Zimbabwe, baptism...and a wheelbarrow—A missionary's tale
Written by Tod Gobledale
Copyright Miguel S. Salmeron, FPG International L.L.C., photo
Late in the rainy season I drive about 95 kilometers south from Plumtree in western Zimbabwe to Nkedile. The road is rough from the rains. We've been blessed with good rains in southern Africa, even this late in the season. The sky is cloudy when I leave Plumtree at 8 a.m. At Nkedile the sky is clear when I arrive at 10:30.
People are gathered at the school, clustered in small groups. In one corner of the school yard, Mrs. Marupedi discusses issues with the members of Manyano, our women's group. The women sit upon cotton cloths, a patchwork of color. In another spot, Gertrude Nleya practices songs with the youth choir. The men sit on traditional carved wooden stools, gossiping under a mopane tree. I move from group to group, greeting people in Ndebele, Kalanga and Tswana, the three languages spoken at Nkedile.
I end up with Mr. Abel Leso, a church deacon, at the entrance to the classroom where we will worship. An acacia tree's yellow-blossomed branches spread over us. In the shade beside the doorway stands a wheelbarrow. In the wheelbarrow is a young girl. She is alone. Someone has brought her to church, parked her here and gone to visit with friends before the service. I go up to greet her. She is probably around 12 years old, but small for her age. She wears a pretty blue dress. She is barefoot. She can't walk, so she doesn't need shoes. Her legs are like sticks. Her back has a large hump. Her mouth is slack. Her eyes are vacant. Mr. Leso and I greet her. She looks at us, but nothing seems to register in her mind.
Before I can ask about her condition, I am called away by the men who want to talk about molding bricks for a church building. Our conversation ends when we are called to begin the service. There is singing, scripture reading, preaching, praying, and then it is time for baptisms. There are 12 today. I work my way down the line. At the end of each baptism I present the newly baptized with the words, "I present to you so and so, a child of God."
At the end of the line, on the floor in a heap of tangled useless limbs, sits the girl from the wheelbarrow. Deacon Leso whispers in my ear, "We don't know who the father is and we are not sure when she was born. Both parents are gone. She is brought here by an aunt. Can we baptize her?"
"Of course we can!" I exclaim. "Egameni lika yise, leleNdodana, lelika Moya oNgcwele!" I repeat the ancient familiar words of baptism. I turn to Deacon Leso asking, "Can we pick her up?" He helps me lift her. She is amazingly light. Holding Nomalanga in my arms I say to the congregation, "I present to you Nomalanga Moyo, a child of God."
"Hallelujah!" shouts the congregation. "Amen!" they chorus. A huge grin comes to Nomalanga. She smiles her delight at her new family in Christ. Tears spring to my eyes. A hymn comes to mind: "Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come."
What a joy to be able to bring Nomalanga into this community of church, this new family in Christ. I am not so romantic to think that much will change for Nomalanga. She is severely disabled, unable to talk or walk. But I am encouraged by the care that someone had to bring her to church. And hopeful that this church family at Nkedile will help her aunt look after her needs, both physical and spiritual, for all her days.
I remember Nomalanga's smile as she was presented to the church, as she was the center of our attention. It is a song in my soul and heart.
"Just as I am, you will receive, will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; Because your promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!"
The Revs. Tod and Ana Gobledale served for five years as Common Global Mission Board missionaries in Zimbabwe. They now live in Cleveland, where Ana Gobledale serves on the Common Global Mission Board staff of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).