NEWS FROM ST. JOHN’S MISSION, ZIMBABWE, AS AT July 2012

Greetings from a rather dry but not so cold Zimbabwe.

We are having a rather mild winter, but the rainy season turned out to be quite poor. Hence many of the water sources have dried up unusually early. That means long walks for the women to fetch water. There is some drought relief being given out, but the supply is haphazard. Transport is often the problem, so we often help out with our big truck.

Since January 2010 I have been running the mission on my own, but at last early in June I was given the help of an assistant priest. He is a local priest, Fr. Stanislaus Lumano, ordained just 4 years ago. He was working in Victoria Falls up until now. I have known him since he was a small boy, because he grew up in my previous parish in Hwange. We both have something in common – we are twins! He has an identical twin brother, Vincent, and I have a twin sister, Susan. Vincent happens to be studying also to become a priest. I must confess I cannot tell the two of them apart!

With our vehicles we have had our share of mishaps in the last 6 months. One of the trucks, the 3-tonner, had to have the engine reconditioned.

We are now trying to get the old pick up running, since we are now two priests, but we are having quite a challenge. It was involved in an accident last year, and the engine now sits 60 mm further back than it was before. We have almost managed to get it back on the road, so I will send more news in the next newsletter!

On the building side two new projects were started in the last few weeks, both are pre-schools in Gwaai Mouth and Chingonya. Chingonya is a small centre, named St. Irene (after my mother!) and up until now it has had no buildings, so the facilities will double up as a church on Sundays. These are helped by a German charity Aktion Dreikönigssingen, based in Aachen, Germany.

On the school side we are building an extension to the boys’ hostel at Neshaya Secondary School, which is just near the mission. It is sponsored by another German charity, SHA. It will hold 40 boys. We are also building a teacher’s house for four teachers at Nechishala Secondary School, about 23 Km from the mission. This is being helped by some private donors from Spain. They are friends of a priest who used to work here, Fr. Alexander Alapont. He is now retired in Spain.

Last but not least, there is a new dam being built at a place called Butindi, just 20Km from Hwange, an area where we have never built dams before. A group of Irish volunteers have been helping for years with the dams.

Earlier this year we were very disappointed to find that one of our applications for a building project had been turned down. We had asked the Irish Government, Irish Aid, for funds to build 5 new classroom blocks. They had helped us with 4 projects in the past, always being quite generous. But their policies have changed, not helped surely by the economic crisis they have suffered in the last couple of years, along with Greece, Portugal and Spain. The proposed new classrooms are badly needed, so if any of you know of any well-wishers or donor agencies that might be able to offer a helping hand here or there please let me know!

Recently I went to Harare with two other priests, and during our stay there we were accommodated in a children’s ‘village’, called St. Marceline. About 75 children are looked after there, most of them AIDS orphans. It was a joy to say Mass for them, and to see so many of them have recently made their First Holy Communion. A congregation of sisters have recently gone there to help run the home. It was started about 10 years ago by a European couple; one is from Zimbabwe, the other from South Africa.

At present in our diocese there is no home for such children, but our own sisters have also decided recently to try to start one. It should hold about 30 children by the time it is finished. I am somehow involved in the project, at least on the design side. The new children’s home will be built at Binga, a town built on the shores of Lake Kariba, an artificial lake formed in 1956 when a large dam was built at Kariba on the Zambezi River.

Our parish borders on part of the lake, which is one of the largest man made lakes in the world. The dam wall is 130 metres high, which makes it higher than Victoria Falls (100 metres). But at a length of only 580 metres, the Victoria Falls is four times that length! The lake is 280 Kilometres long and covers 5,000 square Kilometres in surface area.

In June we had to use a boat to go across part of the lake since we wanted to say Mass at one of our outstations, Musuna Boatel, which is situated right by the lake. There are many inlets there, so it is often quicker to go from one place to another by boat. We were booked to say Mass at a homestead where a small girl of 5 had recently died. The boat was very small, but no one minded the delay caused by having to make two trips.

Everything went into the boat, including a table, chairs, the Mass kit and, last but not least, the drums for the music. The girl who died was an only child, but the parents took it well. Health care out here is very rudimentary, in spite of rampant malaria and HIV/AIDS cases. In addition, people generally have a poor balance of diet, so life expectancy is not very high. We still take an average of 10 people to hospital each week, but they are the lucky ones.

The 24th June is celebrated in our church as the feast of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist. It so happened that this year it was on a Sunday, so our parishioners decided to invite our Bishop to celebrate the Mass at our mission, since our mission is named after St. John the Baptist. He obligingly agreed to come, and in the event he seemed delighted with the day. The parishioners had organised plenty of entertainment after the Mass. This included a singing competition held between the choirs of the 4 sections or ‘small Christian Communities’ that we have attached to the mission itself.

On the technology front we are improving. I announced in June 2011 that we were finally able to use cell (mobile) phones at the mission, thanks to the building of a 60-metres booster mast just 2 Km from the mission. A few months ago a kind lady from Ireland donated a phone, which
enables me to receive and send emails. In a few years, who knows, we might even get broad band?

Keeping you in my prayers.

Thanking those who help in any way,

May God bless you all,

Fr. Tim Peacock

St. John's Mission, PO Box 39, Hwange, Zimbabwe