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Daring myself to visit a brave ministry

October 1, 2014

by David Lawrence

My world is focused on work, church, and my family. In spring 2013, I was had no thought of travel. Yet by summer I learned that some of my friends at Grace United Methodist Church in Mount Juliet, Tenn., would be taking a mission trip to Zimbabwe to visit Project Tariro.

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David meets some of the Project Tariro clients.

I had heard of previous trips, led by Rev. Dr. Paul Van Buren and Bobby Naylor, to this AIDS clinic and ministry at the Old Mutare Mission. I knew it helped those infected with HIV to live positively. When I had heard reports from those earlier trips, I wished I had attended. I challenged myself to participate if another opportunity arose.

That summer, hearing of the next trip, I replayed in my mind again and again the challenge I had made to myself. This time, I would take the risk of going to Africa.

At our team meetings, led by Paul and Bobby, we planned our itinerary for eleven days in Zimbabwe and prepared a list of all the items we would take. These meetings were critical for team building and spiritual formation. Some members had to drop out, leaving only seven of us: Paul, Bobby, Ed Britt (senior pastor at Grace), Larry Price, Gil Pollard, Ron Tinley, and myself.

We left Nashville on a cold, gray November day. When we arrived in Zimbabwe, spring was starting. The bright blue flowers of the jacaranda trees were in bloom and people were planting crops.

I have only flown twice in this post-9/11 world of ours. One of those trips was to Jamaica, for which I did not need a passport at the time. So getting a passport for this trip was a new thing for me. When I was getting my photo taken, folks would ask me about my destination. They seemed a bit puzzled when I would tell them, “I’m headed for Zimbabwe!” Zimbabwe? I’m sure they thought I was a better candidate for Cancún or perhaps Europe. I admit that when I often thought of international travel, Zimbabwe had not been on my radar either.

An apprehensive start

Arriving at the airport I immediately met up with two other members of the team, Bobby and Gil. Here I was, ready to take off, feeling extremely apprehensive and excited at the same time. I was thankful that both Bobby and Gil had made this trip before. That calmed the uncertainty that raced through my mind as we checked in and made our way through the security screenings and general “race to the gate” mindset that seems common to air travelers.

During our first full day in Zimbabwe, we traveled from the capital city of Harare to Mutare, about a four and a half hours to
the southeast. As we drove along I saw so many people walking by the side of the road. I was puzzled about where they might be going; I didn’t see much in the way of a town or roadside markets.Still, they were walking. Sometimes I would see women balancing large bags on their heads or carrying bundles of sticks that may be used for a cooking fire.

About half way to Mutare we stopped at Mbizi (the Shona word for zebra) Game Park. There I got a taste of what Africa must have been like before colonial powers arrived and turned the hunting of big game not for food but for sport. The trails wove through the park like a fanciful tapestry with the portraits of all the beautiful creatures that inhabit the preserve.

Heads held high

Once we arrived in Old Mutare and the mission there, I saw with my own eyes the Project Tariro clinic, which is helping so many people with AIDS to help themselves. We settled into a quaint B&B called La Rochelle, located in the lush Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. Our host, Simon Herring; his lovely family; and dedicated staff were very warm and friendly and made us feel right at home when we arrived.

Over the next week we would assist the ministry through such projects as raising a greenhouse and fencing in one hector (2.47 acres) of land. Each project would require numerous holes dug to place logs to frame the greenhouse and build the fence.

It was during this week that I experienced the joy of helping make life a little better for people who had faced so much: so much uncertainty, so much rejection, so much loss and pain. These people were facing life with heads held high and hearts grateful to their Lord Jesus Christ.

The teams that come to work at Project Tariro bring hope–but so do many people from the area. This includes the project manager, Violet Chikanya. Horticulturist David Mandividza makes sure that the project is self-sustaining through farming of crops on the clinic grounds. Many people work long and hard to keep the engine that runs the project in peak condition by coordinating the many teams that make their way to project from abroad.

During my time there the weather was wonderful, with gentle breezes and bright sunshine, heading into summer. We had left Nashville on a cold, gray autumn day. I felt it a wonderful thing to have a year in which I experienced two springs.

David Francis Lawrence works at Brookdale Senior Living Co-op in Mount Juliet, Tenn.

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