Text: Zimbabwean churches joint pastoral letter

 The Churches of Zimbabwe have issued the following joint pastoral letter (dated April 2005) entitled 'A Call to Conscience' to mark the country's 25th anniversary. "The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; To proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; To proclaim a year of favour from Yahweh, a day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all those who mourn and to give them for ashes a garland; For mourning robe the oil of gladness, for despondency, praise." Isaiah 61: 1-3 1. A Year of Favour Zimbabweans celebrate twenty-five years of independence this year, 2005. Married couples often celebrate their first twenty five years together, their silver jubilee. It is a celebration of their love for each other, in which their children join them, but it is also a celebration of achievement. Despite difficulties, disappointments and maybe misunderstandings, they are still together. A silver jubilee is not just an excuse for a party. It is a real celebration of faithfulness. 2. Are we approaching our jubilee in this mood of celebration? Are we happy with the relationships we have lived together these past twenty-five years? Have we built a society in which each feels at home and at peace with his or her neighbour? 3. Ancestral Home The biblical concept of the 'Jubilee Year' (Leviticus 25) has two major thrusts: returning to one's ancestral home and giving the fields and vines a rest Both of these are connected with renewal. It is now a tradition among us in Zimbabwe to visit our 'ancestral home' at Christmas and Easter and on other occasions according to our means. It is wonderfully refreshing to go back to one's roots. You see again your life's journey from where it all began. And you meet some of the people with whom you lived those early years. To see where you have come from is a great help in reflecting on where you are going. 4. Silver Jubilee is an opportunity for us here in Zimbabwe to reflect and see where we have come from. Many of us can remember vividly the suffering and trauma of the liberation struggle. We would have preferred, in the 1950s and 60s, to achieve our freedom through non-violent means but every attempt ended in frustration. We were driven by the prevailing circumstances to embark on a violent road. We did it knowingly and deliberately. To be fully human is to be free and we were determined to be free. Our dignity, our sense of who we are, had been trampled on for decades. The conviction grew among us and within us that we had to embark on this great struggle. 5. The option for violence, once taken, has to be unequivocally renounced once the reason for that violence is no longer there. As we revisit our ancestral homes, either in spirit or in body, this jubilee year, we cannot fail to notice that violence has really made its home among us. We are familiar with the increase in robberies in our cities and towns. We know of the difficulty of people to obtain services in public offices. This is a kind of violence. We know that HIV and AIDS have spread among us because men have taken advantage of women, especially girls. This too is violence. And there is much evidence of public servants, particularly politicians, using violence to obtain what they want. We have allowed a culture of violence to persist among us since the time of the liberation war. 6. Giving the Fields a Rest The second way the Bible tells us of celebrating the jubilee is to give our fields a rest. "You must not sow your field or prune your vine, or harvest your ungathered corn or gather grapes from your untrimmed vine. It is to be a year of rest for the land," Leviticus 25: 4,5. In our profit driven global economy the idea of giving fields, factories or computers 'a rest' sounds like pure foolishness. Yet the idea of resting one day a week is built in both in our traditional culture and in our Judeo-Christian heritage. Even God took a rest on the seventh day, (Genesis 2:2,3). The biblical idea here is to recognize that human beings are not totally in charge. We do not know everything. 'It is God who makes things grow,' (I Cor 3:6). 'Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear,' (Mark 4:28). 7. The image of the mechanic and gardener can be helpful here. The mechanic fixes things. He imposes solutions on problems according to a set idea he has in his mind. He follows physical principles, which lead to preconceived ends. There is little room in his craft for unpredictable results. 8. The gardener on the other hand prepares the way. He does all that is necessary to create the conditions for growth. He cultivates the soil, sows the seed, manures it, weeds it and waters it. But once he has done all he can he remembers that he is only a servant who 'has done no more than (his) duty,' (Luke 17:10). He is open to whatever happens next. In the image of the gardener there is room for surprise. 9. A jubilee year is a special occasion when we can stop and listen and open our lives to the 'God of Surprises.' It is a time of allowing the values that are there within the soil of our hearts to produce their fruit. It is a time for us to come in touch with our deepest desires. 10. Achievements of the New Zimbabwe As we reflect on our first twenty-five years as an independent country, we are conscious that the values we live now are not altogether the ones we aspired to during the struggle and at the time of the raising of our multi-coloured flag at midnight on 17th April 1980 in Rufaro Stadium. Many speeches at that time put flesh on the idea of freedom. It was to mean equality of all before the law; equitable access to opportunities in education, employment, housing and land; the ability to associate with others; participation in the processes of decision-making and production. The list was impressive and inspiring. It amounted to the proclamation of a new state where all would be equal and free and where the instruments of the state would be used to promote the good of all the citizens. Reconciliation with old enemies was proclaimed. There was euphoria and an atmosphere not unlike that of a wedding feast. 