[Internet access is difficult. Few places have access and there are frequent power outages. Spent three hours and four locations looking for a place to tonight…Gift finally called a local doctor who was willing to let us come to her home at 9 pm to post]
As you may know, there are no coins in Zimbabwe. After inflation reached 231 million percent in 2008, the country switched to US and South African currencies, but with no coins. So, making change is a creative act. For instance, Andy was paying for groceries, and came up 60 cents short of $38. This meant he got to choose a soft drink – but not Fanta, only Coke, since Fanta is 90 cents. Often small candies are given as change. But 60 cents is too much for that. Andy doesn’t drink Coke, so tried to sneak out of the store without it. But he was chased and nabbed by the security guard, who insisted he take it. He even offered it to the guard, but to no avail.
FIRST DAY OF THE CONFERENCE
FIRST DAY OF THE CONFERENCE
This day was almost overwhelming in its intensity. Mazvita is now the second member of the Machinga family to get our nomination for Methodist sainthood, as she was brilliant in her presentations and in her firm, but light-spirited forming of the processes by which stories were told and experiences shared. Andy calls her the Quiet Storm.
Today there were 70 participants, with more to come tomorrow. The group was comprised mostly of pastors, but there were also some lay leaders, religious program directors, one tribal chief (and national senator), two sub-chiefs, a woman who is a village council member and daughter of a chief, and two Zimbabwe Republic police officers invited to observe. Part of the wonder of this conference and its organizers’ spirit is that everyone is welcomed; in fact, Gift and Mazvita are very eager for the government to know what is happening and to become involved, since the workshop itself is being held in response to the government’s invitation to Zimbabweans to develop processes for healing and reconciliation. Workshop organizers plan to videotape tomorrow and the next day in order to make it available to anyone who wants to see it. They firmly believe that the perpetrators of violence as well as the victims need healing and reconciliation, and the only way to have that happen is to have everyone involved. Because of the current breakdown in relationships within the unity government, the official government representative could not come. But through the videotaping and copious notes, we hope to convey the content to them.
The honesty that emerged more and more fully throughout the day was more than we had expected. The group was divided into 3 groups of pastors, a group of the chiefs, and a group of victims of violence. They responded to questions about the kinds of healing and reconciliation that are needed. When we reassembled in the plenary, each small group shared what they had discussed. At this point the stories began – both from those who knew of violence and from those who had deep concerns about how the church, communities, and government could begin to address them. At one point the chiefs were invited forward to speak about the situation from their perspective. They described both the traditional approaches to healing and reconciliation (included apology and restoration processes) and their experiences with the disruptions over the past year. One chief spoke of how even he was beaten and hospitalized because he was seen as not being supportive enough of the ‘correct’ political party. A powerful conversation developed between the pastors and the chiefs as the pastors moved toward understanding tribal perspectives, including the chiefs’ contention that for peace, healing, and reconciliation to develop, the chiefs, pastors, and government leaders would need to work in collaboration.
Throughout the day the conversation was punctuated by amazing periods of singing, as the hope and faith of the participants could not help but find expression in the music that is so much a part of their spiritual lives.
The ending of the day was quite dramatic. The president of the local pastor’s association was asked to present on the work of the association. He spent a few minutes talking about the need for pastors to reconcile with one another before being able to offer healing and reconciliation to the community. He then abruptly turned his time over to another pastor, Thomas, who was a victim of violence last summer. Thomas told us of being harassed by a gang of young men who believed he had encouraged support of the opposition political party. Thomas told them the report was untrue–he was a pastor and stayd neutral on political matters. They did not believe him. Twenty men then demanded that he come out of his house and publicly chant the slogans of the ruling party. He refused. They then began to beat him. They hit him with sticks, some of them wrapped in barbed wire. They beat him while taunting him. They then dragged him to a slaughter house. The floor was covered in blood. They threw him to the cement floor and continued to beat him with various implements. They then told him he could leave, but would have to come back to them the next day with his wife. When he walked out of the slaughterhouse “pieces of flesh began to fall to the ground.” He could not walk very far and began to crawl across the ground to a river. It took him over an hour to cross a small river. When he came across the river there was another group of marauding young men. They saw him and recognized him as a wanted man. One young man said, “We’ve been looking for you. I’m going to finish your life.” The young man picked up a stone and began to pound his head. At one point he was so dazed he closed his eyes and lay still, and he heard the man yell to his friends, “He’s dead.” A few hours later a group of women picked him up and placed him in a wheelbarrow and took him to a hospital. He was unconscious for over 24 hours. A few days after he entered the hospital the same gang of thugs gathered outside the hospital and chanted the slogans of the ruling government until late into the next morning. They then came into the hospital and said they heard that Thomas had been taken to the hospital and wanted him brought out. The nurses lied and said he was not there. Thomas stayed in the hospital for weeks. His head and body were badly damaged. Doctors said he would not be able to walk, but eventually he healed enough to walk home. When he got home he found his house torched, his farm dug up, his stored food burned. Luckily his wife and children had escaped.
One year later, Thomas is still a pastor and a community leader. He sees the twenty men who beat and tried to kill him every day in his rural town. They have not yet been prosecuted.
The room went silent as Thomas finished his story. Mazvita asked the group to share their feelings from the experience. Some of the responses included: “Tears,” “hatred,” “I want revenge,” “sadness,” “touched,” “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” “I feel so angry that this took place.” “I want justice.” “Filled with rage.” “I ‘ don’t want to hear any more of this.” Mavita pointed out that it is necessary that we as the church share solidarity with the victims. It is necessary that victims have safe places for their stories to be told. We need to learn to have time, “relaxed time,” when victims tell their story. She also discussed how important it is for pastors to pay attention to their own responses, judgements, emotions when they hear the stories of victims. “We need to be present and listen without judgment.”
We ended the day with prayer and singing. Thirty pastors will sleep at the conference center. We met with the planners and went over tomorrow’s plans. All of us were in high spirits. The first day had been a great success. The group seems focused, committed, and empowered. You can sense that they feel that healing and reconciliation is their responsibility (not simply the government’s) as leaders of the Christian church.
–Andy and Mark