If you watched any coverage of this past summer’s World Cup in South Africa, you may have seen a feel-good story or two about the people of South Africa. In between the matches of the U.S. team against the other countries’ teams, because those are the matches you watched, flashed scenes of beautiful African people dancing, animals running and picturesque views.

These short glances do not hold a candle to the way Africa actually is. The people are beautiful and dance, yes, but the joy expressed in their dancing and singing is not something that translates easily through a camera. The animals run, yes, but one would never guess that you can only find the animals in wildlife preserves. The views are picturesque, yes, but, well, I guess that one comes across pretty readily.

This past May I took a trip to Zimbabwe, a country just north of South Africa. I went with a group of nine people from the Wesley Foundation at Purdue University in West Lafayette. It started with one young woman, Lindsey Junk, who was determined to go to Africa for a semester and multiplied into a group of six university students, two young adults, and two local church members who all had their reasons for taking this trip to join Lindsey for three weeks. My desire was to travel and experience a different part of the world.

Africa University

Africa University lies in the same valley as Old Mutare Mission near Mutare, Zimbabwe. With a motto of “Investing in Africa’s Future,” the school strives to bring the whole continent together to learn. We spent our first two weeks staying at AU, interacting with students and doing work around campus. While some others in our group painted around campus or did some ground work, I spent my time in the library. A church in Maine had donated more than 7,000 books to their very modern library. Another member of our team and I pasted in book plates and stamped close to 500 books in a few days work.

The students on campus were mostly international, because school had already begun its break for the summer, which is winter there. Students were thrilled to have an opportunity to get to know us. We were the first group to visit the university this year.

Not many Volunteer in Missions groups have been to AU since 2008, the year that the economy totally collapsed. Inflation was so high they had billion dollar bills and had already cut off a few zeros. There was nothing to be found on the grocery store shelves. When they got paid, Zimbabweans would head directly to the bank to get their money. They would buy what they could because by the time one left town, his or her money would already be worth less than when they got it.

During the economic crisis, people fled Zimbabwe for better situations in surrounding countries. People would simply disappear and their families never heard from them again. Zimbabwe lost doctors, teachers and much of their educated, making the situation even worse.

Better now

Life is better now in Zimbabwe. Eventually, inflation was so out of control that the economy shifted to the U.S. dollar, because it was stable. There is plenty on the store shelves, however, there really aren’t enough U.S. dollars in the system. The poor can’t get the dollars they need.

Education is so important to the African people. We met many students, who once they graduated, would be the sole breadwinners for their entire family. Sometimes these families would consist of multiple wives and up to 30 children.

One highly educated, well respected, woman working at the university told us this – she had children she was taking care of because two of her sisters had died of HIV/AIDs. She spoke so matter-of-factly about her situation saying the kids could live off of sadza – corn meal boiled in water – and vegetables, because it was literally a matter of paying for meat or education. When we offered to pay her children’s school fees for a term, she burst into tears and bowed before each one of us in thanks for our generosity.

This article is not a plea for you to sell all your belongings and send your money to the poor in Africa. Instead, it’s a chance for you to simply appreciate all the opportunities you have; take advantage of what this country has to offer and take the chance to see the world if you can.

You never know what you might learn. Miranda Dinges was an intern at Wesley Foundation at Purdue University last year (2009-2010). Coming from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference where her father is a pastor, Miranda is now attending seminary at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.

If you do feel called to help someone else in a big way with a small gift, please do! These were a few of the missions we worked with in Zimbabwe.

God bless you,

The Rev. Lana J. Robyne is co-director of Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry with the Rev. Glen Robyne, pastor of Spiritual Growth and Campus Ministry at First UMC in West Lafayette, Ind. and president of University Religious Leaders at Purdue. You can contact her at cell 765-586-0124, home 765-743-5080 and Wesley 765-743-5066.

A UMNS photo courtesy of Andra Stevens

More than 300 graduates receive degree certificates from Zimbabwe’s Africa University on June 12. The Class of 2010 represents 21 African countries, the most diverse graduating class in the institution’s history.

Life is better now in Zimbabwe.