I have to apologise. After my last post from Masvingo there’s been the blog equivalent of ‘radio silence’. The simple explanation for that is that after we left Masvingo on Wednesday there was either no Wi-Fi or no time! So I need to put the final pieces together of the Zimbabwean journey that we’ve now completed through the five Anglican dioceses.
One of the themes of the visit, and indeed of the life of the church in Zimbabwe and I suspect in other parts of the world in which the church has been formed by missionaries, is the presence of ‘missions’. In both the diocese of Masvingo and the Diocese of Manicaland which we went on to, there are significant missions.
The first we saw was Christ the King, Daramombe, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the diocese and perhaps the Zimbabwean church. This was a return visit for me and a very welcome one. The mission comprises a primary school, residential secondary school, a clinic, a church and, of course, attendant agricultural projects. The mission is more like a village in itself, providing for the lives of the local people and people from a wider area the things they need, practically and spiritually. As before we were met at the gates of the mission by a corps of drum majorettes who led us triumphantly into the secondary school and to a very hot hall in which the whole school was assembled awaiting our arrival.
It was an impressive sight, as was the ‘computer village’ now nearing completion. USPG are funding this latest development which will provide the students at every level with state of the art computer facilities for learning. It was wonderful to see.
The visits we made in the Diocese of Manicaland were often to a school alongside which something else was happening. So at the Holy Family School we saw the construction of new blocks to enable the school to expand and provide residential facilities. At Mary Magdalene’s School we saw a maize project covering 17 hectares of land that will provide for the local schools and communities in an effort to increase food security.
But the place I wanted to go to was St Augustine’s Penhalonga. Again, this is a mission in the diocese, a few miles outside of Mutare. In that mission there is both a primary and secondary school, a convent, and a magnificent church. It’s a school that achieves excellent results and has a high reputation. But the reason I wanted to go was because of the association with the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield.
When I was at the College of the Resurrection to be formed for priestly ministry I would often idle away time looking at the college photo albums. For those now there I feature in the pages that cover the years 1980-83! But earlier in the albums were pictures from the life of the Community in Africa. CR was present and significant in both South Africa and, what was then, Rhodesia. The focus of their life in what is now Zimbabwe was at St Augustine’s and I remembered looking at the black and white pictures of the twin towered church so reminiscent of the community church in West Yorkshire.
As we drove down the dirt road that leads to the mission all of a sudden, through the trees, I saw the two towers and it was a really emotional moment. Drawing into the grounds and before the west end of the church is amazing. This enormous, brick built, cathedral-like structure, is awe inspiring. We did the formalities, met the Headmaster and the Chaplain and were then led into the church. What we found was not just a magnificent basilica in the heart of Africa but a church filling up with students. The Practice, I suppose begun by CR (it was so reminiscent of life at the College and Community), was for the young people to undertake their private prayers, meditation and devotions in the church before the evening Office. Two boys were knelt in silent adoration before the domed tabernacle in the side chapel where the Sacrament is reserved. The nave was full of children praying silently, preparing for Evensong.
I wandered around, delighted to be there. It felt a bit like coming home, coming to a very special place, a very special mission, God’s mission for God’s people – a final piece in the jigsaw.
Alongside the church is the Convent where we met the eight Sisters who are resident there. I was asked to visit an elderly sister, Sister Hilda, who was ill in bed. Would I pray with her before I left, I was asked. I was led to her room and there was the elderly sister in bed, in her habit, and it was a privilege to pray for her healing, to lay hands on her and bless her.
The Zimbabwean journey ended for us in Harare. That diocese if actually linked with the Diocese of Rochester but we took the opportunity to meet Bishop Chad and some of his clergy, not least the Dean and those who went to Jerusalem with clergy from Southwark and Rochester, to study at St George’s College. It was fantastic to hear what the church is doing and planning to do in that part of what is a fantastic country.
So, from the ‘Smoke that thunders’ through five dioceses, along miles of roads, many destroyed by the floods that have followed the drought, we’ve seen more maize than I’ve ever seen before, thousands of chickens and hundreds of pigs being reared, even more children being educated, women being empowered through the work of the Mothers’ Union to serve their communities and feed their families, missions making Christ known and a church in very good heart.
Next year the nation engages in fresh elections and people are looking to those and praying for a peaceful expression of their hopes for the future. It was wonderful for me to meet my five fellow Deans and see the cathedrals in which they serve, to meet the friends I made in Jerusalem and talk about how we can continue to study together and learn from each other, to experience the hospitality of people who’ve very little but from hearts overflowing with love will wash your hands and sit you at their table and feed you richly.
It was that hospitality that reminded me so much of an episode in St Luke’s Gospel. Jesus has been invited to supper at the home of Simon the Pharisee. A women turns up, a notorious woman, who ministers to Jesus much to the shock of the other guests at the table. But it’s the comparison that Jesus draws between Simon and the woman that’s so important.
‘I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment ….. she has shown great love.’ (Luke 7.44-47)
The love that I experienced, the care, the generosity, was Christ-like. It’s a challenge to me, as was the breadth and reality of their concept of mission, their devotion to the Lord through prayer and praise and the sacraments, their passion for responding to the needs of their society, their deep down optimism that in Christ all will be well. We have so much to learn. Putting these pieces together has been one lesson for me.
This is the prayer that we pray each day at the map of Zimbabwe in the nave of Southwark Cathedral and that the children pray each day at assembly in Cathedral School. Pray with us – please – for the great people of Zimbabwe.
God bless Zimbabwe;
protect her children,
transform her leaders,
heal her communities,
and grant her peace,
for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.