My hat was already on when I plucked the keys for teachers’ toilets to quickly use the facilities before walking over to the church. On Thursday mornings, there is a prayer meeting at church for the congregation from 8-9 am, and all staff and students have this scheduled into their timetables. One of my colleagues followed me to the toilets, but she didn’t realize I was still there when she locked the door on her way out. I knocked and called out, but everybody had moved on to the church and nobody was within hearing distance. Soon I could hear the first Psalm singing in the distance, wafting through the corridor, and I knew that I would be very stuck for the next hour. I inspected a small window, considering my escape… but determined that waiting would be better than getting stuck halfway through. Fortunately, I had my Bible, a notebook, and pencil with me. Once I heard the final notes of the last Psalm singing, I peered through a small opening waiting for a glance of anybody who may be passing by before starting my noise making again. My colleague was very apologetic; she is still cautious to this day about locking the bathroom door and removing the key!
While most Free Presbyterian churches may hold a weekly prayer meeting in the evenings after people are done work, at Ingwenya the early morning service has different advantages. It allows those in the local community to walk over while it is light and before they start their workday and, especially, it gives the schoolteachers and primary students the opportunity to attend a service, since most of them do not attend Sabbath services. As I write this, the high school students and teachers do not attend the prayer meeting because of Covid regulations. Currently, the senior master and head of the Bible Knowledge department started leading Bible study sessions with the teachers during this weekly time slot, using the Westminster shorter catechism as a guide. While most teachers will believe in the existence of God, they come from a variety of backgrounds and churches. Many have never been exposed to a reformed understanding of what the Bible teaches about proper worship and the necessity of salvation. This has been a special opportunity to spend more time with the teachers who come in weekly from town, as opposed to the school and mission being centered around teaching the high school students and the locals.
On the Lord’s Day, all the students attend the services at the Ingwenya Free Presbyterian Church, along with a number of congregants who come from the neighboring village.
The first service is at 11:30 am and the second service is at approximately 2:00 pm. The timing of the second service is a bit unpredictable. It is best to just keep watch to see when the students return to church after lunch, because arriving before 2:00 pm could either mean you are 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late. It depends when the first service ended, when the minister or elder is finished their lunch, and when the students are finished their lunch! Of course, they do always ring the bell right when the service is starting, so if I hear the bell ring when I am still at my house, then if I leave immediately, I can be seated within 2 minutes of the service starting! It is always wise to be watching your step, even if you are in a hurry, because the beef cows often leave evidence that they recently passed by while grazing and waiting to be eaten by the boarding students.
Figure 23 Cows graze around the mission grounds, fattening up for when they get slaughtered to feed the boarding students. The little grass roof of the church bell often needs to be replaced, because hungry cows do enjoy eating that when grass gets scarce.
The services are structured much like services in the Dutch Reformed churches in Holland, except there is no use of instruments. The girls sit together on the left side and the boys on the right. Student prefects supervise their peers school and at the dorms are also expected to keep their peers quiet, behaving, and awake. A presenter always starts off the psalm singing, and the congregation joins in, harmonizing beautifully. When we gather with the congregation and the boarding students, there are about 700 people. On Thursday prayer meetings, with the teachers from town and the primary students, the church is nearly bursting with nearly 1000 people. When we have a minister, or an elder from town, taking the service, then they will preach in English while someone else translates into Ndebele.
After family worship in the morning and before the first church service, the school students split into their streams and attend a Catechism lesson. They are required to memorize a question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and a few verses of a psalm each week. I generally teach the Form 3s (about 160 students), but when Norma Maclean was away to Scotland on furlough, I also took her Form 5s and 6s for the Catechism lesson. I especially enjoyed this senior class. The students were very engaged in the lessons and we had very rich discussions. Questions ranged from, “Is Melchizadek in the book of Genesis actually Christ pre-incarnated?” to “Why do we wear hats to church?” to “Why isn’t the ‘Book of Thomas’ in the Bible?” to “Why is Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday?” Many of the questions are very common amongst the students and answering them becomes much easier over time. There are often questions that I need to write down, so I tell the students that I will get back to them the next lesson, because I need to look up appropriate scripture references.
Last summer, one of the catechists from Mbuma, Mr Keith Mpata, was visiting the Netherlands. On 16 July he gave a lecture in Capelle aan den IJssel. He also gave an interesting insight into his work as a catechist. For the readers of the Mbuma magazine, here is the second part of his speech.
The blessings and challenges experiencedin the mission field.
