Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Overseas Missionary Experience

Volunteer in Zimbabwe

Every summer, a small team from the Anglo-Irish Province travels out to Zimbabwe, to live and work for a month as missionaries.

This project began in 2010, when Ronan Lavery and Fr Lorcan O’Reilly OMI visited Zimbabwe at the invitation of Fr Charles Rensburg OMI. They visited the Sandra Jones Childrens’ Village in Bulawayo, and St Luke’s Mission Hospital, around 200km north. While shocked at the conditions that the majority of Zimbabweans endure daily, they were also hugely impressed by the efforts of so many people to help.

You are loved. You are unique in the eyes of God. You are precious.

People like Debbie Brennocks – co-founder of the Sandra Jones Childrens’ Village who, quietly, and with immense good humour, lives out her faith and her Christian mission. Debbie runs the Sandra Jones Centre, a home for girls in crisis. Sometimes orphaned, often abused, around 70 children call the centre ‘home’.

Many girls arrive at the centre pregnant, meaning there are always babies to look after. The old African saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is taken very seriously at Sandra Jones, with everybody pitching in to care for the babies, toddlers and younger children. The girls who arrive at the centre receive medical care, counseling, education, friendship and – very apparently – love. Hearing the girls’ stories, it’s easy to imagine a place of trauma, despair and heartache – but the truth is that Sandra Jones is filled with love, laughter and very close bonds. It is a place of healing.

And it is at Sandra Jones that the missionary team spends most of their time. While the majority of children are in school, the team takes on some task, usually painting, to clean and brighten up the living space for the girls. Then after lunch, they simply spend time with the children. It could be nursing babies, playing with the toddlers, or sitting with the older girls, chatting, teasing, laughing, or helping with homework.

The team arrives at Sandra Jones with no agenda. They are not there to teach, or educate, or deliver any kind of program – they are there simply to love. Everything they do reflects and reinforces the ethos of the Sandra Jones Centre – You are loved. You are unique in the eyes of God. You are precious.

Our teams, over the years, have enjoyed the incredible privilege of playing a tiny role in the rehabilitation and healing of these girls. We have watched many of them grow into proud, compassionate, strong young women. And for that we are incredibly grateful to the hardworking team at the Sandra Jones Centre.

While in Zimbabwe, the team also has the opportunity to visit St Luke’s Mission Hospital, 200km north of Bulawayo in the Lupane district, and bear witness to the harsh realities of life in the bush. It is a wake up call to those of us who have grown up in the West: malnutrition (especially among young children), HIV, tuberculosis, snakebites…

The people living in the bush are some of the poorest people on this earth. Drought and famine have been a constant reality for many years. Zimbabwe once had the highest prevalence of HIV/Aids in the world – which explains why there are so few middle-aged people there. This lost generation had a huge impact. Grandparents raising children, the young and old working the fields together, planting their crops and praying for rain. For many of the children in Lupane, school is unaffordable (at approximately US$100 per year), and so the cycle of poverty repeats itself, year after year.

While the missionary team cannot do much on their visit to the hospital, they are always moved. They always come away with a burning desire to help. And this desire has led to the creation of WEFA (Water and Education for Africa), a fundraising initiative aiming to provide boreholes to each of the rural communities of St Luke’s Mission, as well as sponsoring a number of children from the area to go to school. 

Access to clean water is a basic human right. So is education. WEFA, in partnership with local Zimbabwean activists, aim to help these people achieve these human rights.

For three and a half weeks, the missionary team works extremely hard. Invariably, members put the needs of others before their own, and work long and hard in the service of others. So the well-earned holiday at the end of the trip is always welcome. The team overnight at Hwange National Park, before heading up to Victoria Falls for a night or two. At Hwange, sundowners at the watering hole always lead to incredible, up-close sightings of the most amazing creatures – giraffe, zebra, kudu, springbok and ostriches are common, all cautiously coming to drink, and all trying to avoid the massive herds of elephant – sometimes up to a hundred strong!

In Vic Falls, the team get the opportunity to visit the awesome Falls, buy their souvenirs, and share sundowners on the incredible Zambezi river. The more ‘adventurous’ members can sign up for more adrenaline-fuelled activities, such as walking with lions, white-water rafting, or (God help us!) bungee jumping.

A month is a short time. But a month in Zimbabwe is a life-changing opportunity. If you are interested in this experience, get in touch now, as places are very limited. You do not need to possess any special skills – just the ability to love, and help others recognize their dignity, and their value in God’s eyes. For more information, or to book a place on this (or next years) trip, contact Ronan Lavery: