I was in Zimbabwe between 18 November and 6 December. This time I had the blessing of travelling with Terry Watson. We had a great time together and enjoyed many interesting discussions on all sorts of topics. The main purpose of our trip was to spend two weeks teaching in the Ameva Bible School, however we also took lots of stuff, especially for the two schools which are at Ameva. On arrival at Harare airport, passengers' luggage is X-rayed. This meant that the customs officers couldn't help but notice the eighteen pairs of football boots in one of Terry's cases. He had to pay $61. I also had stuff in my bags, but I was waved through, even though I had dutifully lined up behind Terry to have my bags inspected. It took Terry an hour to sort things out with the customs. After waiting outside for thirty minutes I thought I'd better find out if everything was ok, so I got permission to go back into the customs area. There was no sign of Terry, it was completely deserted apart from two officers chatting. I told them I was looking for my friend and one of them replied,'Oh yes, your friend. I sent him back to UK.' I was a bit shocked and oncemore looked around, but could see no one. Then he said, 'The reason was he told me he was supporting Arsenal, not Manchester United.' Then he laughed. He told me where to find Terry who was deep in negotiation in an office with a customs officer. For the first night in Zimbabwe I stayed with Eric and Ros Taylor, known to many who will read this report. Eric and Ros still work at St George's School; a posh private school in the same road as the Presidential palace. Changes are afoot in the school; Eric is now just sixty five and the school has suddenly changed its rules to saythat over 65s must retire. Previously teachers carried on even up to eighty. The school has a Jesuit foundation and, since the current Pope is a Jesuit, there has been a bit of a 'clamp down'. For some decades, the school has been run by 'civilians', but now the current padre (I'm not sure if that is the correct term) is saying the schoolbelongs to him and the headmaster is being marginalised. There has also beena dispute with a feeder RC but non Jesuit, primary school to the extent that St George's have decided to build their own primary school. It was also good to catch up a little with Paul and Leslie Evans who have recently moved from their house further out in the country to the city of Harare. Paul is still heavily involved in teaching and training pastors. It was great to see John and Celia Valentine again and to receive a warm welcome into their home. Two of their children also overlapped with us for a few days; Paul and Abigail visiting from the UK. Just previous to us arriving, Paul and Abigail took their parents to Kariba for a holiday. John fell into crocodile infested waters, but lived to tell the tale unscathed. John chatted with me about the political situation. He thinks President Mugabe's position is weakened and he might lose the 2018 election.(Mugabe is now 92.) Even the war veterans (the ones Mugabe has so often used to do his 'dirty work') are turning against him. Also, the opposition parties may have realised they need to unite if they are to stand a chance, so they are becoming more powerful. However, the opposition leader Tsangari now has cancer, so he is fading. Mugabe had promoted his wife (who is forty five) to take over power, but that seems to have failed. John said, 'She just hasn't got it.' This time there were twelve students in the Bible School class we were teaching. Terry and I split the six daily sessions between ourselves; he was teaching on 'Church ministry, administration and education' and I on
'Personal spiritual life'. The students were a mixture of men and women and although we had a range of ages, most were probably in their thirties. They came from a range of different church backgrounds, including the Christian Marching Church (this is the church that the Ameva project officialy works with), pentecostal, gospel, fellowships. They had a range of ministries in their churches: pastors/elders/assistant pastors/student pastors, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, pastors' wives … They were an enthusiastic and appreciative group. It was also great to be working alongside Pastors Ebenezer and Solomon again, who also do a lot in the Ameva Bible School and were involved over the two weeks in teaching a separate class. Terry and I enjoyed eating the local food at lunch times (mainly sadsa [maize meal] and beans), although we declined to try the flying ants which many of our students seemed to be particularly partial to. On Sundays we ministered in various local churches, including the one held on the Ameva Farm and the Chegutu Christian Fellowship.
While we were there the government took the deeply unpopular step of introducing 'bond notes'. Since about 2009, Zimbabwe has been using US dollars for currency, following the extreme hyper inflation of the Zimbabwean dollar. (John gave me a couple of the old ten billion dollar notes as souvenirs.) The problem is that too many US dollar notes are leaving the country (I was told that a lot are taken out by Chinese who work in the construction industry there, as in many African countries.) This means there is a shortage of cash. Even if you have money in the bank, it is difficult to get it out; people were having to line up daily get their quota of $30. The government said they had borrowed two hundred million US dollars, against which they printed the bond notes; 1 Zim bond note = $1. But people fear it will lead to hyper inflation again. Last time this happened people had their entire life's savings wiped out, including pensions etc. One day we were having lunch with some others. One of the group worked in the post office (I think, or somewhere else official). She had been given training in recognising forged bond notes. On that day bond notes were only five days old, so only John had one. She inspected it and announced that it was a fake! Some people were saying that the forged bond notes were circulating before the real ones. When she explained the difference, it was clear that, for the man on the street, it would be virtually impossible to tell. The government has said that it is illegal for shopkeepers to refuse to accept bond notes (in favour of US$), but I was told that if the police stop you and want to fine you, they will only take US$.
