Church in Zimbabwe – Somakantana

Of all the stations established a cross the Shangani River, Somakantane was favoured by the Lord, in that ln 1960 Nathaniel Mpofu came to teach at Sipemba Primary School where her got married to Julia Sibanda. He had already met the Lord at Ingwenya Mission. He then preached that gospel at Sipemba and Somakantane area. He was then deployed at Somakantane in 1963 to open a Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland school. This was the beginning of preaching of the gospel in earnest, as the school was under his Headship.

Mbuma area with the Shangani river in the middle of the picture and Somakantana opposite the river.

With the support of locals, Mkhulunyelwa Ndimande and Msweli Tshuma, Mr Mpofu got assistance from Mr Van Worden of Mbuma Mission to put up a church building. By God’s grace the church survived the ravages of the liberation war in that whilst other public structures were demolished not even a single brick of the building was touched.

Several members were admitted to the church notably his wife Julia, Mjobhi Ncube, Nzomba Dube, Mrs Zeblon Mpofu, Mrs Rachel Aaron Sibanda and Mrs Makhanda Ndlovu. Mr Norman Khumalo, Mr Aaron Dube and Mr Elijah Mpofu with their wives were also members. From 1963 communion services were held on the last Sabbath of July. Members from Somakantane, Sipemba and Makhwatheni being responsible for making arrangements, are joined by those from the Mbuma side of the Shangani. Whilst there have been notable additions in the Makwatheni congregation, the Sipemba congregation is now non-existent, due migration to cities, death and with a few joining other denominations.

In his report to the Synod in May 1965, Rev P Mzamo wrote, “Last winter Roman Catholics have been trying to catechise people around our schools across the Shangani River. At Somakantana School where Mr Nathaniel Mpofu teaches and conducts services, we had a chance to talk to two young African men who were appointed to catechise. We warned them of the danger to their own souls and the souls of those they instruct on such damnable heresies”.

The war of liberation only disturbed the means of Grace in this place but did not extinguish the flames of the gospel. As the war intensified Somakantane Immediately Schools was burnt down, Mr Nathaniel Mpofu immediately left for the city, and church services ceases for a while. In 1979, before the war ended, with the return of Mr Nathaniel Mpofu from Bulawayo, and Mr Albert Sibanda, who had been a member of UCCSA, came to settle at Somakantane, church services resumed smoothly as the church building had not been destroyed. enabled the smooth resumption of earnest preaching by Mr Nathaniel Mpofu after the war leading to the holding of Communion services in the mid-1980s up to this day, on the Lord’s Day which falls on the second weekend of August.

However, of late besides the Corona virus there have been other challenges to the work of the gospel. The roof of the church building was recently blown off by the wind, making the building unusable. The walls are also badly cracked. Church services are conducted in a classroom, with permission from the School Development Committee and the Head. It has to be noted that the school is no longer under the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. As Communion services have resumed in Zimbabwe, the church building need urgent repairs for it to be ready for use by August, 2022. Even now, on the Lord’s day the services are held with the disturbance of Pentecostal churches, who also use other classrooms at the school, with their drums and other instruments. It’s quite a challenge.

Somakantana Primary School where Church services are held.

To make matters worse death has robbed the church most members such that only 6 members have remained and among these one is old and seldom attends services due to old age and ailments. With only one member gainfully employed and one adherent a pensioner it’s quite difficult if not impossible to renovate the building.

 

An Assistant Pharmacist At Mbuma

Introduction
Mbuma Mission Hospital welcomes a trickle of Dutch visitors every year. Dr Snoek recently had a need at the hospital pharmacy, and contacted Gerda Ruijgrok from Opheusden. Gerda has been an assistant pharmacist since 2017, and had previously let it be known that she was keen to support the Mission Hospital. She teamed up with Caroline de Koster, who had booked her midwifery experience placement at Mbuma, and the two of them departed for Zimbabwe on 19 October 2021. We interviewed Gerda.

