The following is a follow-up letter from the pastor in Zimbabwe who wrote to WORLD readers in the July 12, 2008, issue ("Lord, how long will I call and you will not answer?"). He has asked to remain unidentified for security reasons.
Warm greetings again from Zimbabwe, where the overcast weather outside is a visible token of the goodness of God in supplying so far a wonderful rainy season in a year where, due to the national collapse, poor rains or excessive rains would have sounded the death knell for many in our land. In a sense, this epitomizes our situation at the moment, in such dire straits, and yet regularly, here and there, little reminders of the Lord's faithfulness and goodness.
Much has happened since last I wrote. My last letter was woven around the theme of [victimization], and I shared a concern for so many who are victims of the degradation of this nation and the abuse of this people. Were I to supply a single word for the present state of the people, I suppose the word demoralized would fit. After years of raised expectations and then dashed hopes, of broken promises and unfulfilled commitments, of ineffective international pressures and inaccurate regional conclusions, of daily struggles to meet basic needs in the context of an increasingly obstructive and inept governmental system, the little stream of hope amongst the people of Zimbabwe runs very shallow and very slow at the moment. Even with regard to the agreement to form a government of national unity and even in the light of the very recent bill passed in parliament creating the post of prime minister for [opposition leader Morgan] Tsvangarai, people are reluctant to raise their hopes too high. If once bitten is twice shy, then what of often bitten?
As a Christian however, though hope on a human solution has sunk low, I think faith in a Divine agenda has been refined. When years ago, watching our struggling people, I asked the Lord why He was allowing such struggles and what He was doing, the answer impressed upon my mind was that He was making His people more like Jesus, His Son. I see that happening here amongst the people of God. When several months ago, seeing our tired people plodding wearily on in their faith, I challenged the Lord concerning His lack of care, His indifference to suffering and His inactivity in answering, He took us to Habakkuk and told us that He was refining the faith of His people so that they would trust Him, no matter what, when He seemed uncaring, when He seemed silent, when He seemed inactive.
I see that happening here among the people of God. When near the end of last year, the human suffering grew and poverty increased and cholera broke out, and we asked the Lord why He was not meeting needs and helping, He answered that He was, and asked us what we had to offer. And He took the few loaves that were in our hands, and made them food for many as Christians do what they can to feed and help the poor, and minister to the sick and encourage the downtrodden. And when it seemed that there were no more loaves to make available, friends from South Africa moved by the Spirit would drive up with pick-up truck loads and small car loads of food for the poor and elderly, and widows, or out of the blue (and we know who rules in the blue!) a donation of money would come from a saint overseas who had heard the voice of the Spirit.
And a glance at the face of God would show upon His lips a smile of knowing care and a gentle reproof for little faith. And when yet again, as we so often do these days, we pray at a service for yet another young person who is leaving the country, or a family emigrating for economic or educational reasons, and I ask God why He is taking so many good people away from an already weakened church, He points around the world at other places of spiritual need, and challenges us to be sure that those we lay hands on and send with our blessing, go well trained for service and in love with Savior and ready to extend the kingdom wherever they go.
He may paint strangely at the moment, but paint He does, and one day, the picture will be seen to be perfect. In the mean time, Lord, make us obedient brushes!
On a more objective note, let me briefly describe the situation in our country. If demoralized is right to describe the people, then I suppose collapsed is the word to describe the society. To all intents and purposes, the Zimbabwe dollar economy has collapsed, the informal market has been running for months on a US$ and South African Rand basis, and recently the governing powers, never ones for keeping up with reality and acting proactively, have capitulated and allowed trade in dual currencies.
On one level, this has helped businesses, who can stabilize somewhat, and customers who have access to hard currency. On another level, it has simply added to the burdens of those who cannot either trade in hard currency or access hard currency. The vicious cycle of inflation has changed color now-it is green-we are now experiencing US$ inflation. Though doctors and hospitals now can legally charge in hard currency, the prices being charged are well beyond the reach of the average person. Already we are seeing an acceleration in the already rapid disparity between the rich and the poor. Added to this is the almost unbelievable estimate of unemployment in the mid 90%s!
As the economy has collapsed, so have other sectors of the society. Government schools have ground to a halt, teachers are refusing to come to work, headmasters are trying to charge in hard currency to entice teachers back, while the Ministry of Education drags its heels on urgent changes needed in policies. School parent organizations charge informal levies on parents in hard currency, but have to do so at a rate that the vast majority cannot afford; anything less would be too little for the school to operate. The National University has been closed. University students recently rioted when told they would need to provide USD400 within a week if they wanted to write their exams, students whose average family income for a month is probably well below USD40.
The medical sector is in disarray, hospitals and clinics with closed doors, doctors not to be found for even the most urgent of needs, nurses on strike. And of course, cholera. Cholera is an embarrassment to a government, for it points to poor sanitation and the lack of providing even the most basic of services in a city. But what is an embarrassment to a government is a death sentence to thousands. And were it not for aid agencies and churches, so many more would die.
Roads have collapsed, literally, pot holes opening up in even our busiest streets and not being repaired. The electricity system is collapsing, as is the water system and sanitation, refuse collection is a thing of the past, though still an item on a monthly bill from the city council. The telecommunications system likewise is in growing disrepair. One wonders how any individuals within a government that has presided over such a wanton destruction of a nation and such a vicious impoverishment of a people can stand in the morning and even look at his or her face in a mirror without shame.
The result is a growing national need, a growing mass of people in need, and a growing challenge to our fledgling Government of National Unity. But also, greater opportunity for the people of God to be His Heart, His hands, His feet and make a difference. And by His Spirit and through the heart of His Son, people of God are rising up to meet needs-providing food for thousands each month, coordinating food distribution to sister churches, helping with fertilizer to rural communities, providing, through a volunteer, 80 year old doctor, free medical service to poor people once a week, using medicines donated from friends outside, assisting people with payment of school fees, and hospital bills, cleaning our local streets and seeking in a variety of ways to be salt and light as our Lord desires.