Church opens new horizons for one man’s future

March 15, 2017

Dave Bonney of Smithville UMC, left, talks with Albert Mashambanhaka in Zimbabwe.
Dave Bonney of Smithville UMC, left, talks with Albert Mashambanhaka in Zimbabwe.

By David Bonney
Smithville United Methodist Church

Sometimes, it’s the everyday miracles that surprise you.

In 2013, I went on a Volunteer in Mission trip to a school named Mashambanhaka in Zimbabwe. The school was a Methodist Mission school and had a primary school of over 1,100 students and a newly started secondary school with over 400 students. There were no classrooms, books or supplies for the secondary school students. It was amazing to see hundreds of boys and girls sitting under trees, listening to lectures.

I noticed four boys who were not part of any of the outside lectures. The boys sat a little distance from the classes. After a couple of days, one of the boys approached me and told me their story. They were orphans and each had been turned away from school because they could not pay the $35 school fee.

They always worked together in fields and herded cattle trying to earn money for school, but it was never enough. They supported and cared for each other. I had compassion for the boys and asked the school headmaster about them and I stated that each of the boys were talented and hardworking students.  With the help of some of the VIM team, we paid the past due and present fees for the boys.

One of the boys was Albert Mashambanhaka. He was a very skinny, sad-looking boy, and a little shy. As soon as he learned that he was back in school his whole demeanor changed and he had a permanent smile and a walk of confidence. We made an agreement with the boys that if they helped the pastor every week and kept the school grounds litter free, that the school fees would be paid each term.

The ZIM VIM team finished the school block and provided 80 desks and benches as well as school supplies and, thanks to UNICEF, textbooks were supplied for the secondary students.

With the help of members of the Smithville UMC in Dunkirk, Md., the four boys were provided with school uniforms, shoes and novels. During the school holidays the boys were also provided with tutors and extra lessons thanks to the generosity of SUMC.

Albert worked hard and was a walking testimony to the love of Jesus Christ. When asked why he was so happy and how he was able to afford school, he stated that it was because of the grace of God and his Methodist family in the USA.

In 2014, Albert continued to work very hard and his SUMC family paid for his very important Ordinary Level exams. This was the first time any students from the new secondary school would sit for these important exams. The results would determine if a student could continue to Forms 5 and 6 (the last two years of high school).

In early September, Albert wrote this note to Smithville UMC.

“The Lord is doing many wonderful things in my life. I am going to write my final exam for form four on the 23rd of October. I am studying very hard because I know education is going to move me from being an orphan. I would also wish to help some of the orphans in our village. I never thought one day I was going to sit for my exams. I had no money for fees and no school uniforms. I sometimes work for other people so in return they offered me money for school fees. You helped me a lot. You removed me from being a slave. I love you and God bless you.”

The results of the exams were released in early 2015. There were only three students from Mashambanhaka who passed the exams. Albert was the top student at the school. Even though he was the top at the school, his results were not outstanding. But considering that this boy was hungry, had no electricity, walked miles to school, had no reading materials for years and a school with no educational materials, I was very impressed with his results.

I was blessed to be in Zimbabwe with Charlie Moore and the ZIM VIM 2015 team. Albert and I looked to find a high school placement so he could complete high school. One of the only good schools with an available spot was a prestigious boarding school called Nyamuzuwe High School. It is a Methodist Mission School.

Albert applied to the school but because is O level results did not meet their minimum requirements, they would not consider him. Nyamuzuwe is in the top 10 percent of boarding schools in Zimbabwe. He struggled to be admitted to the school, but was allowed in and then surprised us all.

Albert was selected as the head boy for 2016 school year. He was also the lay leader in the chaplain’s office, the youth fellowship ministries treasurer, member of the entertainment committee and a member of the school debate club.

During the two years at boarding school there was a transformation of a very skinny and shy boy to a robust and confident young man. With support from his Smithville UMC family and strong faith in Christ, he continued to be a walking testimony to the power of faith and love of Christ.

Three meals a day, clean water, electricity and a bed changed this boy.

In November, Albert graduated from high school and sat for the Advanced Level exams. On Jan. 23, the results were published and the top student at Nyamizue was Albert Mashambanhaka. Albert was also in the top 5 percent for the entire country.

This skinny boy, sitting under a tree, starving for knowledge, had overcome all odds and surpassed all expectations.

The story is not over.

During a ZIM VIM trip in 2016, a member of the team from Texas became intrigued with Albert’s story. Even before his results were known, she had committed to support him through four years of university. Albert has now been accepted to the University of Zimbabwe and is preparing for this new chapter in his life.