I heard John Valentine sharing the vision at Cliff College Summer Conference – about the Ameva Farm/Bible School Project. A bible school based on a farm in newly independent Zimbabwe. Where students studied in the morning and assisted in farming activities in the afternoon. Thus, allowing ordinary Zimbabweans to both study for the ministry and support themselves at the same time. John shared that there was a need for people with skills in bible teaching, agricultural work, building etc including electrical work. And if people were willing to assist in the project to speak to him. I was a qualified electrician working mainly in factories and hospitals, but thought I’d offer my services to John, to see if I could be of use. I could only offer him my annual leave quota from my job, which was 3 weeks. This was the maximum length of time I could take off at any one time and had to obtain special permission from my employer to do that.
So, a few years passed, and in 1984, John Valentine contacted me to ask if and when I could go out for 3 weeks to do some electrical work. I made arrangement and subsequently linked up with a sister from Liverpool who was going out at the same time to assist John using her administrative skills. So, I met up with this wonderful bubbly Scouser, Christine Kyriacou at Gatwick Airport on the day of my departure to Zimbabwe. A case of spotting the black haired Liverpudlian in the departures section of Gatwick airport and saying” Hi I’m Derek, Christine I presume?”, echoes of a certain Dr Livingstone and Mr Stanley from a far-ago era! We changed planes at Lusaka, in Zambia, from Jet Plane to a small Prop-Engine plane. Looking out the window I noticed the Engine Cover Catches were not all fastened securely! But we arrived safely enough. My subsequent trips to Zimbabwe were by much more reliable looking Jet Passenger Planes.
There I met John & Celia, Dave Latham (the head of the Bible School) and Sue he wife.
Also, there was Rod and Anna White, Eric and Ross Taylor, Derek Spriggs and Stan Kersley. Theses long-term and medium-term workers made me, a very short-term worker, feel very welcome. I was tasked with various jobs such as repairing a “Chicken Egg Sorting Machine” - Which sorted the eggs into the various sizes. As well as broken agricultural pumps out in the fields. This was quite a world away from working in electrics in England’s second city! Or wiring up a kitchen for Dave and Sue Latham, who up to then only had access to shared kitchen. So, they then could enjoy having a more normal family life. This would normally be a straightforward job, but Zimbabwe was still finding it’s feet as an independent country, and it was a challenge to obtain the necessary electrical materials to do the work. It usually required several visits to different suppliers to obtain the materials which in England I would obtain from one visit to my local electrical wholesaler. Also modifying the lighting in the very large chicken sheds.
Selling eggs was a good cash earner which supplemented the income from the Dairy & Beef farming side as well as the growing of crops, which supported the Bible School. I was asked to wire-up the lights in the massive chicken sheds to come on automatically an hour before daybreak and an hour after sundown. To thus extend the hours of light, which apparently increased the egg production figures! To a Brummie factory worker, such farming wisdom was a revelation! There was a particular practical challenge to this particular job. There was the issue of working at close quarters with a thousand or more “Rhode Island Red Chickens”, which are known for being very aggressive. So, the moment I stepped through the door into the very large chicken shed, a sea of a thousand or more red chickens swarmed my way. “Pecking and Pecking constantly”, at my shoes and long trousers. My shoelaces immediately became undone and I was thankful for the protection my long work trousers gave to my legs.
Occasionally, whilst I was carrying out the wiring in the chicken shed, a Rhode Island Red managed to unexpectedly fly and perch on the back of my neck or shoulders. Where upon a high-pitched Birmingham soprano voice was added to the more usual alto & tenor chicken tones found in a chicken shed! However, the job got done.
Evangelistic Meetings and Teaching Opportunities:
I had the opportunity to help with one or two afternoon evangelistic meetings in markets in nearby towns. Or a night meeting, driving in the dark an open-back truck, full of standing and siting men, women and some children, along very basic rural mud roads, with unexpected potholes to a nearby farm. Where there was the opportunity of sharing one’s faith with people of a very different culture and history but with the same heart-need, as me, of a Saviour for today, tomorrow and eternity. Or sometimes I was sat in the back of a pick-up truck with students lustily singing Shona worship songs. Not understanding a word but feeling such one in spirit with these wonderful young Zimbabwe Christian men. I also took a couple of morning bible teaching classes of 15-20 students, whilst I was there. It was such a privilege.
It was the early days of the Ameva Farm and Bible School Project, and some basic things we take for granted in UK were not so straightforward at that time. Such as, before they John and Celia’s house had water purifiers and enough fridges. To have a cup of cool water, in this sub-tropical country, you had to first boil the water and then let it cool in the fridge, in order to have a cool drink! Then to have a cup of tea you had to first let the milk containers (which were kept in big freezers) defrost in the fridge and then add the milk to boiled water in order to make the tea! The experience of going outside of richly provided and very materialistic Western Europe for the first time and seeing a very different reality of how everyday life was lived, changed both my perception of life’s real values and the level of the everyday challenges which people can face. The challenge of becoming “snake-aware” verses the pleasure of eating sun-warmed tomatoes fresh from the field provided rich and varied experiences for me, along with the extra-ordinary Zimbabwean people I met. To work for just three weeks along-side long-term and medium-term missionary people. Doing mostly practical work, though being allowed to have a taste of the teaching and evangelistic ministry, was such a privilege. To give my “five loaves and two fishes” in such a situation was such a blessing and encouragement to me. I learned the truth of Matthew 10:41, in assisting John and Celia and their Team.
He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. Matthew 10:41
I would return to Zimbabwe two more times, but more of that later.