This article was originally published in the September 2022 edition of ITMI Monthly.
Sibongile straightened up from the stooped position she’d been in for most of the morning.
The 22-year-old widow was removing weeds from neat rows of vegetables. Now her back and knees were stiff, and she needed a drink.
Every Thursday, Sibongile and a group of widows gather at the mission base in their village to help the mission by doing what they can.
Generally, they pull weeds that threaten the large vegetable garden which helps feed those in the village suffering from hunger - including most of the widows themselves.
Sibongile, like the other young widows present that morning, would be rewarded for her work with a desperately needed food parcel.
Sibongile made her way over to the water tap and turned the valve. Only a trickle of water tinkled into the cup she held beneath it.
Glancing at the heavily overcast sky, she knew why the water wasn’t flowing.
The water was pumped from the ground by a solar pump into two large tanks perched on a tower of scaffolding built for that purpose.
When someone opened the valve, as she had just done, the water should flow down through the open valve with gravity’s help.
The borehole and the watering system were made possible by the gifts of ITMI supporters.
But when it was cloudy, like today, the solar pump had little power to pump the water up and into the overused water tank.
Outside the fence surrounding the mission base, a line was forming at the other tap the mission had set up so that villagers and passersby were included in the blessing of clean water.
The weak stream of water wasn’t filling the containers quickly, and a line of people coming to fill their containers with the water they’d need for the day was building up.
Living in rural Zimbabwe, Sibongile is no stranger to hard work. She labors from the break of dawn until the last light so that she and her family can eat.
Later, if there was enough water, she’d haul a bucket of water from the mission about a mile back to her own home, which she’d use to cook.
She’d have to walk 3 miles to fill her container or do without if there wasn’t enough water available.
Though the work was hard, Sibongile enjoyed the camaraderie she’d developed by coming to the mission each week to help with the garden and other chores that kept the mission operating.
She liked the feeling of knowing that her contribution was helping many others in the village. She enjoyed the sense of accomplishment she felt when she and the others finished removing weeds, and the rows of vegetables looked straight and neat.
Like the other widows, she had enjoyed being part of helping the little plants grow.
Cozmore, the man who had started the mission base and was in charge of it, walked by the tap where Sibongile waited for her cup to fill.
“Morning, Sibongile,” he greeted her, gracing her with his customary wide and genuine smile.
“Morning,” she returned, thinking about how much she admired and respected Cozmore and his wife, Laizah, and their work.
Cozmore always had a smile ready for the hurting in his village. But he was staunch in his commitment to care for widows and orphans.
He’d stood firm against some village young men, who, though they were able-bodied, despised Cozmore and his mission because they felt the help widows like Sibongile were getting should go to them.
Cozmore hadn’t given in when powerful officials attempted to flex their political muscles to get Cozmore to use his mission’s resources to endorse their political party and exclude certain political groups and tribes from the mission’s help.
Instead, he had refused!
Later, Cozmore had told Sibongile and one or two others it was because there was only one message the mission would stand for, and that was the message of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.
Those officials had threatened to beat Cozmore physically if he didn’t change his mind before the elections took place. They believe that missions like Cozmore’s are responsible for their party losing support in rural areas because they offer aid to the poor.
Sibongile fervently hoped Cozmore wouldn’t be harmed.
When the police threatened Cozmore, the village was surprised when Cozmore didn’t abandon his mission. He just kept proclaiming Jesus’ story and serving the orphans and widows.
Cozmore and Laizah Fungulani, Zimbabwe.
Sibongile finished her water and returned the cup to its place. As Sibongile returned to where she’d left off pulling weeds, her eyes fell on the small building that housed the mill.
Several farmers were making their way to the mill with the fruit of their labor. Sibongile had never been to the mission when the mill wasn’t being used. Each day saw farmers bringing crops to be milled.
The mill was one of the first things that had been built on the mission property.
Sibongile remembered Cozmore had built the structure around the mill, making it impossible to remove, to the angst of those who might desire to relieve the mission of it for their own benefit.
The mill at the mission base had made such an impact on the community.
Once people in her village could grow a crop and afford to have it milled - thanks to the mission’s minuscule fee - more and more people started growing crops, and food had generally been more available.
That fee, though small, enabled the mission to help orphans and other widows like Sibongile.
Sibongile knew the mission also used the mill fees to provide food for older widows, who weren’t required to earn points to exchange for the crucial provision.
Cozmore with the Gwayi Mission mill.
Her eyes moved to a simple fledgling plot of grass and some decorative flowers that would hopefully provide a place of beauty for people in the community to enjoy.
Some of the youth in the community had come to clear stumps for the grass. Then another group of volunteers had planted the grass seeds by hand.
Next, her alert eyes moved to the chicken coop building, with its large windows covered with chicken wire. The chickens were another new addition to the mission. Sibongile looked forward to when the chickens would produce eggs, which she knew would be included in the food supplies the mission provided for widows like herself.
Some of the chickens had been sold for meat, providing food for people and benefitting the mission’s projects.
She knew some villagers were also coming to the mission to learn poultry farming, so meat and eggs would be available to many.
The Gwayi River Mission chicken coop.
Sibongile reached her row and stooped again to grasp a weed that was threatening a maize plant. She was thankful for Cozmore and the mission base that had brought Jesus and so many other good things to her village.
For widows like Sibongile who come to the mission to work and earn food supplies or Bibles, the Gwayi River Mission is a lifeline.
“What you need to know about women in this area,” Cozmore says, “is that they are treated like objects, required to follow their husbands’ instructions.”
Once widowed, Cozmore tells us, a woman is “as good as a slave.” She’s in danger of being used by others for their own agendas. Few are interested in helping a woman who is widowed. In desperation, some end up turning to prostitution.
Volunteering at Gwayi River allows these widows to feel the dignity of earning the basic necessities they need while contributing to the mission’s cause.
“We give them hope with food supplies,” Cozmore said, “They don’t have to beg, and they [truly] value the supplies and Bibles we give them because they worked for it.”
Widows leaving Gwayi River Mission Base with supplies and food.
If the Lord is leading you to stand beside Cozmore and Laizah financially, please consider committing to a monthly donation to the ministry at Gwayi River.
Being able to rely on any amount coming in every month would help Cozmore plan outreaches and continue to demonstrate the Kingdom of God by ensuring widows and orphans do not get overlooked.
About the Authors
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.
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