What took you to Mbuma?
The hospital has an in-house pharmacy. Hospital staff prescribe medication, and patients can come and collect it there on presentation of their prescription. Whereas in the Netherlands only doctors are allowed to prescribe, in Zimbabwe it is one of the nurses’ tasks. Locally-engaged staff man the pharmacy at a counter (behind lock and key) and dispense the medicines. So my job was going to be helping to digitalise the pharmacy. As it’s easier for the hospital to run the pharmacy electronically, I was asked to spend my time at Mbuma doing that task.

I should probably outline how things work at the hospital.

Patients arriving at Mbuma all have their own notebook with them.  It’s a regular school exercise book that you can get from any stationers. The book is used as the patient’s medical file.

They take it around with them whenever seeing a doctor: not just the Mbuma doctors, but any others that might treat them at other hospitals. All observations by the doctors and nurses are written down in the same book. This goes as far as X-ray photos, which are copied by hand as accurately as the staff can manage. The other thing that is kept track of in these books is medicines, so the book serves as the prescription. Patients can show the hospital pharmacist their book to obtain their medicines, for payment at the counter. If they don’t have any money, payment is accepted in kind: an animal or firewood. Both of these commodities go to good use within the hospital to cook the patients’ meals.

What did your time at Mbuma teach you?
It only took a few days after arriving to realise that I wouldn’t be able to carry out my envisaged task, as the internet connection was too unstable. Fortunately, the visit wasn’t wasted: we were able to make ourselves useful providing a range of ad-hoc assistance to the hospital.

So the quickest lesson I learned was to be content with the little things: the warmth and attentiveness of staff and patients. I learned to be glad when the power came on and when water came out of the tap.

Many patients have long waits at the hospital. They arrive there from far and wide, some of them having been on the road for hours, on foot or donkey cart.

First, they must wait their turn to be seen by a nursing assistant. She undertakes a general examination, taking blood pressure, temperature, weight, and the like.

The patient is then referred to a nurse for the follow-up consultation. If the patient still needs to be seen by one of the doctors, they are directed back out to the hallway to take a seat. All the while, they live up to their name: they patiently wait their turn. No matter whom you strike up a conversation with, it always begins with the same courtesy: “Good morning / Good afternoon, how are you doing?”

What are your abiding memories?
There are quite a few things I’m not likely to forget. The Zimbabweans demonstrated patience, friendliness, love, sociable character, trust and faith.

The most memorable and special part of all is that it was communion season the very week we were there. It was a truly remarkable experience. As Mbuma is a Free Presbyterian institution, communion season lasts five days.

There were two services on the first day, the Thursday, and they both had acknowledgement of guilt and sin as their theme. On the Friday, there were likewise two services, and these were on self-examination. At the end of the second one, several men in the congregation were asked to testify of what Christ had wrought in their souls, from the sermon text.

In addition, from the Friday onwards, there was a morning and evening worship. In a Free Presbyterian worship, a psalm is sung, a chapter of Scripture is read and prayers are said.

Morning and evening worship is part of people’s home routine as well, and not just in communion week. The central theme of a worship is the necessity of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

There was an elders’ meeting on the Saturday morning, and those wishing to attend the Lord’s table for the first time were asked to speak to the elders beforehand. The elders also spoke to parents wishing to have their children baptised, and to those seeking baptism for themselves.

The Saturday afternoon service was the preparation service.

When that ended, those who intended to partake of communion the next morning were asked to stay behind, and they were given a token. The rest of the congregation were dismissed. These tokens were collected in again when the Lord’s Supper was distributed.

The communion service itself was on the Sabbath morning, and in the afternoon we had the reflection service. Communion season ended on the Monday morning with a service of thanksgiving.

We returned to our cottage after the last service full of impressions.

It’s a poor country of enormous riches!

