Stay Tuned for Mission Team Updates

The four team members are:

Audrey from Belgrave (7th trip), Dale from Ayton (2nd trip), Barry from Chesley (16th trip) and Calvin from Oakville (1st trip)

MISSION TEAM UPDATES


Thursday June 6 - Heading Home


Today is our last morning in Zimbabwe. We will leave VOH at around 11:30 am, and the last team member will make it to their home in Ontario around 30 hours later.

There is some joy and excitement in that statement! We are all looking forward to seeing family and friends (and dogs!) again. And I can't say enough about the prospect of spending time in my shower …

But there is also some sadness. We have made such good friends here! We feel so blessed to have spent time with these wonderful people. They have made us feel at home, and it is hard to leave home. As repeat visitors, Barry, Dale and I have solidified past friendships and built new ones, making the goodbyes difficult. Even as a first time visitor I'm sure that Calvin will struggle to say goodbye to several young children, as well as one very special English teacher.

Jeremiah 29:11 says "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future". We are so thankful that God's plans allowed our paths to cross! And we hope in Him that they will cross again in the future. Until then, be blessed.


Wednesday June 5 - Safari


Today we traveled to Imire Game Park. Those who have been with Mission Zimbabwe in the past may have visited this park as well, and may remember a particularly bad drive. News flash - it's worse than other years! They have added more speed bumps on the highway (with few signs to warn of their presence) and the final road to Imire is narrower and bumpier than past years. Fortunately, the awesomeness of God's creation made up for it once we got there.

Today, I'm going to let the pictures do the talking.


Tuesday June 4 - Hellos and Goodbyes


This morning the whole team visited Star Learning Centre, an outreach program of the VOH located about 15 minutes from the grounds. This facility provides an education for about 130 ECD and Grade 1 students. There are five staff members who do their best to wrangle the children into some form of order. Today there were about 40 children and 1 staff member absent due to flus and colds … so the numbers were a bit more manageable?

We arrived to such a warm Hello! Many of the children were carrying signs with the names of individual team members. The classes had created two beautiful displays of large paper flowers, with a backdrop of painted papers. The children demonstrated the English they had been learning by singing songs and reciting the Lord's Prayer. And they danced - such enthusiasm, and such noise!

The team shared some stories, music and activities with them. The students enjoyed this time … but not as much as the ice cream and maple syrup that followed! I am sure they will have stories to share with their caregivers when they get home today. And after this morning, I am sure that choosing to teach secondary school was DEFINITELY the right choice for me!

We are so thankful for the dedicated teachers who spend each day with this boisterous group of children. VOH is attempting to expand this school to higher grades, so pray that the financing will appear to make this possible.

In the afternoon, the team members were guests of honour at the secondary school chapel. Since all of us had done some teaching at this level, this was the chance for students to thank us and say goodbye. Through their poems, speeches, and songs, we learned that our time here DID make an impact.

We are so thankful that we were able to make connections with these awesome young people. We don't know where this will lead, but we look forward to following them as they continue to learn and grow. We thank God for giving us the opportunity to plant some seeds here, and we trust Him to continue encouraging their growth. We also know that these young people are surrounded by caring adults, full of faith and love, who will continue to support them in the journey. Even though it is sad to say goodbye, we thank God for the opportunity to be here



Monday June 3 - Teaching


Between the primary and secondary school, there are approximately 700 students on the VOH grounds each school day. That's a lot of opportunities for learning! That learning can take many forms, and can come from many different sources.

There is the obvious situation - a teacher at the front of the classroom sharing knowledge on an area of expertise. Our team has actively participated in this style of teaching with Calvin leading lessons on English and Creative Writing, Audrey tutoring Math and leading sessions on Job Interview Skills, Dale leading workshops on Careers, and Barry teaching about latitude, longitude and GPS. This is a classic and direct way to impart factual knowledge and data.

The students can be teachers as well. The secondary school here uses a Prefect system, where senior students are selected by staff for showing exemplary behavior and leadership potential. These young adults should lead by example, and can act as role models for their classmates as well as for younger students. Their words and actions can teach others in the school through the modeling of behaviors and interaction styles.

But there is another, more subtle method of teaching. Taking the time to have a conversation with someone teaches them that they are important to you. Listening to their stories and their ideas teaches the individual that their feelings and opinions matter. Interacting with them and encouraging them teaches the person that they are not alone in their struggles. Every greeting, every conversation, every handshake, hug or smile is an opportunity to teach the other person that they have value in your eyes.

