John Valentine invited me to go with him to Zimbabwe to look at a farm in a town called Hartley in 1981. It’s now called Chegutu. John and I had worked together in Nigeria at the Bible Schoolin Benin City.We both came from the Devonshire Road fellowship in Liverpool. It was just after the Rhodesian war and the farm we went to see was empty except for a company of crop sprayers called Agricair who used a runway on the farm for their work. Brick walls were built all around the windows of the houseson the farm- no doubtto provide protection from snipers. It had previously been a tobacco farm. We had a few scary incidents encountering snakes on our second trip out a few months later. I believethe previous owner had kept them in a snake pit and then abandoned them behind when he sold up. One day I was in my bedroom at the main bungalow farmhouse listening to a tape recording. I heard a dog barking feverishly. I just ignored it. Then I heard my wife, Christine shouting ‘Keith, Keith.!I could ignorethe dog but not my lovely wife. So I struggled up… opened the door and looked down the corridor. Shock! Horror!A big black snake (I think a black mamba) was swivelling straight at me. I couldn't retreat into the bedroom. The windows still barred from the war. Opposite my bedroom door was a door to a garageand a way out. Normallywe kept it locked. It was now or never. I grasped the handle and thank the Lord, this day it opened. I escaped like an Olympic runner. The snake swivelled in and under my bed. African ladies (from their Convention) surrounded our room. I kept well back. My friendBraveheart Mickey Wrightmarched into the bedroom-faced the intruder. The snake reared up. Puffed itself out. Mickey swung his weapon, and the snake fell dead. We all proceeded out for a photo shoot (when it was safe). What an adventure! I’ve often preached on the Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:13: ‘ No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape,that you may be able to [a]bear it. Our wonderfulGod knows how to providea way of escape in trials and temptations.
Well, to cut a long story shortthe Lord wonderfully answered John’s faithand provided the meansto take over the farm and starta Bible schooland later a Church on the farm and in Chegutu.
My initialwork was writinga prospectus and starting the Bible School.I had one student to begin with, a very nice fellow, aptly called Sweetman.
We linked up with local believers in Chegutu -the Gibsons and also with some fine Christians on anotherfarm-Martin and Jill Tracey. God gave us favour, and we found a warm welcome everywhere.
We started nightly meetings in the small village on the farm. I also made forays to speak in Chegutu and on the Tracey farm. Later We used the football stadium in Chegutu to hold an evangelistic crusade. I guessedabout 7000 Africansturned up and one white man, Ian Gibson. The P.A failed but I’ve got strong lungs and preached anyway. Many responded. We also used a community centre in the township to reach out. It got jam packed. Happy days!
What wonderful work had begun!