We also went to stay with Ma Sibanda. She and her husband and children live in their own house about an hour’s walk from Mbuma Mission Hospital. She walks to hospital about three days a week to help Dr Snoek and Sister Willie. She also keeps chickens and works hard at that.  It’s a simple home, but bursting with love and kindness. They did their utmost to make us guests comfortable. We were picked up by donkey cart; quite an experience! En route, we picked up several large water canisters, as there’s no water supply nearer their home. The nearest place for them to fetch water is a big well about half an hour’s walk away, so it’s very fortunate for them that they have the use of a donkey cart.

As soon as we arrived, we were given a scrumptious meal. Ma Sibanda served up a turkey, freshly slaughtered from her own stock. It was accompanied with cabbage and sadza, maize porridge.

There is one bed in the house, and all the others sleep on mats on the ground. That one bed was offered to us, as their guests.

It was deeply striking to witness these people’s lives, their contentment and gratitude. They really do earn their bread in the sweat of their brow.

Perhaps the best moment in our visit to Ma Sibanda was that an extra worship was held on the last day, after we’d eaten. We read the Bible, sang some psalms and had time in prayer. There was then some conversation and we sang a Dutch psalm verse for our hosts. When we took our leave, we gave the family some nice edibles and money for all their love and care. Ma Sibanda’s eyes welled up and she said, “I’ve been asking the Lord for money for my chicken farm, and now I’ve been given it— from Him, from the Lord.”

We also had the privilege of shadowing Drs Anneke Snoek and Carolien Janse at work for a few days in the hospital. They have a beautiful job—outpatients, the operating theatre, the ward rounds—but it’s such a demanding job.

It’s so touching to see how deeply the staff care about the patients at Mbuma. The care is not just medical, either: the Word of God is the ultimate remedy offered there.

What is best of all is to hear attestations that that work, together with all the other mission endeavours, is blessed and prospers.

Oh, and I got lifted off the street in Bulawayo! Here’s how I found myself at the police station:

we were wandering through town and I stood to admire a fine building. It turned out to be the courthouse, hence crawling with police, but I hadn’t noticed. A bad moment for my mask to have slipped down my face. It wasn’t covering my nose any more.

Someone walked up to me in civvies, flashed his warrant card and told me I was under arrest and should come with him to the station. You can imagine I was in a blind panic as I trailed the man along the road. Stammeringly, I managed to tell him as we walked that I’d lost my friends, and fortunately he let me call them for help.

Down at the station, I was left to sit on the floor. Fifty or sixty Zimbabweans were packed together beside me in the detention cell. You sit tight there until someone comes to bail you out. The fine worked out at less than five euros.  Happily, the experience was soon over: Willie Geurtsen popped her head around the door, cash in hand. We paid up, signed the fine form and we were free to rejoin the others. Well, you live and learn.

What aspects of Zimbabwe do you miss now you’re back home?
Life in Zimbabwe is utterly different from life in the Netherlands. As soon as you plunge back into the excessive luxury of Dutch life, you’re painfully aware of that.

The thing that really sticks with me is the thankfulness, the straightforwardness and the trust exhibited by those dear people. It’s wonderful to live that way: to live in the knowledge that everything comes from the Lord’s hand, and to live in gratitude for all things.

Rather last-minute before flying to Zimbabwe, we decided to collect what funds we could to donate to the hospital.

Using GoFundMe, we managed to collect quite a lot in online donations.

We used some of those donations to buy medicines and about 200 Covid self-test kits, which we took with us. A large sum remained, and we handed that over on the spot in the hospital. It converted to the sum of $4,886 in US dollars!

Due to all the Covid patients, the hospital has lately needed much more medication and oxygen than in a typical year. Consequently, there was a budgetary shortfall of $23,000. These donations knocked nearly 5,000 off that figure in the red— we were delighted!

It did us good to see how many people in the Netherlands were prepared to give towards that goal. Such practical help is truly needed. Warmest thanks once again to those of you who chipped in!

