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Mission Unplugged Episode 17 - Ntando Msimanga

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Ntando Msimanga is a Field Officer with Showers of Blessing Trust, an NGO in Zimbabwe and a partner of GMP. Ntando joined Showers of Blessing in 2017 as a Field Officer and has been working full time with the team to provide clean drinking water in rural areas. He was born into the Churches of Christ in Zimbabwe, and sometimes preaches and leads Bible study there. He also volunteered at Khayelihle Children’s Village prior to starting work with Showers of Blessing. He has a background in Social Sciences but also worked extensively in sales and marketing.

In this episode, Mitch and Ntando chat about the impact and importance of safe water, what it feels like to be changing lives, and how the things that catch your attention might be the things God is suggesting you get involved with.

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Mitch: Ntando welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for coming on.

Ntando: Thank you for having me.

Mitch: An absolute pleasure. So for everyone listening, tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do with Showers of Blessing.

Ntando: Well, I'm a field officer with Showers of Blessing Trust. We basically go to rural areas outside of town where there are a few amenities, especially water and people depend more on water that they get from either open sources or anywhere they can basically find it. But we try and go into those communities and cut down their walking times, cut down diseases by getting them clean drinking water.

Mitch: So tell us a bit more about yourself and your story of faith. Were you born into the church or did you come to faith later in life?

Ntando: Both. Well, the thing with me is I was born in the church, normal church kid. My parents both went to the Church of Christ and I went to Sunday school every Sunday there. My parents sing in the choir. Then when I was 12, I had to go to boarding school. I went to an Anglican boarding school. But then I was not yet born again. So the interesting thing about me is I'm a thinker. So when I was young, I would always think, okay, God, I know this was the question that I had, God, I know. But who is this Jesus fellow? Why do I have to believe in Jesus and so forth? So I did go to church and I did believe in God, but I was always asking why Jesus, you see?

So when I went to boarding school, like I said, there was an Anglican school, but that wasn't the main bit that actually helped my faith. There was, I don't know if you have a scripture union in Australia, but we had a very vibrant scripture union group then and the thing about scripture union is this interdenominational. So we have all sorts of people. It's an Anglican school, but there are people from all walks of faith, Pentecostals, evangelicals, you name it, everyone is there. So we would all meet. And basically, that's where I got to find Jesus.

And the big question was answered for me when I was 13. So I didn't have to ask those questions anymore. And yeah, I got baptized. When I got home, I think it was second or midterm in the year when I was 13, that's when I actually did find Christ. And then my Christian walk, my proper Christian walk began there and became very active from there.

Mitch: And so how has your faith shaped your work and the way that you see the world and you know who you are?

Ntando: Well, I suppose for me and I don't want to make this sound any little or too big, but for me, faith is everything. My Christian walk has been everything for me because going back again to that same story that I was telling you about my childhood boarding school experience, I had a Christian mentor there who was an older friend, but also in Scripture Union who told me to read my Bible like five chapters a day. And me being the good student that I was, I did actually he said from Matthew up to Revelations, just read five chapters a day.

If I skipped anything, retain chapters the next day. So I would do that. And then from there went from Genesis to Malachi. So this is something that not many people know, by the time I was 14 around November-ish there about 1998, I had actually gone through the whole Bible, reading five chapters a day.

I became a verse engine, basically. I would memorize scriptures. I would know where, so I can actually tell you that Matthew, what, and what comes this and that. And so that's how I was. And from there, my walk got built from that because I do preach in church whenever they give me the opportunity to. I lead our Bible study group at home and in our cell group and so forth. So my Christian walk was actually quite touched a lot through that aspect of life. And I've tried to walk the straight and narrow path quite most of my life, so that's basically who I am.

Mitch: Can you still do that? How is your memory in terms of, if I gave you a random chapter and verse, would you be able to tell me what it is or is that?

Ntando: Maybe, I might, you can give it a try, but the thing with me now is I've become lazy to read the book per se. So what I do now is I'm now a lazy Christian, I have audio Bibles that I listened to. So this is what I've been doing, whenever I'm in the car, on my commute to work or whenever. If I'm traveling out, I have audio Bibles. So I still listen to them in pretty much the same order. Not as much, not like the five chapters per se, but as I'm traveling, I'll listen to my audio Bible in that way. So I've actually just finished again the whole, in an audio book.

