by Colleen Briggs | colleenbriggs.com
Imagine for just a moment: you are a newly widowed mother with nowhere to go. No income, no family support, no government social services. You re-locate to uninhabited land, build a mut hut, and eke out subsistence. Amidst the grief and hardship, your three children are your joy and hope. But you must make the heartbreaking decision to pull your oldest son out of school. Although he’s unusually bright and has only completed seventh grade, you simply can’t afford the fees.
Then one day a strange man shows up on the untamed land. A pastor, he invites your family to church in an open-air building of corrugated metal sheets propped up on a concrete slab. He does more than preach, though. He starts coordinating construction of greenhouses, teaches residents of your “squatter” community how to raise tomatoes and other crops, and eventually trains and empowers your oldest son to supervise other workers on the farm. Your family benefits from the food that grows on the developing land, but money remains sparse. Miraculous provision arrives in the form of a high school scholarship for your second-born, a daughter. But worry lines crease your face. When schools open again after Covid lockdowns, your youngest son, age twelve, remains at home.
Unbeknownst to you, somewhere far away, someone donates an unexpected gift. Wheels grind into motion, beginning with the realization that the funding will allow for the addition of eight more kids to a Zimbabwe relative-based orphan care program, and culminating in the appearance at your door of the church’s evangelist. She invites you to a program that will pay your youngest son’s school fees and surround your family with encouragement and training.
But the miracles aren’t over yet.
A group visits, including your pastor and several strangers. You welcome them to chairs under a tree, proud to introduce your youngest son and your daughter. Recently, she aced her high school completion exams. Her scores qualify her for top university placement! Face shining, she tells the visitors of her aspirations to study law.
Your heart sinks. The organization that funded her high school studies does not pay for university. Although your oldest son works on the farm now and the community wants to support your daughter, you know the resources available won’t be enough. You’ve heard stories of impoverished women who give in to “sugar daddies” to afford university. Somehow, God must make a way!
What you don’t know yet is that He already has. As it turns out, another donation has been received for Zimbabwe’s relative-based orphan care program to fund another student’s university studies, and the donation is more than needed. After the visitors leave, Zimbabwe staff and the visitors decide to designate the overage for your daughter’s first year of university. Their excitement overflows. Not only will a deserving young woman progress in her education, but she will write a new narrative of possibility for all the little girls in the squatter community.
Also unknown to you is the sacred wonder unfolding in the hearts of the visitors. Somehow, they stumbled into a moment perfectly choreographed from the beginning of time by a God Who has always seen you, who sees you now.
Who sees and loves us all.
I met Sylvia (name changed) early this year. Yet due to the intervening pandemic, it seems like many years ago. So much has changed since January, when I looked into Sylvia’s sparkling, spunky eyes. Then, through Hope’s Promise’s support, she had the hope of attending school and pursuing a better future. In March, Zimbabwean schools closed due to lockdown and remain shuttered, with no date announced for re-opening. Additionally, the lockdown rendered most of Zimbabwe’s day laborer workforce unable to earn income.
Even before Covid19, eight-year-old Sylvia endured more real-life nightmares than many people will face in a lifetime. Sylvia’s parents died when she was very young, along with most of her aunts and uncles. Grandma and Grandpa took in Sylvia and her cousins. Then Grandpa died. Grandma’s only option – relocate as a squatter to nearby farmland, build a mud hut, and eke out subsistence day by day for her young charges. Compounding the challenges, some of her grandchildren now battle the same disease that wiped out their parents’ generation. They need healthcare, of course. But reports from earlier this year of seven babies stillborn in one night poignantly reveal the endemic malfunction of Zimbabwe’s medical system: France24 article.
More fundamental even than access to a doctor, kids like Sylvia need proper nutrition for medication efficacy, much less survival. But if Sylvia eats a little sadza (cornmeal mixed with water) every day, she’s lucky. Even before Covid19, half of Zimbabwe’s population (total population of over 14 million people) already needed food aid according to the World Food Programme. Sylvia represents one data point in that massive statistic.
As if food shortages were not enough, Zimbabweans lack even basic access to water and sanitation: Human Rights Watch article. The pandemic has further compounded terrible pre-existing suffering, but, shockingly, Zimbabwe’s health minister was arrested and convicted of grafting Covid19 resources. Aljazeera article.
Due to the leadership of Hope’s Promise Zimbabwe staff and the generosity of Hope’s Promise donors, Hope’s Promise is making a vital difference in the lives of kids like Sylvia. So far, we’ve provided emergency and rent funding for three months to our families and hold enough in reserve to assist through November if the lockdown continues. With each bag of staple food items passed hand to hand from our Zimbabwean staff to our families, we affirm this core truth: Zimbabwe is not comprised of statistics, but people counted one-by-one. Sylvia, and each child like her, matter.