Journey to Justice, Four

Small Steps in Big Issues

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe: February 2009

It was an unexpected opportunity. I was invited on a short excursion into Zimbabwe.  The hop from Cape Town to Bulawayo, via Johannesburg, would plant us for four packed days of interviews, road travel and the chance for some stories to come out of an otherwise silent country.

In preparation for the trip we read and researched the current events. I had also just finished a book written from two points of view about the recent history of the country; white farmers being kicked off their land and forced out, fighting, deaths, and a new government taking power.

The account of the farm takeovers, plus the recent news of Cholera, HIV/Aids, food scarcity, mismanagement of aid, and diaspora painted a grim picture of what we would find in Zim.  We didn’t know who we were meeting or what to expect, but the worst was rotating through our minds as we boarded the plane.

(Side Note: The small aircraft literally sounded like you were riding in a flying lawnmower. The attendant was constantly closing overhead compartments that swung open mid flight, leaving you to wonder what else was not maintained or functioning properly. No worse then Pakistan where I am pretty sure the wing was duct taped.)

We met a friend at the airport, unloaded our bags at our hosts home and set off to our first interview immediately.

Through the next few days we sat with people that were struggling to get antiretroviral medications, who lived off of food aid, who watched as their country fell apart with little opportunity to change it. We heard stories of families broken apart as fathers and sons left to find work in other countries like Zambia and South Africa. We listened as young people talked about dreams unrealized, horror stories that should never be the story, and traveled through the most beautiful scenery of what was once Africa’s bread-basket.

Our purpose there was only to listen, to take notes and photos, and see the country through the eyes of those we spoke with – urban and rural, healthy and sick, native and transplanted foreigner.  As I listened and asked questions I was (1) shocked at the beauty and ideas of a country that is only portrayed in the media as corrupt, sick and failing, and (2) beginning to realize that I had no answers.

Up until this point I had spent time traveling and serving in 27 countries. I had led teams, taught English, prayed, and climbed mountains – both physically and spiritually.  In the scheme of things, one would think that I had something to offer – maybe a few pre-memorized words of wisdom from all that Bible study, small group leading, missions training, etc.

What I realized in Zimbabwe is that I knew nothing. No amount of rote memorization was going to really help. The magnets on my fridge of inspirational quotes about following dreams didn’t have a place. I couldn’t respond to someone’s need, for they were in a place entirely different from me. Yet, I claimed to have the global answer – the ultimate truth.

Zimbabwe ruined my pseudo-faith. It stripped away eight years of building up in only four days. I came back thinking If I could not help there, have I ever helped anywhere? If I had no answers there, were any of my answers worth speaking?

I didn’t let many people in to my new found hole of belief.  Those I did let in tended to run the other direction as I challenged all we had accepted. It was excruciatingly lonely and painful.

In retrospect it was the best thing that has ever happened to me. My opportunity to build something real, to accept that which was truly accessible to all people and shed the layer of pride, entitlement, and falsity that had colored my worldview unnoticed.

The unraveling became the thread of a much more eternal cord, and as I let it weave, I found a more beautiful tapestry of truth then I had been living with prior. It has been a journey of pain and heart-ache, but it has been a journey that cannot be disputed, cannot be shred, cannot be clichéd into something minor.

In an effort to record and remember my own journey into the justice issues of the world, I am taking each piece of heart-wrenching realization and compiling them. More to come.


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