A Heart For The Poor
Reflections on my trip to Zimbabwe
My great friend, and partner in crime/General Directorship of the Ashburnham Christian Trust, Paul and I have recently returned from a trip abroad. A brief but incredibly inspiring visit to a truly amazing country Zimbabwe. It was not my first time in Africa however it was my first visit to Zimbabwe. We went with a compelling feeling of being sent by God. This was mainly due to three separate prophetic words given to us by completely unrelated people, each one encouraging us to connect with an organisation called Foundations For Farming (FFF) and particularly it’s founder Brian Oldreive. With this in mind we set off bright eyed and bushy tailed in anticipation of what the Lord had in store for us and we were not disappointed. After an extremely long journey, 28 hours later, we arrived in Harare airport. The missing letters on the watchtower, “Welcome to Zimbaw” were perhaps a sign of the disorganisation we would soon see all around us. There were no national or recognisable chains of any kind in the airport, and the posters advertising for banks, investments and mobile phone companies gave the impression of a country desperate for investment and development. Mugabe’s picture looms large over the entrance to the welcome lounge in part showing the strong hold he still has on this aspiring nation.
On our first day we had the pleasure to get acquainted with Brian Oldreive, whom we found to be a truly inspiring figure. A 71 year old, white Zimbabwean farmer, he and his wife Cath have lived in Zimbabwe their whole lives. Brian has farmed for over 50 of those 71 years and has on several occasions lost absolutely everything to the government. A government who have the power to simply come and take what they want.This could have made him bitter, but we found Brian to be a humble and forgiving man who loves his country and the people who have stolen so much from him. Brian’s love for, and ongoing journey and relationship with, Jesus is compelling. He got to know Jesus as a twenty something year old. He then spent time alone in the wild bush of Zimbabwe asking “What is your plan for the poor God? Please let me know so I can be a part of it”. The Lord would not disappoint! God started to speak to Brian about a natural method of farming using the earthly resources God himself has placed here for our benefit. Over time and with a great deal of listening to God, Brian developed this method into a successful farming initiative with worldwide recognition. An initiative that sees yields of up to 11 times the national African average. FFF currently has centres all over the world and has trained thousands of African farmers in this method known as ‘Farming Gods Way’. Brian has been asked to speak internationally and even advised the European Union Agricultural Committee about this method.
I occasionally feel like doubting Thomas, struggling to believe something I have not seen with my own eyes (I am praying for the Lord to change this in me!). So I was looking forward to the second day when we planned to visit several rural farms to see for ourselves what Brian had shared with us. We spent a good hour or so bumping our way slowly down muddy tracks, no better than old river beds, dodging boulders as we went. I was praying Brian’s pick up did not break down on us! We arrived finally at a small farm and were welcomed by Margaret, an elderly widow, and her family. Margaret understandably took great pride in showing us around. To the inexperienced eye the crops looked impressive. I was keen to know what her yield had been before she was trained in the FFF methods. Margaret explained that she used to reap 2 tonnes per hectare and now her yield was 12 tonnes per hectare. This was a huge increase and would have significantly changed her family’s lives. Upon seeing this transformation the neighbouring farmers started to ask her what she was doing differently to her crops and how she was achieving these levels of growth. She has since had the pleasure of training 28 local farmers in the ‘Farming Gods Way’ methodology. I found this to be truly remarkable.
It makes me question the things we give importance to. Even in Christian circles we often make people celebrities and place them on pedestals because they may have sold several thousand cd’s or speak around the world to large crowds. These things are not necessarily wrong but the lady I met on this farm and shared a corn on the cob with under her thatched mud hut, who spends her life working the ground day after day to provide food for her family was as close to a real life hero as I have ever had the joy and privilege of meeting. I came away struck by the fact that she, like almost every other rural african family, will spend her waking life with the same daily reality, questioning how she will manage to feed herself and her family. Her entire life focused on this one main goal. Whilst we here in Western Christendom often have multiple choices available to us and ask ourselves the question “What is my calling?”, for the families we met and thousands like them feeding themselves is their daily mission. Doing this with the character and joy of Christ is their life calling.
I came away from our trip meditating on four bible verses. Firstly Luke 9:23, are we going to be those who pick up our cross daily and choose to die to ourselves and follow Christ? If we do this we must learn to live “trusting in the Lord and leaning not on our own understanding, allowing the Lord to direct our paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). And thirdly after we have picked up our cross, died to our flesh and chosen to trust in the Lord, will we then choose to believe that he can and will do “immeasurably more than we could ever possibly ask or imagine according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3: 20). In many ways these verses form a biblical mandate from the Lord as to what it means to truly give our lives to him. In Brian I see a man who has spent his days humbly learning how to outwork these principles. The final passage that kept running through my head was Matthew 25:31-41…..… This verse came through witnessing the strength and power of God’s answer to Brian’s simple question “How do I get involved in your plan for the poor Lord?”. Throughout scripture God repeatedly questions the churches treatment of the poor. And here we see Jesus separating out those who have served the poor in various ways from those that have not. No matter what your view or theology around Hell, in these verses Jesus would seem to place a great deal of weight in his instructions and questions around our attitude towards the poor. Have we clothed, fed and sheltered the poor? This is such a huge challenge to us in the West given our relatively comfortable lifestyles. When we study scripture we see that the first thing Jesus did on coming out the of the desert, at the start of his ministry to the world, was to go to the synagogue in his home town and speak from Isaiah 61 regarding service to the poor. He announces himself to the world stating from the start this is a huge part of what he is about and why he has come. From the very beginnings of the church, when Paul and Barnabas are being sent out and commissioned by James, Peter and John (Galatians 2:10), the one thing they are keen to get across is to remember the poor. “The very thing I was eager to do” Paul writes. Scripture clearly shows that caring for the poor was a central priority to both Jesus and the early church and this is still the same call to us, his church today.
So like doubting Thomas I was truly convinced by what I saw. Convinced by a humble African farmer who had asked the Lord a simple question and received an incredible answer. An answer that could change the lives of millions all over the world. I want to be among those who believe and have faith that Christ can and will do immeasurably more through us than we could possibly ever imagine. Are we are able to die to ourselves and our own selfish desires and instead choose to pick up our cross and follow him? To follow God in his purposes for our life not ours. To ask to partner in his plans rather than making our own. If we can do this maybe the Lord will start to have some world changing conversations with us too.