African memories

Journal entry — Jan. 4, 2021

I was actually born in Southern Rhodesia, which later became Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe. When it came to renewing my passport, it was challenging to accurately choose my country of birth!

My parents lived on a mission station way out in the bush. My mom ran a clinic and my dad was variously maintenance supervisor, school principal, evangelist and dentist — he had four lessons from a dentist here in the States! I remember riding with him on his motorcycle with his collapsible dentist chair, watching him set it up in the villages, and just dig out roots, after which the Africans would get up, singing and dancing with gratitude for relief from their pain

My mom was an amazing, compassionate nurse and Bible teacher, who went through a cholera epidemic and so much more there, and had to do everything herself. I remember seeing a beautiful new baby stricken with lockjaw because his grandmother had used a rusty razor to sever the cord.

The Africans had to haul all their water from crocodile- and parasite-infested rivers, where they would bathe, wash their dishes, and water their livestock. The women could carry a baby on their back and huge loads on their heads with the greatest of ease. At night, they would sing, dance, and tell stories around the fire. Many nights, I would go to sleep with the sound of the village drums in my ears.

One holiday, a nest of 12 puff adders hatched in and around our house. We always slept under a mosquito net and, once the generator was shut off, if we had to get up at night, we would have to shine a torch into our slippers first to make sure no scorpions, centipedes, or snakes were there. As deadly as they all were, the founder of our mission prayed over 100 years ago that no TEAM missionary would ever be bitten by a snake, and, to this day, none have!

Church with the precious Africans was held in a primitive building or under a tree. They did antiphonal singing with lots of dancing, drums, and tambourines, and it would go on for hours, because they had no time constraints.

From the age of 6, I spent nine months every year at our mission boarding home and attended the all-girls public schools, where we wore uniforms, had corporal punishment, and very high academic standards. While I never lacked for anything, being always geographically separated from my parents was very difficult.

We would stay in Zimbabwe five years at a time and then come back to the States for a year of furlough. While I am grateful to be a third culture kid, America was like a different planet, initially. The phrase “culture shock” comes to mind, especially when I came back to attend college.

I was privileged to attend the Royal Conservatory of London in Harare, where my amazing piano instructor, Mrs. Struthers, taught me everything I know about piano, and how to love and mentor the whole student.

During our time there, Zimbabwe went through the terrorist war to overthrow the white minority government. One night on the station, we had terrorists come to our door with AK-47 rifles and take my dad and brother down to the clinic for supplies. My mom, sister, and I ran out into the bush and hid.

The next time they came back, they made another missionary watch while they beat one of the African workers to death. Another time, they flew our mission doctor to our house and he did brain surgery on our kitchen table on a soldier whose vehicle had hit a landmine.

Lastly, my parents were watching the six children of the Dutch Reformed missionaries, but their folks were killed in an ambush. My brother was conscripted to serve in the Rhodesian army as a mechanic, rather than in combat, because, at one time, there was a bounty on both my dad and brother’s heads.

I share that to say that, through all that, God was faithful and kept us safe.

Zimbabwe was a beautiful place in which to grow up, with amazing flora and fauna, and used to be called the breadbasket of Africa. This is not the case anymore — the Zimbabweans have suffered many atrocities. We must count our blessings, because, as my dad used to say, “There, but for the grace of God, anyone of us could have been born elsewhere.”

I have come to realize just how true the words in Ecclesiastes 11:1 are, that, if you “cast your bread upon the waters … it will return to you.”

I think of how important it is to slow down, count our blessings, listen more, spend quality time with our loved ones, make that call, give of our resources to help others, forgive quickly, set our priorities right, readily offer grace — in short, follow the promptings in our spirit to do whatever it takes to engage with others.

This column is published posthumously with permission from the family. Missionary kid Loretta Beyer grew up in Zimbabwe. After graduating college in the U.S. with a degree in music and psychology, she joined her parents in Alpena, because of terrorist warfare in her African home. Over the last 40 years, she has made Alpena her place of ministry.


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