The crisis in Zimbabwe has become the crisis of the church. How can we, as Christians and Zimbabweans, be the church in this context? When the apostle Paul describes the church in 1 Corinthians 12, he uses the metaphor of the body in order to capture the relatedness, interdependence, and diversity of the church. I want to pick up just two aspects of Paul’s description of the church in my discussion on the current role of the church in Zimbabwe. The two verses I want to focus on are verse 17 (“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?”) and verse 26 (“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it”).
In verse 17 Paul recognizes the different roles and ministries within the church that compliment each other, just as the different parts of the body. The prophetic voice represents the “mouth” of the church, the naming of injustice, articulating the issues and pointing out a vision of justice that is informed by faith in a just and liberating God. The prophetic voice of the church is present in Zimbabwe. There is an emergence of a distinctive prophetic voice that is breaking denominational divisions. An example of an emerging prophetic voice is the newly formed Christian Alliance. This is how they define themselves and their mission in Zimbabwe at this time – I will quote directly from their founding statement.
The Christian Alliance is an organized network of Christian leaders and organizations who felt called by God to be instrumental in resolving the crisis in the country peacefully and permanently so that Zimbabweans can again live in freedom, peace and prosperity. It was born as a result of pressure from Zimbabweans who had become disillusioned on issues of corruption and human rights abuses by the government, the security forces and the militias.
The CA was officially launched at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Bulawayo on February 3, 2006. Over 200 pastors, priests and church leaders from various churches and denominations attended the colorful all day event marked by singing, praying and preaching. They came from across the country as far as Mutare and Victoria Falls.
Lawyer and church pastor, Reverend Lucky Moyo, one of the organizers of CA said about its work, “All dialogue will be pursued following Christian principles of non-violence and ethical debate. The war ethos prevailing in Zimbabwe must be broken. We are not going to war; neither do we expect to be attacked. This is simply a platform to engage in meaningful discussion for the greater good of all Zimbabweans.”
There are other initiatives, but this one is of particular interest because of its Christian ethos and representation across denominations.
The other equally essential ministry of the church is the pastoral role, the “walking with” people in great pain and suffering, instilling hope and courage for the harsh realities of everyday life. The political crisis affects the day-to-day life of ordinary Zimbabweans. Examples include the ongoing stress of making ends meet in the context of inflation of over 1700 percent and the failure to pay for the basics of life such as education, foods, health and the ongoing devastation of HIV & AIDS. The pastoral work in this context can best be illustrated by the narrative in Daniel 3 about the three Hebrew young men who were thrown into the fire for disobeying the orders of the king. The text I want to focus on is verse 25: He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
The fire represents the harsh realities of life, and pastoral care is mediating the presence of God in the midst of suffering so that people are not destroyed by the situation. This ministry is carried out faithfully by pastors and lay people as they encourage, pray, preach, and be present to others. The church in Zimbabwe is growing, and many people are under the pastoral care of pastors. Their pastoral work is as essential as the prophetic voice, because a country is as strong as the soul and character of its people.
The challenge is to keep the prophetic and pastoral connected. The prophetic needs the pastoral to keep in touch with the experiences and voices of the people. The pastoral needs the prophetic to connect the political to the personal. Together the prophetic and pastoral empower Christians to go beyond survival to participating in creating a new vision for Zimbabwe that we can all be a part of.
The last text I want to look at is 1 Corinthians 12, verse 26a: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” The church in Zimbabwe is part of the world wide church, and if the church in Zimbabwe is suffering, then the whole body of Christ is suffering too. Geography does not separate us; Christ has made us one. Therefore the question is not “What is the church in Zimbabwe doing?” but “What am I – as a member or community of believers in Christ – doing?”
Nontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.