Earlier this year, Bob Priest of Marion got hands-on experience with a project he first played a part in eight years ago as he visited Zimbabwe for about three weeks in February and March to finish work at the Zimunya Skills Training Center near Mutare.
In 2003, Priest welcomed Chief Eddy Musabayana and Kennedy Mhondoro of Zimbabwe into his home for 45 days while they visited United Methodist churches, gathering assistance to build a skills training center in their home country.
Priest was part of a 16-member volunteer mission team that went to Zimbabwe to work with churches there on the skills training center. They left Feb. 24 and returned March 18. Each of the team members stayed with a different host family while they were in Zimbabwe. Priest spent one week with his former guest Mhondoro and two weeks with the Rev. Gift Machinga.
“The thing that impressed me when I was first there was the natural beauty,” Priest said. “This area (around Mutare) is called the Eastern Highlands and has low mountains, valleys, and breathtaking scenery. The city of Mutare has tree-lined streets and the bouhinia trees were in full bloom. We saw red and yellow trees and all sorts of flowers graced the landscape.
“We could see the low mountains that surrounded the city,” he said. “Nearly every day we drove out of the city to work sites or churches. Everywhere I saw the beauty of the wild, rather rugged land topped by mountains. There are mountains and trees and blue skies with fluffy white clouds all around.”
Priest said he was impressed by the hardworking, dedicated people he met there. He said the people in Zimbabwe don’t rely on or even really trust their government.
Priest said he often introduced himself as Robert instead of Bob and asking whether it was a name the residents were familiar with, a joking reference to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe that almost always elicited sneers. The Libyan revolution began while he was in Zimbabwe, and newspapers reported that the capital city Harare was practically swarming with armed and armored vehicles patrolling the streets.
For the first part of his mission in Zimbabwe, Priest helped with cleaning and clearing brush around the skills center.
“We worked with brooms, machetes, grass whips, saws, rakes, spades, and a wheelbarrow,” he said. “One of the days, members of a nearby church walked in and joined us in our clearing work, and they put us to shame with their skills and hard work.”
The training center was scheduled to be completed and dedicated in August, Priest said.
Then, the group split up. The majority went to work on a hospital, but Priest helped with financial matters and gifts from U.S. churches to the Zimbabwe churches.
He also helped with groundbreaking for a new parsonage for the Dora South Circuit, and before he returned to the U.S., the footings were already dug by hand.
He said worshiping with the people in Zimbabwe was also an important part of the mission.
“Most of the services were in the Shona language but were similar to our worship services here,” he said. “The people sang marvelously without a supporting instrument other than drums. Words cannot describe the drums there, they add much and do so appropriately.
“There are often two drums,” Priest said. “The sound is not loud, but it penetrates. Children grow up with drums, and it was the children and youth I saw playing them. You have to hear it to believe it.”
Priest said he wanted to bring a drum back with him, but he couldn’t find one that was just right.
“I’m very glad I went,” he said. “It was a wonderful trip.”
Priest recently gave a presentation and showed pictures from his time in Zimbabwe during a meeting of the Marion County Park and Lake Chat and Dine Club.