 

Church in Zimbabwe – Mthoniselwa

Church in Zimbabwe – Mthoniselwa

Eight miles from Mbuma, in the forested province of Matabeleland North, you come to a large mud hut in a clearing, with a long, snaking bush road leading up to it. The trees hugging the sides of the road have come into leaf after a couple of recent rains, marking the end of the long drought of the Zimbabwean winter. 

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the exterior, although it is plain to see that this is not a regular dwelling. The door is barred by a hefty branch to keep animals out. The roofing still looks fresh, but it has not been completed yet; the ridge is still open. Even with this in mind, it is clear that this is not just any hut; it is a modest Zimbabwean church. Mthoniselwa, an outstation of the Mbuma congregation, meets here for Sabbath worship. 

The reason for the still-incomplete roof is an incident a couple of months ago. One Sabbath, as the service was nearly over, the congregation had an undesirable visitor: a snake that had made its home in the roof poked its head through. The service was promptly ended in prayer and everyone hurried out of the building. The roof had not been maintained for years, giving the snake an opportunity to take up residence. After this fright, the congregation decided to remove the old thatching and replace it with new. However, not enough reed was available to have the whole roof recovered in time for the next Lord’s Day, but the warmth of the season made it tolerable to carry on with services in the meantime. 

Mthoniselwa is a small sub-congregation. Typically, fifteen to twenty come together for worship here on the Lord’s Day. Sadly, they do not have elders or deacons of their own. Sometimes, an elder or catechist will come from Mbuma to take a service; when one is not available, the congregation takes it upon itself to read the Scriptures, sing and pray. Some of the adherents have over an hour’s journey to reach the church. 

On the last Sabbath of November 2021, the congregation knew that a man was coming to take the service; they had heard that a couple of days previously. The first arrivals in church came well over half an hour before the commencement time. While the building was being put in order for worship, one of the adherents walked a short way down the road to a gaggle of teenagers crouching by the village shops, who were guzzling liquor to the accompaniment of loud music. The invitation to attend the service was extended to them; they declined, but they did agree to turn the volume down.  

The church was already quite full by half past nine. The men took their seats to the right, some of them on a makeshift pew, others on an inbuilt clay bench. The women sat on the floor to the left, on rugs they had brought with them. The catechist due to take the service took up his place at the simple pulpit. A solemn rendition of Psalm 45 in Ndebele opened the service. After the prayer, a few stragglers joined the service, having been delayed en route. There ended up being over 35 worshippers that day, including some who had never come before. 

Under the roof with its gaping hole at the top, the sermon text was read out: “Saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7b). With no pretentious words, the speaker addressed his hearers on the greatness of that King set forth by Paul in the Thessalonican synagogue—the Lord Jesus Christ—and on the fulness found in Him. He went on to impress on the congregation the need to be translated from the kingdom of darkness to the rule of King Jesus, by new birth; a kingdom presided over by a faithful King who never forsakes His subjects. The sermon ended with a personal question for each one present: “Which kingdom do you belong to? Who is your king?” 

Outside, the congregation stayed a while to discuss the service. They were grateful to have been able to hear a sermon again, after quite a while without a preacher. There was a sense of unity and of the Holy Spirit’s ministering presence. 

I was moved to hear such a testimony about the service. The adherents’ poverty, the mud hut with the unfinished roof, all paled into insignificance set against the riches of the Word. Truly the Apostle writes: “Hearken, my beloved brethren; hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (James 2:5). 

Church in Zimbabwe – Rev Mwedzi

Rev Trycot Mwedzi was interviewed for the Reformed Daily Newspaper in the Netherlands in January 2022. The published text was rather short therefore the full text is published in our magazine and follows below.

1. Introduction

My name is Rev Trycot Mwedzi and I am 45 years old. I am married to Norah Mwedzi and we were blessed by three children two boys and one girl who are all in school.

I am currently a Probationer Minister in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in Zimbabwe currently under New Canaan Zvishavane Congregation in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe. Before I have been an elder in the same congregation for 6 years.

