It was a safe city in Africa. I loved to go there because it was one of the few cities that I could walk in after dark and not be fearful of being robbed or that someone would do harm to me. I would stay in a hotel close to the centre of town precisely so that I could go for a walk at night.
In those days, our TWR studio there was on another mission’s compound. It was probably the smallest studio we had, measuring just a few metres square, but it was enough to meet our needs in the short term. This country was in the footprint of both our short-wave and medium-wave broadcasts from Swaziland, and we even had the opportunity to be on the country’s national radio station with a short devotional. God was blessing the ministry. The response was growing to a point where we decided it was time to have our own property where we could have a couple of studios and build a larger production team. We were producing Mini Bible College and Thru the Bible in the Shona language; as well, the team was part of producing a youth program that was aired throughout all of Southern Africa.
God did bless us with a property, and we began the process of outfitting that office for an increased production level. We would add the language of Ndebele in Thru the Bible for the people living in the southern part of the country; God was growing our footprint.
If you recognize the languages, you will know what country I am talking about. The country is Zimbabwe. I have heard some call it the bread basket of Africa, as there are many highly productive farms in the country. But things changed. A country of plenty, of peace, of prosperity, changed into a country where there was a lack of everything, where there was infighting and strife between the farmers and the common citizens. How did this happen? It can only be explained one way: leadership in the country created the situation, pure and simple. Farms were taken away from the owners who had farmed them, often for over 50 years. There were no negotiations; they were simply in the hands of one person one day and in the hands of others the day after.
What did the new Zimbabwe look like? The first thing I noticed was that the hotel I stayed in downtown became a brothel. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice quite soon enough. As I was unaware of this, I was still staying there. One night I got on the elevator, and three women propositioned me. I left the next morning and never went back. These women were desperate to feed their families, so they did desperate things.
One store that was the equivalent of Costco went from being the place where we shopped to a huge building with empty shelves. We found a new hotel which did have a restaurant on site. Often they would tell us that they didn’t have items on their menu because it was impossible to purchase even the simplest things, like vegetables, in the city.
What made it so difficult was that the more desperate things became, the more people responded to our programs. We had a dilemma on our hands. It was getting more and more difficult just to keep our office functional, and desperate situations required us to become more and more resourceful.
I started travelling there monthly. My role was two-fold: to keep the staff motivated and to ensure, as much as I could, that they had resources to keep functioning. The staff needed basic groceries so they could feed their families. The solution was to carry up suitcases filled with rice and cooking oil, as these were the staples of their diet. I would load up suitcases to capacity and hand deliver them. That was only one thing. Fuel to operate vehicles still had to be purchased, and electricity bills had to be paid so I had to carry cash into the country. We then exchanged it at the highest possible exchange rate to keep the operation going. It had become a 100% cash society. Putting items on credit would have an interest rate of 100% to 1,000%. If you paid with a credit card, a simple meal could cost more than $100. I remember going to a restaurant with a board member one day carrying a paper bag full of money. I am not kidding … a paper bag full of money. They had an automatic counter there, so I gave the lady a stack of bills at least six inches high, maybe higher. She counted them and told me to give her another stack the same size. I think the bill was $23 dollars! Those bills I paid with were only printed on one side. Another time, I was not thinking and was going to pay a hotel bill with my credit card. The man at the desk told me to get Zimbabwean dollars or the cost on my card would be over $1,000!
Often people would ask me why we kept the office open. The reason was simple: when things are that difficult, people have nowhere to turn. They get desperate, and, when they get desperate, they turn their eyes to God. They realize that the government of the day is not going to look after them, so they turn to God. During this most difficult time, we needed to provide hope in something other than man. This was an exceptional time of ministry. God was speaking into people’s hearts, and they were turning to him.
Even though their day-to-day lives were literally miserable, they could smile because they knew they had a Father, a leader, who did care about them. That Father sent his one and only Son into a miserable situation 2,000 years ago. Christ came at a time when the Romans were oppressing most of the known world at that time. Their situation was not much different than the situation in Zimbabwe. He brought hope to the nations then, and he brought hope to the Zimbabwean people in the same way some 2,000 years later. I traveled back and forth for two years, the two worst years that the Zimbabweans ever faced.
Thinking back over that time, I am amazed how God walked alongside our team, how he supplied in unique ways. And I am thankful that he allowed me to be a part of it.