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Pink Hot Dogs

Zimbabwe 5 November 2006 Early Sunday morning and I’m waiting for Katherine to pick me up in front of the hotel. It is slightly cooler now, with a breeze moving the dry heat. A man sweeps the leaves, looks tired, says, “Good morning ma’am,” as has everyone I’ve met in the elevator and behind the hotel counter so far today. My impressions this, my first morning in Zimbabwe? British plugs, birds singing, palms, the end of a dry winter, guards everywhere. Waking to the heat and knowing everyone I meet has been up for hours already. Still trying to figure out the money—all those zeros. 2000 Z$=1 €=10 SA rand. Katherine warns me not to exchange at the hotel. The official rate yields only 10% of what the money is worth on the street. Inflation soaring.

I’m off to church! Inside I look around. There is only a handful of whites. The worship is sweet, and lasts 90 minutes. It is led by a man who resembles Stevie Wonder. I see my own church in The Hague and imagine the front 2/3 pews, who sits there, and then tell myself they are affected by aids. I start to cry during the worship, looking at all the young people and imagining 2/3 of them with lives torn apart by aids. These tears—they are the first of many. I think of what it means to have a heart for brothers and sisters in Africa with aids. God’s heart in place as we pray for others.

The sermon includes Psalm 32. I hear the words, “I will be there with you.” Every word I write. “I am I am. Author of Life. I will guide you.” Unfailing love. Full of compassion. Lord, You care. Romans 8.1-10. James 1. There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Going on with God. New nature of God—acting like He acts, wants and experiences the things of God. God’s Peter—press in and take. Romans 7.22-23. Don’t make provision for temptation. Life of abiding peace. Peace of reconciliation. There can be and will be abiding peace, assurance, confidence. Do this through the Word, Spirit and fellowship with the Lord. Job 17.9. Hold their way. Blessed joy and deep peace from honoring God. Abiding Victory. 1 Cor. 15.57. Romans 8.37 More than conquerors. 2 Cor. 2.14. See victory in all times and circumstances. 2 Cor. 9.8 God makes all grace. Constant growth of the spiritual. Seek after Him. Ever reaching out for everything spiritual. Gal. 2.20 No longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Strengthen what remains. Do you long for God’s Way in your life? Gal. 5.16 Walk in the Spirit.

The preaching lasts an hour. The preacher is an elderly white man who preaches from a Palm pilot version of the Bible. I seem many older people with salt-and-pepper hair, and I see many people in their 20s. But I do not see many people my age or in their 30s and 40s. A beamer puts the words of the songs onto the screen. People go forward to ask for prayer as we sing, “Here’s my heart, Take it and mould it, Into Your likeness, Here’s my life, Break it into what You desire.” I look at the elderly white Rhodesians and understand they have a heart for this land.

The singing is unbelievable. Every woman in the choir sounds like Whitney Houston. I stand beside Katherine and see her as a small and mighty woman. She has kind eyes and a quick smile for everyone who greets her. And there are many. We sing, “You’re the Living God, And I chase after You. Lover of my soul, And I thirst for You.” In total the worship takes up two of the three-hour service. We sing “Amazing Grace.” We sing, “By Your grace, I stand. By Your grace, I’m saved. By Your grace, I am what I am.”

After the service people gather in the parking lot, where pancakes, frozen juice popsicles and bright pink hotdogs are sold—I think to raise money for the orphans in the congregation. I take pictures of the orphans and other children.

I speak to the youth leader who tells me about the orphan-mentoring programme they have where the teenagers take responsibility for the younger orphans, acting as a sort-of big sister or big brother, and make sure the children get at least one warm meal and do their housework and are able to pay their school fees. “Many of the orphans are taken in by aunties.”

(Not necessarily relatives—these are just any women who take orphans into their own families. My Zimbabwean friend in The Hague says it is rude in her culture to differentiate between one’s biological children and nieces, nephews and adopted orphans—they are all referred to as “my children.” Just as all women one generation older are called “aunty.” In this way, every child I met here, also called me “Aunty.” But I sure didn’t look the part!)

I ask the youth leader about bereavement counseling for the orphans. See, I’ve learned something from ACAT. He shakes his head though, “No, they keep it bottled up in their little hearts.” I ask what the biggest challenge is, and he says food. I ask what I can pray for and he says, “Pray for the youth who target them for the police camps. Plus, pray for anything because everything is a challenge.” I also ask one of the pastors what he sees as the greatest challenge and he says, “Apathy among the youth. The police brainwash them into thinking that making money is all there is. Our strength is in our old people who are praying.”

