If you go to the west of Matabeleland Diocese, to the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, you are near to the Victoria Falls and that very proximity tells you something about the amount of rain that Zimbabwe has had. When we saw them in 2015, admittedly at a different time of the year when the waters would have been lower anyway, it was clear that they were not as full as sometimes not least because we did not get wet as we walked to the viewing points. But this time those of us who did not have them were advised by Bishop Cleophas to hire raincoats – which gave us a clue of what might happen! Then from the very first viewing point the contrast was immediately evident.
I find it impossible to describe the Falls except to say that it is just clear why they are one of the natural Wonders of the World and that nowhere shows more clearly God’s work in creation and its power, force and beauty. It is impossible not to say ‘whoa!’ – repeatedly.
It was wonderful once again, after our visit to the Falls, to be able to say Evening Prayer in the Chapel at the Victoria Falls Hotel. The Chapel at the hotel is one of those quirky things in life that become really really significant. It was built as part of the hotel in 1929 and has remained there ever since. This is really significant because, with all the challenges that the church in Zimbabwe has faced and continues to face, there is always one chapel in Zimbabwe that is uniquely constituted as a special place of prayer.
That evening Bishop Christopher had coffee and chatted to several of the staff. One of them told the Bishop that his brother was an Anglican priest in Hwange – where we were to visit the next day – and the Bishop said that if he saw him he would tell him that he had met his brother. Remarkably, we did meet him the following day. Hearing the Bishop talk about this at breakfast the next morning reminded me how full of Christianity the people of Zimbabwe remain and how much it is still steeped in them even if they are not all Anglicans.
The Church of St James in Hwange, like so many others in Zimbabwe and here, works hard to ensure that the young people are involved and grow up in the church. So when we arrived there that day we were met by the priest Father Shem Zumba who was training some new servers for the next day, one of whom was his grandson. The servers robes were all rather big but one of the servers was also called Cleophas and here he is pictured with Bishop Cleophas.
Here the church is vibrant and full, offering a place for young people to be and to learn about God and to grow their faith.
But it is not just young people whose faith is remarkable. The women of the Mothers’ Union are incredible and on our way to Hwange we had gone to the Church of the Resurrection at Victoria Falls to pay an all-too-brief visit to the Mother’s Union training day which was taking place there. Here the Mothers’ Union worker, Lydia Lumbiwa, was working with a group of women and sharing with them some of the latest projects in the Diocese which the Mothers’ Union are developing. The women are being empowered to work together to change their situation and that of their families and communities.
The Mothers’ Union is extraordinarily effective at encouraging women to take action to make sure that there is subsistence farming and sustainability in their towns and villages, and the meetings that they have encourage them in their endeavours.
The church in Zimbabwe is so important to so many people. Their faith sustains them through the difficulties that they face and, more than that, it helps them to see how they can work for change and development.
Whenever I have visited I have been struck by the number of children and families in the churches, as well as by the size of the congregations, and I am always moved by the vibrancy of the singing.
At the end of the service at St Peter Njube on Sunday 5 February Bishop Cleophas and Bishop Christopher blessed the children whilst the choir sang. The thought of it makes me smile and gives me great hope for the church in Zimbabwe for many years to come. I hope you enjoy it too!