Today we have three projects that we are visiting to provide us with an insight into some of the work that is taking place in regards to the training of people with practical skills in order to obtain work and also a theological college. It is Monday so the streets are busy, those with jobs are returning to work and the queues for fuel stretch from the petrol station, around the entire block and back to the petrol station, at times the queue is two cars thick, so they will be going around the black twice.
Makokoba Methodist Training Centre
Our first visit is to the Makokoba Methodist Training Centre. This is a further education college run by the Methodist Church and offering dress making, carpentry, hair dressing, hotel and catering and motor mechanics. It is mainly adults who attend and it is those who have not achieved the highest grades at school who come here. There are no students present as all the schools and colleges are still on their break for Christmas and will be returning tomorrow. I don’t know how it would have felt if there were students present, I hope it would have given the place life.
The college shows signs of a once apparent wealth. All of the building and the equipment in them suggests that once upon a time the college could afford to what was needed for the courses it runs. Now however, it appears tired. The buildings that were constructed 20 or so years ago all look shabby. The equipment is old and tired. The ovens in the catering department are rusted, the sinks in the hair dressing department are well worn sinks and various bits of equipment. There are classrooms without any furniture. On the one hand it is great that the college is here, that training is provided is useful skills for life and employment, and perhaps the condition is comparable to other colleges, but there is a sadness about the place. A feeling of getting by, making do, having been forgotten by the outside world, and within this I include the sponsorship of the Methodist Church. It did not appear to be a place even fighting for survival but place resigned to its lot and apathetic in its mission. The Zimbabweans were keen to point to the church on the site, built in 1903. It is not the worship, mission or discipleship of the church, however, that is mentioned but the quality of the building, they are proud to show us how well built it is, how well it has lasted, a legacy of the white colonial rulers.
I chat with the pastor who has joined us to show us around today. He explains that in 1977 the Zimbabwe Methodist Conference became independent from the British Methodist Conference, meaning that it had autonomy to make decisions at a national level rather than referring to the UK. With independence came both the positive and negative results. Many of the Methodist Ministers were also politicians and therefore money given in church was given by the church to the government. At the time the Methodist Church was probably the most wealthy denomination in Zimbabwe and therefore since independence and for the particularly in the economic downturn of the past 20 years it has also taken the biggest financial hit.
Giving to the church has sharply decreased and so the giving by the church to the projects it runs has also decreased. The church is poor because the people are poor. At the same time, partly because of independence and partly because the western church has diminished, the giving from the Global North has decreased. Finally, during the land reforms of the early 2000’s the government claimed farms, colleges, clinics and other projects established by the Methodist Church both for the generation of income to support social action and the other projects they run. Therefore the church lost much of its income generation and the income of tithes from the comparatively wealthy farmers who fled Zimbabwe for their own safety.
Evangelical Lutheran Church Zimbabwe, Infohut
Our second visit for the day was to the Infohut, a residential vocational training college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Zimbabwe. There were similarities between this and the previous college we visited. Again, it was quite without the students in attendance. Here the course on offer include computers, home décor and cutting and designing.
Our tour takes in a classroom for dress making and another that is a computer suite. Around the walls are posters for AID’s awareness, avoiding communicable diseases, how to respond to rape, and gender justice. We are informed that students come to learn computers but they are also taught life skills such as AID’s awareness, cooking, communicable diseases, washing and more. It is not clear whether students come with the expectation of learning these additional life skills of whether the college sees fit to add them onto their training because of their view that they are essential.
Accommodation is provided for students and gardening is used to sustain the organisation. We are shown a handbag that has been made by one of the staff with the intention of it being something that the students will learn to make. It is very high quality and we enquire as to whether the bags are sold anywhere, they are not. It seems like a wasted opportunity. The bags and other items made through the college could easily be sold to stores or in a market, the students could gain some further skills in selling their produce and the college would have an income stream, especially as this training facility is self funding and sustaining. Again, however, there is a sense that although the courses and skills on offer appear worthwhile and beneficial, there is a resignation to just getting by.