As I mentioned just now, this work of going into the villages and confronting the kingdom of Satan with the Gospel of Christ is a challenge because the darkness in our country is real, and yet we take comfort in this truth in 2nd Corinthians 10 vs 3-5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…” I would like to share with you 2 experiences.
Confrontation with a witchdoctor at Vova
One of the challenges we face as a hospital is that of the sick refusing to come to Mbuma Mission Hospital to receive medical assistance from Dr. Snoek and the nursing staff, and instead the sick go to the witchdoctors in the villages. The common experience is that the sick individual would have sought for “help” from local village witchdoctor and when that “help” in the form of herbs and consultation of the dead ceases to help as he or she had hoped, and when they realize that they have been deceived all along – it is at this moment that they come to the Hospital but then it is too late, the individual will be near death. So in effort to destroy this evil in our society, the Hospital has made the effort of having meetings with the local village leaders, educating them on the misconceptions of diseases. The reason for meeting with leaders in the village is because they are influential in the community and have authority, therefore they can disseminate information to their people who will know what to do when sick but at the top of our message is this – tell your people that they should not by any means consult the witchdoctor whatsoever because they are dangerous deceivers who will rob you of your lives.
It so happened in one of these meetings which was held in Vova Clinic, some witchdoctors were also present and one of them by the name of maDube was offended by my statement. She then said these words, “young man do not be so foolish as to discredit our honest occupation, and do not dare put the source of our income in danger. We are healers, and our power is a good power, after all, there is good evil power and bad evil power.” Upon hearing those words my spirit was stirred in righteous indignation against the diabolical falsehood I had just heard – a person calling evil good, and good evil. I did not keep quiet but confronted her immediately by telling her to “never tempt God by calling that which is evil good, and if you believe your lie, you are in service to satan and are in danger of going to a lost eternity in hell. By your works alongside many other witchdoctors, lives have been lost and other people permanently disabled. Your sin is great, and yet you must repent of it, forsake it and trust in Christ alone for your sins to be washed away.” She was offended, and accused me of being an overzealous young boy even threatening with a promise that I will come running for her help one day, however the following day she did not return to the meeting.
Deathbed confession of Njabulo Moyo
Earlier in the year 2020, we received a sick patient from South Africa by the name of Njabulo Moyo. This man Njabulo was a financially successful Pastor of a Pentecostal Church and, as is consistent with the heretical teachings of Pentecostals, he would declare in the name of the Lord that his sickness would go away and claimed his sickness was the attack of satan and believed some men perhaps bewitched him out of jealousy for the success of his ministry. He would be discharged from hospital occasionally after having become better, but he would always return back to the hospital in a worse condition, after 2 weeks every time having been discharged. One day when he was distressed he shared with me the fears in his heart, he said he was afraid to die. Moreso he said he could not understand why he is sick, he had a beautiful wife, a successful church, many cars, so much money and so he could not understand why he was sick. Having heard him unbear his heart to me and even see him cry, I was praying to the Lord for wisdom so as to speak to him. Having felt boldness to finally respond to him with truthful thoughts, I said to him “I am not a prophet, neither am I the son of a prophet, but from the way you have been coming into the hospital and going, and from the things about your life you have shared with me; your sickness, failures and sins I perceive that God in His Providence has brought you to Mbuma and to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ being taught here as a means by which He is preparing you to die.”
Upon hearing that, Njabulo was angry.
He was so angry he refused to see me and talk to me. He even had my phone number and sent me so many messages saying he hates me and that I offended him by telling him he is a sinner who is going to die. 2 weeks later, Dr. Snoek then informed him that he had cancer and that he is going to die and ought to prepare for his soul. Njabulo having heard these words then asked for me, apologized and in tears said `Keith, you were telling the truth. It is painful, but you were telling the truth.` We spent the final weeks of his life reading together from the Scriptures, praying together and discussing about forgiveness in Christ and the glories of Heaven for all who have received the righteousness of Christ. He died in November of 2020.
In conclusion I would like to say 3 things; firstly to give a word of thanks. And in doing so, I would like to use the words of Reverend Mazvabo which he used in the year 2005 at the Centenary meeting when thanking the people of the Netherlands because those words which he used back then are still true today, and so then this is what he said: “We thank the people of the Netherlands, the Lord has put it in your hearts to give of your substance, to the cause of the Gospel, not only in your country but in other countries. May the Lord bless you. Carry this message for us to Holland, that we thank them very much and desire that they would pray for us; not only to be good stewards of what comes into our hands but to be enabled to bring the light of the Gospel to our own people and to neighbouring countries.” And so thank you very much, your work in Zimbabwe with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has been a precious work greatly blessed and so may the Lord continue to bless His work in Zimbabwe and to bless you.
