Mechanic on a Mission
Faith and compassion are his tools of the trade
By Sonia Duggan
Enter the door of Affordable Auto Services on Parker Road in Wylie on any given day and you’ll get much more than you bargained for. You’ll not only get your car repaired at a reasonable price by owner/mechanic Joshua Chikumbindi, but stick around long enough and you’ll find his spiritual tools can lift you up more than you imagined.
While some mechanics often bring fear of extensive repairs and price gouging, Joshua is quite different. He is known in the community for being fair and having a heart for those in need. As a mechanic he said he often gets frustrated when some shops give people a huge bill. “If he didn’t need to pay bills he’d never charge for it,” said St. Paul resident and customer, Cary Betts.
His one-man shop on Parker Road has been open since 2011. He can fix just about anything and his customers often have more faith in his ability to fix things than he does.
“People have brought tractors, weed eaters… stuff that’s not even in my field but they bring it to me to fix,” he said. “One time an old man wanted me to fix his tractor. When I finally agreed to try – within 30 minutes I heard his tractor puttering down the road,” he said laughing.
Customer referrals from churches, nonprofits and those in need of a break are common at his shop. First Baptist Wylie Missions Pastor, Jon Bailey, sends people to Joshua who have cars, but don’t have enough to pay for the full repair. “I look at them (pastors) and say, ‘You know the church doesn’t have to pay this because this is something that I can do,’” he said. “Sometimes churches pay a portion and customers pay a portion. I believe that is what the kingdom is about. Having a need doesn’t care about religion but community is a necessity to help.”
Local nonprofit, Family Promise of Collin County, recently celebrated Joshua at their annual volunteer appreciation event for his help fixing cars for the homeless families in the program. Sharon Laird of Family Promise spoke about Joshua saying, “We are so blessed to have this relationship. He always goes above and beyond in helping us out. Several times he has gone to a house or a location where one of our cars was having an issue to see if he could resolve the issue on the spot. Another time, we had put new tires on a former guest’s car for them. Joshua told them to get the wheels aligned, but the guest said they did not have the money. He gave them funds to get the alignment done.”
Joshua and his wife Leah live nearby and sometimes he’ll call and ask her to stop by when he has a female customer who he senses needs the comfort and understanding of someone like his wife. Leah said, “In a tough situation people are very willing to listen, they’re hurting and they want someone to talk to.”
Tucked away in a small shopping center, Leah describes the shop as being “like a well in a desert.” At times, it has been a refuge for individuals in need of a temporary place to stay. In one instance Joshua said a man asked if he could park his van at the shop and sleep in it after being kicked out of the house by his wife. After the temperatures dropped to freezing one night Joshua invited him inside. The man spent the night there for two weeks until one day the man and his wife reconciled. “If I hadn’t let him stay he would have gone back to Detroit and their marriage would not have been saved,” he said.
Another time Joshua picked up a man walking in the dark along Country Club Road in the heat of the summer. The man was an Inspiration employee who had no place to stay and was planning to sleep in his work truck. Joshua took the man back to the shop where he spent the next two nights until a co-worker eventually took him in. “Once he got his first paycheck he was fine,” Joshua said.
An education in the mechanics of life
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Joshua worked as an apprentice teacher for a year then trained in welding and automotive at a technical school after high school. Despite his training, he couldn’t get a job without real-world experience so he visited a local truck repair company and volunteered to work for free so he could get a letter of recommendation to work. The owner told Joshua he had to work for 1 ½ years without pay so he could get experience – not exactly the “quick fix” he was looking for. The boss expected him to behave like any other employee, be on time every morning and work the same hours as everyone. “My most painful time was every Friday when everyone got paid. I had no paycheck. I had to walk home as I had no bus fare. Hunger was the most painful thing I faced because I had no income,” he said.
