Rev J B Jardine
Zimbabwe is suffering its second peak of Covid-19, which has resulted in more infections and deaths from the disease than in the whole of 2020.
The highest levels of infection and deaths are in the two largest cities, Harare and Bulawayo. Oxygen therapy has been made more readily available over the last number of months, but the number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds remains low.
Mr M A Mpofu, Mission Administrator, reports that Covid-19 and the country-wide lockdowns have impacted negatively on the daily
business of the Mission and that head office staff are working from home where possible.
Church services, including communion seasons, were suspended for three months in March 2020, and this suspension was reimposed at the start of January 2021. It is the prayer of the Lord’s people in Zimbabwe that this ban would be lifted, even though it is likely that congregational numbers will be limited again to 50 or 100. With the provision of a new vehicle, Rev S Khumalo is able to regularly visit outlying congregations. He has been encouraged by the level of attendance throughout the Presbytery’s congregations in spite of the pandemic.
Thembiso Children’s Home
The Home continues to operate as normal although, sadly, their driver, a deacon in the Bulawayo congregation, recently passed away from pneumonia but not as a result of Covid-19.
John Tallach High School
There was an outbreak of Covid-19 at the School at the end of 2020, with a large number of pupils and teachers being affected. Thankfully, in the Lord’s mercy, none had serious symptoms. The Ministry of Health and Child Care established a temporary clinic at the School, which was manned by 10 resident nurses and visited weekly by a Provincial doctor.
The students adapted well to the difficult situation and co-operated with health guidelines, which helped in containing the pandemic. However, a
false report on social media, claiming that a student had died, caused a great deal of concern and anxiety among parents. The school, which was the hardest hit by the pandemic at the time, became the focal point for the country’s media. This led to a heavy burden falling on the Headmaster and senior staff.
The Friends of Ingwenya Mission, a committee of parents who support the school throughout the academic year, worked tirelessly to source and
deliver PPE and other necessary supplies. It is encouraging to note that a number of local institutions and businesses made substantial donations of materials to assist the School during the outbreak. The assistance of Mr Sifundo Ngwenya, Secretary of the Friends, should be specially mentioned.
As the whole school was quarantined, this sadly led to the suspension of church services for a time. Mr Ncube, the Headmaster, comments that “so many prayers were made by parents, organisations and well-wishers for the learners and teachers to recover and get out of this situation. It is pleasing to see that people know that the only one to turn to is God.” The school reopened in January for those students who were doing written examinations, and initial reports are that they were completed to the usual high standard.
The five primary schools under the oversight of the Church in Zimbabwe have endured two lockdowns. These have prevented the schools from teaching as they would like. The Grade 7 pupils will move on to secondary education without covering the full academic or Bible Knowledge courses.
Mbuma Hospital and clinics
There does not appear to be any community spread of Covid-19 in Mbuma or in the Nkayi district. There have been a few positive cases in Mbuma, but they were probably contracted elsewhere. All necessary infection-control measures were implemented at an early stage to prevent or reduce spread. Fear and anxiety over the unknown disease have affected many people, including some of the staff. However, Dr Snoek writes,
“The presence of the Catechists and their unwavering trust in the Lord has been a great encouragement”.
Covid-19 has stretched the Zimbabwean health system, and so has the industrial action of doctors and nurses, caused by the adverse effects of inflation on their salaries and the lack of PPE and ICU care. Yet, with thankful acknowledgement to the Lord and overseas help, the Mission staff were supported with food parcels and transport, which meant that it was one of the few hospitals that was able to function normally throughout 2020. Again, Dr Snoek comments, “The committed and caring attitude of staff amidst the country-wide turmoil has been an encouraging witness”.
The restrictions on movement because of the lockdown meant that there were 20% fewer admissions in 2020 compared to 2018 and 2019. The fear is that, because of the lockdown, patients have been unable to access the right care and therefore the collateral damage of Covid-19 may be greater in some communities than the harm caused directly.
All the staff in the various Mission institutions, and in particular the Headmaster and a number of the female teachers in the John Tallach School, are to be thanked and commended for their hard work and perseverance during this difficult time. In the words of Mr Khumalo, “We pray
that the Lord in His mercy would bring this virus to an end – and more, to bless its effects in bringing the nations of the world to confession of sin and true repentance”.
