Keep the Purpose in Sight

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There is a young man named Sinate who works with the thatching crew at Eden and he likes to joke around with me.  He used to wear red satin slippers to work and I’d tease him about them.  I asked him why he wore them and he’d say they were all he had, even though I’d seen him in good running shoes before.  One day he was down a hole digging and he stopped when he saw me walking over and he told me that I should get a new work suit.  The jeans I was wearing were full of holes and tattered and he thought I would look better in a work suit.  I said that the tattered jeans were fine and I liked them.  I noticed that he was looking at my feet and the new work shoes I’d just bought.  I had destroyed my first pair doing all the metal cutting and welding on the new clinic, so I had bought a cheap pair of steel toed shoes in Harare.  I tapped my toes together and asked Sinate if he liked my new shoes.  He said that yes, he did.  I asked him if he knew how I got the money to buy them.  He said no, but that I probably got paid from Eden to get them.  I was surprised by his answer and told him no, that I had to beg for money from my family and friends in Canada to get the new shoes.  He just stared at me in shock.  I used the word ‘beg’ on purpose because he would be able to relate to it and would have seen people begging for money before.  I explained that we did not get paid by Eden to be there, rather our family and friends at home gave us money to pay our expenses to be there.  He’d had no idea.  He’d thought that Eden was paying us to be there and paying for everything for us.

I went on to explain why Eden Children’s Village exists, that it is primarily an orphanage and that the farm, school and clinic all exist to support the orphanage.  Without the orphanage nothing else would be there.  The orphanage is the hub of the wheel, the other parts are the spokes.  I told Sinate that we need to keep that in mind every day while we work.  That we are working to give unwanted children loving homes.  Eden Children’s Village is like a family and has limited resources to pay for food, housing, workers’ salaries, clothing, taxes, vehicles, fertiliser, fuel and so on.  When we take money to buy things like work suits for all the employees the money comes out of a limited pot of money, not a pile of cash hidden away like some in the community think.  I told him that he needs to think of Eden Children’s Village as a family and that it doesn’t exist to give him a job, but to look after the abandoned and orphaned children in Zimbabwe.  It’s a lesson that I gave repeatedly to the builders as well, to keep our purpose at the centre of our vision.

Open Doors, Open Hands

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Carole and I have always had what we call an ‘open door policy,’ meaning that our doors are always open to our friends to come in and share life together.  This wasn’t our idea, we got it from friends who made sure that I knew I was welcome in their home,and would often come downstairs in the morning to find me sleeping on their couch or starting their coffee maker.  During university it was other students who came through our doors, since then it’s been our friends and our friends’ kids.  We are trying to live our lives with open hands.  We want our hands to be open to give what we have and to live ‘erring on the side of generosity,’ to use another friend’s phrase.

We also want to have our hands open to receive.  I believe that to be a good giver you need to be a good receiver.  It takes humility to receive from others.  Pride often comes in the way of receiving from people and we have to suffer some humiliation in order to receive well.  We have been on the receiving end of many people’s generosity and it is humbling.  Sometimes we feel like beggars, always asking for help to be in the mission field.  Coming home earlier than we’d hoped has been humbling and once again we are on the receiving side of other’s generosity.

What We Do

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When I had the vision in church that day the second part was of me in a workshop with children.  I wasn’t in a classroom or church.  I was working with my hands surrounded by kids who all knew me and I knew them by name.  Lia and I had a conversation one day about what it means to be a ‘missionary.’  I asked her if she thought we were missionaries and she paused then said no, because I don’t preach or teach a Bible study.  We talked some more and I told her that I don’t remember a sermon I hear from one Sunday to the next, but I remember what people do.  I told her that the men I work with won’t remember what I tell them either, but they will remember how I lived and how it impacted them.  I told Lia that I was trying to show Jesus to the men I work with.  Of course we talk about Jesus at work, we talk about what it means to be Christians, we pray together and do devotions, but I want my actions to speak for me.

The next day Lia came to me and said that she’d been thinking about our conversation and had changed her mind and thinks we are missionaries.  I didn’t high-five her or anything.  It’s not like we get a badge with ‘Missionary’ on it or anything.  We’re just people who said ‘yes’ to God and are doing the best we can to do what we feel we’ve been asked to do.

What Does a Missionary Look Like?

