I gave it my best shot. Full blown teenage tantrums, hunger strikes, manipulation and silence. Nothing worked. “We’re going as a family and that’s that.” Dad informed me. I couldn’t believe they were serious. A mission trip to Africa was one thing, but to go over Christmas was quite another. Oh, I loved God and believed what they were doing was noble, but I was sixteen for goodness sake. I wanted to be home with my friends. Visiting the malls, enjoying the entertainment and fun of the season.
Anyway, my parents won the battle and so we flew into Zimbabwe loaded with anti-malarial tablets, sun block, insect repellant and bottled water. Africa was just as I had imagined. Broad-bladed fans swirling syrupy air. Laconic people moving slowly. Earthy décor in shades of amber, ochre and rust, sprinkled with vibrant emerald and sapphire.
We were assigned to a village three hours drive from Harare. Our companions were South Africans who had brought a van-load of supplies up from their country. Zimbabwe, they told us, was suffering severe food shortages.
In fact, the people were so hungry that food distribution became our first job. I sweated with the rest of the team as we lugged case after case into the tiny church. Sacks of maize meal, jars of peanut butter, bottles of sunflower oil, tinned pilchards, baked beans, salt and cabbages. The village preacher helped us divide the supplies. “This will feed us for six weeks.” He told us, gratitude choking his voice. The people clamoured outside, singing and rejoicing as family by family they were allowed to collect their portion. I was appalled at how thin they were. The way their bones jutted and poked into sharp angles. Never had I been faced with such need.
As the sun dipped low, we were shown our quarters. Simple rooms with beds and blankets. The villagers lived in round huts of mud and sticks and cooked over fires. I woke that first morning to the fragrance of burning wood and songs of thankfulness for food to cook.
Each day that week, the adults spoke in the tiny village church, the preacher interpreting for them. They invited me to join them but I declined. It was more comfortable to sit and stew in the corner. I was still angry about missing Christmas but slowly God began to soften my heart. It was as though I became one of the people. Thirsting for the Word of God; absorbing teachings of love and compassion, healing and mercy, provision and obedience.
Our last day there was Christmas Eve and a baptism service was planned for the evening. I joined the crowds as they wandered down to the river. To where the burning African sun rippled gold across lazy waters and sandy banks. In some perverse way, I was sad. Miserable that tomorrow I would be leaving.
My mind drifted home, to where my friends would be frantically dashing round the malls. Where tables would be laden with food, and all manners of excess and greed were being indulged in. I thought too of my safe, sanitized life in the vortex of modern culture. It seemed so shallow and insipid, but it was my fault not God’s.
Then I looked at the miracle before me as one by one, the villagers were baptised. As they buried their old nature and came up drenched in God’s Spirit, faces glowing, glistening, water dripping like anointing oil. It was a visible change. The pure joy that comes from obedience.
I knew God was speaking to me. That He was calling me to obey His Word. I stepped down to the river and spoke out boldly. “I want to be baptized. I want God to wash away my indifference and have His way in my life. “
I waded into the warm, soupy water and raised my hands. My senses were laden with chirping insects and croaking frogs. With splashes of coppery sunlight and smiling faces. With Dad’s joy as he came up next to me and began to pray. “Thank you God for the miracle of your love...”
As I rose from the water the presence of God was a soaking rain, saturating, cleansing, healing from the inside out, washing away selfishness and shame. “Thank you, God,” I whispered. “Thank you for bringing me to Africa.”
While I was living in South Africa, our church made regular trips to Zimbabwe (my home country) to feed starving villages such as this one. Although the people are suffering, they have an amazing passion for God and willingly share their meagre supplies.
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