By Maria Kerkhoff
The generator switches off at 6 am on a day when there’s no ZESA (electricity). Since it cannot be running all day, the generator schedule is dependent on the students’ schedule and when the dining hall needs power for preparing food. I try to make sure I have at least boiled water before 6 am so that I can have a cup of hot coffee before making my way over to school. I always enjoy my small dose of caffeine at the start of every day! The students leave their dormitories and make their way to the Dining Hall, where all the meals are served, at approximately 6 am. Morning assembly with teachers and students starts at 6:40 am in the school hall. Daily announcements are made, a girl prefect reads a Bible text, and a boy prefect leads the school in singing a Psalm. The Friday morning assembly also includes the singing of the Zimbabwean Anthem. Students then make their way to the courtyard where their class teachers mark the attendance register.
Since arriving in 2018, I have been a class teacher for the same group of students…moving along with them each year. Initially I struggled getting to know them and to pronounce their names, so I decided to spend more time with them outside of lessons. If they had a free period, I would try pop in and play a game or just chat with them. They have become a special group to me, and watching them grow from cute Form 1s into tall and confident Form 3s has been very enjoyable.
A day with no free periods in my schedule is generally a hectic one. Thursdays are usually the busiest since there is a congregational prayer meeting service at church that students and teachers all attend. This service is from 8-9 am, so I teach two lessons before the service, and one lesson after the service before we get a morning recess. Other school days there are five lessons before the first break. Between recess break and lunch break there are another four lessons. Lunch break is generally quite long, as students do manual work around the school after they eat. This includes cleaning classrooms, raking, slashing grass, and other janitorial type work. At 3 pm, lessons resume till dinner time at 5 pm. After dinner, the students return to their classrooms to study and compete homework assignments. This is followed by an evening light supper of juice and bread or milk and cookies before they are free to return to their dormitories around 8:30 pm. This leaves them with just a little time to prepare for bed, washing and ironing, and any other studying they need to finish before lights get switched off at 9 pm. Thursday evenings I generally get together with some of my colleagues for a board game, which is always a ‘gezellige’ time! On days when there is no ZESA, the generator goes off around 10:30 pm. So we generally end up finishing the day with a flashlight, and once my colleagues leave, I navigate around my house, trying to remember which light switches I still need to switch off!
I teach Bible Knowledge (BK) to several of the younger Ordinary Level classes, and Mathematics to the Advanced Level class. Each class I teach has about 40 students, and altogether I teach nearly 200 students. While I very much enjoy teaching Bible Knowledge, I developed a very close connection with my A-Level Math class, seeing I spend a significant amount of time with them each day. It has been very enjoyable to experiment with some modern methods of teaching and learning mathematics with them, as they have only experienced very traditional type Math lessons. At least once a week, I have them working on problem solving and critical thinking activities in groups, standing around some ‘white boards’. Their participation in these Mathematics challenges is refreshing and energizing as a teacher! Having students change their attitudes from surviving and tolerating Math to loving Math is always rewarding. This group of students completed their studies at John Tallach High School at the end of 2019. After teaching the new group of Form 5 Math students for only six weeks, however, the schools closed in March 2020 due to COVID. I haven’t seen them since!
On Mondays, I take turns with my colleagues in the Bible Knowledge Department to lead a Timothies session. This is an optional Bible study that students can attend. We can each decide how we want to lead our sessions. Typically, the students come with many questions as many are exposed to Reformed Christianity for the first time at school: Why do we wear hats to church? Why do we have Sunday as a Sabbath instead of Saturday? (There are quite a few students with a Seventh Day Adventist background.) Why do we only sing Psalms in church and not any hymns or other music? Why don’t we dance in church? Why don’t women preach?
I especially enjoy Friday afternoons. Most of the school day is like any other, but all lessons are done around 12:30 pm. Then most of the teachers board the school bus and head back to their homes and families in Bulawayo, a one-hour drive, for the weekend. They stay in accommodation at the mission from Monday till Friday, since commuting daily to work is too expensive. What I like about Friday afternoons is that the students are quiet and relaxed after a busy week. The staff room is quiet and the internet speed is much faster with the teachers being absent. The past half year I have a usable Wi-Fi internet connection at my house for which I am very grateful. But during the first two years, I would sit in the staff room for Wi-Fi. Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings were an opportunity for me to catch up with marking, lesson planning, and connecting with my family back home in Canada, not to mention housecleaning and doing laundry.
Maria Kerkhoff shares her experiences with us in several episodes. Maria, who formerly taught at Mount Cheam Christian School in Chilliwack, British Columbia, is now a teacher at John Tallach High School in Ingwenya.
Three years ago, when I sent an application letter to work for the Free Presbyterian Mission in Zimbabwe, I did not even know that the Ingwenya Mission existed, but I hoped they had a teaching job on offer. After a lot of e-mailing back and forth and some conversations, I was offered a job at John Tallach High School, Ingwenya Mission.
