Walking on Water

I hit a pothole in Harare last Wednesday and it smashed my front wheel assembly. In an effort to find the spares needed I went out to a dealer and when I walked into the Managers office I was astonished to find a close friend behind the desk. It had been five years since I had seen him last and he told me what had happened to him.

He had been working in the Karoi area the last time I had seen him and when the farmers in the district had been dispossessed he had found himself also out of a job and also dispossessed. After 30 years of work he and his wife found themselves without a home, just a few old pieces of furniture and some clothes and a small car.

To compound his problems, his wife of over 30 years, was battling with cancer – a struggle she lost after two and half years and he had found himself without his wife and companion as well as his assets and means of making a living.

He rented a small house in a medium density area in Harare and with the help of a younger businessperson, set up a car dealership in one room with a laptop computer. When I walked into his office three years later, he was the General Manger of a substantial business, was expanding rapidly and looked set for real success. Where others were struggling, he was making good money and doing well.

Not only in that sphere had he done well, but two years before he had met and subsequently married a lovely woman in Harare and they were starting all over again with a new house in Borrowdale. Soon, he said, he would move to a new site in Chisipite where they were starting another dealership.

He and I are both active Christians and he said to me that morning that his faith had been sorely tested by these events. What was God doing? How could such a calamity happen to me? What was the purpose of it all? All valid questions for someone, like Job in the Old Testament, who also lost everything – family, children, livelihood, wealth. So tested that he was still not back in an active fellowship even though his wife is a firm and committed Christian.

This story is a common one here in Zimbabwe. We talk about the farm invasions and somehow the true horror of what went on in those days fails to register. We forget that the men and women who owned those farms, in many cases, had moved onto them when they were just empty bush. They had worked together to carve them out of the bush living in pole and mud huts and cooking over wood fires before gradually getting onto their feet and building beautiful homes and raising families.

The stories are legion – gaining experience by working for other farmers, then buying your own place with borrowed money and the struggle – over many years, even decades to get out of debt and to build up what was eventually a productive farm in a remote area with dams, irrigation and all the other things that are needed to make a real go of modern farming today. To then go through UDI with 14 years of mandatory UN sanctions and then 8 years of civil war when you were always on the alert and faced danger and violence every day.

Then after Independence in 1980, thinking that this was a new day – no more ambushes or land mines on the farm road, no more agric alerts and call outs. Put the guns away and get back to real farming. Accepting the new realities and national leadership. Growing your enterprise to the point where you were making an impact across the world. Then out of the blue, the systematic, wholesale and brutal theft of your assets and livelihood and way of life – on a purely racist and corrupt basis.

Some 4 000 farmers and their direct employees were affected by this act together with 350 000 farm workers, managers and skilled employees. At the time there were 10 000 white men on those farms – all armed, all trained and experienced and all determined people. But not a shot was fired, they accepted what was being done to them without violence and resorted to the law as a defence, only to finds that this line of defence had also been torn away from them by the State.

What we do not appreciate is the trauma that this process involved – for the men and their families. The loss of everything they had worked for – sometimes for three or four generations, the loss of homes and all security. The loss of community and sense of belonging; these are the real losses. The rest we can replace – if not here then elsewhere, but the intangibles are lost forever.

How does anyone get over such trauma? What do you do when confronted with such circumstances? Nobody ever said that the world was a fair place – Jesus himself said that “in the world you will face tribulation”, not maybe, will. So this is not an uncommon experience. We are not the first community to go through such circumstance; how we handle these situations is what sets us apart.

In my friends case, he did not quit, did not leave the country, he did not commit suicide – all legitimate and understandable reactions to overwhelming loss. No, he picked up the pieces of his life and started afresh. I looked at him after he had told me his story and I said to him “what you are doing is walking on the water”.

My mind was on that story in the New Testament where the disciples were crossing a lake in a small boat and a storm came up – ever been on Kariba when that happens – it is fast and nasty. Jesus came to them walking on the water. Peter saw him and asked, “If that is you, can I come and walk on the water with you?” Jesus said yes and Peter got out of the boat in the storm and walked towards Jesus. Then his mind told him this could not be happening – he looked at the stormy waters and began to sink.

When life deals us a bad hand and we are faced with stormy, angry, water we can do a number of things – we can stay in the boat and hope we survive, we can get out of the boat and walk on the water. When done by faith we then find that we can indeed walk on the water, there is life after all that has happened. That was the experience of Job - it can be our experience as well. Jesus finished that earlier saying about tribulation by saying, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” When we step over the gunwale we can find that this is also true. We do not forget the past, it still hurts, but we find comfort and new pleasure in the experience of walking on the stormy waters of life.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, July 2 2006