As far as anyone here knows, this conference (organized by the Mutare Pastoral Care and Counseling Center, the only such center in the country) is the first event in Zimbabwe to respond directly to the government’s healing and reconciliation initiative in a way that focuses on building practical capacities and creating processes and approaches that individuals and communities can use for establishing and nurturing healing and reconciliation. Other efforts, though, have gathered information or offered more general processes for developing peace within congregations. Some of the organizations that are working on this broad range of issues are represented at the conference, and reported yesterday on their work:
- The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace works with the 26 parishes in the Manicaland region leading workshops (10, so far) in peace, leadership, and conflict management. The Commission also offers opportunities in parishes for people to come together to foster peace through prayer and times of forgiveness, and teaches that only if there is peace in a community, will be a chance for the economic development that is so desperately needed.
- The Zimbabwean Council of Churches is working with the World Council of Churches as it has begun to meet with various parties to see what help may be needed for healing and reconciliation. The national council’s attempt to hold a workshop failed when the invited representatives failed to attend.
- The Mutare Pastor’s Fraternal has begun to offer human rights training workshops, to present processes for healing, and to send persons to visit tribal chiefs whose areas have been hard hit by the violence that began in June, 2008.
Thirty-five denominations are represented at the workshop, including the United Methodist Church, United Apostolic Church, Faith City Church, United Faith Ministries, Faith Gospel Ministries International, Pentecostal Apostolic Church of God, an African Methodist church, United Apostolic Faith Church, Presbyterian, Anglican, United Baptist Church of Zimbabwe, Light Ministry, Seventh Day Adventist, Evangelical Fellowship of Zion, and Rock of Salvation Ministry. Participants are from 6 districts of the country, 2 of them outside Manicaland.
Today over a dozen more participants joined us (for 85 total) as we began to move even more fully beyond the theories of healing and reconciliation in developing on-the-ground, practical strategies that may be carried out in parishes, communities, government agencies, and tribal jurisdictions. We spent large chunks of time engaging in dyads and in and small groups exploring the felt experience of what it means to be in the place of a victim. (Tomorrow we focus on what healing and reconciliation means for perpetrators.) Presentations from Frank, Mark, and Mazvita reflected on what was raised in the small groups and on the dynamics, contents, and processes of moving from a place of disempowered victimhood to a place of healing and personal strength. Again, stories of horror were told, such as that of a father abducted and killed by a next-door neighbor, leaving his 4- and 6-year old children orphans, their mother having died of breast cancer at the same time. Several key concerns came into focus: this workshop has allowed pastors to get to know each other and open up to each other; at the heart of healing the victims is a compassionate, listening presence; there is a movement among the participants to try to find ways to keep meeting, to begin developing more and more concrete strategies and practices to heal and bring them to a place of reconciliation that does not ignore the pain of the victims or the humanity of all involved. Today the group created a list of possible responses to the needs of victims including: churches creating funds to replace lost animals; creating house repairing teams for homes that were damaged or destroyed; making regular home visits to victims so that they feel cared for; finding church homes for orphans; using church funds to cover outstanding medical bills for victims; relocating families that still feel threatened in their communities; calling for times of prayer and fasting to prepare church members to be in solidarity with victims; producing a dramatic presentation for the community that would communicate the plight of victims; creating gatherings for pastors and tribal leaders who are not at the conference in order to help them become aware of the need and possible solutions.
We are very aware that we are strangers in this land, with nothing to offer that can match the faith, commitment, and challenges of the people we are meeting. We have to trust that what we bring might meet in some way one of the conference’s objectives: To develop “process for healing and reconciliation in the context of Zimbabwe, benchmarked with best practices [found] in other countries.” As we have said to those gathered here, we offer what we know of “best practices” and invite them to take what seems to them to apply in their contexts and let the rest go.
It may seem from what we have reported of the purpose of the conference that the organizers may be naïve about what may be accomplished by trying to welcome all interest groups, government entities, political parties, church organizations, victims, and perpetrators to the table for healing and reconciliation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The organizers are very clear-eyed about the obstacles and potentially deadly hazards in this process. But they truly believe — based on the horrors of the past 17 months, as well as the 10+ years prior — that the faith communities of the country have a particular calling and obligation to embrace the humanity present in every person in the nation, no matter what their affiliations, allegiances, and past actions. We asked Gift Machinga how it is that he is able to experience and demonstrate engaged compassion for everyone involved – victims, perpetrators, church members, community leaders, government officials, traditional leaders, and others – no matter what they have done or believe. His simple answer: “It’s all humanity.”