, because the rains are coming!” He took the rains to mean financial provision, but not limited to that. Here is what happened:

--We just received a $900 kicker-check from IRS after our accountant told us, insisted back in March when we were depending on it to keep us in Africa, that we weren’t getting anything back.

---We have just signed a lease/option agreement for the spec house with a couple who are believers with great references, at a time when building/housing is at an all-time low and the economy is very bleak.

--We were still waiting to confirm the deal when I checked email last night. I found one saying that rental and down payment money would be deposited in our account today, plus another stating that friends have given a hefty donation for our personal support.

Run, because the rains are coming! What does it mean to run? Maybe part of it is Dan’s Zambia/Zimbabwe excursion that came into being before we knew the extent of this rain. It sounds like the pace is being stepped up; time to push in. Two times, in my consecutive Bible reading and in a separate devotional book, I read this week about Israelites (the Danites!) scouting out the land. “Arise and go, you will find a spacious land that God has put into your hands” (Judges 18:9,10). This is not about colonialism, but about stepping out, of seeing dreams become reality.

Run, because the rains are coming! We’ve been watching for the rain, for the clouds even (regarding the spec house) for a year now, and suddenly there’s a gathering storm. Jesus, you have so faithfully sustained us in the desert, walked us through the doubting days, and now we just want to stand in gratefulness and let the drops pelt us, wash us, soak our clothes! It’s partly about finances, but there’s really so much more. We long to be immersed in knowing Jesus, in intimate friendship with him—we desire to be swept along in the flow of his work here on earth. So drench us, Lord, we want to run in your rain!