Zimbabwe Christians say God working through land seizures, persecution

Wednesday, August 1, 2001

By Sue Sprenkle

GWERU, Zimbabwe (BP)--Screams pierced the air as invaders forced their way onto the farm just outside Gweru, Zimbabwe.

The attackers forcibly marched frightened farm workers to the workers' living compound, where they beat the workers with axes, picks and heavy sticks. Others they forced to strip to their underclothes in the middle of the Zimbabwe winter and then sing and dance by the firelight.

The owners of the farm, Derek and Sandy Shaw, locked themselves in the main house and watched as the path of destruction headed their way. The couple had fully expected their farm to be forcefully invaded by the government-backed war veterans. But no one was prepared for God's miraculous intervention when the invasion happened.

As the attack reached its climax, the phone that never worked rang. Sandy reached for it, totally surprised.

Chris Anderson, pastor of Gweru Baptist Church, was calling to see if there was anything he could pray about with the couple. Within minutes, a prayer chain started and spread throughout the community, crossing denominational and racial barriers.

"Chris told me on the phone to remember that miracles still happen. I told him, 'I'm watching one right now,'" Sandy Shaw said. "Right in front of me, I watched my family have a sense of peace and watched the attack end just as quickly as it had started."

Political strife in Zimbabwe rages on as veterans of the country's 1970s liberation war, with President Robert Mugabe's blessing, have seized nearly 4,000 white-owned farms since February. Thirty-one people have died in the chaos.

Mugabe says the land redistribution is necessary to address a century-old imbalance in land ownership in the country.

While this nation in turmoil struggles to find political peace, God is busy providing the inner peace found only through him. Christian leaders say Zimbabwe -- whites and blacks alike -- never before has been so open to Christ.

"My Grammy was the strongest Christian that I've ever known," Sandy Shaw said. "I've slipped and fell back from God, but this whole thing has let me know that God still cares for us. I see my need for God and want him to take over my life."

It was only in the 1960s that Christianity began to take root in Zimbabwe's rural areas and gradually spread across the country. Now, just 40 years later, Christians are taking a stand despite open persecution.

The persecution began when Mugabe ordered all churches across the country to shut down on Sundays for political rallies supporting the ruling party, ZANU-PF.

Christians were warned that, if they worshiped, the buildings would be burned down and those worshiping would be severely beaten. Residents were ordered to attend the closest political rally or they would be beaten as well.

Some churches closed, but many more opened their doors and fearlessly worshiped and prayed for Zimbabwe.

Newly elected parliament member David Coltart said he sees a spiritual awakening taking place among his fellow countrymen.

"This is a landmark thing. Usually the church does whatever the government wants, but now it has come alive and taken a biblical stance," Coltart said. "I don't think this is political in any way, but a spiritual awakening. It's creating a drastic change in people. People are holding fast to their beliefs and openly sharing it with others."

A team of volunteers from the United States, working with International Crusades of Dallas, saw the openness firsthand.

The volunteers teamed up with local Christians for a weeklong evangelization effort, visiting homes during the day and holding worship services at night. More than 4,000 professions of faith were recorded.

Jeffery Ncube, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mkoba, isn't surprised by the number of people turning to God; he has watched the hearts of Zimbabweans soften in the past few months.

"The people, they need hope," he said. "Everywhere you go, the people are very open and receptive to the Word of God. In times like this, there are more Christians kneeling down in prayer, so more hearts are open and willing to listen."

A number of Christians are taking the message of Christ to those who are doing the persecuting.

Saidi Alubi, assistant pastor of Gwenoro Baptist Church, works on a farm that was invaded by more than 200 war veterans. He now lives side-by-side with the veterans who have made makeshift homes out of sticks and mud in order to claim their government land.

Alubi and a team of youth walk around the war veterans' camp every day, handing out New Testaments and praying with the invaders. Just weeks before, the veterans beat them and forced them to dance and sing songs.

The young pastor said he is not afraid to share about his God with the veterans, despite their history of violence toward him. In fact, he thinks the veterans slowly are seeing their own need for Christ and feels he must continue sharing.

"My job is to go and talk to people about God, whether it is dangerous or not," Alubi said. "I am willing to sacrifice my life for God."

Baptist Press, Used with Permission.