We left Jeffrey’s Bay very early in the morning to catch our 7am flight. We left from Port Elizabeth, SA into Durban, SA and that finally brought us into Harare, Zimbabwe! Why are we coming to Zimbabwe? A little background…
Every year Jehovah’s Witnesses attend regional conventions, which could range anywhere from an attendance of 2,000-ish upwards to the tens of thousands. The program is 3 days and you hear Bible-based talks, listen to interviews, and watch Bible based plays. It’s an opportunity to hear lectures on certain topics, anything from how to deal with problems in the family to perhaps more fully understanding a scriptural passage. And some of the bonuses besides the Bible education, is you get to see old friends and meet new ones!
Now here’s where Zimbabwe comes in: certain cities are selected each year to hold a special or international convention. These will have delegates from other countries who have been selected to attend. And so this brings us to, well, us in Zimbabwe! We found out last December that our application was approved to come and were making plans ever since!
In addition to attending the three day program, tours and excursions are arranged for you on the other days, and the local congregations plan little surprises for you! More on that to come!
So coming into the Harare airport we were treated to the warmest welcome!
You had people coming to you to hug you and tell you how thankful they were that you made the long journey for them! Signs were everywhere!
And it was obvious the welcome committee was working hand in hand with the airport officials. They would bring you personally from the passport control desk, to a representative that would check you off the attendee list, to help you fetch your luggage, and then usher you through the declarations desk.
Then they brought you to a tent with chairs and refreshments to make your wait for the bus comfortable. This gave us an opportunity to meet a few of the delegates. And while this was the fourth or fifth day for the airport welcoming committee, their enthusiasm wasn’t dampened in the least!
We drove through downtown which gave us a very clear indication of the economic conditions. The unemployment rate is around 80%, so to make ends meet, the commercial areas have been turned into markets where people sell all kinds of things.
One bright spot happened while we were driving; apparently it has been on the news and in the newspapers about our convention. And everyone in the area is very excited about the economic benefit of so many visitors. So when we came through town with our big buses, we caused quite a scene! People pointing and waving hello! A few times a couple of locals shouted “Heyyyyy! Watchtower is herrrrre!” (The name of one of the bible magazines we publish.) Even though all of the delegates riding on the bus were exhausted, we burst into laughter!
We drove a little farther out of town and finally came to our hotel. It was nicely cared for and very peaceful with their front gardens of trees, flowers, and all kinds of greenery.
They also had a little welcome station with juice and candies! Well we thought they were candies. John put one in his mouth and it turns out it was a small hot paper towelette curled into a little disk! He realized his mistake once it started expanding in his mouth! Some of the other delegates started to crack up… come to find out, they did the exact same thing! Thus, I teased him.
We got a good nights sleep and the next day we would be touring the local branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses Harare (nicknamed Bethel, which means house of God) and their local assembly hall.
What a fantastic welcome we received!
But more on that to come!