Blood, Sweat and Reason
Zimbabwe, like most of Africa and the Middle East, only seems to get in the news for all the wrong reasons. But, hey, isn’t that’s what news is for, or has become?
Earlier this month a short feature appeared on the ABC’s Lateline on ex-Zimbabwean cricketer, Henry Olonga. It was a good news story, a story of conviction and courage, made to shine even brighter against the dark canvas of his exile from the beloved country and people of his heart.
Henry Olonga was the first black Zimbabwean to play cricket for his country as well as the youngest player ever to be selected. He played 30 Tests and 50 One Day Internationals. Age and circumstance conspired against any Big Bash fun.
His statistics aren’t up there in the rarified atmosphere of Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath or the Pollock’s, father and son. But he terrorised many whose batting statistics were. You can locate a You Tube of him tearing the heart out of the Indian top order in a One Day International with the likes of Dravid and Tendulker trudging back to the sheds barely playing a shot.
But Henry is better known for three significant reasons over and above his achievements inside the perimeter of a white picket fence.
A Man of Substance
Henry has shed blood for his belief in a better and more just Zimbabwe. Not literal blood, although many of his compatriots have. In the 2003 Cricket World Cup played in Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa, Henry, and his captain, Andy Flower, wore black armbands in the opening match at Harare to ‘mourn the death of democracy in Zimbabwe’.
They released a joint statement:
In all the circumstances we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup. In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. In doing so we pray that our small action may help to restore sanity and dignity to our nation.
Henry was dropped from the team but stayed in the squad to only play one more game in the tournament. Death threats began to follow and after their final match in East London, Henry went into hiding and then exile in Britain with a warrant out for his arrest on the charge of treason.
The cost for Andy was significant but he was about to retire and went onto to coaching the England team. The cost for Henry was massive. He was 26 and still had his best playing years before him.
It was suggested in the Lateline piece that only a few elite sportsman or celebrities are remembered for what they do beyond their chosen discipline. The young Henry Olonga is in that company.
Henry is not afraid to shed blood to stand with those whose who had.
A Man of Song
Those of us who caught the Lateline cameo were stunned by the beauty of his voice. It was like Pavarotti with dreadlocks after a year in the gym. As his voice soared, we soared. It seemed so effortless, natural. He moved seamlessly from bantering cheekily with his audience to lifting the roof with a sublime piece of opera.
And I don’t even get opera. In fact the only opera I have ever been to is the phantom variety! But I got this African tenor. I can’t wait to hear Henry sing his favourite hymn.
And I get this. Such skill level comes only through the hard sweat and discipline in both rehearsal and performance.
Henry is not afraid to sweat so others may know the sheer delight of his gifted voice.
A Man of Salvation
Henry is a man of faith. He traces his conversion to Christ to a youth camp at the age of 16. He has sought to witness to the saving work of Jesus in his life throughout his sporting career and now lives in Adelaide with his Australian-born wife, Tara, and their two children. His autobiography, Blood, Sweat and Treason, tells his remarkable story of grace.
No longer is he chasing leather all over the park or putting batsmen back in the pavilion. The kids are the ones being chased and the kids are the ones he puts to bed. I have sometimes missed Henry when I ring because he is on the school run.
Henry has a heart for ministry. He wants to use his voice, both in song and in speech, to introduce Jesus to those who have ignored or dismissed their Creator. He wants democracy and justice in Zimbabwe. And he wants people all over the world to delight in the salvation of their God.
He wants to reason with people to return to the Lord (Isaiah 1:18).
Henry first came onto my radar when I was looking for a breakfast speaker for Anglican Aid around the time of the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand just on a year ago. Henry was in London. We were well served by another brother in Christ, South African, Shaun Pollock.
We now have the privilege of Henry visiting Sydney as a guest of Anglican Aid from March 18-20. Henry will speak at various events to highlight the great need to train Zimbabwean men and women for Bible and gospel ministry and to help Zimbabweans caught in the grip of injustice, poverty, drought and famine. See the Anglican Aid Website for details.
Henry is not afraid to reason with others for the faith and love that spring from the hope Jesus brings (Colossians 1:5).
Feature photo: Tony Watkins