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569 || The Great Harare Beer Run

In 2002, Steve and Janeece England were living their dream, working as missionaries with MRS in Zimbabwe. At the same time, Robert Mugabe was living his dream as president of Zimbabwe, and he was determined no one was going to take that away from him. Mugabe did not care how his machinations to stay in power affected people in the country. The Englands cared a great deal but could do nothing about it. However, they served a God Who not only cared but was capable of using the oddest problem-solving methods.

The MRS mission was to provide competent relief for missionaries on leave. In 2002, the Englands were relieving Ben and Karen Pennington, long time missionaries in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. As soon as the Penningtons returned, the Englands were to relieve another missionary couple in Chiredzi, Zimbabwe. 

At the close of their home leave, the Penningtons ran into an unexpected delay, making it necessary for the Englands to be in two places at once — a feat still impossible even in the new millennium. Worship services were rearranged so they could be in Masvingo on Sunday morning, then drive two-and-a-half hours to Cheridzi for an evening service. They had the Pennington’s four-wheel drive truck, so the weekly trip went well.

But a friend of the Pennington’s needed a four-wheel drive vehicle for a short while. Ben Pennington arranged to swap his truck with a friend who had a two-wheel drive truck for the Englands to use. No problem. Except that the friend’s truck had no canopy, and it was the rainy season. 

Oh, and this friend owned a distillery, so his truck was used to haul bottled beer. Everyone in town knew that truck.

The Englands weren’t thrilled about driving around a beer truck. But it would have to do.

So how does Robert Mugabe fit into all this? Well, 2002 was an election year. That meant three big problems for the Englands.

The Police Problem

Mugabe was paranoid that someone would smuggle weapons into the country in a bid to take the election away from him. So he organized roving bands of police into mobile roadblocks. While taking their time to search for guns, the police also helped themselves to anything they felt like taking. Because they were mobile, the police could travel down the road and stop you again. 

These roadblocks usually added two or three hours to any trip.

The Immigration Problem

It was about this time the England’s visas needed to be renewed, but Immigration denied new visas. They were American. Mugabe refused to allow Americans and Canadians to remain inside his borders during elections because he couldn’t afford to let them publish how his “fair and open” elections were really run. 

Expulsion meant flying out of Harare, normally a five-hour trip from Masvingo. With the road blocks, it could be as long as nine hours. In the rain. With luggage. Without a canopy on their truck.

The Paper Problem

The year 2002 predated the widespread use of laptop computers. So the Englands traveled with at least one suitcase full of teaching and preaching resources as well as Bibles and study materials. All that paper would be with them in the back of an open-bed truck. All that paper would be exposed to the elements every time the police stopped them and methodically rifled through all their possessions. 

This was the rainy season. Paper and rain don’t play well together.

An Odd Way to Solve So Many Problems

On the morning the Englands were to leave, it rained just as hard as ever. 

They ran into their first roadblock 30 minutes after getting on the road and sat in line while the cars in front of them were checked. But when it came their turn, the police simply waved them through. 

They decided this had to be an answer to prayer. 

The second roadblock was a repeat of the first. Thrilled, the Englands felt they were quite privileged to see how God was answering prayers. The same thing happened one roadblock after another, till the very last one.

At the final roadblock, they were waved through just like at all the others. But as they drove past, the policeman, with a big smile, pointed at the side of the truck, then to himself. 

Emblazoned on both sides of the borrowed truck was the logo of the beer company its owner ran.

“We were upset because we had to drive the beer truck,” Janeece said. “But here the Lord put us in the beer truck in order to get us to the airport.” 

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