Ebenezer: A stone of helps in the Matopos
Christian Evangelist, George Mueller cared for over 10,000 orphans in his lifetime, and when asked why he did it, he said his main aim was ‘to show with visible proofs that God hears and answers prayer’. This he did by not asking for funding to care for the children, but simply praying and asking God for everything he needed. And 10,000 lives were visible proofs of a caring God.
There is a place which for me speaks of the visible proofs of God at work. Ebenezer – nestling in the rocky Matopo hills of Zimbabwe – about 70km from Bulawayo – started when the Lord led those who trusted in Him to build a dam. The place was a wide and dry expanse of land, with a small trickle of river that did not always have water. There were many problems with this – there was no money to build the dam, and with the country’s massive brain drain, there wasn’t much expertise either. The size of the river hardly warranted the expense – it did not look likely to amount to much. It all seemed impossible, expensive and probably futile. Besides, as any Christian will tell you, we are never 100% sure that God spoke to us – that the God of the universe would impart understanding to the heart of man is itself a barely believable miracle. But where God leads, he equips – and through a series of what can only be described as miraculous provision, the dam was built. It was completed in the winter of 2007, was filled by January of 2008.
Over time, the vision became clearer and Ebenezer was born – a place where local young people could come and be equipped with practical skills to run agricultural businesses and with spiritual guidance to lead Christ centred lives in their communities. The vision was a simple one, take rural young people whose local options were extremely limited, and teach them how to farm. They will learn by doing – waking up early to work in their fields planting a variety of crops. Help them to market the crops, and from the income earned they will pay the college for the costs of their education, and pocket the rest. This is apprenticeship at its best, learning and earning. When they leave they not only have the skills to run a small agri-business but they also have raised some capital towards starting their own enterprise.
The first apprentices arrived in 2007 – to this empty patch of land which now boasted a large dam and nothing else. They lived in tents while cutting trees and clearing the land. They baked the bricks and built the houses with their bare hands. They marked the fields and started planting the first of the crops. It was hard work at a hard time in Zimbabwe. 2007/2008 were probably the worst years the country has gone through in our recent history, and it was all too easy then to be utterly discouraged. But as the scriptures say, those who know their God will call on him, and he will answer and show them what to do.
So what has happened from that one dam? Well, as of December 2011, Ebenezer Trust has held 3 graduation ceremonies, graduating 39 students. Not only did they leave with skills and a new confidence, they also graduated debt-free. All of them managed to pay back the college from the sweat of their brow, and they managed to pocket quite a bit too. One of the young men who started in January 2011 made US$1,000.00 from his very first plot of tomatoes. He now has half a hectare of the crop, and is looking forward to buying the equipment he needs to run his own agricultural enterprise when he leaves Ebenezer. Simanga and her friend, Sithabiso who made over $2,000.00 each during their time at Ebenezer have now both left and are employed as agricultural mentors in a local irrigation scheme. Justin Thebe used some of the profit he made to build himself a house. He has now moved in, and is running his own farm using a small petrol pump to irrigate from his well.
In this past year alone, the young people of Ebenezer produced 181,700kg of tomatoes, 24,150 dried onions, 23,143 bunches of green onions, over 10,000 head of cabbages, as well as butternut, green maize, carrots, broccoli, peas, and garlic. They have also started looking after broiler chickens in groups of 6, and each member of the group makes an average of $200 with each batch of 3,000 chickens which take 6 weeks to grow.
The ripple effect
It’s not just the apprentices who are benefiting; the local community now has access to a wide variety of fresh vegetables which they come to buy, sometimes from miles away. Local businesses buy in bulk to supply their shops in Maphisa and other areas. There is even a shop in the Western suburbs of Bulawayo selling fresh vegetables.
Local farmers are getting in on the act. Ebenezer holds field days where up to 250 farmers at a time receive training from the apprentices. Recently 100 local farmers signed up to start a 5m X 5m vegetable patch in their homestead under the supervision of the apprentices. A local irrigation scheme at Antelope mine has received 6 of the graduates who are now training farmers, especially in how to grow tomatoes. There is a good reason for this, a new company is setting up to process tomatoes and needs plenty of local growers of the produce. This ensures markets for the farmers so prices won’t fall with increased production, and in turn, the company is assured of a ready supply of the input. And jobs are created for local people.
Ebenezer is not just about farming, it’s about integral mission – it’s about the church impacting the community for good. The three churches local to the area are seeing an increase in numbers, and a few of the apprentices minister in the churches in different areas. Last year two mobile clinics visited the area and people received free medical attention. The apprentices proved invaluable interpreting and encouraging local people to attend. An eye clinic has recently made the decision to visit the area annually. The benefits go far and wide – one of the lady apprentices has taken a post training single mothers in a project in Bulawayo how to support themselves from agri-business. And Ebenezer is now providing internships for graduates from the University of Zimbabwe.
Ebenezer: thus far the Lord has helped us.1 Samuel 7:12