In 1986 when I was 9 years, I met a Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland Minister preaching under a tree. He was the first Missionary of the FP Church in the Shona speaking people of the Midlands Province. I got interested in his preaching and became a regular attender until in 1993 when the Lord spoke strongly to me from Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”

2. Church information.

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has been in existence in Zimbabwe for 117 years and the congregation which I belong has been in existence for 40 years. The whole presbytery is spread over four provinces with the farthest distance between station being 530km, Munaka in Masvingo province on the South and Somakantana on the north. There are six congregations in terms of Kirk sessions and each congregation has several preaching stations adding to a total of about 50 preaching stations.

My congregation has 10 preaching station spread over a radius of about 110km covering two Provinces and two Districts. There are 6 stations in Zvishavane District in the Midlands province, 3 stations in Mberengwa District in the Midlands province and 1 station in Chivi District in Masvingo Province. The Minister has to go around all the stations having at least 3 visits for each station every month. The Minister has to go to other provinces also for Communions and occasional visits to vacant congregations. About 230 people from the 10 stations attend services and when the minister is not able to be present at a station, elders would exhort the brethren. The average distance travelled by congregants to the nearest preaching station is 8 km.

About 84% of Zimbabwe’s population profess Christianity, with 69% being Protestants and about 8% being Roman Catholics. The rest are Apostolic sects. The remaining 16% is shared between African traditional religion, Islam and Judaism.

3. Difficulties

This church in Zimbabwe is undergoing a spiritual decline and most people are being carried away by the gospel of prosperity where their faith has much hope in getting much wealth. It is a time when true shepherds are needed. There is a competition from members by the hypocritical preachers who have left the commandments of the Lord and removed the fence of the Word. Sin is not being spoken of in many congregations and there seems not to be any need for godliness. There is therefore much pressure among the young generation, hence the need for them to be warned all the time, giving more demand for true preachers. The elderly have however continued to hold fast to the Gospel of Christ and have not been much affected by the mushrooming of the false teachers.

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has been much hit by the current situation of religion. The Zimbabwe Presbytery has been facing much difficulties in the past years. After the dearth of one Minister in June 2020, and I was still studying for the Ministry, there was only one Minister, Rev Khumalo, moderating all the 6 Kirk Sessions. Although at the present moment the two of us share the duties, there is much demand for travelling. Speaking with an example from my congregation, the Minister has to take at least 3 services on the Lord’s day and at least 4 prayer meetings every week during week days. This means the minister may have to drive for 250km on rough roads on the Lord’s day. This has increased the demand for fuel and the small car I am currently using is often in the garage for repairs. There is need for a fuel-efficient four-wheel drive vehicle for such duties. There are also some members who are now too old to walk to church and the minister has to visit them in their homes either to take them to church or to speak to them in their homes. This is very expensive for the people of a country which has undergone a massive economic decline with most industries having closed and a few civil servants are earning US$140 when the poverty datum line is around US$571. Much being used on travelling expenses has also led to difficulties in maintaining church buildings and currently our two main buildings need roof repairs.

The Free Presbyterian Church has struggled more than other churches mainly because they don’t have any false promises and have not attracted the young and the rich. This is a temptation which we pray that the Lord would uphold us in the true faith. It has kept the very few ministers but faithful to the Lord and the ministers have to travel a lot. Another reason is that it is much in the rural areas and most people in the rural areas have no income. Only 4 stations out of the 50 stations are in town. The church runs 6 schools, a hospital and 3 rural health clinics and a Children’s Home for orphans, all which have not been commercialised since the aim is to spread the Word of God. Ministers need to visit these institutions regularly working with the teachers and health workers as well as the Home mothers. It is at these institutions where the church can speak to the young. When I visit the boarding school, I feel much duty speaking to more than 600 children but economically and physically I cannot speak to them every Sabbath.

The major concerns of the church at the moment is a reliable vehicle and the roof of one of our churches. Despite all these difficulties, we have experienced God’s grace that the Gospel in the church has not changed since it was brought by the first missionary in 1905, it was and is still the grace of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the same Psalms and the dignity of worship. The lockdowns have failed to destroy it and the zeal for the Word is still being witnessed.

