The life and work of Mr Nkiwane, the evangelist

Several evangelists work at Mbuma. They have a special role at the Mission Hospital. Kees and Beppie van der Linden had the opportunity of speaking to one of them, Mr G. Nkiwane, during a visit to Mbuma in June 2022. Together with Sister Willie Geurtsen, they visited him at home and saw him at work both at hospital and in the bush. We are grateful that he gave us permission to write up this interview for the Stichting Mbuma Zending magazine on his experiences and ministry.

Life

Mr G. Nkiwane is 57. He did not have an easy start in life. Following his parents’ divorce, he went to live with his maternal grandmother because his mother was occupied with the search for work. His grandmother, who effectively brought him up, had some knowledge of the Gospel. Mr Nkiwane recalls her praying every morning and evening. However, she had no Bible and never mentioned the Word of God. She also took part in ancestor worship. Half a century ago, everyone in the area believed in the power of ancestral spirits.

Halfway through primary school, an aunt of Mr Nkiwane’s came to live with his grandmother. She had a New Testament, and he started reading it. When he came to the accounts of the passion and death of Christ, he was deeply moved by what he read, even though he did not grasp the spiritual significance of these things at the time. His relatives took his tears to be a sign of feeble-mindedness and took the New Testament off him.

It was at Mbuma Mission that Mr Nkiwane attended primary school, thanks to which he also attended church services regularly—though he understood little of what he heard there. Yet when Rev. Mazvabo preached once on Dost thou love Me? from John 21, he was cut to the heart and saw what a vital book the Bible was.

There was no money for secondary school fees, so Mr Nkiwane asked Margaret Macaskill for assistance. Miss Macaskill was a nurse at the Mission Hospital and he got on well with her. He could see that hers was a life led by faith from day to day. It was from her that he heard that he had a soul, that God owns that soul and that he must listen to God.

This friendship was a key impulse for Mr Nkiwane to seek the Lord. The conviction took shape in him that the love of Christ was also for him. Margaret ensured that he could go on to study at John Tallach High School. As a teenager, he read the Scriptures often, at home as well as at school. This did not go unnoticed, and he was teased for being like an elder. To this day, Mr Nkiwane is ashamed that he did not respond to the taunt. What is worse, it made him lose his fellowship with God for years. In hindsight, he acknowledges that this was God’s disposition with him, and says, “His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours.” Although he remained outwardly a believer, praying and reading the Bible, he was cold-hearted within. It upsets him to think that it took a bout of serious illness to return him to the Lord.

After teacher training, Mr Nkiwane obtained a post at a school in a location that also had a Free Presbyterian congregation. There, he befriended an elder who urged him to return to his faith and start attending church again. Rev. Mzamo also encouraged him at that time that he was capable of confessing his sins and of looking to Christ. This pastoral care brought him great peace. In 2003, Mr Nkiwane returned to Mbuma, now as a teacher. He became a member of the Free Presbyterian Church in 2005.

His Bible knowledge did not go unnoticed, and Mr Nkiwane was asked to take the Scripture class at hospital. He was perturbed to come across people there who were close to death and living in gross darkness. This strengthened his resolve to speak to them of the Gospel. When the hospital management saw that development, they conferred with the elders and appointed him a hospital evangelist in 2008.

Work as an evangelist

Asked how people respond when he arrives and starts speaking to them, Mr Nkiwane says that patients welcome it when he prays for their healing and reads the Scriptures to them. He adds that it takes several bedside calls before people open up about the needs of their soul and preparing for death. He often has good opportunity to press this subject home, and when he does, it is striking how little knowledge of the Christian faith people have. While they do acknowledge the existence of God, they are ignorant of reconciliation in Christ. People are frequently prepared to listen to that message when they are ill and in pain. Outwith the hospital, he encounters more resistance.

Mr Nkiwane leads a team of four evangelists, but he spends as much time as he can engaging in evangelism with people himself. He is keen to speak one-to-one with patients and relatives, loves being present at the hospital and makes himself as available as he can to speak about the realities of sin and salvation. He also tours the villages around Mbuma for a range of meetings, such as discussions with chiefs and health workers or co-ordination with representatives of other churches.

When he has these opportunities to speak to people beyond the Free Presbyterian remit, Mr Nkiwane seizes the chance to speak practically about health and sickness. What does the Bible say about marriage and sexuality? What causes disease, and how should it be treated? What does the Word of God tell us about calling on spirits? In what do we place our confidence? This plain speaking was difficult in the early days and met with displeasure. It calls for a wise approach and prayer to speak properly in such circumstances, but the Lord is blessing his endeavours. As time has gone on, these encounters with outsiders have proven very fruitful. Mr Nkiwane asks for our prayers to continue these conversations.