11. Some of these great ideals were achieved in the early years. There was a tremendous drive in education. The school building programme of the 1980s was truly impressive. Similarly the health services were expanded: hospitals and clinics were built and medical staff welcomed from abroad, notably Cuba, to meet the shortfall among our own personnel. Opportunities opened up in business, industry and agriculture and in the public service. We improved roads and extended electricity to some rural areas. 12. Today the achievements of the 1980s look deeply flawed and the lofty sentiments of that time tawdry. The reality in our homes and schools, our hospitals and public buildings, is one of bleak decay. Our money loses value between the time it is put into our pocket and the time it is taken out and used. Most families in the country focus on how to find their next meal. Planning for the future is a forgotten luxury. 13. How Did We Come to Where We Are? Perhaps before asking this there is a prior question: how is it that up to today we remain hopeful, cheerful and resourceful as a people? Foreign newspapers paint a scene of gloom. But that is not our experience. Wherever we travel we find resilience, hope and even joy. It is as though our people recognize the words of Paul: "It is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God's glory. But that is not all & we can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." Romans 5: 2-5 14. In our hearts we know that we are on a journey. Every Zimbabwean tries to progress in that journey even if it involves suffering. He knows where he has come from. He has experienced, or heard his parents speak of the bad old days of Rhodesia. He knows that the present situation is, in substance, a huge advance on those days. He also knows, in spite of the gloss politicians put on our situation, that up to now we have failed to develop our country in any meaningful way. But he further knows that he is learning all the time how things could be. Zimbabweans are forming a vision, maybe at this stage still a bit confused, but it is a vision nonetheless. We are full of hope. 15. Freedom has been won but it is like a parcel that is held up in customs. You know it is there but you cannot get at it. Nonetheless, we know that a time is coming when we will soon 'get at it.' Then we will be able to unwrap it and set democratic institutions and structures in place. These allow each person the space to live their life fully and in peace. People will realize their potential. That is why people are cheerful. They have a hope founded on belief in their own genius. They know they can do wonders in this richly endowed and beautiful land that God has allotted to Zimbabweans. 16. Our path since 1980 has been strewn with achievements and failures. This will help us design the future if we understand the past. Certainly, we have enjoyed relative peace. We had terrible civil conflict in the 1980s but that did not reach the stage of tearing the country apart as what happened among our brothers and sisters in other parts of Africa. We have held together and discovered confidence as a people. We know the future will be brighter than the present. We are going to make it so. 17. We have to accept responsibility for the path we have walked. If we go on denying the part we played in the present failures and blaming others for our problems, we are only postponing the day of recovery. Without repentance we waste energy trying to justify our faults. We have to admit that in the assertion of our dignity we have asserted our power; in asserting our own freedom we have trampled on the freedom of others; in safeguarding our own security we have taken away the security of others; in proclaiming our own message we have closed our ears to the message of others. Through strong-arm tactics we may have attained what we want in the short term, but by alienating other people in the process, we may eventually lose all. 18. A House of Fear The result has been that we have built a house of fear. Some people do not feel free to speak their mind. Some no longer give their opinion without first checking if there is anyone listening, who could be a threat. Even the Preacher cannot preach the Word of God contextually for fear of harassment and even deportation if expatriate. For certain crimes, people will not seek redress from the law because they know they will not receive it. The vision of Zimbabwe as a free nation is stifled. The people are frozen in a war mode with the language and practices of a command structure. All this we have lived each day, prisoners in a concentration camp from the Zambezi to the Limpopo. 19. The Death of Conscience All of this has happened because we have not listened to our conscience, which is the voice of God within us. We have buried it away because it is too uncomfortable to live with. We have resorted to lying, deceit and equivocation as tools of survival. We have obeyed orders without allowing ourselves to ask whether they are good or evil. We have cooperated in commercial practices that further marginalise the poor. We have also connived in sycophancy towards the rich and powerful. We have regressed to the blindness of the Jews in Isaiah's time: "Woe to the legislators of infamous laws, to those who issue tyrannical decrees, who refuse justice to the unfortunate and cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan," Isaiah 10 1,2. When we return to our ancestral home and allow the soil of our heart to bring forth what it wills, we face the raw message our conscience speaks to us. In the stillness we discover that things do not have to be as they are. Like Elijah of old, we learn our mission again, (I Kings 19:9-15). 20. Reconciliation We have reached our twenty-fifth birthday. Is there a way we can draw a line under the juvenile delinquency of the past and begin to live our mature years in justice and peace? In order to do this, we have to learn to listen to the Good Spirit speaking in our heart. As a first step, we call upon all the people of Zimbabwe to be reconciled among themselves. 