If you’re not familiar with Robert Mugabe, he’s the current president of Zimbabwe, and not a very nice fellow. To give you some idea, last year Parade Magazine included him in their list of the world’s worst dictators, with these credentials:
Robert Mugabe once was hailed as a symbol of the new Africa, but under his rule the health and well-being of his people have dropped dramatically, which is as much an abuse of human rights as arbitrary arrest and torture. According to the World Health Organization, Zimbabwe has the world’s shortest life expectancy—37 years for men and 34 for women. It also has the greatest percentage of orphans (about 25%, says UNICEF) and the worst annual inflation rate (1,281% as of last month). He last allowed an election in 2002 but “won” only after having his leading opponent arrested for treason.
So I was dumbstruck by an article in the most recent newsletter from Discernment Ministries, in which Jewel Grewe relates details of her recent trip to Africa. With her permission, I reproduce it here, in the hopes that others will be touched as I was. [emphasis added, but photos are not included]
Against the daily drumbeat of the global financial
crisis, David and I left for the struggling nation of
Zimbabwe. Our time in Zimbabwe certainly put
things into perspective. Entering the dusty temporary
metal building at the Bulawayo airport, it was
encouraging to feel the warmth of the friendly smiles
welcoming us to Zimbabwe.
Almost immediately our hosts, Pastors Geoffrey and
Eleanor Mkwanazi took us to a special Women’s
conference (with some men attending) about 50 miles
from Bulawayo. We passed through the dry and
parched land as the rains haven’t yet arrived.
We learned our first lesson about the economics of the
country when the gas was purchased for the car. There
are three types of currencies used at the gas stations:
the U.S. dollar, South African Rand or the Botswana
Pula. One has to purchase gas at the station that has
the proper approval for the currency you may have. 20
litres of gas (approximately 5 gallons) costs $30.00
(U.S.) making gas $6.00 per gallon. There is a special
market that buys the Zimbabwe dollar for the South
African Rand (for a profit) so that people can purchase
gas for their vehicles. This rate changes almost hourly,
so one is not quite sure how many thousands or
millions of Zimbabwe dollars is necessary to buy the 5
gallons of gas. The daily challenge is to figure out
what the exchange rate is for the day.
The Women’s conference on Saturday and then again
on the Sunday was precious as we realized these
women had come a great distance and great sacrifice
was made for fellowship in the Word of God. They
truly encouraged one another to remain faithful in the
midst of the suffering in their country.
When we entered Zimbabwe, we had purchased a
single entry visa as we were not given the opportunity
to obtain the multiple entry visa. Two days after our
arrival, one of the pastors offered us a “lift” to
Francistown, Botswana where he was travelling to
purchase supplies including drums of diesel fuel. We
realized we would have to purchase another visa to
return to Zimbabwe, but were determined to learn how
the people survive in Zimbabwe with no food on the
shelves of their grocery stores. Francistown is
approximately 150 miles from Bulawayo. One has to
go through two very busy border posts both leaving
and coming back. We had a late start as the pastor first
had to spend considerable time at the local police
station to clear some paperwork in regard to his
Once through the long lines at the borders, we
proceeded as quickly as possible to the bank before it
closed. It was about 4:00 p.m. when we were finally
dropped to do some shopping while our host took off
to purchase his long list of supplies including filling
the fuel drums. (His son was to be married the next
Saturday, so food had to be purchased for the feast.)
We purchased a toaster for our host, a bag of flour and
yeast to make bread, marmalade and a few other
Every day there are long lines of Zimbabweans
travelling to Botswana to purchase basic supplies
which they buy in order to resell a portion of them in
Zimbabwe for a bit of a profit.
We left Francistown at approximately 8:00 p.m. and
arrived at the border just before the 10:00 p.m. closing
- – driving carefully to avoid the bumps and potholes
with our heavy load of supplies and diesel fuel. After
clearing customs on both sides and then passing
through two police check points and bribing a
policeman at one of them with a loaf of bread, we
arrived back in Bulawayo at midnight to find our hosts
waiting for us with dinner prepared.
A dam located between Botswana and Zimbabwe
provides time shared electricity to both countries.
Every day the electricity goes off for either a short or
very long time. One never knows. The first week it
was off for about six hours a day then totally for two
days. One never could really count on the schedule
when it would be possible to get the cooking
accomplished. Many people have a wood fire in a
fireplace or outside to cook (in town). The people
outside of town do not even have electricity or the
luxury of a stove. If one has a gas stove, they would
have to travel the distance to Francistown to obtain
propane fuel for it.
Nothing is wasted. Plastic bags you may obtain when
you shop out of the country are treasured. We were
looking about for something to use for our trash in the
room. I looked out of the window and saw a plastic
bag lying in the yard. I ran out excitedly and then saw
there was a big hole in the bottom. No problem, just
took some thread and tied the hole shut and we had a
great waste basket which we hooked under a table.
Jam jars, coffee tins etc. are used and reused. Plastic
water bottles are treasures. The water we drank in the
country was boiled so we felt comfortably safe
Inflation in Zimbabwe has made daily life almost
unbearable. The shelves of the shops everywhere are
Yet, the staff is required to be at work and the shops
must remain open or they will lose their license to
The first week we were in Zimbabwe we visited a
pharmacy to obtain band-aids. They were sold at
$10,000 (Zimbabwe) per band-aid. The second week
the inflation rate had increased so dramatically that the
same band-aid cost $100,000. One U.S. dollar now
equaled $120,000 Zimbabwe dollars.