One morning I visited Ameva Secondary School and spent an hour with the headmaster, Shepherd. They currently have 478 pupils, including about 20 in the Form 5 (lower sixth; A level). This is the first year that they have undertaken A level. They decided to take this on because they have the required expertise amongst the staff and they have had some bright pupils who have been hindered from carrying on after O level in the past because they couldn't afford to travel to, or stay in, Chegutu to join a sixth form there. There are nineteen teachers and the classes (for Forms 1-4) tend to have about fifty in them. When I visited, the whole school was doing exams in the school hall, except for the A level students who were doing their exams elsewhere and the Form 4 O level students who have finished their O level exams (they take them in November here). I came back on another morning to take the school Assembly. They had told me that they would have to squeeze it in just before the pupils started their exam, so I had planned to speak for no longer than ten minutes, but just before I started the teacher in charge said I should speak for half an hour. (One gets used to this sort of thing in Africa; it's always best to be prepared.) The school has six 'normal'classrooms, plus the school hall, library/computer room, laboratory and
woodwork/metalwork room. Another building has been put up containing two classrooms, but it doesn't yet have a roof. Ameva Secondary is a 'government aided' school which means the government pay the teachers' salaries, but everything else is funded by the school. Shepherd told me the government is generally supportive of 'mission schools' because, of course, these schools are helping them out in the area of education. I also visited Ameva Primary School one morning and took the Assembly there. The hundreds of children stood outside for the Assembly (fortunately there was some cloud cover that day) and were so attentive. After Assembly I met the school staff; as in most primary schools there were many more female than male teachers. The very enthusiastic headmistress, Janet, asked me at least twice to say 'thank you' to all UK supporters. The school has recently made a new computer room, but when I visited they didn't have any computers. Janet commented, 'I'm getting the room ready and then God will send the computers. I'm doing my part, then the Lord will do His part.' They are also building a new kitchen for the school. There is a group of local ladies who have been making the bricks for it on a government scheme in which they are given maize for the work they do. However, the school pays for the labour for the actual building. The school also wants to build a new ECD (early child development) classroom because they now have one hundred children, currently housed in a temporary thatched building. Government rules now insist on there being both ECDA and ECDB classes before Primary 1; so there are now nine years in primary education in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is unlike any of the other African countries I visit in that I get to know a bit John and Celia's friends from the well established ex-pat community. It's always good to visit the folk at Bryden Country School; John is involved in a weekly, evening Bible study held in the headmaster's house there. This time, it being near Christmas, Terry and I were fortunate to have attended one or two Christmassy feasts – one at the school and another following a Carol Service at someone's house. (It always seems strange to me singing Christmas Carols in the 35° heat.) We also visited John and Celia's daughter Grace and family. Grace and her husband are in the beef industry and we were able to enjoy the most succulent, barbecued steak I have ever tasted. And, of course,we spent some time visiting Elsie Gibson and cooling off in her swimming pool. Elsie sends warm greetings to all who know her. She is still going strong despite her fourscore years and three. On one of my visits to Elsie's house I was interested to meet a (white) couple who are involved in farming. Farming in Zimbabwe has been all but destroyed, but he was telling me that there is a covert comeback on about sixty farms. Ex-pats who know what they are doing are taking on some of the decimated farms and making them productive again. This has come about partly because the banks in Zimbabwe want their money back; they had given money to those who had taken over the farms from white farmers, only to see it frittered away. They think that if they support some of these new ventures, they will begin to see a return for their investment. Having been working for the Lord in Africa for so many decades, John and Celia have many amazing stories to tell.Prior to our arrival the weather had been somewhat dry, so when it started to rain, John was reminded of what had happened during the 1992 drought in Zimbabwe. At that time they lived in a house on the Ameva Farm. They had been praying for rain. One morning they woke up to find it had rained so much that their bedroom was flooded. The Ameva dam was full (and overflowing I think), but upon investigation they discovered that rain had only fallen on Ameva, the drought continued everywhere else.