Firstly, being part of the Jim Bailey team in 1999 was an amazing opportunity to have my first experience of Africa and Ameva itself which is a significant mission initiative from the Fellowships. I got to meet lots of other young people from the UK who were similarly curious about Africa and getting to know Jim and his wife was also a treat. We spent a week or two digging a trench from the reservoir to the main Ameva house to replace an underground water pipe, starting at dawn each morning until around lunchtime. We also put fresh whitewash on the walls in the school building and in the afternoons, we ran a kids club for children from the local area. We also built a mound by the entrance to the farm with the name of the farm on it.
Aside from our work, we also had fantastic opportunities to see more of Zimbabwe. The airline had overbooked the flight out so some from the group had stayed in London overnight and flown out the next day receiving a few hundred pounds each in compensation. They generously agreed to put this in a central pot which was used to cover our travel by train to Victoria Falls via Bulawayo. I think I learned as much from the train journey as I did from the falls themselves (which were spectacular), especially the incredible poverty visible along so much of the route. The sense of being overwhelmed by the poverty I saw was very strong and I’m sure left many of us with a profound sense of disquiet. This continues to colour my impression of Africa to this day.
I remember a conversation with the farm’s head of security who had once been a notorious criminal in the local area before giving his life to Christ. I asked him what Zimbabwe needed to turn it around – was it money from the west? His response has stayed with me for twenty years: “Zimbabwe is a rich country. It has minerals, diamonds and fertile land. What Zimbabwe needs is the gospel.”
He meant that so much of Zimbabwe’s prosperity, not to mention international aid, simply disappears because of corruption. Coming from me as a white foreigner this might have come across as patronising and impractical. However, coming from this Zimbabwean former inmate it was, I believe, a powerful insight.
In our short time there we did what we could to help share the gospel with the local people through practical service on the farm, a kids club and through an evangelistic stall at an agricultural fair in nearby Chegutu (I remember playing The Lord’s My Shepherd (And I will Trust) on an old pedal-pump organ we had found in one of the farm rooms!). However, as a sizeable group of white Europeans the racial barriers never seemed to come down and I am unsure of the impact we had.
It was helpful to join in the with Ameva prayer meeting where John and Celia, along with one or two of the students from the Bible school (it was between semesters so not many were around), prayed fervently for the farm, the area and for Zimbabwe as a nation. It was there I learned the song,
If you believe and I believe
And we together pray
The Holy Spirit will down
And Zimbabwe must be saved
So I am grateful for the insight I gained into the situation of Ameva and wider Zimbabwe, an insight that has been formative in my understanding of the world and some of the issues faced by missionaries in Africa.