Mitch: That's amazing. I would never call you a lazy Christian based on that.

Ntando: By my standards, it's pretty lazy, but it gets the work done. You know how it is, they say, find somebody. I keep reading this quote over and over these days, found it on the internet. When Bill Gates says find some lazy to do a job for you, because you'll find a good way to do it. So it's just an excuse with your Bibles, or just the right way for me.

Mitch: Yeah, I like it. One of the things we always try and ask on the podcast is, what does the idea of mission mean to you? When I say mission, what does that bring up and what do you think about?

Ntando: Well, there's a saying, I'm not sure who quoted it, but for me, it always goes back to that same saying that I heard your vision, your mission, whatever, you see, whatever you are passionate about, whatever you are inspired to do. Be it in your church, be it in your community because the, the thing about God is he doesn't tell you that, okay, this is for the church. This is for the community. He just gives you a vision and gives you a mission.

So once you have a vision about something, that's what you should be doing, that's what you should be trying to get out to get done basically. So if you have a vision of whatever it is that comes to your heart, just work on that, that's your mission because a lot of the times you try and transfer our visions to somebody else, but they don't get the sense. They don't have the burning passion for it. And a lot of the time they won't have it because they don't see it the way that you see it. So if you have a vision for something you best get on that horse and flog it yourself because no one will do it for you.

Mitch: I think something I really love about that is the sense in which God speaks to us through those things that grab our attention. And there are lots of things in my life personally, that I'm quite passionate about. I don't think God shares my deep passion for particular video games, but I think God does share my passion for the ways that entertainment can bring people together. And there are things that we can do, activities we can do together to create safe, welcoming spaces that nurture and encourage and sometimes those might include video games. But yeah, I really love that idea. I'm trying to shoe horn my thing in here. I really loved that idea, that those things that grab your attention, those things in the world that you notice are those places that God is calling you into.

Ntando: Yes.Because you'll find that you probably have the best way within your love of video games, be able to bring other people who are in love with video games and afterwards be like, Hey guys, I mean, as you sit and talk, and you can always find a way of linking your passion with your mission somehow.

Mitch: So in terms of your passions and the things that God has drawn your attention to, what was it that brought you to working with Showers of Blessing?

Ntando: Well it's another long story, but I'll try.

Mitch: Go on bring it on.

Ntando: For me, the thing with me is I'm a creative person in the sense of, I like working for myself to create. Take for instance, I'm passionate about cars and I buy and sell cars. I love cars that's my passion. So I either buy and sell them or I'm passionate about fixing them and then selling them. So I had a time and I'm also passionate about the work at KCV. So there was a time when I would hear it announced quite often in church that KCV was in need of help, KCV was in need of assistance and so forth and so forth. So I decided to go in and volunteer at KCV and find out what exactly it is that they needed and how I can actually be of help.

Mitch: So KCV is a residential care program that is reconnecting abandoned or orphaned kids with relatives and families, right?

Ntando: And a lot of them have been orphaned in weird circumstances. A parent goes to the hospital, drops off the child and tells them I'm just going to take a leak. And then they just disappear and leave the child there. And then KCV Khayelihle children's home takes them up and keeps them. So I actually went there because I've always actually told myself when I was younger and didn't know any better about how much money you actually need to run an institution like that. I was telling myself, I actually would like to run an orphanage myself or build one or whichever it is.

So I did want to go and try and help and try and help them with their finances, try and see how. But my model of buying and selling things doesn't always work out everywhere because yeah. So during the time that I was volunteering with KCV I made a lot of new brothers and sisters there and there's still a lot that, well, right now with all these lockdowns and Corona virus I can't visit as much, but I still do get in touch with some of them, those that I can on social media, but then during my time of volunteering with the children's home, that's when I got involved with Showers of Blessings as well.

Mitch: Because both KCV and Showers of blessing have really strong connections with the Church of Christ in Zimbabwe, isn't that right?

Ntando: Exactly. Yes, very true.

Mitch: So we've heard a bit earlier about the kind of work that Showers of Blessing does, but could you expand a little bit more and particularly tell me what your role as a field worker is in the process, what kinds of needs are you responding to and what does the work kind of look like on the ground?

