My Name is Mickey Wright and I first became involved with the Ameva Farm Project after hearing a close friend John Valentine speak in 1980 at the Annual Summer Conference of a group of Christian Fellowships which was being held at Cliff College in Derbyshire. He was sharing his vision to buy a farm in Zimbabwe with a view to starting a Bible School there. John had previously been teaching at a Bible School in Benin City in Nigeria and one of the students Philip Gobvu had asked him if he would come to his home country of Zimbabwe and start a bible school there. Philip had even done some research and found a suitable farm for sale in the town of Hartley which is now called Chegutu. I immediately felt God was calling me to go to Zimbabwe and to be involved and at the very same time Keith and Christine Kelly and Eric Taylor also felt the call of God to be involved. An offering was taken during the Summer Conference and £33.000 was raised to help with the purchase of the farm. The total price for the farm was £65.000 which was not a lot of money for what was on offer as the farm itself covered an area of 3,600 hectares and this included a village whose residents looked to the farm owners for health care, employment and education.
Almost immediately after our arrival in Zimbabwe John Valentine had to return to the UK. This meant that Keith, Christine, Eric and I were left to get the farm up and running and to start the bible school. Keith started the bible school with only 4 students and Eric and I started the poultry farm with a mere 12 chickens. The bible says: “Despise not the day of small things.” In the years to come the chicken project developed into 22000 lay chickens and the bible school has graduated over 500 pastors.
When we arrived the farm house was completely empty and we had to find ourselves some furniture. We managed to secure ourselves some beds, a sofa, a couple of chairs, a kitchen table and chairs and an old four wheel drive Jeep. We also acquired a dog from somewhere! No one seemed to know where! It was a flea ridden mongrel called Gema! What a great dog!
There was an old beat up Fordson Major Tractor on the farm which I used with a double furrow disc plough to prepare 50 acres of land for maize, and 25 acres for ground nuts. The only trouble was we did not have the money to buy the seed we needed to plant the prepared ground. Usually farmers would get a loan from the AFC (Agricultural Finance Corporation) however in their wisdom they point blank refused to lend us finance to buy the seed maize or the seed ground nuts. We spent a great deal of time praying about this and phoning John who was still at home in England. John’s standard reply was: “Mickey! Go in there and tell them….!” But no amount of telling them was helping. We asked God to release the money from the AFC, we rebuked the devil who we thought had his foot firmly behind the door to our finances, all to no avail! Then one morning the phone rang. It was a local Christian farmer called Martin Tracy who informed us that he was sending over 2 tractors with drivers: one pulling a planter and the other pulling a trailer. In the trailer there was enough hybrid seed maize and enough ground nuts to plant our 2 fields. Praise the Lord for His wonderful provision. That’s been the story that has repeated itself continually as the years have gone by, a continuing story of the wonderful, miraculous provision of God.
We learned the valuable lesson that there is a time to stop rebuking the devil and start thanking God. It was His foot behind the door not the devils. We ended up with the fields planted and no debt to repay!
We started Gospel meetings in the compound (village) in a community building which was used for many things, school: when they had a teacher, any other meeting that needed to take place and we used it for church on Sundays. The church meetings were quite well attended and we were always escorted back to the farm surrounded by singing children praising God.
The previous occupant on the farm was a Mr Swanapool who had been an avid snake collector and just so happened to have a snake pit in his garden. He had hastily left the farm, with his wife and children and a few cases of personal belongings in a truck, and headed for South Africa. Before he left he opened the snake pit and let all the snakes out...NOT GOOD! Well you can imagine! The indomitable snakes just dug into the ground and made themselves new homes where ever they could. I killed a few snakes as they appeared now and then but on one memorable occasion a Black Mamba appeared in the thatch of the farm house and popped its head out as we sat at the table in the lean-to kitchen area. The tin corrugated iron roof of the kitchen was sunk into the thatch which was quite thick. This Mamba stuck its head out on the inside bit of the thatch and had a look around. As we sat there the Mamba was about 5 feet above Eric’s head. Not wanting to panic anybody I just calmly mentioned that there was a snake above Eric’s head and recommended that nobody made any quick movements but that we gradually and quietly moved away…. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! As soon as the news had sunk into Eric’s brain he shot from the table like a bullet from a gun and ran outside. We all hastily retreated and waited a while before we went in again. I must say that anytime I entered the kitchen after that my eye went immediately to the area where the Mamba had popped its head out just to reassure myself that it wasn’t still there. It was around though! And finally it reappeared in Keith and Christine’s bedroom. We knew this because Gema our farm dog was barking rather loudly at the bedroom door. I went to investigate why the dog was barking, opened the door and there before me was the Black Mamba. I shut the door quickly and had a think about what I should do. Black mamba bites are usually fatal within 20 minutes without antivenin so it was a bad situation. What was to be done? Someone was going to die if it wasn’t dealt with and we couldn’t risk letting it escaping to somewhere else in the house to kill us later. The Zimbabweans had gathered round when they heard about the snake and were shooting stones from catapults through the window to try and hit it but the only thing they achieved was to make the snake angry and more dangerous. Keith didn’t know what to do and Eric was out working so I armed myself with a garden rake and slowly opened the door. I could see the snake hiding behind a bookcase so I ran the rake along the space between the wall and the back of the book case and landed a wounding blow on the snake and quickly jumped back out of the door. I did that a several times until finally the snake was unable to move. Mrs Katsande, Bishops Katsande wife, who had been brought up in the countryside then came to my assistance. She held the reptile pinned against the wall with the rake while I pounded it with a slasher (grass cutter) until I thought it was dead. Half an hour later, feeling like a hero, I triumphantly appeared with the snake in my hand. To my surprise everyone who had gathered round scattered. Seemingly Mambas can fake death, a small point of information that might have been helpful to know before tackling the snake. Happily everyone lived to tell the tale except for maybe the poor snake! A second snake incident occurred not much later.