21. We need to begin with the ancient hurts and honestly recognize that, although we have achieved a great degree of unity. We still need to enhance the relationship between the two great groups of people: the Ndebele and the Shona. Some animosities stretch as far back as the pre-colonial times. These were suppressed for a time, under the colonial government but re-surfaced in the liberation struggle and the years immediately succeeding independence. The Gukurahundi of the 1980s shall remain a festering wound until it is squarely faced. One of the practices of the ancient jubilee was the freeing of slaves and the cancelling of debts all with the purpose of rebuilding relationships among people. In a situation not unlike ours, Martin Luther King wrote: "We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out into the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicine of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured," Why We Can't Wait, 1963. 22. We have also had a long history of mutual suspicion, fear and even hatred, between black and white people in our country throughout the twentieth century. This spilled over into violence and rapine in the first years of this new century. 23. We have minority groups in Zimbabwe. There are approximately two million of our people that are neither Ndebele nor Shona. We refer to the Shangaans in Chiredzi, the Sothos in Gwanda, the Tongas in Binga, Nyaminyami and Gokwe North, the Nambyas in Hwange, the Vendas in Beit Bridge and the Kalangas in Plumtree and Bulilima Mangwe. Because they are relatively few, divided by language and geography and in generally poor-soil areas, they have not featured much in the national agenda. They have suffered from a marginalisation of cultural respect. By and large their languages have not been taught in their schools. The Tonga, in particular, have never had their grievances, dating back to the building of the Kariba Dam, addressed. 'If one art of the body is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. . .it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones. . .' (I Cor 12: 26,23). 24. Hope Reconciliation looks to the past; hope to the future. There are signs of economic improvement after the upheavals of the past five years. This can be seen in the economic indices, such as inflation, but also in the economic activity of the people. Formal employment has plummeted but many people are finding ways of employing themselves in small businesses and small plots. It does not amount to a turn around in the economy but it does underlie the wonderful resourcefulness of the people. If they can show such initiative in economic matters they can show it in other spheres as well. 25. Our leaders have often called the Churches the 'conscience of the nation' and truly we believe we have a contribution to make. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Lord of history. Many in roles of authority in this land say they are Christians. So we can say they share this belief. The expression 'Lord of History' means that Jesus is working (John 5: 17) to draw (John 6: 44) all people to the Father, the source of all life and the goal of all history. Jesus is fully aware of the promises we make, the hopes we hold to, as well as the failures, compromises and evil deeds we fall into. But he never abandons us (Isaiah 49:15). His Spirit 'hovers' over the land as it did in the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:2). He knows what we are made of (John 2:25) and waits for us to return to him and then he will prepare a feast (Luke 15:20-24). 26. Our Heritage We truly celebrate our silver jubilee with joy and thanksgiving. We have much hope for the future. We have set our hand on the plough and we will not look back (Luke 9:62). By happy coincidence our independence is celebrated each year at the time of Easter. For the Christian this is a time of immense joy, which we want to share with all our fellow citizens. In our capacity as leaders of Churches in Zimbabwe, we invite all people of good will to join with us in rising up in spirit and laying hold of our heritage. 27. This heritage calls us to listen to the voice of conscience within us and courageously to follow it; it calls us to compassion and leaving our own security to reach out to others in pain and poverty; and it calls us to the civic duty enshrined in the aspirations of the founders of this nation. Some of the aspirations were that the common interests of the people be paramount in all efforts to exploit the country's resources; that the productive processes involve them as full participants, in both the decision making process, management and control. 28. This jubilee is a moment of grace. No one would deny that the past five years have been hard for the majority of our citizens. The Lord did not promise us peace (Luke 12:51). In fact He expressly invited us to 'take up our cross' (Luke 9:21). The disciples were slow to understand this. But eventually they did and were 'glad to suffer humiliation for the sake of the name.' (Acts 5:41). We are on the same journey and we are facing the same sufferings. 29. Our perseverance, our hope and our joy will bear fruit. Let us pray for our country: for reconciliation, for honesty and integrity, for compassion for others, for justice for all and for true peace in our hearts, our homes and our communities. Let us remember that prayer alone is not enough. The word constantly on the lips of the disciples in the early church was not 'prayer' but 'witness.' Prayer is essential but it is useless if it is not backed up by the witness of our lives. We realize as Churches that counting solely on good will in Nation and Peace Building is not enough. While Government should play its part in enabling a people-driven Constitution to help consolidate the good and remedy some of the ills experienced in the past twenty five years, the Churches should intensify their efforts in the coming years in imparting the necessary social teaching based on the Gospel and skills in Nation and Peace building. 'The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all' (2 Cor13:13). Rt Rev Michael D Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo (President of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference) Bishop Khumbulani P Nemapare (President of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches) Bishop Trevor Manhanga (President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe) Very Rev Murombedzi C Kuchera (Chairman of the Heads of Christian Denominations)

Share this story