Published on: 21/03/2019

Family, friends and Elim ministers at the opening ceremony of the Vumba Memorial Garden

Opening the Vumba Memorial Garden in Malvern

Remembering heroes who paid the price for sharing the gospel

Forty years on from the biggest tragedy in Elim’s history, a memorial garden has been created in recognition of the 13 missionaries who were slaughtered in The Vumba, Zimbabwe. 

Pastor Ephraim Satuku was GS of Elim Zimbabwe
Ruth Rees remembers her sister Mary Fisher
A family member of Wendy White speaks
Worship during the memorial ceremony
A plaque in the Vumba Memorial Garden
Attendees of the event spend time in the garden

Grieving family members are still coming to terms with the brutal deaths of their loved ones – even though four decades have passed since their murders.

The opening of a garden at the Elim International Centre in Malvern may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it is, at the very least, a reminder of those heroes who paid the ultimate price for the gospel.

Many claim to lay down their lives for Jesus – these missionaries literally did just that.

At the opening, a memorial service was also held and family members attended as well as Zimbabwean church leaders including Pastor Ephraim Satuku, who was the General Superintendent (GS) when the attacks happened in 1978, and Dr Pious Munembe, the current GS.

“I have always found it very difficult to share with anyone the circumstances in how my dear sister Joyce died in Rhodesia over 40 years ago,” said grieving Mary Holmes. Her sister Joyce Lynn was one of those murdered along with Joyce’s husband Roy and their three-week-old baby Pamela Grace.

Mary added, “One of the greatest blessings that I received in attending was being able to speak with other relatives who had also lost loved ones in the Vumba massacre. I had always felt quite alone and there was a heaviness within me not having the opportunity to talk about my sister.

“It was a joy for me also to meet my late sister’s in-laws and we had an opportunity to talk about Roy and Joyce’s wedding. I believe that the event brought some closure for me and to see the beautiful garden where my sister, her husband and baby daughter will be remembered by all visiting has helped me. I know I will always have a place to go to where I can remember my dear sister.”

At the memorial event, Ruth Rees, the sister of 28-year- old martyr Mary Fisher, gave an emotional tribute, saying, “Growing up in a small Welsh town, I was Mary’s baby sister. My mother was not well and Mary took her place in our home. She was skilled at sewing, embroidery, piano, singing and guitar as well as science and maths, and she taught me all those things! We would sing together as a family in harmony at home and in church. Mary brought me up to know and love God.

“When she went, my father begged her to go anywhere but Rhodesia. Mary loved my father. His pleas were so hard for her, but Mary had been convinced by God. When our father died, Mary came home and spoke at his funeral from Romans 8. A few months later, she was murdered. At that terrible time, I clung on to those last words I ever heard her speak from God’s word: ‘Nothing shall ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

A 1978 newspaper reports the killings in Vumba,
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)

Stephen Griffiths, whose father Peter and mother Brenda co-led the Vumba mission station but were on furlough when the attack happened, wrote the book ‘The Axe And The Tree’ in memory of the victims. He was at the opening of the Memorial and was interviewed by outgoing Elim Missions Director Paul Hudson.

Stephen spoke about the time of the killings, “Since losing someone in such a terrible way is rare, many people found it a comfort to be together with others that had been through a similar experience.

“People told their stories in a rich variety of regional accents, pouring out their hearts in a welter of sorrow, mourning, love and trust.

“Amazingly, there seemed to be no bitterness, no hatred or anger. Although overwhelming at times so many people said how healing they found it both to share with and to listen to others who had this desperately sad experience in common.

Paul Hudson leads in prayer as he unveils information boards that tell the story of the missionaries and their sacrifice

“This beautiful Vumba Memorial Garden is where each one who was murdered is honoured. Many family members have never had an opportunity to go to Zimbabwe and visit the graves of those they loved and lost. It is marvellous to have a tangible location closer to the home where they can come and remember their loved ones.

“We are grateful for the vision, the thoughtfulness and the sensitivity of Paul Hudson in bringing this event to pass. Although there was mourning, Paul reminded us that in the awfulness of death it is the resurrection that has the last word for God’s servants. We long to see that hope declared across the world to ‘free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’.”

The opening was one of Paul Hudson’s last functions as Missions Director. He told Direction, “Inviting the remaining families of our missionaries killed in the Vumba over 40 years ago to what would prove to be a momentous event resulted in all those who were there experiencing a special outpouring of God’s healing grace.

zimbabwe GS
Zimbabwe GS Dr Pious Munembe reads from the Bible
Elim GS Chris Cartwright officially opens the garden

“In the five years of being the IMD and the several years of amazing times working for Elim Missions before, I have simply not been in such an event where the tangible presence of God was present to heal and unite.

“At the opening of the garden, the sun came out just at the right time – and we gathered and we remembered and we gave thanks

“Those who were present were the privileged ones. We will not forget this story. Those who were present will not forget the 40th year event.”

Stepping into Paul’s shoes is Iain Hesketh, who was also present at the event. Iain said, “The Vumba Memorial event took place the week before I officially started as International Missions Director, so it was a real honour to be invited among so many of the relatives for such a poignant moment in time.

“Two things which stood out from the two-day event for me were our missionaries’ radical obedience to Jesus and their Christ-like love for the people they served.

“Radical in the truest sense of the word, they were rooted in Christ and determined in their hearts to do what he had called them to do, even in the face of increased danger.

“We took communion together, led by Paul Hudson. It felt like it was a significant moment in our time together, as our missionaries’ deaths were set in the context of a sinless Saviour who gave his all for us.

“It seemed that at that moment, healing and hope merged as the Holy Spirit moved gently among us. Their deaths were not in vain!

“The work in Zimbabwe continues to flourish and people are encountering the resurrected Christ as a result of their witness and work 40 years ago. Vumba is part of our story, so let us be inspired by our history makers as we seek to walk in step with the Spirit to make much of Jesus in the nations.”

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