A common question is "What did you learn today?". But we all have the opportunity to be teachers, even if we are not at the front of a classroom. So maybe a better question for all of us might be "What did you teach today?".



Sunday June 2 - Give Thanks

As a team, we had much '

At lunchtime we were able to connect with 14 of the students who are being supported by the Education Fund managed by VOH. We were blessed to hear from these future accountants, doctors, agronomists, financial advisers, social workers and computer specialists. There was one common theme - all of them were thankful for the support they are receiving from VOH, and they were well aware of how important it is to pass that blessing forward. How awesome to have these young adults representing VOH in the wider community! A dessert of ice cream and Canadian maple syrup confused most of them to start, but we quickly won them over and most were thankful to receive a second helping.

Today was Pastor Chenai's birthday, and we were thankful to be invited out to celebrate at a restaurant with family and friends. One of the blessings of being long-term partners with VOH is that we are no longer treated as guests. Instead we are family, and the conversation flowed easily around the table. The restaurant served very large portions, and most of us struggled to finish our meals. Except for Calvin. After finishing his own peppered burger, he was able to sample chicken nachos, a chicken wrap, chicken schnitzel and steak. We are thankful for healthy appetites in our midst!

What can you be thankful for in your day today? While it can sometimes be easy to focus on the negatives, looking for the positive will bring you more joy. As 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reminds us "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Jesus Christ".


Saturday June 1 - We May Have Different Eyes



Forward: God bless you for making it this far into our '''

Perspective is the key word today.

Instead of taking a leading role this morning, I got to live a day through the eyes of a participant. After a bumpy and winding drive to Vimbainesu, we hopped right into the action. The children were gathered in the central gazebo preaching and praising the word of God. Their passion and encouragement drew a smile out of me. Soon after we said our hellos, Dale had the chance to present to the kids. I sat down beside a child who was holding a picture bible. As Dale went through verses, I asked if I could flip through the book with him so we could listen and learn together. Although we '

Dale spoke of the uniqueness that God has granted us, and yet how He looks at us through our hearts. In her sermon, '"… Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."

A few days ago, I spoke of courage and confidence. One verse that I found inspiring on this idea comes from 2 ""''''

To end off our time at VCH, Barry instructed children and adults alike to join hands. He prayed over our unity and asked God to bless each and every one of us. It was a nice send off from our time in Vimbainesu.

Glory be to God!

Amen

Calvin Oñate

Friday May 31 - Neighbours


The majority of our time here in Zimbabwe is spent on the grounds of VOH. Here, students learn in classes with no more than 30 students (the max allowed in Zimbabwe is 60 students to 1 teacher). The maintenance staff takes pride in well-trimmed hedges, and there is a beautiful variety of flowers in their gardens. There is an abundant water supply, allowing them to begin creating a serenity garden, where students and staff can go to spend time in quiet prayer and contemplation.

But just 10 minutes down the road is a somewhat different community called Beta Bricks. A company manufactures bricks there (hence the name) and most of the company's employees live in very small brick homes in the community immediately surrounding the plant. Others who live there but aren't employed by Beta will manufacture bricks by hand, from dirt found in unoccupied areas or even dirt from their yards. Everyone is selling bricks from the front of their houses, competing for the same market as their neighbour. The level of dust in the community is somewhat indescribable.

The school in Beta Bricks serves approximately 1800 students from ECD (Kindergarten) to Form 4 (grade 11). This morning I spoke with one of the ECD teachers. She noted that the other ECD teacher was sick today, as were about 40 of the children, so she was thankful to only have 50 students in her class (… yes … that means only 2 teachers for the 90 Kindergarten children at this school!). At recess time, ALL of the students came outside to an open field that used to be covered in grass, to take time to move, snack, play, and enjoy the dusty fresh air.

While this seems like a very different picture than VOH, there are actually many things that are the same. Teachers at both schools want their students to do well. Students in every class want a chance to learn and grow, and also have some time to play. Caregivers in both communities want their children to be fed and happy, and to be given a chance to learn and grow. The overall goals are the same in both communities, but the resources are different.

Thankfully, VOH understands the Christian call to support your neighbours, and reaches out through the Community Nutrition Program to provide a nutritious meal for around 250 of the youngest and most vulnerable children at Beta Bricks School. Through CCP, around 60 Beta students receive sponsorship. The social workers make themselves available at Beta at least once a week, to monitor all of the students there and to allow those students to share their concerns with them if necessary.