In order to learn more about the country and the mission post before going there, I read books about the men of past generations—Radasi, Tallach and Fraser—and their work in founding the various mission posts. I discovered that the Ingwenya Mission was actually founded over a hundred years ago, long before the existence of Mbuma station!
On 14 September 2018, I landed in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, after a long voyage from Vancouver, Canada. I was welcomed by Miss Norma McLean, Deputy School Director, who also became my neighbour in the semi-detached house we shared. What now feels like being perfectly at home was at that stage still strange and unknown. In the middle of the dry season, everything was dusty and brown, and the purple jacaranda trees were just starting to flourish. While rereading one of my first letters back to my family, I am amazed by the fact that so many things have become so normal and ordinary for me now.
22 September 2018
Only when we experience another culture do we grasp what our own cultural norms and values are. Now I am faced with the choice of which cultural norms and values I must accept, adapt or give up entirely.
Since last Friday, when I arrived in Zimbabwe, I have been overwhelmed by first impressions, as it is so impressive to arrive in a new place and just observe everything around you. I am sure I am now at the stage where you only perceive the differences. That was also the case in 2012, when I came to the Netherlands to teach for a year. It was like playing ‘Spot the Differences’ in real life. At this moment, everything is new and exciting to me, although all these new impressions are tiring as well. So I am longing for the time when everything will feel normal and I will have energy to spare for taking up the things that matter.
Regarding the cultural differences, there are many which are comparatively trivial, like driving on the left side of the road—though this particular detail may gain importance when I start driving myself! The landscape is also different.
There are also amusing differences, like the cattle wandering past the door of my classroom.
Or differences that are simply interesting, like the sunset that occurs promptly at 6 pm on a sweltering summer’s day!
And there are beautiful differences, like the blossoming jacaranda trees.
The difference I like most is the way pupils (and in fact everybody) sing. It sounds so beautiful. Although they don’t use sheet music or an instrument, it nevertheless sounds harmonious. When the pupils come together for evening devotions, I can hear them through my windows at a distance, singing psalms, which sounds so wonderful that I cannot but pause my activities to listen to them.
However, there are some differences which are harder to cope with. I find it hard to understand and pronounce words, and especially names, in the local language. I hope this will improve. At least the half of the pupils’ names I pronounce incorrectly, which causes them mirth. The hardest name is Mqhelisokuhle — without a single silent letter (not even the ‘h’!). The ‘q’ in Ndebele has a clicking sound rather than a ‘kw’ sound. When I have mastered this name, I should surely be able to pronounce most of the others.
As time went by, I became better acquainted with the pupils and learned to distinguish the classes better. In the first weeks after my arrival, there were moments when I was very confused about which pupils I had to teach next, and in which classroom. One time, I asked a group whether they were Class 1D, whom I had to teach next. “No, ma’am, we are Class 1B. We just had your lesson, ma’am.” I could make no distinction between them at all! I was pretty ashamed, especially as I ought to have recognised the faces of 1B — after all, as their form teacher, I have to read aloud their names every morning for registration!
Fortunately, in the course of time everything became more routine. I familiarised myself with the pupils, my colleagues and the school rules, so that life at Ingwenya Mission soon became so familiar that I can call it my provisional home.
The Bible days, which normally would have taken place in August, had to be cancelled this year because of the Covid pandemic. In spite of the measures in place, we managed to hold the programme in December 2020. Once again, Clara Boer was in Zimbabwe for the programme, and here is her report of those days.
Salibonani! The enthusiastic greeting came from the lips of around 950 children that we took in for the Bible days in December. Because of the group size being limited to 100 children a day at most, the volume was lower this time, but that did not detract from the cordiality of the greeting.
By God’s grace, we were able to convey His Word to eleven villages by means of four Bible stories. The core text to be learned was Hebrews 13:8, ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.’
Every Bible day is organised according to a schedule. This year, name registration and hand disinfection have been added to the list to run through. After the opening and the recitation of the psalm and text that were to be learned, one of the Sabbath school teachers told the first Bible story of the man born blind. Many teachers find it a challenge to tell a story in narrative form, so they endeavour to do it by means of questions and answers.
Tea time! A bucket of water for the washing of hands, another full of lemonade, and a box of biscuits are neatly lined up. The children already know what to expect. ‘In line, in line!’, they are told. Yet it is not always easy to keep queuing patiently, when you are hungry from having travelled such a distance.
Once the children had topped up their energy with the snacks, it was usually necessary to call ‘Hatshi, hatshi!’ (Subside!) a few times to restore order in the group. To this end, it helps to sing the psalm (in our case, 146) and recite the text, especially when the children know that if they can do it by heart correctly, they will get a bouncing ball as their reward!