There were two main farm houses, a cottage and an airstrip on the farm. A crop spraying company called Agric air rented the other farm house. Two white South African young men were the pilots who did the crop spraying. One day I was standing talking to them in the kitchen of their farm house. It was a large kitchen area and about six young Zimbabwean men who worked for the company were sitting there having their lunch. The meal consisted of a big basin full of mealy meal which was the Zimbabwean staple diet and another basin of stew with greens and gravy. The workers were all tucking in to this delicious meal when one of the pilots brought my attention to a Green Mamba that was crawling along one of the main beams holding up the corrugated roof of the kitchen. What happened next was hilarious!! Along came Mr Snake, who must have been having a bad day for he slipped right off the beam and fell right in the middle of lunch. I’ve never seen anybody galvanise into action so fast. With loud shouts the six young workers who now seemed to be all arms and legs made a mad dash for the one small door and somehow actually managed to exit through it all at the one time. Simultaneously one of the pilots grabbed a sweeping brush and pinned down the snake on the table while the other one took off the head of the snake with one strike of a slasher (grass cutter)….it all happened in a flash. I guess these guys had dealt with a lot of snakes in their time and it was no problem to them, but to a green horn like me, well I was amazed at the whole thing!
The snakes were not the only danger however! There was a serious problem with the monkeys eating our maize. They would come out of the bush and run along the rows of maize and steal a few maize cobs but drop them in order to pick more, and then drop the next lot to pick even more and so it went on. A neighbouring farmer called Frank Voss gave me a 2.2 rifle and a box of bullets and said “Once you shoot a few and hang the dead bodies at the end of the maize rows they’ll get the message and stay away, but be careful to make sure you have another bullet in the barrel because if you miss or just wound them, they can jump on you and bite you and they all have rabies.” Well that was great! I didn’t like the idea of killing the monkeys or the danger I might put myself in! In the end I erected some old disc plough sheers at the end of the rows and sat in our old truck and when the monkeys came I shot at the plough sheers. The bullets gave a loud zinging noise and the monkeys made a hasty retreat.
It was not all danger though and there were great relaxing days too. We used to go to our neighbours Bruce and Patsy Keevil’s farm on Saturdays. They had a lovely swimming pool and it was great to cool off with a plunge into the pool while Patsy served us fresh orange juice straight out of the fridge…..lovely! We were visited by quite a few locals: mechanics from Chegutu, nearby farmers John Lenton and Mike Campbell with whom we became friends, and since the revolution had just happened and Robert Mugabe had now taken leadership of the country we had a visit or two from the Local ZANU PF political party representatives who wanted to keep an eye on us. They remained very friendly so we had no problem at that time.
I thought that I’d come to Zimbabwe for the foreseeable future. But since I had no qualifications to teach in the bible school, nor was I qualified in agriculture when my visa needed renewing the immigration in Zimbabwe said that with no such skills they had no need of me. That was that and I had to return to the UK. Those were very exciting days at Ameva farm!! I have returned to the farm several times since then. Peter Gray from Sefton and I had a big project to fit doors and louver windows to the large assembly hall at the secondary school and I also fitted new doors in the primary school with Mike Haley from Eltham Green
I visited a couple of times with Jim and Margaret Bailey from Eltham Green and a team of young people to do some maintenance work. We salvaged bricks from the brick kilns for building with, did some building, some joinery, and some painting and decorating work. One year we had a massive bush fire to beat out which ruined a lot of the grazing land. Although it was a very dangerous and strenuous task, it was very exciting. Everyone came back unrecognisable with faces, arms and hands covered in the black soot from the fire which had stuck to our sweaty bodies.
At that time we were sent in teams to do evangelism in some of the local farm and church situations. We were sometimes asked to sing and that singing went down so very well with the Zimbabweans. One of the choruses we taught them was: “We bow down and confess You are Lord in this place. They really loved it with the sweet harmony’s that the girls were singing which were very different from the way the Zimbabwean ladies sang. When the song reached the part “You are all I need” The women were so overwhelmed that they all burst out ululating. What a wonderful and amazing sound ascended to God. It really touched everyone’s heart. After that they wanted us to sing it at every meeting.
I do love Africa (I was saved in Lusaka in Zambia in 1975) and having travelled in 8 different countries in the continent preaching and teaching the Word of God I can say that it has played a major role in my life. Zimbabwe was one of the main countries and it has been a privilege to work with John and Celia Valentine for whom I have the utmost respect. They have persevered through many hardships and triumphed. I give glory to God for their lives. John Valentine is a man I could follow anywhere, a true leader of men, he made such an impression on my life that I will never forget. He passed on to me a copy of Young’s Analytical Concordance which I have cherished and used these last 45 years of my Christian life. Good old John!
There were many other situations, some funny and some not so funny, too many to write them all down here. Looking back at the beginnings of Ameva Farm and Bible School my heart is strangely moved just to think of the small part I had to play in it and that God saw fit to involve me and use me. Praise God. It’s been a wonderful work over the years, a real testimony to the Faithfulness of God