At the end of January, I left our cold English winter and plunged into the heat of an African summer. I had come to Maputo, Mozambique’s capital city, to visit the Zimpeto children’s centre. Zimpeto is home to 260 orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children. It’s the first and largest of the Iris Ministries’ children’s centres and was established by Rolland and Heidi Baker when the civil war ended in the mid 1990s.
We first visited Zimpeto in 2004. In 2005 we returned to live there for a longer period. We spent two amazing years there, in which we learned many valuable lessons about love, faith, family, community and friendship. Since returning to the UK in 2007, we have continued to build our relationship with the Zimpeto team through visiting, through email contact and through the fact that I still work for them - processing applications to serve there. Some months ago I felt it was time to visit again. I did not have a clear agenda for this other than wanting to continue to build relationships through blessing, serving, encouraging and generally spending time with the team.
One of the great things about visiting a place over time is that you can really notice the changes that have happened. Between 2004 and 2015, both Mozambique and Zimpeto have changed dramatically. Mozambique is no longer the poorest country in the world and its economy is growing year by year. There are new shopping malls, roads and restaurants. However, like many developing countries, only a minority of the population benefits from this economic growth and most people live in very basic conditions. The sights and sounds of the drive from the airport to Zimpeto always take me by surprise and it takes a while to adjust, no matter how many times I visit.
Zimpeto itself has changed a lot since 2004. Back then, there were over 550 children, mostly teenage boys who were former street children. Zimpeto’s directors strongly believe that children belong in families and over the years, wherever possible they have reunited those children with family members, giving financial and practical help to enable families to stay together. Nowadays, most of Zimpeto’s children are under 7 and there is a particular focus on helping vulnerable children with medical needs.
Many projects have developed in recent years: a Special Needs house, a Nursery, the Casa de Oracao (House of prayer - with round the clock prayer and worship), a large fruit and vegetable garden, a community food programme and a project to support widows and new mothers. On top of that there is a church, a pre-school, a school for 1350 local children, a Bible school for trainee pastors and a clinic that provides care for the local community. There are skills-training programmes in carpentry, sewing and entrepreneurship. There is a weekly outreach to people living and working on the rubbish dump as well as evangelical outreaches to rural communities. Over 20 of Zimpeto’s youth are in University education.
Zimpeto really is quite a miraculous place – not least because the whole community is run by faith. Somehow there is always enough money to fund it all, though this often arrives at the 11th hour. It is also miraculous in that the team is made up of people from different walks of life, different nationalities, different languages, different denominations, different personality types and different abilities. They all live and work together 24/7, united by their love for Jesus and for the children.
So, apart from learning about these new projects, what did I actually do?
Well, most of my time was spent sitting in the shade with people from the Zimpeto team, listening, talking, praying and drinking tea. Some of these people were old friends and some were new team members, who I hadn’t met in person before but had communicated with by email. All valued the opportunity to talk confidentially with someone from “outside”. In addition, it was a privilege to be asked to lead the team’s home group and to share words of encouragement with them. I was glad to reconnect with some of the Mozambicans who have worked at Zimpeto since our first visit. For example, pastor Joshua, with whom we ran the dorm, the women who work in the kitchens, the clinic staff, maintenance staff and pastors.
As for the children, most of the boys from our dorm had left Zimpeto some time ago, but I was thrilled to meet up with several who were now young men, helping to look after the younger children. (As I’d expected, they were disappointed not to see Paul, with whom they love to talk football). Many of the boys from our dorm now work in very good jobs, thanks to the skills-training course run by our friends, Jimmy and Linda. While visiting Jimmy and Linda I was able to meet up with some of them – it was wonderful to see how mature and grown-up they have become and to see that they have a good future ahead of them.
You may remember that we were close to several little children who had arrived at Zimpeto in a state of severe neglect and malnutrition. Since our last visit, some of those children had been returned to their families or adopted but others were still there: healthy and thriving, full of life and exuberance, loved and secure.
Change often happens slowly: it can take time to appreciate the fullness of transformations. Visiting Zimpeto over a ten year period has allowed Paul and I to see the results of faith, hope and love in action. We have seen the fruit of all the love that has been faithfully poured into these children over the years.
Thank you for your prayers for this trip. It has been so good to see that relationships can endure and grow despite absence and distance. Furthermore, I have come home with renewed conviction that no matter how great the problems we might see ahead, it is possible to make a difference, starting with loving one person at a time: the person who God puts in front of us.