And somehow, it all works! We met several sponsored students from Beta who spoke excellent English, were happy and kind, and who have big dreams for their futures. Thank you to the wonderful teachers at Beta Bricks for doing the best they can for all of their students, often with limited resources. Thank you to the social workers for taking the time to connect with these children and learn their stories. Thank you to VOH for recognizing the needs of their neighbours and reaching out in Christian love to support them.

Who are your neighbours, and how can you support them? What resources do you have that you can share with others? According to Matthew 22:37-39, after loving God, the second greatest commandment is "Love your neighbour as yourself". I wonder how communities would be different if we all followed these two commandments?


Thursday May 30 - Investing in the Future


We've all seen the ads on TV - a young child smiles as they receive food and books as a result of child sponsorship. And we wonder … Will it make a difference? Is it necessary? How much of the donated money is being spent on Administration, and how much actually reaches the child?

The VOH has partnered with ERDO Child Care Plus (CCP), which is an arm of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. This sponsorship provides school fees for the child, as well as access to nutritional food and health care. They attempt to ensure that the child's basic needs are met, allowing the children to focus on learning and growing.

But it's so much more! Being a sponsor child puts them and their families in touch with some amazing people - social workers who monitor their development, teachers who want to help them succeed, pastors who care about their spiritual growth, and an entire community of supporters and encouragers. And who knows where those connections will lead? Perhaps a passionate teacher will inspire a career choice. Maybe a leader in the community will recognize a young person's potential and hire them at their business. Interactions between parents might spur a new initiative in the community. A sermon may convict an individual to commit their life to following Jesus. Only God knows where it will all lead, but it begins with giving the children an opportunity, and sponsorship provides that when circumstances make it difficult for caregivers to do all that they want to do for their young charges.

Today the team had a chance to connect with some of the children sponsored by people or groups connected to Mission Zimbabwe. Seeing how much the children have grown, hearing how much their English has improved, meeting their parents and siblings, hearing about their dreams for the future - this is such a joyful part of our time at VOH! Thank you sponsors! We can assure you that your sponsorship IS effective and the money DOES go to the benefit of the children and the community in which they live. You are investing in the future of these children and their families - YOU are making a difference! Thank you. Tatenda. May God bless you.

PS - This post is not an attempt to convince anyone to participate in child sponsorship, unless of course God has placed it on your heart to do so. If you believe that this is the right time for you to take on child sponsorship, please contact Patricia at CCP (905-542-7400 x3467). Interesting note - Patricia grew up in Zimbabwe, attended school at VOH, and received child sponsorship. If that's not proof that sponsorship works, I don't know what is!


Wednesday May 29 - Family


Family can take many forms. The traditional nuclear family of two parents and a few kids. Blended families, created after a separation and re-marriage. A broader church family. A team traveling on a short-term mission trip. Friends who are closer than actual family members. Each situation is unique, but we all seem to look for a family where we belong and feel valued.

At VOH, we can see yet another type of family - a home with 1 or 2 house mothers, and 8 to 10 vulnerable children, who have all been brought together by need or circumstance. On the surface this might not seem to work, as each person enters the home at a different stage in their life, and with a different history (remember that baggage we talked about earlier?). But the house mothers are amazing women who help foster a spirit of unity and support within the home. They value each child and show them that they are loved and they belong. Routine is established through household chores (cooking, washing dishes, laundry, sweeping up, and gardening), where even the youngest member can contribute in some way. Older children help the younger ones. And the children have all been taught that they are part of God's family - which is the greatest gift of all!

We as a team have been so honored to be invited into these homes on several evenings, to share a meal and interact with all of the members of the family. We have conversations about their day at school, share about differences between our two countries and cultures, play UNO and chess, do puzzles together, read stories, sing and laugh. It's such a wonderful way to relax and refresh after a busy day! For a short time we are welcomed into these families, and from year to year we watch the children grow and mature.

What does your "family" look like? Do you have a place where you feel you belong? Do you feel valued and accepted just as you are?

"So then you are no longer foreigners and non-citizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God's household" - Ephesians 2:19


Tuesday May 28 - Everyone Has a Place


VOH has so much going on - a Primary School, a Secondary School, a Medical Clinic, after school programs, student chapel time, outreach to nearby communities, a vibrant church, leadership programs, and probably several things I don't even know about! It is a wonderful place of opportunity and hope, staffed by passionate and dedicated individuals. We are blessed to be able to connect with a number of different programs during our time here.

