BIC representative in Zimbabwe reports that "life is just becoming too hard"

GRANTHAM, Pa. (Nov. 11, 2008)—“The most common phrase that arises in any Ndebele conversation these days is the word kunzima,” reports Steve Newcomer, a Brethren in Christ missionary serving in Zimbabwe at the invitation of the BIC Church there. “Roughly translated, it means ‘there is hardness.’ Colloquially, it is accompanied by a shaking of the head. It means that no one knows what to do.”

Steve’s report comes as the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) announces its plan to cut rations to 4 million people in the already suffering country. As BBC News reports, the WFP “had no response at all to its $140m appeal to feed Zimbabwe. . . . Food will run out entirely by January unless fresh support is provided, as it takes six weeks to reach rural areas.” (Read the full BBC News story here.)

Additionally, the economic situation in Zimbabwe has not improved. This month, inflation hit 231 million percent—the highest in the world, according to according to the country’s Central Statistical Office.

And the Zimbabwean government isn’t making life any easier for its citizens. In a recent email message to Chris Sharpe, executive director of BIC World Missions, Steve described the difficulties:

The actions of this government are totally incomprehensible. There is no Mealie Meal (white maize, a staple in Zim cuisine) in the country, but an import license is needed to bring it in. The rains are coming and there is no seed or fertilizer, and again a license is needed. It’s ridiculous.

Customs agents have the authority to make a border crossing either a nightmare or relatively simple. Nothing is ever simple. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about paying bribes/tips for assistance in getting through the border in less than 12 hours. On one hand, I understand that they are employed by the government and are not being paid enough to care for their families. On the other, corruption and abuse has become a thriving industry. Generally, I don’t agree that the end justifies the means, but is that always true?

At this point, people have lost hope and are very despairing of any improvements happening until Mugabe [the current president of Zimbabwe] dies. From a pacifist perspective, this is an inappropriate observation, but I just don’t understand how much longer it can continue until there will be rioting in the cities.

[. . .] Life is just becoming too hard.

Though Steve and his wife, Chris, live in rural Mtshabezi (where they serve as teachers and administrators at Ekuphelini Bible Institute), they report that the area has indeed been impacted by the bottomed-out economy. “Even with foreign currency, there is nothing to buy,” Steve says. His supply-gathering trips into urban areas produce little; he has been forced to cross the border into South Africa to acquire the necessary resources for himself, the school, and the neighbors who rely on him. “Every time we go to South Africa, I push the limit of what I can bring in without an import permit.”

In the midst of the horror and suffering, Steve shares that hope is not entirely elusive:

As I was clearing brush with one of our third-year male students one afternoon this week, I decided to get to know him better. His name is Jim Muleya. He is from Binga, probably the poorest and least developed portion of the country, and his goal after graduation in a few weeks is to go home and plant churches. He owns ten cattle that he thinks he can use to support himself. He is a hard worker and can usually figure out how to do most things. This year, during the [Ekuphelini Bible Institute] holidays, he and another student managed to start six small churches in the Binga area. He has a wonderful vision but there are going to be many difficulties. It is students like Jim, Victor, Trevour, Jairos, Bonginkosi, Sinikiwe, and others that make all this worthwhile.

When asked about whether he and Chris would make the same decision to travel to Zimbabwe again, knowing the hardships they would see and experience, Steve is resolute: “Absolutely. We are extremely satisfied and wouldn’t want to be any place else.”