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Food parcels bring hope to Zimbabwe

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (BP)–Boxes of desperately needed food are reaching families in Zimbabwe suffering through that country’s food crisis — and the Southern Baptist and Zimbabwean Baptist partners delivering the food are hearing heartfelt expressions of deep gratitude.

Southern Baptists were asked to pray in mid-May that customs and duty charges on the food would be minimal. Increases in those costs had created concern about getting the parcels into the country.

Within days, however, Zimbabwe’s government announced a 90-day suspension of duty charges on imported basic goods.

“I was very concerned that the new rules would cost us about an additional $75,000 to get this shipment in, but God has proven His involvement in this project once again through these new customs rules,” said Mark Hatfield, who leads work in Sub-Saharan Africa for Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization. “Your prayers have made a difference!”

Two shipments totaling about 1,000 boxes were delivered in the country early in 2008, and another 850 boxes arrived in mid-May. Another shipment of 1,550 food parcels departed Johannesburg, South Africa, for the Zimbabwe border May 26. The food boxes, which contain about 50 pounds of food staples, will feed a family of six for one week at a cost of about $80.

Political uncertainty and economic turmoil — including the world’s highest inflation rate — are making daily life virtually impossible for Zimbabwe’s poorest people, about one-third of whom are receiving emergency food aid. The situation has been compounded even further by flooding that wiped out crops in many parts of the country early this year, followed by three months of extremely dry weather that caused serious damage to this year’s harvest.

When the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe and the Baptist Convention of Zimbabwe delivered one batch of food parcels that arrived in mid-May — in conjunction with the Southern Baptist mission in that country — they were deeply moved by the reaction of those who received the boxes, according to one of the workers who helped with the deliveries.

“These packages are being delivered to the elderly who have little income, as well as the destitute among our communities,” the worker wrote. “They are also being given to our Baptist pastors who struggle to make ends meet.

“The people we delivered the packages to today were overwhelmed with gratitude. Some of the elderly wept and thanked us, saying that they had been praying for food and now God had provided it,” the worker reported. “They were amazed that Baptists in the U.S. cared enough to send them food when their own countrymen don’t seem to care that they are starving.”

The plight of Zimbabwe’s poor is almost beyond imagining, the worker wrote.

“Most people in Zimbabwe are eating one meal about every other day,” he said. “People who live in rural central Zimbabwe have stopped coming to church and traveling to visit neighbors because they have no food and no energy to walk.”

The Southern Baptist team in Zimbabwe calculated that if the items in the food boxes could be obtained at the grocery store, they would cost about 30 times what an average worker makes in a month — and unemployment in the country is running at about 80 percent.

“If a person worked for a year and spent all their money on food, they still couldn’t purchase what was in this box,” the worker wrote.

To date, Southern Baptists have provided nearly $500,000 for the Zimbabwe crisis. Besides the food box project, Baptist Global Response purchased $40,000 worth of essential medicines for Sanyati Baptist Hospital and funded a project to distribute school supplies to 25,000 of the most needy students. Southern Baptists also are helping provide maize for a church-related orphanage in southeastern Zimbabwe that is home to 50 children.

“Many people think God has forgotten them, but when the church brings them food it is a reminder that God is still there for them,” Hatfield said. “People say, ‘No one else seems to care what happens to me.’ It’s a marvelous opportunity to connect people who care with people in need.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The Baptist Global Response website is at www.gobgr.org.

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  • Mark Kelly