The second story, about Lazarus, was told by a staff member or by Keith, the catechist. After this, it was time to colour in drawings. This activity had an enthralling effect and our young guests could hardly stop. Oddly enough, black turned out to be the favourite colour this year. After looking around a bit, I discovered that the reason for the colour’s popularity was that the children wanted to top off the heads of the characters on their pages with frizzy black hair.
In the third story, the children listened to the healing of the ten lepers. This story was of felt relevance to the children, as it could be linked to the contagious coronavirus of the present day.
Now it was time for lunch. However, it appeared the sadza (maize porridge) was not ready yet, so we deviated from the programme and told the fourth story: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not.’ And, yes, on some the sadza took so long to cook that we went outside first to start the afternoon games. Skipping and football are still favourites. The parachute game and the Dutch game ‘Twister’, however, were very popular too, and even the adults enjoyed joining in. We had reason for gratitude that it did not rain on a single day, even though it was the rainy season. Playing makes one hungry, so the sadza with bean sauce tasted wonderful! The locals relish salty food, but sometimes even they found it a little over-salted, and an additional bucket of water was needed to quench their thirst.
To conclude the day, we played a quiz. The group that scored the most points would win a prize, so the motivation was strong. It turned out that the children had remembered the stories well, for they gave the right answers to the questions, which were not always easy. The catechist, Mr Ncube, concluded the day with a prayer of thanksgiving. We trust the Lord that this programme will not just have been an enjoyable day, but that the seed sown might grow up to yield the fruits of grace in the children’s hearts.
Rev. J.B. Jardine
The priority of the Church of God is and must always be the preaching of the Word as commanded in the great commission of Matthew 28:19-20. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland endeavours to fulfil this command, in part, by its missionary work in Zimbabwe. To complement and support the work of the gospel to sinners in Zimbabwe, the Church runs several schools. The Church has been involved in providing education for some thousands of children for a number of decades.
Currently we have responsibility for five primary schools: Ingwenya, Zenka, Lutsha, Mbuma and Thembiso. We hope to report on each of them over the coming months. The purpose of these schools is to seek that, in some measure, the children may be brought up under the nurture and admonition of the gospel, trusting to the promise of God’s Word: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).
General Education. At the moment there are two areas worth mentioning: Firstly, the Zimbabwe Government have brought in a new curriculum called “Family Religion and Moral Education” (FAREME). The relevant local Mission boards in Zimbabwe, along with the Zimbabwe Presbytery, are assessing the new curriculum and looking to implement it in our schools without compromising the religious and moral values that we hold so dear. Implementation of the new curriculum will be difficult for teaching staff but they have the promise, “Them that honour Me I will honour” (1 Sam 2:30).
Secondly, representatives of the Jewish and Foreign Mission Committee and members of the Zimbabwe Board are reviewing the Bible knowledge syllabus used within our primary schools. It is important for us to strive continually to provide the best possible Bible knowledge classes while waiting on the Lord to bless the souls of the children in due season. “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Is 55:11).
Ingwenya Primary School. Prize-giving. A prize-giving ceremony takes place at the end of each year. The ceremony begins with a Bible reading and a Psalm. As has become common in the UK, a graduation ceremony takes place at the same time, when even the youngest pupils in school graduate as they move up classes. The graduating children all receive a small gift, with special prizes being awarded to various pupils for achievement. There is also the opportunity for some of the children to demonstrate their good memories by answering questions from The Shorter Catechism and recalling from memory some of the Bible verses they have been learning throughout the year.
There is a great deal of general poverty in the area around Ingwenya. One third of the parents with children in school are unemployed. Many of the children may also be orphans, or their parents are living and working in South Africa. The school therefore decided two years ago to provide a daily hot meal for all the children. The Government are to be thanked for willingly supplying maize flour for the isitshwala (porridge). But the school remains responsible for supplying meat and vegetables, which have to be paid for from the already-stretched school funds. A newly-established kitchen garden helps in providing some vegetables. The children themselves look after the garden by digging, weeding and hoeing. This gives it added value as an educational activity. A chicken coop has also been built, through donations from Stadhouder Willem III school in Holland, and chickens are now bought in and fattened up before being used for food.
Repairs to the borehole at Ingwenya have proved necessary. A new generator has been purchased and a solar-powered energy system is also being developed. It is particularly because of situations like the current fuel crisis in Zimbabwe that the Mission needs to take a pro-active approach towards contingency planning. While we would commend the work of the schools to the prayers and generosity of our people, it is most important to pray that the children there would be saved. “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:12-13).