4. Looking Ahead

While we are beginning a new year, my prayer to the Lord is that He would strengthen me in the heavy duties ahead of me. The congregation has been without a minister for nearly ten years now. Some sheep got lost, some are sick and some are asleep. I hope to visit all who stopped coming to church and some who were carried away by the false prophets. I need to exhort the elderly and give them a word of comfort. I pray that the Lord use me to speak to the children in the schools and that the Lord will pour down His spirit and bring light to them. I pray that the Lord will enable me to speak to those who have never tested the light of the Word. Much more that the Lord would send more labourers into His vineyard. I hope to approach the local leaderships, Heads of other schools and speak to them about the judgement that is upon our nation and the need for us to repent so that the Lord may heal our nation and moreover, grant eternal life to our people. This would require me to have more visits and attend more funerals because normally a time is given to me to preach whenever I am present. I hope many will be brought to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and that He will send forth all our needs by the hands of those to whom His Spirit was given that the true Gospel may be maintained to the Glory of our Lord. “The harvest is plenteous but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest.”

Patience in tribulation

Clara Boer describes life at Mbuma Mission Hospital from a patient’s perspective. This article is based on the real experiences of Singazi, a patient, with permission.

How long have I been lying here?

I can answer with my own name, Singazi, because it means “We don’t know”. So I ask my daughter, Beater, my one constant companion who’s by my side day and night. This is the African way: the nurses supply the medical care and the family supports and helps the patient with daily needs. She says it was in April that Dr Snoek admitted me to Mbuma Mission Hospital for the ceaseless, piercing, unaccountable pain in my back and legs.

I’m only 32 and my body is breaking down—literally. Cancer is eating up more and more of me. It’s a severe trial, but even so, looking back over seven months since my admission here, I’m counting my blessings. Yes, life at Mbuma Mission Hospital is good, and it is a blessing to stay here: we are well cared for medically, but above all because we are given heartfelt spiritual care with an open Bible.

Here, from my place in Ward 2, with a view of the inner courtyard, I see and feel love: love from the Lord, and love for the Lord. “Surely the LORD is in this place.”

Let me take you through a week of hospital life and share some of how it feels.

Sabbath    

I’ve woken up early this morning. Judging from the angle of the climbing sun, it was about 5 am when I stirred. Was it the rising warmth or my dream that woke me so untimely? It’s so quiet on Sabbath morning in this normally so busy hospital. I see Sister Mapfumo hooking up a fresh drip in the men’s section of our surgery ward. Outside, under the canopy, patients’ relatives are tidying away their sleeping mats. Beater is making sadza, maize porridge, for me.

I’m still brooding over my dream, which won’t let me go. I saw my mother sitting in front of our hut. The only detail of her that I remember—she died when I was little—is her face. She was devastated to see my suffering. Where is my mother now? Is the hour of my death approaching? That’s what my dream suggested. I often hear around me that such dreams portend what really does happen. Deep-rooted folk beliefs still haunt me often and leave me perplexed, yet I believe that the Lord is sovereign over my life and my death.

Litshonile sisiwami!

I’m gently shaken awake from my daydream. It’s 3:30 pm and Clara is coming to collect me for Bible study. It’s a time to look forward to, with so many patients, relatives and interested hangers-on coming to examine the Word of God. All the varied religious backgrounds melt away here. Although we come in with varying views and opinions, here we find the truth of Paul’s words: “One Lord, one faith … one God and Father …”

I suddenly realise that my ride to the Bible study, which is held under the canopy, is being jolted by the dips and thresholds I’m being wheeled over. If Clara weren’t continually saying “Sorry, sorry!”, I’d hardly notice the bumps in such a princely Dutch hospital bed! I was perfectly happy sleeping on the ground in my own familiar hut in the village of Siganda.

