Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Easter in Zimbabwe

It has been a while since I posted because getting to an internet cafe required a two hour ride on a decrepit bus. A trip to Mutare was an all day task, and in the light of the many things we were trying to accomplish, we couldn't justify the time.

Difficulty in travel is one of the ways we experienced the realities of life in Zimbabwe today. We also did without running water for most of my visit, due to unavailability of new pipes, and a "work slow down" by the workers who are not getting paid. We had daily power cuts. The students we support were asking the brothers for almost doubled school fees. People have high hopes for the Unity Government, and we prayed for peace in the country every day, as reports of killings and farm evictions continued to be reported.

I never felt at risk of violence, and I came to really love not only the Dr. Seuss-like landscape of wild boulder strewn mountains, but the people I met. Especially my brothers.

Looking back over the first few weeks of April I am astonished at how much we accomplished! We met for hours every day sorting through various issues facing the community. What emerged as our first task was to restructure the daily time table to reflect the reality of the brothers' life; mostly we created the opportunity for more negotiation and accountability. A little more time in bed as well, starting the day at 7:00 instead of 6:00. The biggest gift to come out of this revision of the timetable was accidental, the decision to have a community meal for the brothers, workers and other residents of the Angler's Rest. The brothers decided to do the cooking. These meals were an immediate hit with everybody. One young resident, a young man who grew up in an orphanage and now lives with the brothers thought they were in honor of me and said how he would always remember my visit because of these happy meals together. "This is a new development," the brothers replied. Every Sunday we can remember Br. Clark at our family dinner.

Another big decision was to move the chapel from a small musty room the size of a brother's cell to an exquisite thatched hut they'd built on a hill on the corner of the property for another purpose. The original plans didn't come off, and the building was languishing. We began by marching up there during the Palm Sunday Liturgy. The next few days were full as we waxed the floor, set up the tabernacle, created a holy water font, and experimented with the best way to have liturgies. The all night vigil on Maundy Thursday was there, the rafters reflecting the candlelight, flowers crowded around the Blessed Sacrament. The Chapel quickly became a spiritual home, bringing together the familiar shape of their cultural homes with the needs of a praying community. In the picture here you can see the Paschal Candle made by Br. Bhekimpilo from $3.00 worth of pure beeswax bought from the neighboring honey processing plant.

As the community has grown and changed over the years, they have struggled to adapt jobs needing to be done with the skills and interests of the brothers. Some of them felt under utilized. In our talks about this we decided to list all of the tasks that need to get done on a weekly basis, no job too humble to mention. They listed sixty or seventy things they felt should be done regularly. Next we clumped these tasks together and wrote eight job descriptions. Lastly we looked around the room and divvied the jobs among the brothers. I've never seen men happier to get jobs! With the clarity of the job descriptions they immediately began to function as a team. Things which had been long over looked were getting addressed. The Guardian with his new job description as "facilitator and coordinator" had to suffer a bit as things were done differently from the way he would have done them, but after a week or so he admitted things were getting done in a much more amicable and efficient way.

One of the hopes the brothers had for my visit was to do some educational sessions with them, over and above the practical problem solving. They wanted to hear about the vows. So we gathered by candlelight in the new chapel Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week to talk about the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. After I spoke we would consider the vows from their cultural perspectives. Religious vows are just as counter cultural to a Shona man from Bolaweyo, Zimbabwe as they are to an American from Snohomish, Washington! We all had an unexpected sense of the challenge and holiness of our vocation.

Thursday morning of Holy Week, we had a special Chapter. It was called by the Guardian to capture the good work that had begun in the community, ratify it and record it. As we went through our accomplishments item by item, I had a strong feeling a miracle had taken place in the commitments and processes of this small Franciscan community.

My visit culminated in the Triduum. We installed the brothers in their new positions and blessed them and then they in turn washed the feet of the community: workers and orphans. The foot washing ceremony became incredibly lively as we sang choruses. It was something about being touched, feeling bound together in service, the Liturgy presenting the themes and hopes of our conversations and decisions in a powerful way.

Good Friday we spent in quiet, with the most newly professed brother, Brian, leading us in a reflection on the meaning of the Cross in his life.

The Great Easter Vigil at 4:00 a.m. Sunday began with a roaring fire in the fireplace next to the Chapel, then each brother took a lesson from Scripture, and after reading it lead the rest in a response: reading a psalm, telling a story, teaching a dance or a song. Br. Peter had us go outside the chapel into the strong moonlight after he'd read the Valley of Dry Bones "to listen." "To what?" we asked. "Your hearts," he replied. I heard a great knocking, and saw sinews coming over the bones and a new spirit breathed into my brothers. Deo gratias!

I always cry when I leave a friary after a long visit. Usually it is just stinging eyes, and I cover it with a laugh and a quick wave. This time I wept. I felt I was saying good bye to the brothers of my heart. So much had been at stake, so much claimed through the power of the Spirit.


Luke said...

Dear Br Clark,
it sounds like you had an awe-some time in Zimbabwe

Linda said...

Br. Clark,
Thank you for sharing your Holy Week with us. It was a truly moving experience for all of us and I wish we could have experienced it with you.