I remember the work being announced from the platform by John Valentine and Mr GW North endorsing it and using his influence to raise a substantial offering. I remember that he identified it as belonging to, and owned by, the Fellowship churches. Certainly, Fellowship people were greatly involved in the early days with all the practical work that had to be done before John could start to use the many buildings etc.
I had a three - month sabbatical from work from September 1997 until December 1997. I spent one month at Harare with Paul and Lesley Evans, four weeks at Ameva, followed by five weeks in Malawi with Martin and Marian Williams and one week at Maforga, in Mozambique.
As the time was granted by the Wirral Health Authority, I was required to undertake some medical responsibilities. This included a lot of teaching around HIV Aids education as the pandemic had started in earnest there. I also taught in the Bible School. I taught by request on a biblical view of human sexuality and the book of Ephesians.
I was asked by Paul Evans to return in 1998 and do a weekend conference in Harare speaking on the subject of sexuality. I accepted the invitation and used it to take my wife Ann and our two younger boys as well. This gave them a great taste of Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular.
We had a week with Paul and Lesley in Harare and then a week in Ameva and finally a week visiting Wangi game park and Victoria Falls. Some statements and reflections that come to mind. Zimbabwe was at its best then and the country was the breadbasket of Africa. The crops were rich, and the country well managed.
I remember John always enjoying coke cola mixed with bitter lemon. I remember the car being filled with empty bottles as it was possible to get money back on retuned bottles. John took me and our boys who were about 15 and 13 at the time out into the bush where we camped over two nights, and where we slept under the stars. It was an exciting time for them!
I remember on my first trip speaking in the hut on the compound and walking back to the farm in the pitch black! I can remember on one of those meetings walking back and one of the men slipped his hand into mine and we walked home together. It was a token of love and respect in the Shona culture with no sexual overtones.
I remember the stars at night, the cactus outside the farm that bloomed for one day only and that not every year. I remember the python that got into the hen house and the excitement as the villagers returned from hunting with a pangolin, most of them never having seen one before. I remember the singing, the dancing in worship, the contentment with little, the tasteless maize for many etc. John was massively respected, despite having no farming knowledge. His loud voice was made for Africa!
Celia was incredible meeting all who came to the door. Ever since the beginning she has provided the Ameva weekly, a masterfully succinct and wonderfully helpful prayer guide, bridging the gap between cultures for intercessory prayer. One final and lasting picture for me was on my very last night of my first visit. I was waiting in the house to move out to travel to the airport when I was called to see a lady who was giving birth.
I have never forgotten the scene when I arrived. She was sitting alone in a round mud hut with one newspaper cutting on a wall, I think. On the other side of the hut from her was her baby, cold and lifeless. It was heart breaking and tragically all too common. I felt so helpless, no language, no ability to change events and indicative of the over whelming need of basic health care provision in Zimbabwe.