by Barbara Henning
“Godliness with contentment is great gain” – 1 Timothy 6:6
My mum passed away on the 29th of March this year. Our hearts are broken but we grieve with hope knowing that she is in the presence of Jesus. What an amazing person she was. Born back in Rhodesia 81 years ago, she was the second eldest child and the first daughter to my grandparents. Mum was sent off to boarding school at the age 5 and only came home for the school holidays. Over sixty years ago my mum was one of the first ladies who worked in the bank in that country, which was a major milestone for women who wanted employment outside their home in those days.
My parents (both now passed) have five children, of which I am the third (middle) child. My second eldest sister (Heather) contracted meningitis at 6 weeks of age, and her surgery was the first successful brain operation in Rhodesia at that time. Heather has a ‘shunt’ implant connected to her brain to drain any excess fluid build-up, and I can remember my mum pumping it every night when Heather was a child. This daily routine for Heather is no longer required.
Mum was a farmer’s wife, who in her own right accomplished much, such as winning awards for her cattle herd, as well as awards at the local city show for her pigs and sheep. Those were also times of civil war in that nation, also known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” During these times, my dad had to go away for up to 6-weeks at a time on military operational service, she had to then manage the farm operations, which included a dairy business.
My mum did all the self-catering for her children’s weddings – all celebrated on the farm. My dad passed away unexpectedly in 2007 just a year prior to us immigrating to Australia. Mum and Heather continued living on the farm living despite the constant government pressure of dispossession in their land-grab strategy that eventuated a few years after my dad’s passing. When that happened, she was given just 10 days to vacate the property, and in that process lost most of her earthly possessions, all of her farm, a well as her source of livelihood. She received no compensation from the government for the farm that was taken. Mum and Heather eventually relocated to an aged-care community in town, and with her farming livelihood taken away, Mum took to baking and selling cookies and cakes as a source of income. In that small kitchen, which measured no more than 2.5m x 2.5m she baked biscuits and cakes and, at times, would produce up to 80 cakes per day such as during the lead-up to Christmas. Everything that was baked was diligently weighed and measured. As a result of significant health concerns, and with family support, Mum was eventually left with no alternative but for her and Heather to leave her homeland of Zimbabwe, and they were relocated to Cape Town, South Africa where she lived with family. She was no longer able to walk unassisted on her own and became reliant on a walker and wheelchair. Despite these new limitations, she continued to bake, opened her new small unit for a weekly Bible study group, she regularly hosted friends for meals, and even self-catered for Heather’s 60th birthday celebration which was celebrated just 10 days before Mum’s passing.
Mum’s memorial service was held on Good Friday this year with 70 people attending the service and with a further 35 electronic devices attending online from around the globe. At the same time, her previous church family in Gweru, Zimbabwe, held a memorial service for her and in excess of 900 personal messaged of condolences were posted on Facebook as well as many other private messages being received from people whose lives had been impacted in some way by Mum.
What stands out for me about my mum’s “simple life” was that she had lived a full and contented life, despite having faced huge challenges including being sent off to boarding school at 5; having had a child with a disability; lived through 20 years of the nation being at civil war; everything earthly had been taken away; the last 5 years of her life totally dependent on a mobility walker/wheelchair; and then having to move to a new country. Mum never complained about her situation, she always seemed to navigate her way through the challenges, she was generous to those around her, she always practised hospitality with an open home and a meal on the table even as a widow, she enjoyed chatting to everyone, and she took a personal interest in everyone of her children’s, grandchildren, and great grandchildren’s lives.
Mum was, in my mind, the exact human example of the verse in 1 Timothy 6:6: “Godliness with contentment is great gain”.