“A good man (and a good woman) leaves an inheritance to his children’s children …” (Proverbs 13:22)
Let me tear away the mists of time and let you see the valley where my parents made a home. It was a city sheltered by misty mountains. One of the mountain ranges is even named for the mist – the Vumba (or sometimes Bvumba) is the local word for mist or drizzle. Granite slopes are softened by the flat-topped trees of Africa, mountain acacia, msasa, mnondo, and in the higher elevations towering yellow wood, waterberry and the Mulanje ceader. In the fastness of these mountains, frequently obscured by the mist, are bushbuck, the wide-eyed bush baby, and the secretive samanga monkey. Leopards will see the visitor, but not the reverse. Baboons alone will “bark” their challenge, a cry that is African as a thatched hut, spooky as a haunted house.
Let me tear away the mist of distance and tell you of the distinguished mission work done by Loy and Donna Mitchell in the city of Mutare, in eastern Zimbabwe. The numbers are there, spanning the years since 1958, the baptism of tens of thousands, the development of church leaders over the decades.
I noticed that by the 1980s they had been bequeathed the profoundly respectful Shona terms of Sekuru (grandfather) and Ambuya (grandmother). To their great credit Africans respect age. Dad did his most effective work as a Sekuru. Distinguished mission work occurs over the passage of time, in the hearts of a second and third generation of believers, in the emergence of elders and preachers.
Let me tear away the mists of the years and tell you of a photograph. Loy Mitchell is sitting on a low bench, a mud and thatch hut behind him, with two African brethren. They all hold a ragged hymnbook, and they are all singing hymns. He is one of them, the tall Shona man. Loy Mitchell had the oratory and work ethic to serve an American congregation of a thousand. Instead he served African tribesmen, a dozen or fifty at a time.
Let me tear away the mist of an introvert and allow you to see his help meet and colleague, Donna Mitchell. She was the quiet yet steady force behind him. All of us knew that Donna Mitchell could communicate without saying a word. But when she did speak, it was with a gentleness and wisdom that made one yearn for more. I think the family only realized the strength of her steely, quiet resolve when she passed away too soon. The hole in Dad’s soul was open for all to see. How blessed he was to find Debbie, a second wife who filled that hole.
Let me tear away the smoke of a fragrant wood fire. Four hundred Zimbabwean Christians sing hymns to a matchless God in their rich harmony. There is nothing so strong as a formidable African alto, so smooth as an African tenor, so substantial as an African bass chorus. Under a starry sky their vices extend beyond the stars to the Maker of the stars.
Let me tear away the mists of the pain, because Zimbabweans are a people who have known great pain, from the indignity of colonialism, the terror of war, the crush of a dictator, and the specter of hunger and want. Mist sometimes hides the beautiful, but it also protects the broken hearted. There is sunshine in the faces of Zimbabweans when they greet you, but if you look closely you will see a cloud behind the smile, in their eyes. They sense the need of a Savior more deeply than most.
Of course it is God who saves them, but we would be remiss if we did not thank the pioneers, those missionaries who swept away the mist of sin from the hearts of God’s children. There have been mission works in Churches of Christ as productive as that of Loy and Donna Mitchell in Zimbabwe; there have been none more so. Loy and Donna Mitchell must surely by now have their names placed in a special record that includes J.M. McCaleb in Japan, Parker Henderson in the Caribbean, and a man Loy respected deeply, W.N. Short in central Africa. I urge anyone who has read this far to find out about these, and other missionaries, and make them your own inspiration. That way the mists of Christianity, deadened by plenty and self-satisfaction will be swept away.
The mists have lowered over Loy and Donna Mitchell a little. Sekuru and Ambuya Mitchell are waiting over there. The mist that gently lays them to rest, however, is counterbalanced by the enlightened hearts of thousands of African believers; their bright hearts will beat for an eternity in a place where the light of the sun has burned away the mist.