Ntando: So basically what we do is we try and find, what I do is I shadow most of the work that Boniface Mpofu does, who is our project director. So what happens is I can't really say that this is my role, or this is his role because most of the time we have to go in together. So fortunately we do have a network of churches in rural areas which we work hand in hand with. And apart from them, just the other communities that we would have helped, they sort of go ahead of us and those people in those areas are able to give us feedback and help us to find new places where we actually can make an impact.

So the general thing that happens is you go to a place, a rural area it's way out of town. You find the situation, there is such that the ladies or the children or the men, or whoever it is who has the role of picking up the water for that day has to go a long distance. And it's not every community that will have a borehole. So what will happen is sometimes if they have, it's seasonal. If it has rained recently, you'll find that there are water bodies that will develop, and the ladies can go and pick up water either from the dams or waters that all developed there and then they'll take to the house.

Sometimes they boil. But quite often when I asked them the question, do you boil your water, they'll just say, no, they don't have the time. So they drink it like that, but then what happens in some other communities, like when it really gets dry, they have these ox-drawn carts that they will use to go to places which do have holes. And this is something that they do. When you hear these stories, sometimes I actually ask myself, is this true or are they just telling me because they want us to assist them? But a lot of the time it's actually the lifestyle that they live.

It sounds quite weird, but they wake up like sometimes you will hear some of them saying 2 or 3:00 AM to go to the nearest borehole, which is about five or so kilometers away. Five or so kilometers on a rural road is quite a bit because they're going on dust roads and they're navigating through bushes and so forth. And they're carrying either 200 liter drums or those 20 liter containers in that ox-drawn cart. And at the same time they're going there to go and hand pump in a borehole nearer to them, and then with other people.

So if they get there, it's not a given that they'll get there and there's no one there. They sometimes find other people there at night as well. So then they just have to wait their turn in line and then get back home from whatever time they would have started 2, 3, 4, 5:00 AM, and then get back home around 5, 6 or 10:00 AM in the morning.

Mitch: And is that like doing that daily?

Ntando: Well, if they can manage to do that trip and they'll do it once or twice a week, because then they can fetch as much water for those few days, depends now on the chores that are needed to be done at home. If there's laundry, then the water gets used up a lot more, but then you'll find that later on again, in the day, they'll have to take their cattle and so forth to another river and dam for them to give them water. That's just domestic water. But in a lot of those areas, we try and get there and try and alleviate that traveling distance or that needs to go to another neighboring village to actually go and access water.

Mitch: And is there, I've heard of work that you've been doing alongside the bores around community committees and education around maintenance and water conservation. Can you tell me a bit about what those look like?

Ntando: Yes, what we do is when we have successfully managed to drill a hole in a community we try and now go back and do a community training workshop, which is basically trying to empower them with skills, knowledge, and basically an open session where we try and open up their minds to other ideas, which they can then use to either give themselves more opportunities to fund themselves, to do more community-based project. So basically what we'll be trying to give them is the idea that, okay, now that you have water nearby, you're no longer doing four or five hours to go and collect water.

Now you have a bit more free time on your hands. What are you going to do with the free time that you do have now? Can you possibly start a community project, be it a garden or whichever it may be to actually try and get yourself to earn more income during that time or can you do something else? Can you do community projects? And instead of take for instance, well, a simple idea instead of you going into the fields and planting the same types of food that you are always planting, which is the traditional crops, which is maize and so forth. Is there anything else that you can plant? Is there a cash crop that you can actually start planting, which can allow you to actually gain more money and then you buy your mini-meal or your maize meal from the shops?

So all those kinds of ideas. Is there anything, take for instance people that are in rural areas? We always just assume, okay, you've just come from town and you're now working or staying here. Is there a needs analysis that can be done in your community to find out, maybe if somebody once worked either at a grainery or some other place, do you know the skills of all the people that you stay within your community? Maybe somebody, just as an example, knows how to make stock feed, and you can actually start making your own stock feeds in your own community and then selling them out as a project.

And then you can actually start your own company as a community there and become a big thing in your own society. And then instead of just using your traditional crowns to do the same old things, what can you actually do as a community, not just as an individual living in that community, but as a whole community, what skills can you all bring together and develop your own sort of community around the development that you already have?