We also paid a visit to Mr Nkiwane at home on his smallholding. His garden and fields are excellently maintained. He says that he sees it as a calling to farm as carefully as possible, to set a good example for locals—particularly the young people, to impress upon them that it is perfectly possible to live decently here. The youth are very tempted to get themselves to South Africa one way or another; failing all else, as illegal immigrants. Often, that decision ends in misery.

Conclusion

Mr Nkiwane was hesitant at first when we asked him what his special message for Dutch readers was, as he is unfamiliar with life in the Netherlands. However, he did say that we need God wherever we live in the world. Seek Him! We can only prosper in life with His blessing. God is good and that is why each of us must seek Him.

All prosperity is not a blessing; all adversity no punishment

Towards the end of the year 2021 in the beginning of December, Mbuma Mission Hospital received an elderly sick male patient into its care. Accompanying and assisting him was his eldest son and they came all the way from Mukoko Village which is situated in Gokwe deep in Mashonaland, 136km away from Mbuma Mission Hospital which is about a 2 hour and 20 minute drive. The Word of God tells us in Acts 17 vs 26-27 that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” In the Lord’s all wise Providence, the suffering ordained in the lives of this father and his son were used by the Lord for good to bring them into contact with the everlasting Gospel message. They came to Mbuma seeking physical healing but their spiritual senses were awakened by their contact with the Word of God and two experiences in their lives which will be detailed below seemingly provide evidence for the above.
The father’s health when he was admitted at Mbuma was not admirable, in fact, it brought fear to both nursing staff and those observing that perhaps soon he would depart from this world because it would deteriorate with each day. This was a heavy trial for his son who initially had no hope for his father’s survival or any hope regarding the difficulties of life because in reality; he did not have a spiritual comfort for his soul which would give him hope in God and in the purposes of God which come through suffering. His church, the Roman Catholic Church seemed to have never taught him about suffering or point him to the God of Comfort “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”- 2nd Corinthians 1:4. But in the Lord’s wisdom, the period of time in which this family arrived into our premises was a period in which the sermons and Bible studies seemingly were focused on this area of life. The Lord’s Day Bible study  which is open to all within Mbuma was focused on the second coming of the Lord and how through suffering God draws His people closer to Himself and opens the eyes of those outside His Kingdom to see that there is no other hope of salvation but Him through faith in Christ. When talking daily with the son of the sick father about these lessons from the Bible studies and sermons, and praying with him as well as listening to his own expressions about his father’s health, it was a pleasure to hear him say these words: “I have been in pain about my father, I do not want him to die. But now I know that God allowed this suffering for us and I see that suffering is designed by the Lord for our spiritual good. When I came to Mbuma, I was disappointed in God, far from God, running from God; but since this trial with my father’s illness I find myself reading more from the Word of God, growing closer to God and praying to God. The Bible studies of Mbuma have helped me to understand this and the sermons have been a blessing, that whatever brings me closer to Jesus it is good.”
On the 28th of December, at midnight, the understanding which this son had attained was put to the test. He called me over the phone and woke me up in tears asking that I would come pray with him for his father because his father in his unconsciousness mumbled the words that he is about to die, and physically he was both pale and frail. I immediately got up and ran to the hospital, and for the next hour I prayed with this family. We read together as well as comforted each other from the Word of God. What happened the days following was a miracle – through the Lord’s intervention working through the dedicated nursing staff at Mbuma, the Lord heard our cry, and the father regained consciousness! He awoke from his bed and could even now walk on his own and talk coherently. The Lord answered prayer, and both this father and his son rejoiced and saw the hand of God in it. This was especially comforting because in the rural community, the first port of call in times of distress is the village witchdoctor for help, but they did not bow down to Baal, the son sought the face of the Lord “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”-Psalm 34 vs 4.
After some weeks when Dr. Snoek was now satisfied with the condition of her patient, the father was now discharged from hospital and allowed to go home and be with his family. However what was so peculiar now about their departure was that they no longer wanted to leave, especially the son because in his own words in shona he said “Kuno dzidziso yaIshe Jesu Kristu yawanda, yakasiyana neChurch yangu inonongedzera kuna Maria, apa wotaura nezvaMambo mambo Jesu, kuti iye ega ndiye nzira yeruponeso uye zvinondiita kuti ndinzwe rugare. pano.” In English he said: “There is so much teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ here, it is so very different from my Church which points to Mary, here you talk about the King, King Jesus, that He alone is the way of salvation and it makes me feel at peace here.”
The Psalmist expressed it well, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” -Psalm 119:71.

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.

 

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.”