To put this into perspective for the Zimbabwean who
receives his wages in Zimbabwe currency, his wages
are required to be paid into his bank account. He is
allowed to withdraw $50,000 per day. The lines of
money withdrawers go around the bank with up to 24
hours of waiting. The $50,000 will buy a loaf of bread
or a ride home on a packed bus. The worker must still
show up at his place of work in order to maintain his
This following photo shows the lines that form daily
outside the banks for the $50,000 (Zimbabwe dollar).
People are starving in Zimbabwe. We heard so many
sad stories. In the remote areas there is just no food.
The leaves from the trees are being boiled for some
sustenance. Mealie-meal (that is ground maize or corm
meal) is the staple diet and so many are not able to
purchase this needed commodity. There are even some
“aid” agencies who are selling their supplies which are
supposed to be given to the needy.
Corruption is rife. The political situation is dire.
When in Bulawayo the only news we could pick up
was the local radio which always gave positive great
news about how wonderful it was in Zimbabwe. The
gauntlet of the controlling party is concerned about
maintaining power at the expense of the citizens of the
country. In spite of their hardships, the Zimbabweans
are an amazingly peaceful and friendly people.
The church there is alive and strong. The praises to the
Lord in the worship were indeed from hearts that
glorify their Saviour. Tears streamed down our faces
as we heard the faithful voices harmonize in a vibrant
glory giving the King of Kings honor and praise.
There were quite a few who individually told us that
they praise God for President Robert Mugabe because
many have turned to the Lord because of the
difficulties his regime has brought to their country!
Talk about being humbled . . . that we were time and
time again. How much we Americans take for
We had been given some funds from the U.S.
especially for food for the hungry. This enabled us to
purchase many bags of mealie meal for a church in St.
Peters (a small village located outside of Bulawayo).
The people were in great distress. With great joy we
travelled to St. Peters and praised our Lord with the
hungry people as they each received their 20 kilogram
sack of mealie meal which they lifted onto their heads
and departed for their first good meal in weeks.
The pastor from St. Peters has always chosen to work
in destitute and difficult areas. He is truly a man of
Pastor & Mrs. Ncube walk ten miles each way from
their home to the church several times a week .
We have established a means through Brother Geoffrey
Mkwanazi (who is also the head of the Assemblies of
God Back to God ministry in Zimbabwe – not affiliated
with the Assemblies of God of the U.S.A.) in order to
send in more help to the country. This can be
designated when you send a mission donation through
Discernment Ministries – whether it is in the South
African office or the office in the U.S.A.
Eleanor & Geoffrey Mkwanazi are dear friends of
mine (Jewel) from many years ago. We worked with
them closely in the late 70’s when my late husband
(Travers van der Merwe) and I lived in Zimbabwe.
They are now in their 70’s with Geoffrey almost 80
and still faithfully serving the Lord and keeping true to
the Word. It was a privilege to stay in their home for
two weeks and to have sweet fellowship during our
time of learning and ministry in this precious land.
Geoffrey has oversight over many churches comprising
400-500 pastors. For many years they have been
renting various premises for the offices of the ministry.
They said they have poured literally trillions of dollars
into rentals. Yes, Zimbabweans talk in terms of
trillions and quad-rillions – amounts I can’t even
They are very anxious to have their own property and
have the opportunity to buy premises that would suit
their needs. It is available for $90,000 (U.S.) and in
beautiful condition. We agreed to submit the need to
This potential office building is located a few blocks
from the city center in an ideal location for the
ministry. From these premises the Bible
correspondence school would also be located along
with the offices and a meeting place for pastors when
they hold their local meetings, etc.
Our visit included a day trip to the town of Gweru
where Jewel had lived 30 years ago with her late
husband, Travers and two young children. What a
delight to see old friends and to further comprehend the
difficulties the retirees face with their pensions now
valueless. Some miles from Gweru in a small town,
Redcliffe, a pastor (who used to be part of the Gweru
Assembly many years ago) struggles. He is newly
widowed. His church has dwindled from 140 members
to about 23. His support is minimal. He told us about
how discouraged he was to even try and carry on in the
present situation. He could easily immigrate out of the
country – but the Lord had just encouraged him to stay
and carry on. He is actively doing mission work and
traveling to the villages spreading the Gospel of Jesus
Christ. His car, a 1990 Mitsubishi van recently had the
windshield broken by a child playing with a catapult
(sling shot). The glass had shattered and he is not able
to get a replacement in the country.
He told us a precious story of seeing an old African
woman at the side of the door with her arms raised in
praise to God. He stopped to ask her why was she
there on her knees praising God. Her reply was, “I am
thanking God for Robert Mugabe. Because of him,
many people are finding Jesus.”
It took us a few minutes to digest that bit of
information. It was amazing. These people were
seeing Jesus in the midst of their hardships. They had
eternal values in view. We heard this testimony again
and again. Those going through the deepest hardships
were giving testimony to the Grace of God at being
worthy to suffer during this time.
We certainly had a tremendous sense of being in
Zimbabwe to understand the needs that are there by
living with these dear folk and reaching out to those
who the Lord arranged that we minister to and meet
during our time. Our messages were to keep being
faithful and trusting in Him and to show love to others
We were blessed by so many who in spite of the
circumstances are a living testimony to the grace and
mercy of our wonderful Lord and Saviour, Jesus