Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.


News from Zimbabwe

Friends report that Zimbabwe is peaceful despite a draconian government blitz that has destroyed "informal shelters" (wood shacks that people pieced together for housing in high density suburbs), food stands, and shops.

The operation, which began about three weeks ago, is being called "Operation Murambatsvina" or "Operation Restore Order." It has apparently displaced tens of thousands of people from their homes and livelihoods.

An editorial in the Herald, the government-operated newspaper, justifies the action by saying that the unlicensed structures and vendors had become havens for illegal activity and were not paying taxes. Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa strongly defends his friend, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, by stating that the country's "secondary economy" and "parallel market" (sometimes called the black market) are ruining Zimbabwe's economy. Mkapa blames the secondary economy for Zimbabwe's run-away inflation. (See story here.)

Other reports, however, are suggesting that the blitz may be motivated by the fact that the high density suburbs are stronghold of support for the opposition party -- the Movement for Democratic Change-- that has been attempting to unseat the ruling Zanu (PF) party. It has similarly been suggested that the government is punishing the high density suburbs for their support of the opposition party in general elections held in March.

The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe is 107 years old and has been a major presence in the nation. United Methodist schools are very highly regarded. Many of Zimbabwe's first generation of indigenous leaders who won the nation's independence were educated in United Methodist schools. The United Methodist Church has also been a primary provider of health care, care for orphans, and agricultural and economic development.

Zimbabwe is also the home of Africa University, a United Methodist school begun in 1992 that draws students from throughout the continent. The Zimbabwian UMC has over 100,000 members and is experiencing continuing rapid growth.

Jane and I have visited Zimbabwe numerous times, most recently during the 2002 presidential election. Foundry's Minister of Music and Worship Dr. Eileen Guenther has taught at Africa University. A Volunteer in Mission (VIM) team from Foundry is scheduled to travel to Zimbabwe this summer.

Apparently some VIM teams have begun to cancel their plans for fear of violence erupting but friends on the ground there report that there are no signs of violence. When ordered to do so, people living in the high density suburbs actually participated in tearing down their homes and dragging the wood into the streets where it was burned.

A friend advises Americans not to act like reporters --Zimbabwian officials are very hostile to the press-- but says that otherwise it feels completely safe in Zimbabwe.

I hope United Methodists will keep newly elected Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa and all of our sisters and brothers of Zimbabwe in our prayers. Please request the prayers of your congregations.


Blogger John said...

Do you know if Africa University is safe?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Dean Snyder said...

Africa University is fine. In fact, there is no threat of violence against human life. The governmental effort has been to tear down the shacks that are people's homes and the flea markets, small shops, and vendor stands -- as well as to get the free-lance vans people use for transportation off the roads. This means people are living out-of-doors and are losing their livelihoods. There is much hunger but no physical violence against people. The government, which had actually forbidden humanitarian orginazitions from distributing food, will now be letting food into the country to be distributed to starving people.

One of my friends says that part of the sadness of the situation is that people accept their fate so passively. The Shona people (Zimbabwe's largest tribe) are culturally nonviolent. A Shona elder once told me that for centuries when the warlike Zulus from the south would come to raid the Shona people, they would flee to the hills, leaving behund their homes, rather than fight. It sounds like their reaction to the government blitz is similar.

Anyway, Africa University is unaffected. One wonders, however, how long the Zimbabwe economy can continue to decline and AU be still able to get students. Scholarship support would, I think, be very helpful in this situation.

8:37 AM  

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