Theological College of Zimbabwe
The third and final visit of the day was to the Theological College of Zimbabwe. The college began life in 1979 and moved to its current location in 2000, buying what was at the time a motel from a family seeking to leave Zimbabwe due to the governments regime, and the college opened again in 2001. This is a very different establishment to those visited so far today.
This is a college that trains pastors and others wishing to serve the church. They offer a BA over 4 years with the third year spent on ‘attachment’, or what we would call placement. There is also a 1 year special honours post graduate and diplomas. The college is evangelical interdenominational, and does not try to cause students to adopt a particular theology but to think for themselves. Students are encouraged to make their own mind up about their theological beliefs but they must also be able to defend their beliefs to the faculty.
The principal, Dr Raymond Motsi is a wonderful and inspiring man. He speaks to us about the development of the college and the vision they have for it. Dr Motsi is honest, the college has had its challenges, a few years ago it was unable to deliver any courses as the university they were affiliated to did not register them. However, he spoke of how this led to the college realising they were strong in theology and academic rigor but that they were lacking a business plan. Despite the economic difficulties in the country the college now has a plan for development, there is building work underway, they are ensuring that they are not reliant on one income stream, not reliant upon donations but have income through letting their accommodation and other options for self funding and sustainability. The whole atmosphere and ethos was positive, looking towards the future and planning to grow and equip students to lead and resource the church (whatever denomination that might be).
Dr Motsi stated that theological reflection is the key to the future of the church and ministry. Equipping people with the ability to reflect theologically regardless of whether they are pastors, doctors, engineers, etc. they must be able to not just repeat scripture or sermons verbatim but to own their beliefs for themselves. He spoke about the need to shift the worldview from a secular worldview to a Christian worldview, not simply to have Christian thinking on a Sunday and secular thinking for the rest of the week but Christian thinking throughout the week in all things. Yet again we heard of the so-called prophets using religious (Christian) language but offering nothing but the same as the spiritual healers and witch doctors. Therefore people attend church on a Sunday but also visit prophets, healers and witch doctors demonstrating that God is not fully in their lives. Dr Motsi spoke of God demanding our everything (heart, soul and mind), whatever we are, whatever I am.
The lasting memory of the visit will be of the humble and inspired principal who, despite approaching retirement has a desire to see transformation and a willingness to think outside of the box. Asked about the church he said,
“The greatest issue of the church is that they have stopped being sacrificial of self but have become sustaining of self.”
He also left me with the question, “what is the face of the church?” At the moment I am unsure. I am not sure that the Church is a positive reflection of Jesus. It may well be a body that is broken and beaten but not necessarily from the doing of others but of self harm and self abuse.
I asked for a book recommendation and Dr Motsi suggested Gordon McDonald’s How to order Your Private Life. It may be on my shelf already, if not a copy will be ordered.
With a bit of free time before dinner a small group of us headed for a stroll around Bulawayo. We took in a few shops, a market and the local government building. On the government building was a picture depicting the white colonial rules sat over the black Zimbabweans. I found it uncomfortable. I asked our driver, our guide for the walk, and he had no problem with the image. Under the rule of white people had jobs and the country was wealthy, therefore there is a reverence for the white rulers and a desire for the white farmers to return to lift the economy once more. I said that I was uncomfortable because I view us as equals, with neither above or below the other, he nodded in appreciation, but I cannot bring jobs, food, medicine or other essentials that are severely lacking right now.
We laughed together, making jokes and enjoying one-anothers company, our guide one of our team, not simply a guide, a friend. We ended up in a shoe shop helping him to buy shoes. There was much laughter, but it was good to share in a moment of humanity and normal life, not being a tourist on a trip.
We were joined for dinner by the local pastors and their families. I sat and chatted with Edith, the wife of one of the pastors and had fun with their daughter Patience. When we’d eaten and the conversation was not fun for a 5 year old I suggested we play. We ended up riding the lifts in the hotel, playing tag in the lobby and blowing bubbles.