So we just try and plant those kinds of ideas and help them to, because a lot of the times people want to either just get funding or get somebody to do something for them, but they have a lot of skills that, take for instance, there was a guy that Mr Mpofu spoke to. He was a former baker in town and he told him, why aren't you using your skills here? And from that conversation, he actually managed to help him think out of the box. He made his own traditional bakery, which uses firewood and is actually baking now from a wood-powered bakery. Now and again, of course it's got problems with accessing flour, but the idea was planted and he's able to do it.

Mitch: Yeah. That's fantastic. I love that whole side of community development, that gets me really excited about people bringing their skills. And actually this goes back to your mission and vision statement earlier where these are people with passions and skills and that they can be used for the benefit of themselves and their communities and strengthen everyone together. That's good stuff. So am I right, I understand that you have been present at villages when the borehole that's been installed first gets used? What's that moment like when that first bit of safe bore water starts flowing?

Ntando: Well, for me, it's always interesting because it's a journey which people, when it happens to them, they just can't believe it at some point in time, because there'll be like, yesterday I was walking this long distance going to fetch water, but now there's water right here. And for some people, especially when you start entering their community and you tell them, okay, we would like to do this for you. And usually the looks on their faces is just like, ah, well, okay. They don't really trust you because they don't know you, except for those that may be would have heard about the work that we would have done previously. But then that moment when the water does come out and the women actually come there already with buckets because they're expecting now.

So it's amazing to see them jumping and dancing and singing a lot of times and [25:08 inaudible] for that water coming out. And the prospect of them no longer having to walk those long distances, no longer having to wake up very early in the morning to just go and look for water. It's really an amazing thing for them to, a lot of them just are always so overcome with gratitude and they're like, no, well, we just never thought that this would happen, especially when you came. We were just looking at you and like, what are your intentions? What do you actually want?

Because a lot of the times when somebody comes into a village in rural areas, you have to understand in Africa, there's always something political, maybe that they want or there is something that they need from you. But when somebody comes with the gift of water and they're not asking for you to give them anything, it's quite difficult for them to actually process that in their minds until it actually happens that, okay, this has been given to us and there are no real strings attached to it, except for us to maintain it and take care of it. And make sure that anyone else who wants access to water also gets the water. That's what we generally ask of them.

Mitch: And so what kinds of impacts have you seen, how have you seen communities transformed by this access to safe water or the community development work that you've done there?

Ntando: Well I don't know if I should be saying this, but there's this old lady that we once went, the last one of these boreholes, she just said, well can’t you see how our skin now it's different. So not just the bathing aspect, but they have a lot of them, what they end up doing is they have, we encouraged them to do this gardening project where they can have a community gardening project. They usually call them Shandira where they all have two or three rows per family in that community.

But a lot of them, what we have noticed is they actually prefer to have their own gardens in their own homes. So you'll find they'll have a small bit, a small garden nearby, in their homes where they actually water their own crops. And when we go back, it's not uncommon for us to be given vegetables by those community members as a sign of gratitude to just say, look, this is what we're actually doing now. We actually have our own vegetables that we're growing in our garden. And not that we would have asked for anything for them, because we always tell them, we don't ask for anything. We don't want anything, but just as a sign of gratitude, just as a sign to say, look, this is what we're actually able to do. Now we can feed ourselves. We can feed our kids. We can have lunch, we can have. So they're really quite grateful. They always bring that up for us. Sometimes tomatoes, sometimes it's just green vegetables.

Mitch: That's beautiful. That's fantastic. It's really lovely. It's not surprising in any way, but it's really lovely to hear of the ways that people want to give back.

Ntando: And it's difficult for you to get into any of those communities without them trying to even cook something for you. They'll always want to, like, we're in a rush, we're going from here. We have to touch that other village before it gets dark. But they're like, no, you can't leave without eating. And you're like, no, trying to chase time, but it's difficult for you to get out without eating. And you mentioned, this is three, four villages that you're visiting and they all want you to stop and eat. And you're like, Hey, I only have one stomach. Doesn't take that much.

Mitch: I'll have to roll you to the next village.

Ntando: Yeah. Put me in the back of the truck.

Mitch: So what has God said to you or shown you in your time with Showers of Blessing?

