12th Assembly 2009

Bishop calls for forgiveness of a nation

The 12th Assembly was lucky to have the presence of many guests from Uniting Church overseas partner churches.

Bishop Simbarashe Sithole of the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe said there are many struggles and joys working for the church in his country.

Zimbabwe is at a turning point and with the involvement of the churches Bishop Sithole has faith that the future is in good hands.

“Zimbabwe is a blessed country,” he said. “There are many intelligent people who are promoting the economies of other countries. Those people are ready and available to come back to Zimbabwe.”

“Zimbabwe is blessed with many natural resources, with gold and diamonds. We used to be known as the breadbasket of southern Africa. There is no reason why we should be suffering, why our people should be hungry.”

Bishop Sithole is no stranger to the politics of his country but said the churches have always been given their space in the political process.

“We have always been grateful to God for that. Even when the NGOs were stopped from distributing food, the churches were still allowed to.

“The churches are engaged in the situation in Zimbabwe but there is always that line which we try not to cross.

“We tried our best, and the government has been accommodating us, in terms of wanting to air our views.”

He said airing their views was difficult during the election as people were concentrating more on winning the election than the views of the churches at the time but said the churches are engaged in a quiet diplomacy.

“Instead of shouting about it we have been trying to say to the government, ‘can we sit down and discuss’? It has its merits and its weaknesses.

“Two years ago we actually sat down with the President and the ministers of Government have been very good to talk to us, but we don’t always get what we want,” he said.

Bishop Sithole said one of the biggest challenges for the churches in Zimbabwe relates to food and the survival of people. “Another challenge will be how the church can engage in the process of national healing and constitution healing.

“The church does not have exclusive rights. There are other players so the church has to try and fit in with that.

“That is not always easy because there are people who say the church has not been prophetic enough. They expected the church to speak out and condemn.

“And there are also some who think the church is meddling. So sometimes it is not easy to balance the situation.

“As churches we want a situation where people who disagree … can have the opportunity to say what they think without fearing that there will be repercussions.”

The multicurrency system now in Zimbabwe has assisted to stabilise prices, control inflation and improve the availability of food, but has effectively made the Zimbabwe dollar worthless.

“The availability of the US dollar has enabled things to start moving, to start having school fees being paid, children going to school and things like that.

“But on the other hand the US dollar is not the Zim dollar and not everyone has access to it,” he said. “It is not easy for companies to pay salaries in US dollars. As a result the church is not able to do as much.”

But the Bishop said the thing he asks for most from Australian churches is prayer and solidarity. “The greatest gift is the knowledge that the church in Australia is working together with us, praying for us, is constantly trying to find out what is happening with us and if we have something to say that they listen.

“Having the knowledge that there are people who care out there I think is the most important thing to us.

“Despite all the difficulties we are happy that people in Zimbabwe are no longer fighting and killing each other.

“We want the churches in Australia to know every step and pray with us. Other things can come, people can talk of aid and money, but as far as I am concerned that is secondary.

“Any development of Zimbabwe hinges on the good will and support of other nations.”

The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe is encouraging a new process in the effort to heal the nation – that people who are convicted of crimes admit to them and ask for forgiveness.

“At the moment they are talking about national healing. We need to heal the land and start the process of people forgiving each other, and respecting our different opinions.

“As a church we need that process to be done so that Zimbabwe can turn over a new leaf. If we have not forgiven each other, how can we turn over a new leaf?”

Bishop Sithole said the churches are also training their ministers to support people with post traumatic stress disorder and at a local level to work with people in mediation.

“People were killed, people died. Some were raped, some were injured. How do you deal with a situation like that? There is need for accountability.

“We want to ensure that what has happened never happens again. People will never again act with impunity.”

He sent a personal message of thanks to Australian churches for their prayers. “We want to thank again the Uniting Church for their assistance.

“I have heard that there are some churches that don’t have a lot of people yet,” he said. “They have gone out of their way to make contributions to projects in Zimbabwe to assist our church.

“The church in Zimbabwe is not docile. It is very much involved in the efforts to bring about positive change in Zimbabwe. But we try as much as possible to be apolitical.

“It is a question of what is good for the people. As a church we are there for the good of the people.

“I hope God is with us so that Zimbabwe can rise again and take its rightful place in the community of nations without feeling that we are outcast.”