Getting off the aircraft in Salisbury Zimbabwe (now Harare) was likened to going into an oven, but it was October, usually the hottest month of the year. Salisbury in those days was a very clean city, “the Sunshine City” as it was called. After a few days in the city we left as a team (John Valentine, Mickey Wright, Keith and Christine Kelly) for Hartley (now Chegutu), it was common to see from the road, as you left the city, men in white overalls which I supposed were people playing cricket, only to discover later it was prisoners probably picking up litter.
The people in Zimbabwe we discovered were incredibly friendly, which I contrasted with a recent holiday I had in Austria. We were met by the Christian Marching Church representatives including Bishop Katsande and his number one assistant Pastor Phillip Gobvu, who epitomised this. Similarly we were befriended by ex-colonials who were equally welcoming in Hartley after a few weeks (notably Elsie and Ian Gibson plus family). We noticed that they behaved like the generation of our parents (the 1950’s etiquette) e.g. Men would stand up when a lady entered the room. This still exists today in some circles in Zimbabwe.
John had acquired a Land Rover type vehicle (Chevrolet Nomad) useful for the rough roads out of town, which was ideal, but over the months did acquire the habit of catching fire around the carburetor whereupon, either passenger or driver would leap out and smother the flames with sand or soil.
We frequently travelled on the Bay Horse Road between the town and Ameva Extension Farm, which started as a strip road (two strips of tar down the road where the wheels travelled), later to become a dirt road full of corrugations which shook the Chev Nomad so much that the door handles used to unlatch and the doors fly open. Passengers had to sit holding the door shut with a strap.
The farm itself was a complex of buildings with two main houses and a bungalow all enclosed within high security fences, the main house where we stayed had anti grenade weld mesh sections attached to the walls over the windows. Inside my bedroom was a separate wall, half way up, in front of the window to provide extra protection from any threats, but also useful for changing in the absence of curtains. Each bedroom (there were three) was linked by a dark corridor which, on one occasion, was the hiding place for a puff adder that had crept in, and was curled up waiting to pounce. A quick shout and friendly help was quickly dispatched. In fact there were numerous encounters with snakes, Stan Kearsley chased a black mamba in one of the lofts and survived. He was also being bitten by a dog, on another occasion, at a time when rabies was prevalent. He suffered no harm, choosing to trust God rather than take the medicine, a course of painful injections. Truly God was with us.
On the farm, adapting to the different crops and environment was quite a challenge. The neighbours were very helpful. Mr. Martin Tracey, a wonderful Christian brother who planted our maize. Mr. Peter Cox (who subsequently warmed to the gospel) helped plant the cotton and Mr. Waterfall of Stewart’s chickens supplied day old chicks and advice. We survived in the first year and were able to get organised for subsequent years.
Another challenge was communicating and organising the farm workers, of whom there were ten or twelve, many of them leave me with fond memories, including Wilson the tractor driver, who parked the old Ford 4000 on a large ant hill in order to start it in the morning, failing this it was all hands on deck to push start.
The neighboring farms were venues for outreach on a Sunday afternoon, where we met with enthusiastic congregations eager to hear the gospel. The response was wonderful and an eye-opener to a novice such as me. Sunday mornings involved church at the Scout Hut in Hartley, a wonderful occasion a mixture of African and European worship where God moved on numerous occasions.
After a few months many of the first arrivals returned to the UK, to be replaced by Clare Strickland and Colin Davies from Epsom. Colin headed up the Bible School and Clare taught English to the Bible students.
One of the houses was occupied initially by Agricair, a crop spraying firm that used the airstrip on the farm. We used them to spray the groundnuts. Later on, team members occupied the house after being divided into quarters for Ron and Anna White and Dave and Sue Latham.
We did acquire a dog called Gemma, a Kerry Blue mix, who always alerted us to threats such as snakes or unannounced visitors. He did distinguish himself by attaching himself to a sable antelope’s ear whilst being flung around. The sable had wandered into the yard after having a snare around its leg.
Our whole experience, (my wife Ros came out after several months) was life changing, but such a blessing to be part of a team helping the gospel to go out to a nation fresh from a conflict, bringing the love of God into a divided war torn people, fulfilling the vision that God had given John Valentine.