Secondly, I would like to remind everyone that Mbuma is not the only mission institution of the FP in Zimbabwe. In addition to the congregations, the Mission engages in medical work and education in Zimbabwe. The mission runs three main institutions: John Tallach High School, Mbuma Mission Hospital and Thembiso Children’s Home. So may we never forget Thembiso, may we never forget John Tallach, they are also institutions ordained by the Lord which need our support and prayer.
Thirdly and lastly and by way of conclusion I had a special request – Pray for Reverend. Khumalo. In all of Zimbabwe there are 6 main congregations of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland; the Bulawayo congregation, Ingwenya, Mbuma, New Caanan, Nkayi and Zenka – and many smaller congregations, numbering over 40 in all, are connected with the main stations. Each of these congregations are in different parts of Zimbabwe far apart. Each of these congregations should be having a Minister who has a pastoral charge over them – but for all of these congregations there is no Minister except one, Rev Khumalo who pastors the Bulawayo congregation and because of the desperate situation Rev Khumalo spreads himself across the country to all these congregations. What Rev Khumalo has experienced over the years is heartbreaking and we must pray for him, that the Lord continues to sustain Him, protect him and give him grace to continue this work of preaching the Gospel. Also we must be thankful to the Lord for the student of the ministry who recently concluded his studies Mr. Mwedzi, that the Lord protects him and gives him grace in working in the Lord´s vineyard. We must also pray for more missionaries to come to Zimbabwe as it was in the days of old at the beginning of the mission work in Zimbabwe, we must pray for more men to be called into the Ministry by the Lord Himself.
Last summer, one of the catechists from Mbuma, Mr Keith Mpata, was visiting the Netherlands. On 16 July he gave a lecture in Capelle aan den IJssel. He also gave an interesting insight into his work as a catechist. For the readers of the Mbumablad, here is the speech in two episodes.
Dear Mbuma friends,
Greetings to you all beloved friends of Mbuma. I would like to thank you very much for welcoming me warmly into your midst and for giving me this opportunity to share with you information on the activity of Mbuma Mission Hospital as it concerns the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28:19-20 the Lord Jesus gave this command to His Disciples “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” and in the gracious Providence of God, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ reached the nation of Zimbabwe and in particular, the Province of Matabeleland North also known as Nkayi District – as this is where Mbuma Mission Hospital is located.
I will give little information concerning myself as I do not wish for the focus of this presentation to be about me, but for us all to pay careful attention at this time and to be moved to a greater interest in Mbuma Mission Hospital and the work of the Gospel. My name is Keith Mpata, I am 25 years old and by the Providence of the Almighty God – I was graciously drawn to the saving Gospel message preached by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in the year 2012. Immediately after having been convinced and drawn in my soul to the gracious Gospel truth of the forgiveness of sins freely offered in Christ, I started to attend to the services and in due time became a full member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in the Bulawayo congregation which is being Pastored by Reverend. S. Khumalo, a man whom I love dearly and who is a father to me in the Gospel, as Paul was to Timothy. Progressively, I was led to the work of being an Evangelist at Mbuma Mission Hospital and I have been working there since 1 October 2018. I can only think back to the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote to the Ephesians and say (Ephesians 3:7-8) “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…” I am thankful to the Lord to be able to be used by Him for His Glory at Mbuma. Very thankful.
For the sake of structure in my presentation to you, so that it will be easier for us all to follow as well as to understand – I will divide my presentation to you into 3 Parts:
The daily structure of the work of an Evangelist at Mbuma.
The blessings and challenges experienced in the mission field.
The daily structure of the work of an Evangelist at Mbuma.
