Russell Schafer hates getting dirty, but he loves fixing cars. He’s spent most of his life doing both at Schafer Auto Clinic on the northern edge of Monticello.
Schafer was born in Monticello and has rarely ventured farther away than New Mexico or Colorado. But this year he was offered the adventure of a lifetime when Richard Collins, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Monticello and founder of Great Commission Fellowship Ministries (GCFM), invited him to travel to Zimbabwe, Africa.
Pastor Collins founded GCFM in 2007. He and his wife, Michelle, have been ministering in Zimbabwe since 2008 and on the Navajo Reservation for the last nine years. They relocated from Kentucky to Monticello in 2014.
Schafer says he had absolutely no desire to go to Africa when Pastor Collins asked him a couple years ago but couldn’t come up with an excuse to say no this time. He doesn’t regret the decision.
The journey began in mid-March with a long series of flights, road trips, and even a boat trip, culminating at the Musango Safari Lodge on the eastern banks of Lake Kariba. The lake is the world’s largest man-made lake by volume, and the lodge served as base camp for GCFM’s two-week stay.
It was rudimentary, with a thatched roof and nets around the rooms to ward off insects. There was no roof over the bathroom, electricity was solar, and the accommodations even included “pet” snakes.
Schafer spoke admirably of the Zimbabweans, saying GCFM was treated like royalty for their entire stay. He said he never carried a load, his clothes were hand-washed, ironed, and folded, and he bathed in hot water every evening.
Schafer said meals were also very good. When asked what he liked to eat however, Schafer attempted to express his great love for bologna. The Zimbabweans’ eyes lit up, but when they brought him Polony (a gelatinous loaf of processed meat), he discovered “maybe the nastiest thing [he’d] ever eaten.”
Zimbabwe is treacherous. Much of the land is populated by lions, crocodiles, elephants, and other dangerous wildlife. A man was recently killed by a crocodile in one of the areas where Schafer’s group ministered.
Schafer spoke with awe of the locals walking to and from the GCFM meetings every day while his own group was able to travel by vehicle.
Zimbabweans are poor, living in mud huts and eating what they can grow. The main meal is Sadza — boiled cornmeal formed into patties.
Schafer spoke with emotion, saying Zimbabweans are “extraordinary people. They don’t have anything. They don’t require anything. It’s a very simple life.”
He told how easy the people were to love and said they had “captured [his] heart.”
Schafer told of the large crowd that gathered in Masamba on GCFM’s first day of ministry, when they brought food to the Zimbabweans. More than food though, he said, the Zimbabweans “were hungry for the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.”
Schafer spoke of a group of men who asked him, “When you return in three or four years, would you tell us about Jesus too?”
He said it was a powerful moment, and amazing that they would wait that long to hear the message of Christ. “The people were literally starving for the Word of God.”
Schafer told of the extraordinary musical skill the Zimbabweans possessed, harmonizing with each other and dancing with great joy as they worshipped Jesus. He reported that nearly 30 people trusted Christ for salvation as GCFM ministered in the area.
Schafer said he went to Africa because he believed God was calling him to help GCFM make disciples of Jesus. He said they wanted to take “the simplicity of the Gospel” to many who had not heard the message. He doesn’t consider himself a preacher, but he does consider himself “a lover of Jesus.”
Schafer continued, “Jesus came as the Son of God. He died to take away my sins. And He rose again to bring me new life. That’s the message we brought. That’s the message they needed. That’s the message every man needs.”
It was a life-changing trip for Russell Schafer — a man who, until recently, would have never seen himself on the other side of the world. Now he says his heart is there.
He spoke with emotion again, saying he has not stopped thinking of Africa since coming home.
Schafer is still in contact with some of the Zimbabweans he met, and he intends to return if he can. It’s a geographical trip that has returned full circle to Monticello, but perhaps a spiritual journey that has just begun.