Despite the hardship, Joshua was determined. He planted greens behind his house to sell and earn a little income. After 1 ½ years he went to the manager and said he was finished. The manager wrote him a reference letter and Joshua went back to the technical school to show his letter. “The principal was so impressed with what I had achieved,” he said. Despite his newly acquired experience, Joshua’s job at the school involved cleaning chalkboards and drawing charts for instructors. One day the principal noticed Joshua reading notes and explaining information to students in class. The principal asked, “Were you teaching that class?” Joshua said, “No, I was just explaining to them because the regular instructor had not shown up for many weeks.” The principal informed Joshua that what he was really doing was teaching. “From now on that is your class,” the principal said. His steadfast work ethic earned him back pay for two months as an instructor, a uniform plus lunch allowance and dinner. “In six months I became head of the department,” he said.
Joshua and Leah met at a family wedding when her sister married his brother. Leah was in the 11th grade and lived in the city and Joshua was a teacher in the country. They dated for a while then went their separate ways. Eventually Leah met and married a pastor who was a missionary from the U.S. and moved to Dallas. The marriage lasted only three months and a broken Leah returned to Zimbabwe in 1996. Leah and Joshua met again, this time at a funeral for his brother. During their time apart, Joshua had married and divorced, and became the father of two daughters. They started dating again, and in 1997 Leah became pregnant. She did not want to marry again, and despite her condition, she returned to the U.S. without Joshua, staying with her niece until baby Joshua was born. The elder Joshua still held out hope for Leah and his son. Communicating was very expensive. He worked hard, eventually earning enough money to make the trip from Zimbabwe to Texas later that same year. “I had never flown before and here I was scared and praying on the flight that I would get into the country,” he said.
His prayers worked. He surprised Leah with his arrival in Texas and they settled in an apartment in Farmers Branch with their baby and no car. Each day they would walk from their apartment to take their son to the babysitter and Leah would carry him on her back. After the baby was dropped off, they would walk to the Walmart on Midway Road where she worked. A friend would pick Joshua up and take him to work in Dallas. “Winter was tough,” said Joshua. “One day Leah’s hands were frostbitten and she was crying because they were so cold,” he said. The daily walk was not quick. “One day my boss asked if I was going to always going to be late,” he said. “I told him when I got paid I was going to buy a bicycle. He couldn’t believe it. He handed me the keys to the shop van and told me to take it home even though I told him I wasn’t used to driving in the states, and on the right side of the road,” he said. “I took Webb Chapel all the way and ended up in the Colony. I got home at 9 p.m.” In the morning they packed up and he surprised Leah with the van. “We didn’t even have a car seat. We didn’t even know we needed one,” he said.
Coming to the US from a third world country is not an easy transition. Joshua worked and went to Brookhaven College to familiarize himself with American cars. “U.S. vehicles have bigger engines, air conditioning, etc.,” he said. By the time they married in 2002 they had added a daughter, Mildred, to the family. Leah soon realized she wanted the same thing (marriage) she had growing up in a two-parent home. “We were in a good church with a pastor who worked with us despite our culture,” she said. “He was very good at counseling.”
In 2003 Joshua opened up his own auto repair shop in Dallas. Through his shop he often helped the homeless. One day he exited and saw a man walking along the highway. “Hey can I help you,” asked Joshua. The man started walking off. Joshua said “Hey brother I want to help you.” The man told Joshua he had tried to commit suicide the night before because he had AIDS. “I told him he could not die cause God did not want him to. I picked up the man’s belongings and took him to the shop and prayed with him,” Joshua said. He brought him to the Salvation Army and the man left his belongings at his shop. “Five months later the man called and said he now had a job. He told me ever since that day he’d been free from sickness,” Joshua said grinning.
The Chikumbindi family grew again in 2005 when their daughter Rachel was born. They moved to Wylie and bought a house and Joshua began commuting to Dallas to work. One day Joshua ministered to a customer who was not a believer. “The man asked me ‘where is YOUR church?’ I began to think about it,” Joshua said. “Wondering why I wasn’t dealing with the full ministry.”
Selling it all
Joshua closed his Dallas shop in October 2007 so he could follow his dream of doing street ministry. “I started calling all my customers to tell them. I remember so well I had so much peace. I finished all the old jobs I had. Customers picked up their cars. I sold all the equipment.”
Leah helped support him by working at a bank but she was not happy about having the family burden. “I felt like he was searching where exactly he needed to go,” she said. Joshua ministered on the streets, saving souls and giving hope for two years but eventually the family started running out of money and Leah’s job wasn’t enough to meet all their needs.