Monday    

Another early start today. I hear the ambulance roll into the courtyard at 5 am. They’re taking me into town for radiotherapy. They’ve already got my mattress waiting for me in the ambulance, on top of four empty oxygen bottles that need changing in town. Fortunately, I’m not the only passenger today. I prefer being wedged in among the other bodies like this, so that the potholes all over the road into town won’t bother me so much. When your bones are brittle from cancer, this makes quite a comfort difference on a three-and-a-half hour journey lying down. Khumalo, the driver, has some papers thrust in his hand, Sister Willie does a last check of the vehicle and wishes us a good journey, and we’re off, calling Livukile (Good morning) to the porter at the gate.

9:15 pm. Finally back in Mbuma safe and sound.

“Please come to Ward 2!”

Clara is at my bedside quick as a flash in response to my emergency text message. She’s my Dutch friend; I even call her sisiwami (my sister). With a worried look, she asks me how it went today. I point silently to my right arm, tears of agony wetting my eyes. I’m trying to be strong; well brought-up Africans dislike being emotional in public. Velani, one of the catechists, whose turn it was just now to take evening prayers, tells her on my behalf: “Everything went fine today until she broke her right arm while being transferred back to bed.” Words fail us, so we sing one of my favourite verses, Psalm 23:4. However dark our path is, He is with us and He comforts us.

Tuesday

Once again, the ward has become a hive of activity at dawn.

It’s theatre day, so the patients needing operations have to be readied first thing in the morning: here an infusion, there a blood pressure cuff. Amid the scene, a new patient is brought onto the ward with a sizeable wound to the arm. A donkey bite, as I soon find out.

On the rounds yesterday, Dr Janse told me they’d be needing another biopsy from me today, so Dr Snoek harvests a bit of bone marrow from my right hip. When she’s done, she phones the nurse to let her know I’m ready to be taken back to the ward. My empty bed is wheeled into theatre, I’m transferred to it from the operating table, and in just a few minutes I’m back in my own spot. Fortunately, Sister Willie gave me a good dose of anaesthetic, so I was fine during the procedure, but when it wears off—ouch!

I’m a bit dozy for a few hours after that, but when Keith the catechist comes around for Bible study at 2:30 pm, I’m wide awake. We’re discussing John 3 today, the need for the new birth. The error persists stubbornly in our communities that we’re saved by being church members, by baptism or by the Lord’s Supper. Here, I hear what God has to say about it: that there is no salvation outwith Christ! We need regeneration: to become new creatures in Jesus through faith, by the power and ministry of the Holy Ghost. What a solemn meditation today. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Wednesday     

Julianah, who works in the Mbuma lab, has prepared my biopsy for Khumalo to take to the lab in town. It’s of a type that they can’t process in-house in our own lab. Dr Snoek should be e-mailed the results in a few days. What will the finding be this time? Another disappointment, or dare I expect better news? I know how gravely ill I am, but still I hold out hopes of improvement.

I’m motivated to fight on by seeing Beater, my fourteen-year-old, with her swelling belly: her first pregnancy, my first grandchild. I think of Banele and Sanele, my four-year-old twins. Who’ll look after them when I’m not around any more, out in my forest village? My husband has left us for South Africa. Life in Zimbabwe is not easy, and children with no-one to look after them are so very vulnerable. I renew my prayer that the Lord would give me strength, and that He would also give me peace to accept His will and His way. I also pray that He would faithfully look after my children, especially if I’m not going to be on earth much longer.

In the evening, I have a long talk with Keith. I tell him about my sinful past, the needs of my soul, my loneliness. My struggle is palpable to him. He listens carefully and takes me through II Timothy 4. I’m reinvigorated by prayer and by the Word, especially verse 17: “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” He is well able!