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I don’t remember what I pictured a missionary looked like or did when I first felt that God was asking me to give up my dream for His.  The church I grew up in was very small and I think we supported a missionary family, but I don’t remember who they were or where they lived and I don’t recall them ever visiting our church.  All I knew was that missionaries went to far-off places to teach people about God and convert the heathen masses to Christianity.  I didn’t read classic missionary biographies.  When I accepted God’s dream and said yes to what He wanted me to do I first thought I needed a degree from a Christian school.  I had worked at carpentry jobs in the summers, as I’d grown up doing with my father who had been an elementary school teacher and took carpentry jobs during his summers, but didn’t think that would look good on a resume to a mission organisation.  I figured I needed some formal teaching and training in being a missionary.

Through university I still didn’t really know what it would look like for me to be a missionary, what sort of work I would do.  I didn’t picture myself as a pastor, or church planter.  I didn’t believe I had the mind for that sort of position.  I trusted that God knew what He was doing when He asked me and it would become clear when it needed to.  After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Ministry degree we spent a year in South Korea where I taught English in a private school, and this confirmed that I wasn’t made to be a teacher in a formal school setting.  I love children, but I wasn’t a teacher like my father was.  I have worked as a carpenter all my life, but didn’t really see the value in it.  I failed to see that it could be a tool to be with people, work alongside young men who needed to be mentored, and was actually quite a valuable skill to have.  Carpentry for me was a means to earn a pay check.  I see it differently now.

Time for People

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Living in Zimbabwe is a clash of cultures, a paradox at times.  I like to be efficient, to work quickly and well and do the best job I can do.  Zimbabweans don’t think of time in the same way that we do.  It is not uncommon for someone to be late for a meeting because they met someone they knew on the road and got talking for half an hour or more.  To them, the person they met and that relationship is more important than the hands on a clock.  This is a different perspective than we North Americans generally have.  We would likely go past the person on the path with a quick greeting and get to the meeting at the correct time because being punctual is more important than that person.  Of course we could argue that the person left waiting should be shown respect and courtesy as well, but that sort of argument will just keep going in a circle.

What’s important to learn is that relationships are more important to the Shona people than a schedule or time.  In the West we are in such a busy hurry that our relationships suffer.  I am trying to discover a balance between the two perspectives.  I am trying to be patient with the man who wants to ask me for a job, or to buy his bricks but is talking for half an hour about his family, the weather, politics and whatever else before he gets to the reason he came to see me.  I am learning to take time with people.

The Red and Orange Crew

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When I started working with the building crew I told the men that they should be either learning something new or teaching something new to someone else.  We want to be people who live with open hands to give and to receive.  I love to teach the men new skills that help them do their jobs better and they have taught me a lot about building Africa-style.  I love talking with them, getting to know them and mentor them.  I have begun to teach them about efficiency.  The definition that we have come up with for doing something more efficiently is ‘better and faster.’  As we are learning together the projects are getting done more efficiently and there has been an attitude change in the crew.

When I first started working with the men they didn’t like how I pushed them to work better and faster.  They just wanted to put in their day and go home.  After a while they saw how projects were getting done quicker and people in the community began to talk.  I’m told that Shona people are always watching, especially watching the murungus, but they like to see what’s going on and talk about it.  Much of it is gossip, which we are trying to curb, but the community started to see how quickly buildings were being completed and maintenance was getting done on existing buildings.  I pointed this out to the men and told them that everyone was paying attention to what we are doing and talking about how well the builders were doing.  I told them to take pride in their work, to do it to the best of their ability and to do it for God, not for me, for Guveya or for Eden.

When it came time for the crew to get new work suits the Guveya asked me to get orange suits for the builders and red for he and his assistant.  He said that orange and red are the colour of the clay bricks they build with.  They wanted to stand out from the other Eden employees.  Now you can spot the builders from a distance in their orange worksuits, which may be in tatters, but they still wear them as a matter of pride.

It Takes a Team

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The government regulations state that orphans must leave when they reach the age of 16.  At Eden we have them stay if they are attending and progressing well in school because we want them to be as prepared for life as possible.  I can see the older teens living in a community at Buwe as apprentices. I can see Eden growing and needing more farmland to support the number of orphans and workers there would be.  I would be going to other Eden sites to plan, oversee and build new orphanages and schools.  All of this would be done together, foreign and indigenous people working side by side, taking ownership together.  While this is a dream, I don’t see it as an impossible one at all.  I see it as very possible.  Why wouldn’t it happen? Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?

