January 05, 2012 | Myrna Anderson

Zimbabwean professor Richard Nenge has found a temporary home at Calvin through the Scholar Rescue Fund program.

Zimbabwean professor Richard Nenge has found a temporary home at Calvin through the Scholar Rescue Fund program.

His country gets very cold in the winter, cold enough to leave a ground frost, said Richard Nenge. That's the closest he's gotten to snow until now. When Nenge, a native of Zimbabwe, arrived at Gerald Ford International Airport on December 20, Joel Carpenter, director of the Nagel Institute for World Christianity picked him up and immediately took him shopping for boots, gloves and a winter coat. Nenge spent the Christmas season with the families of several different Calvin faculty. He's settled into his apartment and gone grocery shopping—and couldn't find a lot of the foods he used to. Though he’s not acclimated to the cold yet, he is getting accustomed to Calvin: “So far, so good,” he said. 

Richard Nenge has found a temporary scholarly home at Calvin through an alum who works for the Scholar Rescue Fund program. “We’ll do what we can to help him put his life back together,” Carpenter said.

Learning and teaching religion

Nenge grew up in a Methodist Christian family in Marondera, Zimbabwe. As a boy, he loved to read, particularly the novels of Zimbabwean author Charles Mungoshi. He also loved to study religion, and that was the subject he hoped to someday teach. Nenge earned his degree from the University of Zimbabwe, and his first job was teaching religion in a primary school in Mount Darwin, Zimbabwe, but he didn’t stay there long. “That area was highly politicized,” he said. So, back Nenge went to his hometown to teach religious studies at the local high school. “I actually enjoyed my time there,” he said. “My group of students were performing very well,” In 2005, Nenge earned his master’s degree and moved in to college-level teaching at Nyadire Teacher’s College in Mutoko, located in northeastern Zimbabwe. “Again, things were very politicized,” he said.

Both Mount Darwin and Mutoko were strongholds of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, the country’s ruling party, controlled by President Robert Mugabe and known by its acronym: ZANU-PF.  Not long into his new job, Nenge was being harassed by ZANU-PF members. When he tried to leave the institution, his move was blocked. After two years of teaching, Nenge had to move home. “It wasn’t safe,” he said, adding: “I’m not a politician. I’m not interested in politics.” In 2009, Nenge got a job at the Open University of Zimbabwe, where he pioneered a program of religious studies. A year after that, the trouble started. Central Intelligence officers who had ties with Mugabe were on the lookout for “traitors.”

Foreign correspondent

Nenge was corresponding with a friend and colleague of his to write a curricular model for the new program. He was unaware that his friend was writing him from the United States, where he had fled the same kind of harassment Nenge was experiencing. After that Nenge became a target. He was harassed both at work and on the job by ZANU-PF henchmen, who demanded money, transportation and other favors from him. They beat him and threatened his life, and he went into hiding. Finally, Nenge decided to leave Zimbabwe, and he contacted the organization that had helped his friend: The Scholar Rescue Fund, a program of the Institute of International Education (IIE).

"They're the major NGO that promotes exchange in higher ed," said Carpenter. (The IIE also generates the Open Doors Report that ranks institutions based on their off-campus programs.)

The person in charge of finding Nenge a place to live and study was James King, a 2004 Calvin graduate in middle eastern studies and the program officer for the Scholar Rescue Fund. King thought that Calvin would be a good destination for Nenge because of the college's strong religion program—not a usual feature of state schools—and global vision. “I immediately thought of my alma mater as an ideal host for Mr. Nenge’s fellowship, one that would embrace his personal and professional experiences and the cause of academic freedom more broadly," he said.

So, he called Carpenter, and Richard Nenge came to Calvin. Nenge arrived on December 20, and Seminars in Christian Scholarship staff helped get him settled in an apartment and situated in the community.

Many partners

The Scholar Rescue Fund provided half the money for Nenge to live and work at Calvin, and the Nagel Institute partnered with several Calvin entities to fund the remainder: the Calvin provost's office, Seminars in Christian Scholarship, The Paul Henry B. Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. “I shook the bushes,” Carpenter said.

While at Calvin, Nenge will be contributing to several Calvin classes: “We’ve got two southern Africa experts here, and they’re happy to collaborate with him,” Carpenter said. “Mostly, he’s going to be doing some dedicated study time.” Nenge’s current research links the impact of biblical teaching about women’s roles with the treatment of HIV/AIDS. His one-year stay through the Scholar Rescue Fund is renewable, and he’s considering further graduate work.

Meanwhile, he stays in touch with his family in Marondera through e-mail. Returning to Zimbabwe is not feasible, he said, until that country achieves political stability: “As it stands, you never know what your next day will be like.”

Joel Carpenter

Joel Carpenter

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