In Psalm 5 vs 3 the Psalmist says “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up,” and so we begin each day every morning with worship which starts at 7:15am, and end each day every late afternoon with worship at 4:15pm. Worship is led by the catechists and the normal structure is that of first singing a Psalm, then a Bible reading which is then followed by prayer and lastly a concluding Psalm. Thankfully, the catechists are at liberty as to the content of the worship meeting as at times instead of only Bible reading there can be a short dialogue on the Bible passage which was read with those presently gathered, and this gives the catechist an opportunity to teach, in particular the many people who come to the Hospital for medical assistance the truths of the Word of God and to also answer directly some questions villagers passing through the hospital may have concerning God and His Word. At other times instead of a dialogue and Bible reading, the Catechist can also give a short address which can be between 15 and 25 minutes; preaching Christ to a majority of villagers who would be hearing the Gospel message for the first time in their lives. It touches the heart to think that people who would have come from afar seeking for medicine for the body are by God’s grace pointed to the spiritual medicine for the soul made sick by sin – the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of God again tells us in Colossians 3:16 to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” The work environment can at times be a stressful one, more-so at Mbuma where many people from all over the country flock to the hospital seeking the best medical attention therefore it is necessary for the staff at Mbuma to receive spiritual strength and wisdom from the Word of God through studying the Scriptures. Thus there is a Bible class for every section of the Hospital; on Monday (as well as Friday) at 9am there is the Antenatal Bible class, on Tuesday at 3:30pm is the domestic worker’s Bible class, on Wednesday at 8:15am is the nurse aides Bible class, on Thursday 5pm is the Management Bible class, on Friday 7:45am is the men’s (male field workers) Bible class, on Saturday 8:15am there is the Qualified Staff (nurses) Bible class, on the Lord’s Day there is the open Bible class for everyone in the Hospital without distinction which is at 3:30pm. All these Bible classes are led by the Catechist and each class studies a different book of the Bible, therefore I think you can all see how much grace is needed for a catechist to perform his duties as he needs the help of the Holy Spirit to be able to teach faithfully and clearly all these Bible classes – help which can only be accessed by prayer, and a lot of study preparation is needed so that the Catechist has full knowledge.
In Luke 23 vs 41 we hear the thief on the cross confessing his guilt and saying “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” In vs 42 he then makes this request “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And the Lord Jesus in vs 43 gives him this precious promise “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” The reason why I bring up this text is because like the thief on the cross who was about to die and by God’s grace received the Word of Salvation from Christ that saved his soul, we also at Mbuma have many sick people and many that are on their death beds who are about to die and yet are in need of the Word of Salvation from the Lord Jesus; therefore part of our duty as catechists is to evangelize personally the sick on their death beds and share with them the truth about salvation in Jesus Christ that by faith in Him alone the repentant sinner receives the forgiveness of sins. So the catechist visits every patient going from bed to bed and tries to develop a personal relationship with each of the sick patients and through personal conversations, Bible reading and prayer – point the sick individual to Christ. At times the catechist may not be fully aware of some of the new patients who would have arrived in the hospital or of some special cases, thus we work hand in hand with the nursing staff who notify us on new patients and special cases. Dr. Snoek who has been used mightily by the Lord at Mbuma makes sure to know all the physical problems of her patients but at the same time to know their spiritual condition thus whenever she is concerned about an unbelieving patient who has a terminal illness is about to die – she always without fail comes to the office of the catechists and shares her concern with us as well as make the request for one of us to give pastoral counselling to the individual and share the Gospel.
In Acts 8 vs 4-5 we read these words “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” The catechist like Philip the evangelist is also involved in the great work of preaching the Gospel in the congregations of Mbuma. I am sure some and perhaps all of you are aware of the many deaths we have experienced throughout our congregations at Mbuma, the death of many elders and perhaps most notably, the sudden death of our beloved Minister Rev. Sibanda. This has resulted in a decrease of preachers and has made it more necessary for the catechists to work much more closely with the remaining Elders of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland of the Mbuma congregations in supplying preaching to the congregations. Catechists preach at the Thursday prayer meeting service interchangeably with the Elders, and can preach up to 3 times on the Lord’s Day at different congregations. When I have been made aware of the possibility of preaching on the Thursday prayer meeting as well as the preaching stations I may supply on the Lord’s Day, I devote a lot of time to prayer and studying as a means to preparation. My study days are Wednesday for the Thursday Prayer meeting and Saturday for the Lord’s Day services, but every evening of the week except the Lord’s Day is devoted to studying for both the Bible classes and sermons. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”-2nd Timothy 2:15
The work of the catechist is not only limited to inside the hospital but is also outside the hospital in the villages surrounding Mbuma. When the nurses at Mbuma are deployed to go into different parts of the villages to dispense medication to the locals who are furthest away from the hospital – the catechist accompanies them and conducts worship with the group that is gathered as well as to give an address from the word of God which points the villagers to Christ who is medicine for the soul. The catechist also at other times engages in a dialogue with the local community to expose the evil of ancestral worship which is so common in the rural community – and point to the true Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ which is exactly what the Apostle Paul would do as we read in Acts 17 vs 2-3 “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” This work of going into the villages and confronting the kingdom of Satan with the Gospel of Christ is a challenge and yet has been greatly blessed over the past years as it has been carried out by my colleagues Mr. G. Nkiwane and Mr. S. Ncube.