Ntando: Well, one, I grew up in the city. I don't from a rich family, I don't come from a poor family, but I've always had what I've needed in life. So I'm forever grateful and I'm continually humbled by the work that I see. Because for me, opening a tab or going to the borehole, opening a pump or something to get water has never been a real problem. But to see other children, especially children because a lot of the times you will find that the nature of life in some of these rural areas is such that grandparents are left with their grandchildren and the parents go off either to work in the cities or outside the country in South Africa, Botswana, whichever they place they would have gone to. And so it's these older ladies that are left with the younger children that you'll find because the grandmother also is now also toiling, she can't always go and carry. She will send her grandchildren to go and do whatever chores she wants to get done.

And it's not even a matter of child abuse. She just can't do anything. Her bones are just old. So those are the situations and circumstances that we find. So for me it's more a matter of being grateful for what God has given me in my life and also being that bridge to have somebody be grateful as well. If I am able to keep doing the work that I'm doing, be that bridge to have somebody be grateful also for the intervention that God would have done in their lives, because it's easy to take it for granted that no, there's money that's come in, we're going to the borehole and it just becomes a routine, but there is that human aspect of it that somebody's life has now been altered in a good way.

They are now able to have more time, if it's a child to study. If they have more time to go and do whatever else, just be a child, basically. They can have time to play. Because a lot of the times you find, instead of them playing, they're busy, herding cattle or busy fetching water or busy doing something else. So just that ability to be a child, be who they want to be at that time. And for that grandmother or who doesn't have even grandchildren, the ability to be able to have water nearby because sometimes neighbors get tired as well of fetching water for these old ladies. But if the water is nearby, somebody in the village can sacrifice and take their cart and go and do it once for them for that week because it's near, it's not as tedious as going five Ks out and then going to bring the water and then going another five Ks out again for their own water.

So it just makes you understand that life isn't equal for everyone and sometimes being that bridge towards that assistance for somebody else just does make that difference for some but you are that prayer that has been answered, that prayer that somebody has been praying for. You become that hand that actually does assist that person. So it's very humbling, very, very humbling.

Mitch: Well, speaking of prayer, how can we in Australia be praying for you and your communities?

Ntando: Well right now I think, I don't know, if God could bring back peace to Zimbabwe and stability, then people could be able to do a lot more because I think economically a lot of people are struggling. If we're struggling in town, I dread to wonder how the rural folks are struggling because you'll find they'll be told to go and farm and do whatever they can, and then what they produce, they take to the sellers and the sellers sometimes don't always pay on time or by the time that they pay inflation has eaten into the profits. So if economically everything could stabilize and if we could go back to our situation where money actually has its value and stays, and the people actually are able to work and get the value of what they would have worked for. Then that would actually be very nice.

Mitch: Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to share with us today. And I know that it's been fantastic to hear a bit of your journey and your reflections on where God's taking you. It's been fantastic.

Ntando: It's been a pleasure being here.

Mitch: Is there anything you'd like me to ask you? Anything that you'd like to talk about that you haven't got a chance to yet?

Ntando: I'll say not specifically anything to do with the water project as per se, but probably for the young people out there, if they can just be who they want to be in God, if they can try and do their best to know God's word because the thing with God's word is being able to activate it. It means knowing it's first. So if you're able to know what God says in his word, then that still voice that we all say, you heard a voice in your head. He can only speak to you if you have his word, because I always go back to me being a verse engine wasn't always a bad thing because I knew that whenever something had to be said to me by God, he would always use those words either in your head, it will come up a particular verse or a particular thing.

That can only happen if you do know God's word. He says that how can you know my word or how can my people change if they don't know the word and how can they hear the word if nobody tells it to them. So they have to know their word first and be able to do the word for them to actually get to where they want to be and be who they want to be. So God has to have that word in them for them to be able to activate it. And that's true all the way from childhood up to adulthood, because you're always as a child in God, just like in our parents' eyes, we never grow up.

Mitch: Yup. Yup. I think that's a bit true.

Ntando: That's very true.

Mitch: It's good. It's good.

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You can find out more about the work of Showers of Blessing at https://www.gmp.org.au/what-we-do/projects/zimbabwe/showers-of-blessing-trust and support their work and the work of organisations like them at http://safewaterseptember.org.au.

This interview is a transcript of an episode of Mission Unplugged. You can listen to the interview on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Transcription by MissTranscript.

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