HARARE, Zimbabwe — Southern Baptists are continuing to provide desperately needed relief to families suffering in Zimbabwe’s unprecedented economic disaster.
“The current unemployment rate is reported to be 94 percent and the annual inflation rate was estimated this past October at 2 trillion percent,” said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife, Susan, directs Baptist Global Response (BGR) work in Sub-Saharan Africa. “One expert put the rate in December at 516 quintillion percent — the highest ever recorded.”
The country’s new national unity government emerged from a weekend retreat April 6 with a visionary 100-day plan to bring Zimbabwe out of its downward spiral. The agenda focuses on five “clusters” — the economy, security, infrastructure, social services and interests and rights.
The challenge they face, however, staggers the imagination, Hatfield said. The only goods available in stores are priced in foreign currency that ordinary citizens do not have. Those who do have some money in the bank are limited to withdrawals to small to purchase food. Hospitals are hamstrung by a lack of medicines, water and electricity. Schools cannot function for lack of teachers and supplies.
“Overall, the situation in Zimbabwe is worse than I have ever seen it,” Hatfield said. “The lack of jobs, currency, water and food has collapsed the country’s economy. I am filled with appreciation for the way Southern Baptists allow me to represent them as we physically demonstrate the love of Christ to people in desperate need.”
Southern Baptists have responded on several fronts, including food distribution, school supplies and assistance to Sanyati Baptist Hospital.
A new phase of food distribution was launched in mid-March, sending 45-pound boxes of staple items to 5,000 of Zimbabwe’s neediest families, Hatfield said. Southern Baptist field partners are working with Zimbabwe’s 240-plus Baptist churches to identify the most vulnerable people in their communities.
“Many times that will include single-parent households, widows, orphans, people who are HIV-positive and households headed by grandparents,” Hatfield said. “Pensioners who retired years earlier with pensions that can’t even purchase one day’s worth of food also are given priority.”
The new distribution continues a project that has been running since December 2007 and has delivered more than 2,500 food boxes to needy families. Each box includes food staples like rice, oil, salt, powdered milk, corned beef, beans, etc., to help families stave off starvation.
The $170,000 allocated from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund for the new distribution will be replaced as Baptist Global Response receives donations for the Zimbabwe food project.
Sanyati Baptist Hospital
Chronic shortages of water, electricity and essential medicine have hampered ministry — for many months at Sanyati Baptist Hospital, a high-profile ministry of Southern Baptist international missions since the 1950s, Hatfield noted. Of the two city water pumps serving the hospital compound, one was completely broken and the other was pumping at only half capacity — when electricity was available.
Southern Baptists responded with an allocation of $45,000 in relief funds to provide a supply of basic antibiotics, anti-malarial medicines, and other essentials to the hospital. Two deep wells were dug on site and replacements were ordered for the worn-out city pumps. Last fall, Hatfield also interceded with the district electrical supply office to give the hospital priority service.
“During my entire visit, there was no electricity,” Hatfield said. “They had been holding surgery cases but with no electricity and no water they were not able to sterilize instruments. It’s hard to do surgery without clean instruments and water to clean up!”
Another crucial issue for Zimbabwe’s children is the lack of school supplies, Hatfield said. Basic necessities such as composition books are beyond the reach of most families.
“It would cost two months’ wages for a family with three children in public school to purchase exercise books,” Hatfield explained. “That’s impossible for the average family.”
Southern Baptists and their Zimbabwe Baptist partners used $125,000 in general relief funds to provide the composition books, pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners to needy families so their children could stay in school. The 250,000 exercise books that were distributed had stories on the covers that emphasized Christ’s love and communicated an AIDS-awareness message. One in four people in Zimbabwe are living with the virus that causes AIDS.
“Baptist leaders identified schools where trusted teachers, staff and headmasters work. Most of them were members of Baptist churches themselves,” Hatfield said. “They worked together to identify the most needy situations and determine how to distribute the supplies.”
The deputy headmaster of a school in Lozane wrote Hatfield in March to express her gratitude for the supplies, which were given to 146 orphans between the ages of 5 and 13.
“On behalf of the school, the community and all stakeholders, we want to thank you for the enormous help you gave to Lozane school orphans,” wrote Mercy Manyadza. “They are a disadvantaged group who are rarely thought of by most people, especially when they are in remote areas like our school.
“When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ I think he meant persons like you,” Manyadza added. “I am sure you will receive mercy in the heavenly kingdom. May God bless you immensely.”
“Those words of gratitude are for all Southern Baptists,” Hatfield said. “Their gifts for relief efforts made the project possible.”
Hatfield said he is amazed that Baptists in Zimbabwe care about needy people elsewhere in the world, in spite of the circumstances they face themselves.
“Last fall, I met with a group of Baptist partners who expressed deep appreciation to Southern Baptists for caring so much about them and their situation in Zimbabwe,” Hatfield said. “Then they spent the next 10 minutes expressing concern about people in the USA who were suffering because of the hurricanes that had hit the country. I am astonished that even under the conditions they are living in, they are concerned for others and want to hear how Southern Baptists are using resources to help in the USA.”
Hatfield asked Christians to pray that Zimbabwe’s new power-sharing government would succeed in the challenge they face and that God would pour out his compassion and provision on the country’s long-suffering people.
Hatfield also expressed deep gratitude for Southern Baptists and other Christians in the United States who continue to give faithfully to their churches, as well as to hunger and relief causes, in spite of the economic pressure many families are feeling.
“You are a people who care about people in need,” he said. “It would be hard to find a place where the needs are greater or more urgent than in Zimbabwe.”