This morning, Audrey and Calvin spent time in the secondary school, volunteering in the Math and English departments respectively. Through conversations with staff, group discussions in classrooms, and small group tutoring in the courtyard, we were able to connect with so many people! Every person has value, regardless of interests or abilities, and we pray that each person we interacted with today was built up by our words and actions.

Tuesday is baby immunization day at the Medical Clinic, and Dale bravely volunteered to assist the nurses there. Over 40 infants were seen today, and Dale still came out smiling and patient at the end of it all (although the same couldn't be said for all of the infants!). This is such an important service to the community and VOH is blessed to have dedicated nurses on staff, as well as doctors in the community who will consult on critical cases.

Barry assisted the outreach team as they delivered a Community Nutrition Program to students at a nearby school. This program provides so many benefits - daily nutrition for the students, connections with the larger community, identification of students in need, and a very obvious witness of God's love in action.

There are many different roles that we can play, and ways that we can serve and contribute in any community. When we talked about our day, Calvin began a good discussion about confidence versus courage. In his morning role as a first-time teacher, he needed courage to believe that he would be able to connect with the students while sharing his passion for creative writing. In his afternoon role as a coach, he had confidence that his experience as a University level volleyball player would allow him to help the students develop their own skills. With all of the opportunities around you, may you also have courage to seek out the place where God calls you to be, and then have confidence that he will help you thrive in that situation.




Monday May 27 - God's Gifts


The VOH is blessed with a number of strong women of faith, who are leaders in all aspects of the community. Today, Dale and I were able to honour a small group of these ladies, and in the process, were able to recognize some of the many gifts God provides for us.

First, we were able to give the house moms the gift of time. Their usual routine of caring for children and teens can be busy and stressful at times, so this morning they had a chance to slow down for a bit and focus on something totally different.

We created a wall hanging using salt dough ornaments decorated with natural items like leaves, flowers and stones. When I tried out this craft back in Ontario (at the start of our summer), I struggled to find enough materials to use. Zimbabwe is at the start of their winter, and I worried about what I would find to use here - would this craft even work? But God is good! We had an abundance of items to choose from - small ferns, geranium petals, hydrangea blossoms, coleus leaves, multi-colored flowers similar to our daisies, and many other native plants that I don't have a name for. What an amazing gift of nature was on display for us today!

Once the women understood the concept, they went to work on their ornaments. They have such a gift of creativity! With patience and skill they decorated the ornaments with a variety of styles and designs. And in the end, each woman had their own unique masterpiece, merging nature and creativity into a beautiful display of God's handiwork.

We provided them with some physical gifts as well - the beautiful cake from Vimbainesu, enticing cupcakes (which they call Queen Cakes!), homemade oven mitts, and a small monetary blessing. We were honoured to be able to provide these physical gifts to remind the women that they are valued and appreciated for all of the work that they do at VOH.

How wonderful that we serve a God who not only gives us gifts to satisfy our physical needs, but also provides gifts to satisfy the needs of our soul! We pray that you take time to notice the many gifts in your life - and thank God for each and every one of them.



Sunday May 26 - Rest and Renewal


It feels like we've been going non-stop since very early Wednesday morning in Canada. We know that God rested on the seventh day after creation, and we decided to follow his lead and take today as a day of rest and renewal. The leadership here gave us a very light schedule today (come to church!) so most of us slept in, and one of us even had a long afternoon nap (it wasn't me!).

But we still accomplished much during this day. The church service helped renew our souls through heartfelt praise singing, and powerful preaching on the work of the Holy Spirit. We were able to reconnect with old friends, both before and after the service. Watching the Hope Church soccer team compete in the afternoon allowed us to spend time relaxing in the sunshine of a beautiful day in Zimbabwe.

Audrey and Dale were busy preparing for the special activity with the House Mothers, which is happening tomorrow morning. We can't say too much about WHAT we are doing, because we don't want to spoil the surprise for the ladies. Let's just say that Audrey was up at 6:15 am to get some things in the oven, with the plan to keep the production going all day. Unfortunately the electricity decided to take a day of rest as well - which meant that after only one batch, we couldn't do any more baking until the electricity came back on at 5:30 pm. Hopefully we won't be up too late finishing this, and we will be able to provide some renewal time for the ladies tomorrow morning! And between all of that, Dale cooked us an amazing dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread - we are so blessed to have her talents on our team!

