The Revd Georgie Machell is rector of the East Loveden group of parishes near Grantham. She came to Lincolnshire with her husband, two children and two suitcases from Zimbabwe in 2002, fleeing Robert Mugabe’s land reform programme.

Although Georgie was born and bred in Harare, marrying a British white husband was seen by the Mugabe regime as ‘selling out' and so their land and cooking oil business was taken from them. An appeal against the decision only resulted in terrifying threats so they left everything and flew to the UK where a friend in Alford took them in.  Later on the family moved to Ruskington village.  “It was here that I found my faith again,” said Georgie. “I had felt lost in my faith but then I woke to hear the church bells ringing and I knew I wanted to be in that place.”

Georgie’s father was a Methodist minister so she grew up in a Christian home. “I am the youngest in the family and he was always so supportive of me. He was very proud that I became a teacher and a rector" she said. 

Her faith as a Methodist was challenged after she trained as a teacher and took up a position in a Roman Catholic school for boys in Harare. “I felt that I identified more with this faith and wanted to change. But I didn’t dare tell my father!” she said. “But then when I was told that you could not take communion unless you had been baptised as a Roman Catholic, I felt separated and not accepted and I realised that given this, this could not be my faith,” she added.

“Once I was in the UK I wanted to continue with my faith journey and I went back to the Methodist church, as I was obviously so familiar with it, but I couldn’t find my feet. But when I heard those church bells in St Mary’s in Ruskington things changed.  I walked in and broke down in tears and I knew that this is what I had been looking for and I thought ‘I have arrived’. Everyone was so welcoming at St Mary’s.”

As a qualified teacher Georgie was able to gain employment in the UK as a supply teacher in primary schools in and around Lincoln and Grantham. “My husband was very badly affected by what we had experienced in Zimbabwe and unfortunately our marriage broke down. It was very difficult for me too as I had to maintain two jobs to stay afloat, but I found solace in the church.”

“I absorbed myself in church life and took on many roles – I sang in the choir, I did the intercessions, rotas and was the crucifier.  I trained to be an Authorised Lay Minister as I thought that this is what God wanted me to be. But even after this there was still a nagging in my heart, so I trained as an Ordained Local Minister” she explained. This decision resulted in her having three jobs - one as an Associate Priest, another helping in the vacant parish of Digby and also teaching for three days a week, all of which she did for four years.  

In 2017 Georgie swapped OLM to stipendiary ministry.  She explains: “In the church it is difficult to have one leg in and one leg out and I felt God was calling me to this, to give my own. We are a rural parish and we have wonderful connections with our two local schools where we have an ‘Open the Book’ programme where we re-enact stories from the Bible. I have also taken bags of my ceremonial gowns to schools and I ask the children about what they think I do and I get some very surprising answers! Firstly, the children think I live in the actual church and also they think I spend my day reading the Bible so I talk to them about what I actually do and we discuss some of the religious rites, such as baptism. I am very proud of my links with the school and even during the pandemic we have kept in touch and we do activities online together.” 

Before the pandemic the parish set up giving boxes at the back of their churches and invited the community to donate food to their nearest food banks to help the needy among them. This continued throughout the pandemic and during Advent in 2020 they were offered an Advent giving box by an anonymous family which they were very grateful for. Out of the blue they were contacted by the local council who asked if they knew of any Trusts who could help a woman and her two small children who had fled their home because of domestic violence.  

Georgie said: “I believe that God sent these people to us for a reason. We wanted to help those in need, received a giving box and then the need arrived. These people were in a terrible situation and our community rallied to help them in whatever way they could. They helped with paying for heating, some provided carpets and other household items for the family. They were also invited round for meals and Christmas dinner. We want everyone to know that if they need help then we are here for them.”

In 2007 Georgie took her UK citizenship test to remain in the UK. Anyone out of Zimbabwe for more than five years was no longer considered to be a citizen and left stateless by the Mugabe regime.

She returned to the country in 2008 for her father’s funeral. She said: “It was very sad to return. Things were getting worse and there were shortages of food, so I buried my father and left, and I have not been back. I still have a sister there but my two other siblings fled when I did and one went to Canada and the other to the United States. It was a terrible drain to the country as anyone who had a qualification left.”

Like many churches the parishes in East Loveden have had to embrace technology during lockdown. “I was trying to do my own filming and my son, who lives in Spain, was my best, or worst, critic as he told me that he didn’t want to look up my nostrils! I also do weekly recorded reflections and daily prayers that I share via WhatsApp.  We also do a Zoom service each Sunday and my sister in Texas joins us, together with a cousin from Zimbabwe so that is lovely.

She concluded: “I don’t think church will ever be the same again – it will become a hybrid with a mixture of online and actual church, but I am optimistic for the future and that the changes will be for the better. I know that God is with me and that he is there to make sure I do better tomorrow than I do today. You just have to keep moving on.”