After church with Katherine I ask about medicine. Can people get the ARVs here? I know there are no free clinics, but her answer slams shut a door of hope. “No. It’s very hard to get any sort of medicine here. And ARVs are in high demand, so they are extremely expensive. We can’t even get antibiotics in Zimbabwe.”

We talk media and she says the newspapers like the one slipped under my door at the hotel are lies. “So many journalists have been tortured.” The government controls the petrol, which often simply is not for sale. “If there is fuel, we have queues of over 100 cars.”

As we drive through town, I notice bright orange trees alongside the jacaranda purple. Katherine says they are called Flamboyance trees. Unbelievably startling in the shade of orange-red. I think about how British Zimbabwe still is, tea is all-important, wedding banns read out in church like it was the Church of England, but when changing money, people don’t think in pounds or euros or South African rands even, but in U.S. dollars.

One of Katherine’s favorite phrases is, “God is Awesome.” She says it whenever our conversations take a downward turn about the hopelessness of the situation in Zimbabwe. She mentions Isaiah 66: “Can a nation be saved in a day? I will bring the nations and they will see My Glory.”

We talk about Mugabe’s mother, who was Roman Catholic. Once she died, he renounced his religion and is now tightly in the grip of witchcraft. His wife Grace holds the record for having bought the most clothes from Herrods in London.

Katherine stops at a street corner and buys a newspaper. It is an illegal paper, printed in the UK and distributed on the streets. The “C10” is Mugabe’s secret police.

I ask about the white farms in Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. Katherine says in the eighties the UK gave money to help smooth the transfer of money and land from white to black, but the government squandered those funds. Now there are only 600 farms left in the country that are white owned. I tell her what I have heard, that Mozambique is welcoming white farmers from Zimbabwe, eager for their know-how, and offers them as much land as they used to have here. Katherine says it is so sad. “This year the rains came, but no one is farming. Zimbabwean farmers in Zambia are sending us food. We import from everyone. We import South African food. Sometimes there is no food when there is food, but there is no money to buy food.”

I ask about testing for aids. “We encourage young people to get tested and onto the ARVs, when we can get a hold of the drugs for them.”

I ask Katherine about her organization. She is co-director with a Zimbabwean pastor named Peter. The reason their organization is allowed to exist is that they work strictly through the churches. Mugabe’s government won’t allow any aid organizations into the country, but Katherine and Peter have managed to get around that restriction by coming alongside churches, working with and through them.

I am grateful for this opportunity to see this purely grass-roots, church-initiative organization in action. I think it is one of a handful of times I’ve witnessed initiatives by Africans for Africans. Here in Zimbabwe that’s the only option since Mugabe has thrown all foreign aid organizations out of the country. And this organization is highly successful in terms of reaching many communities and training the gogos and teenagers—the only adults left after aids. What is more, the persecution the church in Zimbabwe is subjected to has meant a high level of church unity, so denominations that elsewhere in the world wouldn’t have the time of day for each other, are in daily contact, praying for one another and sharing resources like petrol, reading materials, food and medicine. Since the government is only making things worse by plowing under poor people’s homes, and foreign aid organizations are not allowed to operate in Zimbabwe, the only help being offered to aids orphans comes through the churches. I realize how privileged I am to catch this unique glimpse into a country virtually cut off from the rest of the world, battling aids with very little medicine, groaning under the heavy burden of the same poverty and famine and illness plaguing other parts of Africa plus the added deadweight of a corrupt and cruel dictatorship. The very fact that Zimbabweans endure is a miracle.

“How do they hear about your organization?” I ask. Katherine says, “Our churches say we hear you have a programme for orphans. We need help with all our orphans.” Her organization provides food and training. “We didn’t used to provide food—I was reluctant since then people become dependent. But we found we couldn’t very well give training to people who are starving.”

I ask about the practicalities. “We get all the church leaders in an area together for a half day of envisioning. We ask them what they want for their congregations. Then we find people in the congregation with a heart for the orphans. These are our volunteers. Then we train the volunteers, so they own it. It is their dream, their hope to help. Then they go back to their communities and put into practice what they’ve learned, teaching others as they go.”

“So no one is getting paid here?” I ask. Katherine shakes her head. “Except for our staff, no. Where would we get the money? No, these are purely people from churches we work with, who have a heart for the orphans and want to do something to help. They already have nothing, most of our volunteers are very poor, but they are willing to learn in order to make a difference.”

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