There has been another Canadian volunteering at VOH for the past month, and Calvin was invited to attend this young man's going away celebration this evening. To be honest, we're not really sure where he is right now … or what time he'll be home … but we trust the young people here to take care of him. (Special note to Calvin's mom Carol - we are POSITIVE that he will be fine!). Calvin is doing an excellent job of embracing every new opportunity that he can here in Zimbabwe. Clearly he did not need as much rest time as the rest of the team did today - ah, the advantage of youth!

So it wasn't all rest, but all in all, it's been a restful, productive, and restorative day here at VOH. We pray that wherever you are, you are also able to experience rest and renewal.




Saturday May 25 - Partnerships


Mission Zimbabwe and VOH have been partnering in the Lord's work for 17 years. Each group brings different resources and gifts to the partnership, and each group also trusts the other to do their part of God's calling. It's a beautiful example of what Christian community can look like in God's kingdom!

But MZ also partners with another group here in Zimbabwe - Vimbainesu Children's Home, located about 2 hours outside of Harare. Today the team, plus some guests, traveled into the countryside to see what has been happening since we met with them last year. While written reports are sent by their management team four times per year, actually seeing what's working and where the needs are is always more effective. And there is so much to be thankful for!

There are two new working water bore holes, located much closer to the homes than ever before. There are two new solar panels being used, and some solar powered lights have also been installed. All students have received their own Bible. Partners from the community are teaching the children "hands on" skills like baking, making Vaseline, and vegetable gardening. And one former teacher is mentoring one very skilled student in Design and Technology (he showed us his very detailed drawings of a house renovation!), hoping to help him pursue a career in that field.

But there is more to be done, and MZ can only do so much. Fortunately for us, no one has to do it alone - God has a plan! Vimbainesu has recently formed a partnership with a new group: the University of Zimbabwe Christian Union Alumni. Three of the group's members visited Vimbainesu today as well. This group of dedicated young professionals is looking for ways to help improve the situation for people in their own country, and they are working on various projects to help Vimbainesu move forward and provide a better experience for the 47 vulnerable children currently living there. We can't wait to see what God has in store for them as they are blessed by this Christian partnership!

According to Ecclesiastes 4:10, the benefit of a partnership is that "if either of them falls down, one can help the other up". Partnerships can take many forms - teacher and student, city professionals and country children, Zimbabweans and Canadians. We feel honoured to be able to partner with the people of VOH and Vimbainesu, and we are all blessed because God has a plan to do things in a community. Praise God for partnerships!




Friday May 24 - New Beginnings


Today we woke up in a new bed, in a new house (compared to last year at VOH), in a new time zone, and in a new country - that was a lot to take in! It was also Africa Day. Since we are often here earlier in May, this was the first time any of us had experienced this celebration. Notable features were that the students did not need to wear their uniforms to school (many dressed in traditional African garb and patterns) and the students were allowed to keep their cell phones with them. This was a rare occurrence for them, so they were pretty excited about it!

Calvin is in Zimbabwe for the first time, and he was just soaking it all in. For him it was the beginning of learning names, finding his way around the VOH grounds and navigating a grocery store in Zimbabwe (which is always an adventure). There were new drinks to try, a new style of prayer and a new way of showering (hello bucket … sigh …). We are happy to report that Calvin dove right in by leading some games with the youth this afternoon and helping cook a terrific supper tonight - we are so happy he's here with us!

This is Dale's second year in Zimbabwe, but that still meant there were a lot of new names. She is taking on new projects this year, and we've been impressed by her meticulous planning and passion for her calling here. And while Barry and I have been to VOH many times before, we met some new children in the homes, and there are always new conversations to be had even with old friends. The partnership between Mission Zimbabwe and VOH is a long established one, but there are still new projects to be completed and more work that can be done in this community.

And that's the beauty of it - every day we are alive is a chance to have a new beginning, regardless of where you are, what you are doing, or how long you've been doing it. God has a plan for us each day, and we pray for hearts that will be open to his leading. You don't have to go to a new country for that experience. It can happen even if you wake up at home, in your own comfortable bed, with a hot shower waiting for you … sigh …

I wonder what new experience God has planned for each of us tomorrow?


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