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Forgiveness and Restoration in Zimbabwe

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It’s hot and dusty, and I am sitting in one of the tiny spots of shade that the scrubby trees offer.

Under the other patches of shade huddle Zimbabwean farmers who have gathered with us in the heat of the day. They have left their chickens, goats and gardens for a few hours, and are eager to tell us how much life has changed over the years they have been journeying with Tearfund’s partner HEFO (Health, Education, Food and Development Organisation).

One older man, Barnabas, gets up in front of the community meeting and declares that he wants to apologise to the women there on behalf of the men in their community for the way they had been treated. “But first”, he says, “I need my call my wife up to the front”. Once Mukelo joins him, Barnabas gets down on the ground, holds her hand and asks for her forgiveness!

Hefo Barnabus And Mukelo
Using conservation agricultural techniques has restored Mukelo's land, and her marriage.

I’ve been involved with Tearfund for a long time, as both a supporter and staff member, and over the years I’ve seen how relationships are critical to the way Tearfund and our Christian partners understand poverty and development. It corresponds to our reading of the bible, which is littered with passages that point to the destruction in our broken world. One passage in particular comes to my mind:

“There is no faithfulness, no love, no
acknowledgement of God in the land.

There is only cursing, lying and
murder, stealing and adultery

They break all bounds and bloodshed
follows bloodshed

Because of this, the land dries up
and all who live in it waste away…”

(Hosea 4:1-3)

These verses were specifically for Israel, but they could just as easily be applied to the world we live in now. When relationships are damaged and broken, the land and the people, quite literally, waste away. The problems that we see and call ‘poverty’, like a lack of food, education, power, safe water, and human rights, are things the prophet would identify as symptoms of a deeper rot. Then, as now, when relationships are broken, the result is poverty for people and planet.

Development is not just about restoring things like food, water, and income. Development is also about building, reorienting or reinforcing relationships so that they work for those who are disadvantaged by brokenness: the poor.

Human beings are made for relationships, and we all live within them – some of which are positive and others not so good. As followers of Jesus, we are used to thinking about restoring relationship between people and God, but the brokenness that Hosea referred to flowed to all spheres of our existence. Damaged relationships with self, family, community, leaders, and land resulted in the poverty and injustice that we can see. Development, then, is not just about restoring things like food, water, and income. Development is also about building, reorienting or reinforcing relationships so that they work for those who are disadvantaged by brokenness: the poor.

I have worked with Tearfund's partners in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and seen with my own eyes the way that restoration of relationships is integral to good development. I have met with:

  • Women with internal wounds and no confidence in themselves whose new skills have surprised even themselves. Self-esteem emerged, and with it an ability to make choices for themselves.
  • Families where there was conflict and hunger, who learned to work together and care for one another. Domestic violence reduced when husbands and wives learned to work together.
  • Neighbours who were poor or marginalised who learned to work together, support one another, and look out for those who were still struggling.
  • Women who have never had a real friend, who found solidarity and support in their savings group.
  • Government officers who got to know people in their constituency, and discovered they could respond to their real needs.
  • Farmers on land that is overused and unproductive, who coaxed it back to life. Those farmers now benefit from a good price for crops that also restore their soil’s fertility.

The work of HEFO reflects this commitment to working relationally. The organisation was started by churches in Bulawayo motivated by faith in Jesus and a passion to help vulnerable men and women living in villages in rural Nkayi district, where HEFO’s work is focused. HEFO’s vision is for “restored dignity” for the people they work with, so that people are honoured and respected as they should be.

Nyaki is a small district centre with the basics of a handful of shops, churches, district offices and a small hospital. At its best, the place is very dry, but when it experiences erratic rainfall, this turns to drought. Nkayi is one of the poorest parts of Zimbabwe, but that doesn’t make the people any less vibrant, especially once HEFO has been journeying with them for a while.

Conservation agriculture (sometimes called “farming God’s way”), is a big hit here. Erratic rainfall has meant traditional farming methods have reduced soil fertility, making it hard to grow enough to eat. Conservation agriculture encourages practices that reduce the disturbance of the soil, use minimal inputs and make the most of mulch and compost to reduce the loss of moisture and improve the soil. As farmers learn to take better care of the soil, it can take better care of them. A broken relationship is improved, and families can grow what they need to survive.

HEFO also enables communities to work together for the benefit of everyone. In any village, there are many very poor people, and always a handful that are doing better. Usually, no one on their own can grow enough to sell in the large markets in town. If the better-off folk and the poorer folk work together, they can all access the markets and sell their produce. Community members say: “before we didn’t know how to work together as a team, we worked alone. Today we are able to do things on our own [in our village], we don’t have to wait for people to come [from outside] and give us things... We work in solidarity and support each other.”

HEFO’s work that led to Barnabas’ apology to his wife is teaching human value and personal opportunity. Through this, women are growing in self-esteem and dignity, and that is also making a difference in family relationships, like for Barnabas and Mukelo.

Married for 42 years, the last three they have participated in HEFO’s program. Previously, Barnabas used to spend most of his time at the beer garden. He didn’t want to work in the field. But Mukelo wanted them to live well, so she started working in the field with help from HEFO. Soon, she invited him to work too. He hadn’t seen much point in hard work before that. Before they learnt about conservation agriculture, their maize and sorghum crop would sometimes be good, sometimes not – it was very dependent on the rain. The new techniques have made their harvest more reliable.

Now there is no more time for the beer garden. They used to fight, but now life is easier and they work together in harmony. After 42 years together, Mukelo finally feels respected.

TEARs partners are still doing the activities of training people, weighing babies, drilling bores, educating children, helping farmers, and setting up savings groups. But through all the important activities there flows a current of valuing people and relationships, of ministering to humans made in God’s image, intended for relationship.

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Jenny Beechey is Tearfund's International Program Officer for Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.