Thursday     

What a litany of diagnoses I’ve heard the doctor giving on the rounds this morning: food poisoning, snakebite, HIV, compound fracture, cancer … not to speak of the gory and often extensive wounds that I’ve seen being attended to. There are diabetics with amputated feet, nasty oxcart accidents, and gaping bedsores on those who didn’t change position, and more. A recurrent problem out here is that people delay far too long before presenting with symptoms. They’re afraid of medical bills they can’t pay, or they reckon they’ll try their luck with the ‘trusty’ witch doctor first. I call them “broken cisterns” now. Only once they’re at their wits’ end do they show up at hospital, by now immobilised and in great pain. If healing is possible at all by this stage, it tends to be a drawn-out process.

I watch Sister Mkwananzi expertly dressing the amputated front of the foot of the lady beside me. She keeps up a commentary for her on what she’s observing and what she’s doing. I flush with quiet pride at the excellent medical knowledge and ready skills of our Zimbabwean nurses.

Before the sister bandages the lady’s foot up again, I can see from my angle that she sprinkles sugar in the wound. She tells us that it’s a cheap but effective anti-bacterial agent.

Friday  

After morning prayers at 7:15 am, a merry din breaks out. It’s cleaning day. All our bedside cabinets are turned out, bathed in suds and then taken out to the courtyard to dry. The hot sun is a great disinfectant. The pharmacists do their daily restock of nursing supplies and medicines. Beds are flattened and any spots noticed on them cleaned.

Mid-morning, I see from a distance that the queue for the pharmacy is swelling; many patients have just been given a doctor’s prescription. They’re all hoping that the product they need is available; otherwise—if they hear the dreaded words “Out of stock”—there’s nothing for it but a long bus ride into town, where they might hear the same message, or to head straight home without their medication.

Today, as usual, there are plenty of outpatients needing a consultation, as they know that doctors are available for them on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. After Covid screening at the front gate, patients head for the entrance area under the canopy, where the intake is seen to. Blood pressure is taken, patients are weighed, and so on. It’s all noted in the patient file, which out here is something patients have to provide for themselves, so in most cases it’s a school exercise book. You then take your place in the waiting room until the doctor calls you, in order of arrival. If you don’t show up until later on, you might be left hanging on for hours, especially if emergencies intervene. It’s hard going if you’re feeling ill, but it’s not in our nature to grumble. Zimbabweans aren’t timetable people; we have boundless patience.

I hear footsteps. Assuming that it’ll be a nurse back from lunch, I don’t bother opening my eyes in the post-prandial lull—but I can’t resist peeping out from half-closed eyelids. An elderly lady is standing by my bed, with two children. I open my eyes and the drowsiness vanishes. With deep gratitude, I acknowledge God’s goodness in bringing my grandmother and the twins to visit me in my loneliness. Such joy!

Saturday

What’s this hubbub of children’s voices? Oh yes, it’s Sabbath school on Saturday afternoons. I can’t count them all but it sounds as though quite a few children have been today. After many months of Covid restrictions, the group is growing again. “We even had 46 children today,” Mrs Dube, one of the teachers, says. Train up a child in the way he should go, as the Word says. She hopes zealously for growth that will stand the test of time!

5 pm. The children’s voices have made way for the rumbling of food trolleys. It’s sadza enriched with chicken and vegetables, or bean soup. They also serve goat stew sometimes, made from animals given to the hospital as payment in kind by those with no money. There’s nothing to beat a full stomach!

It only takes a couple of minutes after dinner for the sun to sink below the hospital. I reminisce over all that’s happened. “Lord, from the depths to Thee I cried.” So many earthly blessings, none of them deserved. I feel small in the face of them. My heart runs over with gratitude and joy.

Under the magnificent firmament of southern stars, out in the courtyard, sleeping mats are being rolled out as night draws in. I listen for a while to the sounds: the weak cry of a child from the paediatric ward next door; the monotonous hum of an oxygen concentrator in Ward 3; the yell of a psychiatric patient. My exhausted body succumbs to sleep, as my heart prays, “O God, of my salvation God, me from blood-guiltiness set free … Show kindness and do good, O Lord, to Zion, thine own hill … Then shall thy praises by my mouth abroad be publishèd.”