Gap Year goes rural!

Last week Lydia and Zach had the chance to experience and help out at Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre which is run by our family and overseen by my sister Renee. Hope you enjoy and are challenged by Lydia’s reflections from the week.


We’re now entering our third week in Zimbabwe and this week has been a special highlight for us as we spent a few days ‘in the bush’ at Ebenezer Agricultural Training College, helping out at their annual selection camp*. Surprisingly, we found it was really refreshing having time away from the numerous distractions that can come with having a wi-fi connection and it was a great opportunity to get a glimpse of rural Zimbabwe.

On Tuesday, we had our orientation day which gave us the opportunity to have a tour of the farm, which turned out to be very interesting (despite the fact you would never find me visiting a UK farm of my own volition). The following days were spent eating sadza (thick porridge made from mealie meal), marking countless English and maths exam papers and appreciating the stunning scenery and wildlife found in the Matopos.

IMG_4159Yet despite the excitement that comes with being in a completely new environment, what struck me the most during my time was a conversation I had with Renee Cunningham on the way back from our orientation day. Renee is the Director of Ebenezer and has a real heart for showing young people the advantages of a career in farming and serving the local community. Although Ebenezer and Family Impact are not officially linked, Lynne and Renee are housemates and sisters by marriage, and share a vision for equipping people where they are to improve lives and communities, with a clear focus on Biblical foundations and teachings. Renee was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, and when I asked Renee what it was about Zimbabwe that made her return after her university studies in the UK and Canada, she said it was because nowhere else was, well, dangerous enough. Depending on God here and depending on God in a developed Western country seemed to be different to her and, interestingly, it was the risk and unpredictable nature of life here that appealed to Renee a lot more than the assurance of a fast internet connection.

This struck a chord with me because I know that in the West we invest so much (sometimes our entire lives) in trying to be comfortable and well provided for, yet that was the very reason Renee left: it was challenging to say the least.

Spending time at Ebenezer only brought the issue of comfort even closer to the forefront: with no hot water, phone signal and sadza and beans for two meals a day, it was amazing how much God spoke to me. It’s interesting how God often takes us away from our comfort zones to reveal things to us. Saying this, I need to make clear that my level of discomfort was probably nothing in comparison to the Ebenezer applicants who had to endure 6am starts, a 5km run and English and maths exams; but the idea that a person could prefer this, even chase the discomfort, was completely alien to me and yet you don’t have to know Renee incredibly well to see how much God is using her.

IMG_4157I suppose my closing thought is this: comfort is fine and is in no way inherently bad (nor am I going to be one of those missionaries that is going to try to make all the Brits out there feel bad for having the NHS), but I think we need to make more of an effort, irrespective of where in the world we are, to assess our comfort and evaluate whether there’s anything about our lifestyle that hinders us from depending whole-heartedly on God. Because while God can use us anywhere, we may be missing the fullness of what He has for us as a result of our unyielding grip on the safety of our surroundings.

Written by Lydia Bernard-Brooks


* Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre exists to equip young people for life in Christ. During the 2 year residential training program young adults are equipped with the zeal and tools needed to be Jesus’ hands and feet in their communities. They learn how to run businesses, farm sustainably and explore other gifts God has given them. Part of their learning experience is that they actually start and run their own small-scale agri-business so that by the time they graduate they have made enough profits to set up on with own. To make this learning and discipleship process effective Ebenezer focuses strongly on relationships, mentoring and linking apprentices into vibrant churches. Selection camp is an annual event where young people come to find out and experience a bit of life at Ebenezer and the next intake of apprentices is selected by the staff team.