My Dad, Willard Wilson & brother at Gobatema Mission, S. Rhodesia Africa
Last week I posted a nugget describing a memory from my childhood living on a remote and extremely primitive Mission Station in the bush of Southern Rhodesia, Africa. This nugget elicited a few comments from friends wondering how my parents ever adjusted to the unrelenting heat and total lack of civilization, having grown up in the civilized world and adjusted to the harsh bitter winters of northern Maine.
This set me thinking and I sat for several hours going through black and white photos of what life was like when Dad and Mom arrived in Africa in 1939, to serve as Pioneer missionaries. Then I went back to some of my mother’s early writings that I have, describing what they faced on a daily basis.
I began to muse about the quantum leap they took when they left the comfort of the family farm in Mars Hill, Maine (USA), boarded the ship and set sail for Africa. Two young missionaries with an infant son, barely a year old. They set their faces to an unknown land in response to the “call of God”.
They had no visions of grandeur, no pre-conceptions of a life of luxury; just two humble hearts with a passion burning in their souls to touch the un-reached tribes in Africa with the good news of the Gospel.
Follow me as I answer the questions some of you asked and reflect with me what it was like in those years of being Pioneer missionaries……………
Imagine what a struggle it must have been for my young parents arriving from the frigid climate of Northern Maine, enduring a month long rough ocean journey on a freighter. After arriving in Cape Town South Africa, they rested, got their bearings and geared up to make that torturous weeks long journey of 1,300 miles from the southernmost tip of South Africa to the unreached parts of Southern Rhodesia.
It would prove to be a journey that would test the mettle of even the strongest explorer!
The entire trip was travelled over uncared for dirt roads and eventually bush trails.
Remember, my young mother was travelling with precious cargo – my eldest brother, Lawrence, who had his first birthday while they were on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
Daily they endured oppressive heat, which in itself must have been a shock to their systems, as when they set sail the temperature was 30 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit!
They experienced encounters with wild animals, venomous snakes, and hostile tribes, plus endured being bitten by an assortment of unknown bugs and fending off tropical illnesses!
Frankly, the hardships of the trek inland is really hard to put in comprehendible words that my readers can relate to!
There was no “quick stops” to get supplies on that long trek………..
There was no safe water to drink, everything had to be boiled………..
There were no disposable diapers for their baby, so stops had to be made by running streams to wash the cloth diapers and baby clothing by hand……………
There were no comfortable Motels in which to lay to lay their weary heads at the end of a long day of travel………
There was malaria, dysentery and other tropical diseases to be wary of…………..
There were snakes, scorpions and dangerous wild animals to watch out for as they edged their way deeper into the African bush………..
Then added to all this there was the adjustment of cooking meals over a fire on the ground with stones placed to hold the pots, not to mention having to adjust to the foods that the indigenous people ate.
Plus trying to communicate with people whose language they did not understand!
I wonder if at any point in what seemed to be that brutal journey from South Africa to Southern Rhodesia; my parents might have had “second thoughts”. As, they could not possibly have mentally been prepared for the hardships they were dealing with.
Yet turning back was never an option!
How can I say this with such assurance? Because, once I was born, I witnessed with my own eyes that they were totally committed to the task that God had called them to, no matter the hardships they faced.
Now walk with me and feel the excitement rising in my parent’s hearts as they forged the Tuli River, which separated them from the last meager form of civilization, which was the first “out post” called Gwanda.
The Tuli River had no bridge or concrete causeway, so could only be crossed during the dry season. Once the wagons and battered old truck gingerly negotiated their way across the rocky river bed they slowly made their way up the ascending four mile bush track to their new home – Gobatema Mission.
Mission workers came running to welcome the new missionaries, many hands willingly helped unload the boxes, trunks and supplies, and then my parents stepped into their new home, which was a battered old house that was in various stages of disrepair.
An antiquated wood stove, that had seen better days, was the only sign of “civilization” in the dilapidated house. The cement floors were bare and cracked, plus the walls had cracks so deep that you could look through them to the outside and they had not seen paint in years.
The bedrooms were no better but my parents set to work; sweeping out the hanging cobwebs and accumulated dirt from the floor and assembling makeshift beds for their first night. Then with the assistance of one of the resident missionaries wives; Mom wrestled some semblance of life into the old wood stove to cook their first meal, while Dad was lighting Hurricane lanterns for light.
The Mission had no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no phone contact to the outside world and the nearest point to get water was the torturous 4 mile track back down to the Tuli River! It could hardly be considered to possess even the bare necessities for comfort!
Yet, mother told me that both she and Dad felt jubilant joy and gratitude that God had brought them safely to their destination. No pity party was going to be held in that humble home that night! No regrets, no turning back!
Dad, Mom and my brother Lawrence at Gobatema Mission 1939
The years slipped by and the little family of three grew to five. My sister Suzanne was born in 1941 and then my parents were blessed with a fiery red-headed daughter (me) in 1944. Mother had her hands full but she took it all in stride. I remember her telling tales of trying to keep Suzanne in a home-made play pen with no floor in it. She would put the play pen on a grass mat in the shade of a tree while she was busy holding the morning clinic. Next thing she sees Suzanne, who now was walking, slip her legs between the slates of the play pen, stand up and off she went play pen in tow!
I presented new challenges for mother. I had the strong will that went along with my red-hair, plus as I grew, I was totally fearless in exploring my world. She caught me one day trying to “scare” a deadly Cobra out of its hole with a stick! I collected bugs and an assortment of creepy crawlies and would happily race to wherever mother was to show her my latest trophy! Mother despaired that I would ever turn out to be a “proper lady” – I definitely was a child of the bush.
Once my brother Lawrence and my sister Suzanne were school age they had to be sent to the city of Bulawayo to attend Boarding School. Bulawayo was about a 100 mile drive from the Mission. I can only imagine the wrench it must have been to my parent’s hearts to leave their precious young children at a Boarding School, knowing it would be months before they would see them again. Yet they never wavered in their calling or complained about the hardships of life.
Once my elder siblings went to boarding school I became my Dad’s shadow or would go with mother on the long walks through the bush to visit villages in the surrounding area. These were my formative years – I only knew life on a remote primitive Mission Station in the bush of Africa and it was marvelous!
I would not trade the lessons I learned for anything this world could offer!
Our lives growing up were filled with laughter, excitement, many challenges, but most of all our parents were role models to us of finding good in the most difficult situations and radiating the love of God in all that they did.
What a heritage they passed onto us children!
Just as my parents had a huge learning curve to adjust to life in Africa, I on the other hand grew up and served along with my husband in Africa for years and now have had a “reverse” learning curve to life in America!
My heart will always beat to an African drum and I assure you if I was 20 years younger, my feet would be walking the African trails without looking back.
I can say without fear of contradiction that a day does not go by that I do not long to feel the embrace of our “African children” and blaze a trail for God in the land of my calling!