He knew he had to put his dreams on hold and go back to work. He opened up a restaurant inside Willard’s Gas Station in Copeville and ran that until their daughter Millie got the Swine Flu in June 2009. She was so sick she ended up at Medical City. Joshua said, “It was the most humbling thing. Scott Wynn (principal at that time) came to the hospital with his secretary. The whole school was almost like a church the way they impacted our lives.”
Over the next few months Millie remained in the hospital. Her kidneys and lungs failed and eventually her whole body began shutting down. “She was in the hospital the whole summer. I feel like God got us to a point where he wanted us to be – in the hospital together,” Leah said. The experience helped the couple refocus and she knew he had made up his mind so she came up with a plan. “I wanted a job where I could be my own boss and schedule my work around my kid’s schedule,” she said.
Thankfully, Millie recovered and Joshua went back to work. This time he worked for a company as a mobile mechanic. He loved his job because he got to rescue (and minister) to people once again.
One night he met an old man whose car had broken down on Hwy 75. “It’s so amazing how many people don’t stop,” he said. “Every car I stop by there is someone in that car stranded.”
He helped block the man’s vehicle so he could get out. “No gas was coming to the engine so I knew it was the fuel pump. I called the police and we pulled into the Shell station by Texas Instruments. I went home to get tools. As I exited I saw another car stopped and it was another stranded passenger. This time the woman was trying to go to Arlington to a church conference. “I drove her to Arlington,” he said. “When I went back the man was no longer by the car.” Joshua returned to the same spot the next day and as he exited he saw the man walking. “We went and bought a pump and I changed the fuel pump. It turned out the man was a retired war veteran. The man insisted on giving me stuff from his car,” he said. “It was one of the most humbling jobs I ever did. It is one kind of a job I really miss doing.”
In 2010 the Chikumbindis lost their home in Wylie. Medical bills and lack of work prompted the foreclosure but the power of a strong faith community certainly helped. “I was going to this Bible study at Shoemaker & Hardt in downtown Wylie,” he said. “I told them I was planning to just walk away from the house and leave everything there.” Luckily, Cary Betts and Mark Robinson, both members of Wylie United Methodist Church, heard his story and helped Joshua. “They had a huge trailer pull up behind my house and loaded the contents of our home,” he said. The Robinsons stored the furnishings and let the family stay in their travel trailer on their property until the Chikumbindis could find a place to live. They eventually moved to a mobile home at Southfork. It wasn’t the best, Leah said, and it needed a lot of work but they remained positive. She told the kids, “This is our mansion for now.”
The next year Joshua went back to doing what he knew best. He opened Affordable Auto Service in Wylie. “One of the things I admire with the United States is starting a business or profession is so easy in this country,” he said.
The couple’s children have thrived in Wylie ISD. Joshua graduated in 2016 and went to college on a football scholarship, Millie is attending college and plans to be a doctor someday. Rachel, now 14, is a student at McMillan.
With his prior trade school experience back in Zimbabwe, the desire to teach is still very much a vision for Joshua. One day he hopes to open a technical school in Wylie to help out young men. “I think it is very important for men, especially boys, to have hands-on training to help them succeed,” he said. “I come across a lot of boy students who want to do something but don’t know what to do.”
The Chikumbindis continue to follow their path of ministering to others in and outside church. Joshua teaches 10th grade students at First Baptist Wylie and he and Leah are involved in the Zimbabwe United Methodist Church in Dallas. Leah feels their knowledge of both cultures is key to helping newcomers understand the American culture and the challenges. “I feel that’s the reason why God brought us here. We can teach our own people,” she said. She is especially passionate about the children’s ministry and she also has a girl’s ministry. “You can get a very vibrant church in Africa but the children’s ministry is not vibrant,” she said. “Kids don’t understand about not having anything. They are missing out on learning and accepting and fellowship of other people.”
When he’s not fixing cars, this mission-minded mechanic will continue to help souls on the street or stranded in cars because that’s where his heart is. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop evangelizing,” he said. “My ministry is the homeless. It is cheaper to take someone off the streets than to leave them to sleep in the streets. It’s so easy for them to fail. Give them a place, they can find work, then they have courage. I see that all the time.”