The Conversion of an African Woman
IN 1947, the late Rev James Fraser returned from furlough in Scotland to what was then Rhodesia, and next year took up residence at Zenka, in the Shanghani Reserve. With his wife Chris and their little daughter Elizabeth, and with the help of Mr Alex McPherson, building supervisor on the Mission, they settled into the little house newly prepared for them.
It was a very difficult time for the people in Shanghani, for there had been a series of poor harvests, and in 1948 there was practically nothing to eat. The young men were out in the forest digging up roots to stave off the pangs of hunger. Two young girls had passed by Mr Fraser’s house, he noted, with money in their hands looking for mealies to buy. They had already walked almost twenty miles in their quest, but with no success.
On the morning after his arrival at Zenka, Mr Fraser had to attend to the group of people seated at the dispensary door waiting for medical attention. In the queue was a little, old, heathen woman, Mazwabo to name, with one small leg stretched out for inspection. She had a septic wound in her foot which obviously had never been cleaned. On her small unwashed body hung pieces of rag and skins, and her little face had a very cross expression.
As he cleaned the wound, Mr Fraser spoke to her about her soul in the very simplest language, but it was clear she knew nothing of what he was saying. She could speak only of her wound and her hungry, empty stomach. After he dressed the wound and gave her some food, Mr Fraser told her to come every second day to have her wound redressed; which she did. On each day she came, he spoke to her about her soul, but she understood nothing.
One day Mr Fraser asked Mazwabo if she would like to come to the church to attend the services. She agreed to do that. After attending the services on two Sabbaths Mazwabo expressed a wish to be dressed like the other women in the church. When Mrs Fraser heard this she took a piece of curtain material which she had at hand and sewed a dress and headband for Mazwabo. These now replaced her covering of rags and skins.
Mr Fraser began to notice that a little light seemed to be dawning in the old woman’s soul, and the unpleasant expression on her face seemed to be less marked. In fact, “her thoughts are now turning to the one thing needful,” he said in a letter. One day she said to Paul Hlazo, the Headmaster of Zenka School, “I should like to believe, but I do not know how to believe.” After nine months of diligent seeking, and towards the end of the year, “the way of salvation was revealed to her in a brilliant flash of mercy,” said Mr Fraser. “Ever since that December afternoon Mazwabo has been an entirely different person. All her interests are now bound up with the Gospel, and none in the congregation is more exemplary in attendance at the Sabbath services. Her very expression is more pleasing, and her mind, which was formerly a blank to everything except food and drink, is now centred on the things of God.”
He added that he and Mr Petros Mzamo visited the kraal or family compound where she lived and found everyone but herself in a drunken stupor.
‘Do you speak to these people about their souls?’ they asked her.
‘Yes, I am continually speaking to them, but they will not listen. I speak to them about Jesus but they say, “If you will speak on that subject, you had better speak to your father the missionary.” When they speak to me like that I go to my own hut and pray’.
‘Did you yourself drink beer in the past?’
‘Oh, yes, I was a great drunkard, but when I believed in Jesus the heart which I had for beer died, and now I do not want to touch it. God has opened my mind and taught me many things since He showed me His way. In the past I did not know the days of the week. Today is Sabbath, tomorrow will be Monday, the next day Tuesday, the next day Wednesday, and the next day Thursday, the prayer meeting day. I used to be very fond of snuff as well. Why should I return to these things when God has called me to be His child?’
Mr Fraser concluded, “Mazwabo’s faith is very simple and childlike, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In a report to the Church’s Synod in Scotland in the following year Mr Fraser wrote, “Among the members received at the communion was Mazwabo, to whom ample reference was made in the Synod Reports of 1948 and 1949. Since she has been called by God’, as she herself expresses it, she has suffered much persecution in the heathen kraal which was her home until recently. She was often taunted, and even thrashed, for refusing to take part in praying to the spirits of the ancestors in times of family trouble.
“The beer-drinks which accompany these devotions have, since her conversion, been an abomination to her, and on each occasion when they began, Mazwabo invariably sought a place of refuge in the home of some Christian family. When pressed to join the family in their heathen customs, her reply was always the same: I have not long escaped from a dark prison and do you think I am going to return to it again? Not I. If you refuse to take my warnings to heart, I cannot help it. You will die in your sins. But for myself my duty is clear, I must obey only the Lord who rescued me from prison. I can never join in your evil ways.’ Even when her little body was swollen with blows she never flinched from that position. Persecution was always hottest on Sabbath and latterly she made it her habit to leave the kraal at daybreak and return at bedtime. In the end Mazwabo was driven from her nephew’s kraal on the pretext that she interfered in family affairs. She then went to live with a relative who lived at least three miles from the church. However, in spite of the distance, she was never absent from church unless she was ill. Her consistent witness to the Saviour is a source of encouragement and wonder to the Church at Zenka. All praise to Him whose grace has effected such a transformation.”
In 1961 Mazwabo broke her wrist and was taken to Mbuma Mission Hospital for treatment. “Mazwabo was very happy at Mbuma,” wrote Sister Catherine Tallach. “She enjoyed the Christian atmosphere which was a delightful change for her. She was loving , kind-hearted and cheerful, and her most expressive, wrinkled face could light up with twinkling eyes in a moment. She was very attached to the Lord’s people and sought their company. She would sit quietly beside them, listening to their conversation.”
It was decided to give Mazwabo the use of a small thatched hut, which had a little square of ground attached to it, in the Mission compound. She was now independent. She began to grow tomatoes in the little piece of ground for she loved to have something to give to others. Occasionally she would sell a few of the tomatoes and put the money in the church collection.
How Mazwabo delighted in attending morning and evening worship at the hospital, and the Sabbath services in the church! She could be seen hurrying to the church, with the aid of her walking staff, and was always in good time. It used to upset her to see people coming in late or not attending at all. If any of the nursing sisters was absent from worship she would climb the little hill to their home and sit outside until someone would come to tell her whether or not they were ill. So attached was she to them that if they were packing their cases to go on holiday she would be in tears in case they would not return.
One day someone showed Mazwabo a copy of the book, James Fraser – The Man who Loved the People. A Record of Missionary Endeavour in Rhodesia in the Twentieth Century, written by the Rev. Alex McPherson, and explained to her what the book was about. She handled it gently, and slowly turned the pages over, recognizing some of the people in the photographs. Eventually she came across the photograph of the Rev James Fraser himself. With a sorrowful face she said, “Nang ubaba” (“Here is father”). Then her face lit up and, with her hand pointing heavenwards, she said, “He is up there in heaven. When I die my body will be buried in the earth, but my soul will go to be with the Lord and with ubaba’.”
After living for seven years at Mbuma, Mazwabo broke her leg and never recovered. In 1968 her soul departed to be with the Lord whom she loved, and her body was buried in a plot of ground near the hospital.
Mazwabo was a trophy of grace in being delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. As James Fraser said concerning her case, “All praise to Him whose grace effected such an amazing transformation.” J. N.