Zimbabwean student finds warm welcome, cold days


January 29, 2002|By Nancy Gallant | Nancy Gallant,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OUR RECENT snowstorm wasn't significant as snowstorms go. Still, to Fortune Masamba, it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Eighteen-year-old Fortune, born and raised in Zimbabwe, arrived in Maryland two weeks ago as a guest of Community United Methodist Church in Crofton. So that was his first snowstorm.

In fact, it was his first experience with cold. The young man's face glowed with pleasure as he recalled seeing and feeling his first snowflakes and learning to play in the snow.

He even tried snowboarding - and loved it.

Under the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission program, Community United Methodist Church has been sending mission groups to Zimbabwe for about five years. Fortune's mother, a Methodist minister in Zimbabwe, has worked closely with the Crofton church group for several years as it has developed its international partnership.

The Masamba family served as host for church members Cleo McCoy and Emily Frye during their visit to Zimbabwe last spring. McCoy said that after living with the Masambas for six weeks, they were more like family than friends - Fortune calls McCoy "Gogo Cleo" (Gogo is the word for grandmother in the Shona language).

Since returning from Zimbabwe, the Crofton missionaries have continued their prayers and support for their friends. They are beginning to prepare for another mission trip there, which they hope will take place next year.

In the meantime, the church has undertaken to support Fortune in his pursuit of a college education.

Two weeks ago, Fortune flew from Harare, Zimbabwe, to Baltimore. Along the way, he stopped in London, where an uncle met him and gave him a coat. In Zimbabwe, the temperature usually is in the 80s and a warm coat is not necessary.

Arriving in a big airport in a foreign country would be a daunting experience for most young people. But Fortune wasn't coming to a land of strangers. He was met by a group of friends from the Methodist church, people he grew to know and love when they visited his home country to work on renovation projects and programs to help children orphaned by AIDS.

Gogo Cleo is Fortune's host, and the whole church is pitching in to make his stay happy and successful. Many are helping provide funds for his tuition at Anne Arundel Community College and for the other expenses he is incurring here. Some provide rides to the school, others have offered administrative support for all the paperwork involved, and others have pitched in with recreation, such as a potluck dinner and trips to Washington.

Academically, Fortune is fitting right in. His major is computer science. When asked about his calculus class, he said, "It was fun."

He achieved the top score on the mathematics placement exam at the college. He says that he is enjoying college and finds his teachers interesting.

What does he think about America?

He knew a lot about our country from television programs, news and from the Americans he has met. But there have been surprises. He was amazed by the number of cars he has seen, especially in a high school parking lot. In Zimbabwe, he said, some of his friends have driver's licenses, but it would be unheard of for a high school student to have a car.

An excursion to the Smithsonian Institution was a favorite. Fortune enjoyed the Air and Space Museum and was fascinated by the mechanisms of the airplanes. He also was impressed by the beautiful architecture of the Smithsonian buildings and by the fact that buildings so old have been so lovingly cared for.

The sight of the Pentagon has a sobering effect on people. But Fortune also was impressed by how quickly and diligently our country has worked to repair the damage caused by the terrorist attacks.

Food in America has not been much of a surprise - many foods we eat are available in Zimbabwe.

The biggest difference, says Fortune, is that in Zimbabwe, food is scarce. He remembers one family he knew in Zimbabwe with three children. One day, the first child would eat. The next day, the second child would eat. And the following day, the third child would eat. There was never enough food for all the children to eat at once.

Even worse, he added, is that the family's situation is not unique - so many people are hungry.

Fortune's mother gave him his name because he was born during a time of turmoil in his country and after his mother had been very ill. She said he was very fortunate to have life.

Now he is very appreciative of the good family he has been given and of the support from his Crofton friends.

God has blessed Fortune, as he says, "big time!"

Information about Community United Methodist Church's work in Zimbabwe: 410-721-9129.

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