From Bulawayo to Cork - God lives in His people

15 October 2013

This day last week I attended the "Whats now for multi-ethnic churches" Conference. One of the people who told me their story that day was Sue Hogan. I asked her if she would write some of what she told me so that I could share it with others. There is much to be learnt from her experience as we continue to learn about what it is to be a welcoming multi-ethnic church and much for which to be thankful. 

Sue shares part of her story here

From Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to Cork, Ireland God’s hand is still at work in the lives of His people

December 2004 saw our arrival to Cork, Ireland. We had been in touch over and over again with questions and answers from the Irish Ambassador in Botswana as we were immigrating to Ireland as returning residents (My husband’s father was born in Howth, Dublin). He had told us how we would need to go straight away to apply for our PPS Numbers as we could not do much about looking for employment or schools for our two girls aged 8 and 13 without these. He also had given us tips on where to look for accommodation and advised us to get letters of recommendation from our daughter’s schools and our car insurance company. We ensured that our bank was international as well. We were given transfer letters from the Methodist church in Zimbabwe introducing us to the Minister here in Cork too.

Zimbabwe is my place of Birth. It is also where our two beautiful girls were born and raised. We were very heart-sore/torn about leaving family and friends, our home and all our animals. To someone looking in from the outside, I am sure that all they would see was a land without law and order, a crashed economy, inflation sitting at well over 100% and President Robert Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade terrorising, ransacking homes and raping innocent people. However, it is important for you to understand that this is only one side of our beloved Zimbabwe and to us, we were leaving all that we had ever known to begin all over again. An Unknown that we hoped would be a land of peace, law and order and opportunities for our two young girls to be well educated and be safe: a land where they would have the opportunity to choose their own careers and fulfil their dreams.

When the decision was made that we would be moving to Ireland, I asked my Bible study group to pray for us leaving Zimbabwe as we had never been to Ireland and did not know anyone here. Through this group of friends, we were put in e-mail contact with friends of friends and friends of friends of friends who had embarked on the same journey that we were about to make from Zimbabwe to Ireland. The three Zimbabwean families that we were put into contact with were able to advise us about what to bring and what to leave behind, to answer the million and one questions we had about everything from weather and clothing to housing. One of these families, a husband and wife with two very small children agreed to collect us from the ferry in Cork and opened their home to us for the first week that we were here. When we arrived in Ireland we found that our bank did not have a branch in Cork even though it was an international Bank. The only branch was in Dublin so we had no money at all. When we left Zimbabwe we still used bank books and cheque books because bank cards were not used like they are today. My husband’s brother who was living in Botswana at the time transferred some money into the bank account of the family we were staying with while we made phone calls to get our money out of the ‘international’ bank account. Once we had our money, one would think it would be easy to open an Irish account to put it in, with without credit references and no one to stand guarantor this could not be done. The next Sunday we told a new friend and his wife at Church about our ordeal with the bank and he said he would take us to his bank. He did just that and what was said I do not know but an account was opened for us that day.

We found a house to rent and walked through the door on the 22nd of December, suitcases in hand. A few minutes later, a car pulled up and a lady popped out saying she had called around to take the lady of the house shopping, but we told her that the previous family had moved out and that we were now living there. She smiled and asked if we needed to go to the shops. We were delighted as we had no car. On taking us down to the local Tesco our youngest daughter was so excited when we came into the supermarket and shouted out ‘Mum look at all the Bread!’ as in our last few years in Zimbabwe we only had two loaves- white or brown and this was only if you were lucky. Bread was rationed and always in short supply. One could queue for hours and still walk away without any. A whole aisle in a supermarket stacked sky high with hundreds of different brands and types of bread was for our little girl a sight to behold!

The next problem that we encountered was enrolling our daughters into school. I was adamant that both girls would be in their school uniforms and at school on the very first day when school re-opened in January. Our school term in Zimbabwe follows the calendar year from January to December so the idea of school starting in September was also something new to us. It wasn’t too difficult to get our youngest daughter a place in the primary school at the bottom of our road but we had a lot of trouble trying to see headmasters/headmistresses of the local secondary schools for our eldest daughter. As it was right before the Christmas holidays, no one wanted to see us. They all told us to come back and see them in January when the new term began. Eventually, as the schools all closed for Christmas, we had to accept the fact that that was what we would have to do. But once more, God had other plans.

We belonged to the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. So when we arrived, it wasn’t too hard to find the number of the only Methodist Church in Cork! We phoned the Minister saying that we would like to come to church on Christmas Day and to ask about directions and bus routes to get us there. He informed us that the busses don’t run on Christmas day but that if we walked there, he would find someone to take us home afterwards. The very kind gentleman who was on transport duty on that snowy Christmas morning was placed there by our God, a God who sees and knows our deepest desires and looks after our every need. As we walked out of church that morning, this gentleman put his arms around our two girls and asked how old they were and where they were going to go to school. Our youngest daughter, full of excitement about her new school began chattering immediately. When it came to our eldest daughters turn, she had tears in her eyes as she explained that we had not yet found a school which would take her in. The gentleman asked her age again and thought for a moment before saying that he happened to be the Principal of a local school and that just two weeks previously a boy the same age as our daughter was had left the school. He told her to leave it with him and he’d see what he could do. Two days later he arrived on our doorstop with a pile of school books, a school jumper and tie from the lost property and some forms to be filled in. So both of our girls started school with everyone else on the first day back in January.

One member of the Church showed us where to go and buy school uniforms. Another showed us where the charity shops were in the city. A neighbour up the road from us took us shopping with her and helped us to locate everyday items which were packaged very differently than they are in Zimbabwe and even stored in completely different aisles. Kindnesses which to them may have seemed small and insignificant were to our emotional and hurting hearts a gift from God.

When we did purchase our first car, we could not insure it even though we had a letter from our insurance in Zimbabwe to say we had a full no claims bonus and we had been insured with them for 10 years. All of the insurance companies we spoke to said that we needed an E.U. insurance before they would even look at our papers. Another member of the church drove us round from one insurance company to the next and from broker to broker until we found one that would help us.

There are many other such incidences that I could recount for you which took place in our first few months of living in Ireland. Although at the time I am not sure if we noticed all of them but certainly looking back it is easy to trace the hand of God in all that took place. If it was not for the kindness and help of each of these wonderful people I often wonder how we would have managed here. We thank God for placing each of you in our lives at just the right time.

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