The Presbytery of Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe PW 1A report by the Revd Paul Whittle of the visit to the Presbytery of Zimbabwe by five representatives of Eastern Synod, 8 to 18 December 2017.

The visitors were the Revd Paul Whittle, Team Leader and Synod Moderator, Lindsey Brown, Synod Global Links Advocate and Elder at Epping URC (twinned with Mbare UPC), Robert Dart, Elder at Rayleigh URC (twinned with Budiriro UPC), John Driver, Elder at Maldon URC (exploring twinning with Njube UPC), and the Revd Sohail Ejaz, Minister at The Cornerstone URC Southend (twinned with Highfield UPC).

On arrival we were met by an enthusiastic group of our Zimbabwean colleagues, including the Revd Tinashe Chemvumi (Presbytery Moderator), the Revd Lydia Neshangwe (Presbytery Clerk and Convenor of the Ecumenical Relations Committee) and Mrs Victoria Chatikobo (Presbytery Treasurer) – pictured with the URC group.

We spent the first night at a lodge in Harare, travelling the next day to Gweru (where we left Sohail and Robert) and Bulawayo. We were all involved in preaching at different churches on the first Sunday, in my case at Makokoba, a township in Bulawayo where the Presbyterians are well established, this congregation having recently celebrated its 101st anniversary. The minister is the Revd Paul Neshangwe (Lydia’s husband) and he and I had a dialogue about the Synod-Presbytery link in a service that included much lively singing led by an excellent choir, plenty of movement – worship is lively – as well as my preaching.

While in Bulawayo we visited the agricultural project that the Presbytery is developing at Vimbridge. A covered area provides a place for growing tomatoes and cucumbers and the project workers are also beginning to cultivate maize. This project is situated on a large piece of land owned by the Presbytery which they are beginning to develop in a range of
ways. One long-term plan, very much the vision of the women, is to build a conference centre. They have already constructed a toilet block and held a conference on site using tents as accommodation. The hope is that this whole project will provide an income which can then be used in support of ministry and mission.

From Bulawayo we travelled to Chinhoyi, taking the opportunity to visit the church there (Lomagundi UPC) which houses a clinic providing much needed, and relatively cheap, medical services to the local community. This is an excellent example of practical mission, but also a reminder of the lack of resources with which the people often struggle. There is a reasonable, though limited, provision of medication, but everything has to be paid for – and the ‘ambulance’ usually requires a push to get it started.

Back in Harare, the emphasis for Lindsey, Robert and Sohail was on connecting with their ‘twin’ church, something in which John had been engaged while in Bulawayo. We all got involved in various things in the different locations. One significant visit was that made by Lindsey and myself to Lekkerwater Secondary School as the synod has raised a significant sum of money to support what is happening there. The school is in a rural area 12km off the highway near Marondera. So far they have 122 students, aged 12- 14, in two classroom blocks. The plan is for four classroom blocks and, in time, to become a boarding school, something for which there seems to be a great demand. The Presbytery runs a number of schools and this is another important part of its ministry. Again this is a location where the Presbytery has a large site with lots of development potential.

Zimbabwe PW 2

Towards the second weekend (Friday evening) we all attended a Presbytery Executive meeting and I was also invited to attend an extraordinary Presbytery meeting the following morning when Presbytery dealt with a number of reports that had not been considered at its last meeting, but particularly addressed concerns and disagreements over how the schools are managed. I had the privilege of leading devotions at the beginning of that meeting, with the challenge of setting the tone for what was recognised as ‘going to be’ a difficult meeting though, in fact, an appropriate resolution seemed to be reached by the end.

The final Sunday, and penultimate day, was spent with each of the group’s members preaching in a different church. For me, in contrast to the previous Sunday, I was sharing in worship at one of the newest expressions of church in the Presbytery, not yet a properly constituted congregation. Southlea Park, one of the developing townships on the edge of Harare, is a fast-growing community with lots of new housing. Challengingly, there is no running water, though most homes have their own well. The wooden ‘hut’ was erected about two years ago, the congregation having started two years prior to that in a member’s home. A small, but lively, congregation, currently looked after by the Revd Stan Chatikobo (currently without formal appointment) made me very welcome and it was a fitting end to this particular Zimbabwean journey as we greeted each other in the hot sunshine, in the traditional Zimbawean way, following the service.

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