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God has called us to be the light in a dark place

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Ben Freeth, with wife Laura
Ben Freeth, with wife Laura

A Kent man kidnapped, tortured and beaten in Zimbabwe has returned to his congregation to tell them he has nothing but love for his enemies.

He revealed the ordeal he suffered as part of President Robert Mugabe’s regime, to an audience at St Justus Church, Rochester.

Ben, from Borden, Sittingbourne, and his mother and father-in law, Mike and Angela Campbell were lying close to death after Mugabe’s thugs attacked the grandparents. Ben was savagely attacked after driving to their homestead to rescue them.

They took the brave step of taking the case against farm seizure to the South African Development Community tribunal. And Ben was able to reveal on Wednesday night that the tribunal’s first ruling, after massive delays, is that the Zimbabwe government is in contempt.

Mugabe’s regime tried to force them to surrender their farm, by stealing their food and generators and slaughtering their animals.

The family has returned to the UK for a month and will be spending time in Ireland with one of Laura’s oldest friends.

He told the packed church, whose congregation members have prayed for them: “I just had this love for my enemies. It was a miracle, it was not something that comes from man.

“I reached out with my hands that were tied and saw this black leg and the throng was around us.

“I said, 'may Jesus bless you.’”

He described how Mugabe’s henchmen had flung him, Mike and Angela into a station wagon, flanked by gunmen.

They were driven over rough ground, Ben’s fractured skull and beaten body banging painfully against the sides of the truck before being dumped at the roadside.

Mike, whose terrible injuries were life-threatening, Angela, whose arm had been broken and was cruelly beaten, and Ben, were finally taken to Chegutu Hospital and later transferred to a hospital in Harare. Ben endured a two-and- a-half hour operation to remove fluid from around his brain.

At the same time as Ben’s ordeal, his wife Laura was attempting to flee to safety in an ancient Ford Laser, with children Joshua, eight, Stephen, five, and Anna, three, in another vehicle with her brother Bruce’s girlfriend.

Ben said: “God has called us to be the light in a dark place. It is something that has got to be fought for.”

The family connection with St Justus stemmed from his uncle John Freeth, who had been a curate at St Mark’s in Gillingham.

Inflation and the economy

Ben painted a bleak portrait of life in Zimbabwe, where inflation has reached an unbelievable 2.2 million, although economists claim that it is nearer 10 to 15 million.

The country lives in a spirit of fear and jealousy.

“The discrimination against white people means that 90 per cent of them are off their farms, and those remaining continue to be targeted.

“But God has called us to be the light in a dark place. It is something that has got to be fought for.”

Ben's factfile on Zimbabwe

There are 5,000 people missing in Zimbabwe.

• It has the highest percentage of people needing food than anywhere in the world.

• More than 3,331 cases of severe torture have been reported.

• More than 20,000 homes belonging to Mugabe opponents have been destroyed by fire.

• More than 1,540 activists languish in prison.

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