When visiting Mbuma Mission Hospital this April, I met a girl that I won’t easily forget. Her name is Nomatter (probably meant in the sense of “no matter what may come”). Dr Snoek had told me a couple of days before I came across her that a ten-year-old girl had been admitted for deep wounds to her knees. She was born with spina bifida and couldn’t walk, so she relied on her knees to crawl around. She’d never spent a day at school but was certainly gifted enough to learn. So I was asked to teach the girl the three R’s to give her a foundation for further study.
It was a Monday when I first met Nomatter. Small for her age and somewhat shy, she was sitting up in bed with her Covid mask tucked under her chin. Once we’d introduced ourselves to each other and talked a little to prepare ourselves, we tentatively began our first lesson. Nomatter could only speak Ndebele, so we’d arranged that the sister on the children’s ward would interpret for us. It turned out that Nomatter did know her numbers in English, so we could get straight to work with arithmetic, starting with the very basics: taking numbers from dictation. She could count, you see, but she couldn’t write the figures down. I drew up a worksheet for her each day, and once she’d got to grips with written numbers, we moved on to some easy sums. I brought a couple of pebbles from the hospital courtyard along with me to make counting more concrete for her. Nomatter was a motivated pupil and learned well. Within a couple of days, she’d even collected her own bottle caps to replace the pebbles, as they were easier to move around.
It took a while for me to gain Nomatter’s trust, perhaps because of the language barrier or because she wasn’t used to dealing with white people, but she put real effort into the lessons. After our first lesson, Nomatter’s mother used her broken English to relieve the busy nurse of her interpreting duties. Between the three of us, we managed just fine. When I asked Nomatter at the end of one morning whether she wanted to carry on after lunch or leave it till the next morning, it didn’t take her long to decide that she wanted to study through the rest of the day. So we spent that afternoon learning to write the vowels, and we expanded our one-hour-a-day timetable to two hours a day.
Nomatter’s first week of schooling flew by, and when I told Nomatter that Saturday that there would be no lesson on the Sabbath, she was disappointed and found it hard to understand why. I explained gently to her that the first day of the week is the Lord’s Day and we rest that day; her mother explained it to her. I promised to be back on Monday.
Despite Covid restrictions, which at that time meant that only fifty people could come to church, Nomatter’s mother managed to be in the service the next morning. She had taken the trouble to get a place and to come and hear the preaching. She became a faithful attender of the Bible studies, which unlike the short services at the start and close of each hospital day are not obligatory for those able to come. Later on, I saw her at the services for communion season. I was quite amazed, as I’d heard that this family was from a remote district where spiritual darkness still besets people greatly.
On Monday, Nomatter resumed her lessons and did well. Day after day, Nomatter was making good progress. We developed a good rapport as we did adding and subtracting of numbers up to twenty and reading and writing vowels. Finally, we ventured to write some Ndebele words down, including umama (mother) and ubaba (father). She giggled at my pronunciation, which evidently left something to be desired. This prompted her mother to teach me some Ndebele.
Our friendship thus deepened, and after a while I managed to find out more about Nomatter’s start in life. Her mother told me that Nomatter was one of eight children, two of whom were younger than her but already attending primary school. At the moment, though, they were staying at home because their mother had had to come to hospital with Nomatter. They’d had a long journey to get to Mbuma.
One afternoon when the lesson was over, I got a completely unexpected and surprising question. Nomatter’s mother asked me for a Bible so that, in her own words, she “could bring Nomatter up with the Word of God”. I was deeply moved. Might that have been the providential reason for Nomatter’s stay in hospital: to introduce her to the Scriptures? I went off to see one of the hospital catechists and we were able to present her with a Bible that very afternoon.
In the final week that I taught Nomatter, we gave her another gift: a wooden handbike donated to the hospital from the Netherlands. After a bit of instruction, she became an enthusiastic hand-cyclist and was zipping around unaided. I do hope the gift enables her to do more in life. Nomatter’s mother promised that once her daughter was discharged from Mbuma, she would enrol her at school. So, far from being a girl of “no matter”, she will matter.
We pray that Nomatter will prosper and hope that in due course, she will be able to read the Word of God for herself. May the Lord make her stay at Mbuma Mission Hospital a blessing for her and her family, and may He be pleased to do likewise for all other hospital visitors.
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”.
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.