Westmont Magazine Seeking Refuge
Throughout most of her childhood in Zimbabwe, Kirsten Holshausen had experiences similar to many American youngsters. She went to school and participated in activities such as swimming, music and dance. Like other white children in southern Africa, she attended a private academy with a rigorous curriculum. The all-girls institution was a boarding school where some students lived on campus, but Kirsten stayed home with her family in Harare.
In 1996, serious political turmoil began to trouble Zimbabwe. The country already suffered from the longstanding problems of crime and poverty, but the exchange rates suddenly floundered and frivolous government spending left the nation in massive debt.
In an attempt to appease anti-governmental movements, President-elect Mugabe promised to distribute land to peasants and war veterans. At first, the government took a portion of the holdings of wealthy white farmers, but eventually it confiscated entire properties. The redistribution of private farms displaced hundreds of African workers, many of whom had been born on the properties. Too often politicians, not peasants, received the land.
The economy declined dramatically. Farmers could not farm, and since agriculture was Zimbabwe’s leading economic activity, foreign currency was in short supply. Poor, desperate and lawless, many peasants took to threatening the lives of white, wealthy business people and their families in exchange for compensation.
Kirsten and her family got caught in this political whirlwind. The CEO of a construction company that received numerous threats, Kirsten‘s father faced escalating dangers at work.
“God protected him on a number of occasions,” Kirsten says. “In one instance he narrowly escaped an angry mob, driving away unhurt with only minor damage to his truck. Another time, a stranger’s phone call warned him to evacuate his building immediately. A group of armed terrorists arrived there only minutes after he had escaped.”
Under such circumstances, it became increasingly difficult for Kirsten and her family to live. They experienced an ongoing struggle with the law and the world around them.
What do Christians do when they can only obtain necessities such as food and gasoline through the black market? Do they break the law and justify their actions by arguing that the law is unjust? The Holshausens sought answers to these and other serious questions as they tried to survive.
Kirsten and her brother faced bleak educational prospects and an uncertain future. Safety was an overarching issue, not only for her father at his work, but for the whole family as his work endangered them all. With inflation at dizzying heights, it was nearly impossible to earn an adequate living.
For all these reasons, the Holshausens left their home in Zimbabwe in January 2002 and traveled to Ohio to stay with the family of a man Kirsten’s father had met in college. This family helped the Holshausens get a visa to come to the United States. Nine months later they moved to California and began a new life. Kirsten chose to attend Westmont as she believes that is where God wants her to be.
“The sincere relationships and focus on God, the strong academics, the vibrant and diverse ministries, and the love that is so evident in this community is what attracted me,” she explains.
Although she has traveled a great distance from her home, she remains passionate about its plight despite what she has endured. She feels a deep devotion to Zimbabwe and plans to return someday to help the country recover economically.