We want supporters to be partners in what we are doing in Africa.  We don’t want them to feel like piggy banks, but valued members of a team that is working to give people hope for a better life.  I believe that we all want to feel like we are a part of something bigger in this life and by partnering with us and our work at Eden Children’s Village this is an opportunity to do just that.  Donating money to our work isn’t continuing the practice of giving hand outs that don’t make a difference in Africa.  Money given to our family means that women will be taught proper health for their unborn babies and given exceptional care through their labour and post-natal care.  Maternal death rates in the area will drop, which will mean fewer births due to education and better life expectancy.  Unwanted children will be loved and cared for in a family-style environment.  Teens will be taught trades and will become entrepreneurs when they leave the orphanage.  The economy will improve due to a rise in the availability of jobs.  The environment will stop being exploited as people are taught conservation and the use of newer technologies.

All of this and more will be possible when people partner with us and become part of what is happening and will come to be in Zimbabwe and beyond.


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I want to continue to learn new skills that I can pass on to others.  I want my relationship with God to grow stronger so that I can be an example and a mentor to others.  I don’t believe that we are meant to be hoarders of material possessions, or of wisdom and knowledge.  I want to be a vessel that is always being filled because it is always being emptied.  I want my life to have meaning by living it for the benefit of others.

When I think about what it will look like to be living at Eden without fear of deportation, I see a life that is very full.  I can picture my family living in our round house where we take in teen mothers and care for them.  I picture Carole having a delivery unit at the Eden clinic where she delivers babies and teaches maternal health.  Lia would work with Roze, using art and horses to counsel the orphans at Eden.  Naomi would be teaching at the school and in the computer lab.  I would be working for Buwe, building new orphan homes and instructing at the workshop.  The apprenticeship program would be full and expanding to meet demand.  Visitors from abroad would come to teach all manner of skills.  It is my hope that our partners will come to visit and see the impact that they are having on lives through their donations.  We will have a visitor village for them to live at where they will stay in rondoval houses and eat normal African food.  I want them to experience life in rural Africa and come share what they know with the people there.  Everyone has something they can give to help others. I don’t want supporters and partners feeling like all we want is a monthly cheque, but we want them to come and be a very present part of what is happening at Eden Children’s Village.  Partners are vital to the entire existence of Eden Children’s Village and without them it wouldn’t exist.

Buwe and Eden, Partnerships with Purpose

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I don’t believe that being in rural Zimbabwe hinders us in having an impact in the world, I think it helps us.  In a rural setting like Doma we learn to rely on each other and give and take as needed.  We aren’t distracted by the busyness of urban life and can focus our time and energy on learning, teaching and helping one another.  Our employees and apprentices are going to be strong individuals who want to make their country a better place and will have a solid foundation to work from.

Our plan is to return to Eden Children’s Village to establish Buwe Innovative Solutions.  Using the business as a means to have an impact on people in Doma will make an impact on the region and beyond.  Individuals will leave Doma after gaining experience, knowledge and hopefully wisdom and make a living by utilising what they learned and will work to make their country a better place for themselves, their children and future generations.  It is my goal to return to Eden and through Buwe, build more orphan homes so that more children will have safe homes to be loved and cared for.

As Eden grows as an organisation it is my hope that it will branch out into other areas in the country and into other countries as well.  It is my hope that what has been learned by the leadership over almost two decades will be transferred to leaders in the indigenous community who will take leadership at Eden and continue the work.  I believe future Eden sites will all look somewhat different to the original, but will have the same values and characteristics.  It is my goal to help that happen with my pioneering spirit and desire to live and serve in Africa.  Just as individuals who leave Doma will have influence and make an impact in their communities, I believe that Eden can do the same thing in the greater community of Africa.

Hope for the Future

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An important part of Buwe will be cultivating community.  The Shona people are a community-based culture and have a lot to teach us foreigners about living in community and depending on one another.  It’s our goal to build a house for one of our employees after the completion of each major project we do in the greater community.  The employees will be building homes for each other and learning and teaching on the job.  We will have an apprenticeship program where we will have the teens leaving Eden live in the Buwe community to learn vocational and life skills before leaving Doma for good.

I understand why people are often hesitant to donate to aid organisations working in Africa.  After decades of hand outs the continent is in worse shape than it started.  Corruption is rampant in governments and aid money often doesn’t get to those it is intended to help.  Africa is seen as a black hole that billions of dollars are thrown into and nothing positive comes out, nothing good happens.  I can’t argue with that.  I wouldn’t want to throw my money away either.  But I believe that small organisations can have a great influence in a focused area that can have exponential impact.  When we teach life and vocational skills to the orphans at Eden Children’s Village they will go out into their country, or neighbouring countries, and build businesses that will hire employees, build communities and boost the economy.  Eden Children’s Village is a good news story that we love to share and are so happy to be a part of.