The voices carried throughout the small home as we sang “Amazing Grace” with the pastor of the church at Harare Farm. Thirty people had packed into his small 10′ X 10′ home. We had spent the day worshiping with adults and children, prayed as we walked through the village and spent time playing games with the children and teaching them what we knew about God. It had been a fantastic day, our first day in Africa.
We stepped outside the pastor’s home and prayed for the land that would soon be home to a new church building, then walked back to our vehicles. We climbed into the vans to drive away, but didn’t leave. After a few minutes, one of our group leaders told us we could get out of the vans and continue playing with the children, because the pastors needed to take care of some things with the leaders at the farm.
As we played and sang with the children, the sun began to set. Trucks pulled up and men jumped out of the back and stood around us. After an hour or so, it was obvious we would not be leaving anytime soon. The sun set, and as anxiety set in knowing we were in trouble, but we continued singing and praising God with the children. The sense of calm I felt in those moments was tremendous.
After four hours, we were told the authorities were taking us into custody. A war veteran on the farm had reported us to the police and they had been questioning the pastors for those four hours. We filed into our vans, and I sat face-to-face with a Zim police officer on that long ride. As we turned down long, dark, dirt roads, one of the girls from our team called out, “Let’s pray.” And we did, with the police officers sitting right next to us.
The two-room, village police station had lists of those incarcarated on the walls — written in marker on pieces of cardboard. The traditional picture of President Mugabe hung on the front wall.
One pastor had avoided telling his wife he would be late, but as the encounter carried on for hours and hours, he realized he would need to tell her what was taking place. She called together the women of her church for prayer. She also called her sister in Bulawayo who gathered the women of the church there. Within hours of our release, the US State Department had been contacted by the wife of one of our group leaders. On a flight to Victoria Falls a few days later, we rode with an assistant from the US Embassy and told him of our experience.
Influential Zimbabwean businessmen heard of our encounter with the police and convinced the authorities we were causing no harm. We discovered later that the police had been planning on putting us in jail for a few days. But for what? Loving on God’s children, apparently. We also learned that the President’s Office was informed, the Secretary of Justice knew of our ordeal, and police and military leaders came out to the farm.
Looking back, it was obvious that the people of God came together in prayer and support for their brothers and sisters. That was Saturday night, our first day in Zimbabwe. Sunday morning’s worship was the greatest worship experience of my life. Just a few hours earlier, we didn’t know if we would be able to be in church on Sunday, yet there we stood, praising and worshipping our God who answered our prayers and the prayers of our new family in Zimbabwe.