Report on Alison Judd’s Visit to Zimbabwe
At the invitation of Rev Dr Jimmy Dube, the General Secretary of the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe, I was given the enormous privilege of representing the Methodist Church in Britain at the celebrations of 40 years of Autonomy and the annual conference of the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe. I was accompanied by my husband, the Rev Les Judd. Our programme included several opportunities to meet (formally and informally) with members of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women. (I was reminded that nearly a quarter of the women who gathered at Houston for the World Assembly in 2016 were from Zimbabwe!) We were shown warm and generous hospitality and care, in particular by Rev Cleopas Sibanda (MCZ UK Fellowship chaplain) and his wife Susan, Mrs Sipiwe Chisvo (World Federation Area President for Southern and East Africa), the Manyano/ Ruwadzano of MCZ, Jane and Ezekiel Chitsunge, (members at Borrowdale MC, Harare) and Julie and Bruce Caddick of Bulawayo.
It was an unforgettable experience and one that was marked by surprises, the first being our enthusiastic welcome by cheering World Federation women at Harare Airport, complete with TV crew for an interview. It felt very appropriate on our first day to be able to visit three different MCZ churches and share in their harvest worship. The next day, 500 women had travelled from across the country to meet at Trinity Methodist Church, Harare where worshippers were enthralled by an address by Rev J Dube on the topic of Gender Justice. The newly appointed MCZ Gender Justice Officer, Ms Lillian Chikara, was present to hear discussion touching on treatment of widows, gender-based discrimination, the effects of adultery and HIV/AIDS on family relationships and the need to speak up on behalf of other women seeking to reach their potential, both within the church and beyond. Later in our stay, a similar gathering of women was held in Bulawayo when I was able to share with more members of MCZ, United Methodist Women and African Methodist Episcopal Church women.
We were so blessed to be invited by the family of Rev Cleopas Sibanda to participate in the 90th Birthday celebrations of his mother, at their family home in rural Zimbabwe. This afforded us with a unique opportunity to experience an event in the company of around 100 friends and family and church representatives in a setting we would not otherwise have encountered. It was a very special interlude from the formal programme and one we shall always recall with great joy.
Back in Harare, we embarked on the four day event in the National Sports Stadium to celebrate 40 years of Autonomous Mission by the Methodist Church of Zimbabwe, under the theme of ‘Warmed Hearts.’ The days were filled with singing, dancing, worship, preaching, processions, performances by choirs of all ages and greetings from special guests and representatives from the Diaspora in Canada, South Africa, and the UK. The stadium resounded with the voices of 40,000 Methodists, including several who had travelled there from the UK Fellowship. At the weekend, the women wore their black, red and white uniforms which showed clearly that 90% of the MCZ are women, an even higher proportion than in MCB. However, I was also surprised to discover that the membership of MCZ is already 120,000 and still growing.
The celebrations of 40 years of Autonomous Mission also included recognition of 40 years of women’s ordination in MCZ. The first woman to be ordained, Rev Margaret James, was awarded several medals for outstanding service and spoke of the need to include women in the leadership roles of the church including as Bishops. She preached on this topic again at the annual conference and was delighted when Rev Evermary C. Nyabonda was elected to that role, the first woman district leader in MCZ for 20 years.
Annual Conference took place in the Flamboyant Hotel, Masvingo District. The Presiding Bishop was Revd Dr Solomon Zwana, and the Lay President was Mr Brown Sanyauke. I again brought greetings from the MCB, and on behalf of the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, and affirmed how their church has grown in strength, numbers and in impact over the last 40 years. I assured them of our desire to continue in partnership with them through the World Church Office and spoke of how we appreciate the contributions made to the life of MCB by the MCZ UK Fellowship. I paid tribute to their initiatives that empower women, care for orphaned children, encourage men in the faith, ensure Christian education and outreach, and for taking seriously the issue of gender justice.
The business of the conference included the current economic challenges which meant that some ministers had not been paid for several months. Churches were urged to continue to send in their assessment money to the central account. However, there was still hope of building a Methodist University for which land has been earmarked. We heard about the many Methodist schools and farms, the Group Funeral Scheme and the Church bookshop. We also heard about the various Fellowships and realised how enormously generous are the members of the UK Fellowship. For instance, we visited the Matthew Rusike Children’s Home at Epworth outside Harare and saw the new floor tiles provided for each of the houses. It was a delight to be shown around the home by the Director, Rev Margaret Mawire, before she was appointed to a final term of circuit ministry in Harare beginning in January 2018. Around 13 new ministers were ordained at the conference including four women. All new stationing appointments, to take effect in January, were read out on the final morning of the conference.
Before and after the conference we had the chance to meet with women in Harare and Bulawayo who are benefitting from classes in creative skills like needlework, embroidery, vegetable production and even breeding rabbits that enable income generation; and a two year course of leadership training, health and IT education for lay women in the Bulawayo area. The impressive facilities at the Women’s Centre at Epworth, owned by the Ruwadzano/Manyano, are ideal for developing such work and Lillian Chikara is hoping to encourage women who might support this. Meanwhile, Julie Caddick was excited about meeting a contact from Zambia who wants to extend her concept of the Women’s Ministry in Bulawayo into the Theological College in Lusaka.
Before our return home, we were glad to have a few days of being tourists, our host arranging a visit to the grave of Cecil Rhodes, and a two day trip to Victoria Falls culminating in an afternoon in a nature reserve bordering the Zambezi river. Our only sadness was to see how this land, which used to be the bread basket of Africa, now suffers so badly from political and economic challenges. We heard how people would have to queue for hours to withdraw their money from the bank, only to be told they could take out no more than $20. And yet our lasting impression of the Methodist people in Zimbabwe is that their faith is strong and resilient; they demonstrate a joy and trust in God that is an example to follow. They still manage to be generous in their giving and demonstrate concern for others who are suffering in other parts of the world. It warmed our hearts to be with them as they celebrated 40 years of doing God’s mission the Zimbabwean way.