EAST MANATEE -- Midge Barnes' life's dream came true for her 78th birthday in Zimbabwe where she was serving as the Christian missionary that she had dreamed of becoming as a youth.
It's also where she celebrated her 55th wedding anniversary with her husband, the Rev. Dr. Jack Barnes, 77. When he proposed back at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo,, he asked her, "Instead of being a missionary in Africa, how'd you like to be the best minister's wife in this country?"
She agreed to marry her lifelong friend on July 14, 1957, but after his retirement they began to look into Global Ministries, whose mission is "to receive and share the Good News of Jesus Christ by joining with global and local to work for justice, reconciliation and peace."
"They called and said, 'Would you like to go to Zimbabwe?' and we said, 'Where?'" the preacher's wife said.
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"We've been very much involved in mission emphasis throughout our ministry. Any church we've been in, it's been a very important part of my preaching and teaching and activity, because I think that one of the most important teachings of Jesus is to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel," the minister said. "If you're not doing that, you're not doing church. A church is not a social club of like-minded people who enjoy one another."
Instead, he said, "The real description of a Christian church is to go into the world. Remember, Jesus said, 'Go, I am with you, every one.'"
Zimbabwe is a nation of about 13 million in southern Africa, between South Africa and Zambia.
They went to the Mount Selinda mission in the southeast corner of Zimbabwe, in a mountain region. The mission was established in 1893, Midge said, "So Christianity had been there a long time and it has made a big difference in the lives of the people of Mount Selinda and the surrounding area."
The official language in Zimbabwe is English. However, Zimbabwe's long history is a history of a lot of tribes. Each tribe in each area developed its own culture and its own language. Where the Barnes were serving, the native language was Shona.
"When two Zimbabweans were together, they'd be speaking in Shona. It was very difficult. Even when they'd try to communicate in English, you'd be having a combination of languages," the minister said.
"As a result of this, English was very, very important in government and the country. When I would preach, I would always have an interpreter. That was a new experience for me," he said. "A couple of the interpreters became very dear friends."
Deeper in the forest areas are smaller parishes that meet every Sunday in school classrooms, which the government gives them permission to use. "Once a month they had what they call big Sunday and everyone who could journeyed to a central location in a different setting," Jack recalled.
"They would go walking for miles on mountain terrain or they would ride in the back of trucks. Their department of transportation was what they call companies, about a 1990 vintage minivan, maybe a 14 passenger, into which they would always squeeze 25 or 30 people," Barnes said.
One of his fondest memories was of Easter, known as Big Sunday. "I was asked to preach. They're always outside and see the beautiful setting of the mountains. It was just a gorgeous experience," he said.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.