Buildings and People (Part 1)

Today was a mix of emotions, from frustration and exasperation to inspiration and joy. As the UMC is the American Methodist denomination and the funding is centrally governed I suspect our morning was spent visiting places visitors from a US church would want to see. Places which perhaps show something of how the giving of the US church is being invested in the Zimbabwe church.

We began with a visit to meet the District Superintendent, Rev. Daniel Chitsiku, for Rev. Gaga to introduce us as to receive the appropriate blessing from him to visit churches in his district. We were at the Head Office for quite some time waiting, but after a short meeting with Rev. Chitsiku we were on our way. The current head office is in a poor condition and we were taken by Godrey to visit the construction site of the new offices. We were informed the building is scheduled to be completed in the next 2 to 3 months but from what I could tell there was still a considerable amount of work to be undertaken and it will take considerably longer that 3 months to complete.

Whilst I am interested in buildings, it was not the most enthralling visit. The new offices will be substantial in size and I suspect and very nice place in which to work and meet. I was however, most interested in the construction process and the almost sculpture like wooden scaffolding winding around the building and providing a wooden ramp from the ground to the roof. Sadly our team leader would not permit us to explore the ramp for safety and insurance reasons but we had a good look around the first couple of floors of the shell of the building. As it will be the district head office, each church in the district is being invited to raise the funds and to decorate and furnish one room each. I am not sure how well this would go over in my own denomination if our local association requested support form the local churches for the association offices. Being Baptist we do things differently anyway so I don’t think there is a reason to think about this for too long. I do wonder, however, about the construction of such a substantial building during challenging economic times when people are struggling for jobs, fuel, medicine and I suspect food.

Our next destination is what Rev. Gaga describes to us as “the middle class church”. I think as a team we find this a difficult concept, a church for one particular type of person, suggesting there is a church for the poor and another church for the super rich. In all likelihood this is actually the reality for many churches, though we wouldn’t want to be so blatant in describing the churches as such. Chatting with Rev. Gaga I come to understand that what he means is this is a church in a middleclass neighbourhood and therefore by shear geography the congregation is middleclass. It is a church building, there are doors, pews, a font, a lecture, a pulpit and a place for the choir. We are told certain rows at the font of the church with comfortable cushions are for those who give most financially to the church and therefore have the best seats in the church. This is not something I am accustomed to and it strikes me as elitist. Upstairs is seating for the children and young people and we also shown out onto the roof to where further construction is underway to build more homes and offices for pastors.

Outside the doors of the church a long line of cars waits. The lines we have been seeing over the past few days are getting longer. There is a fuel shortage and therefore people are waiting in line, car after car, as far as the eye can see. The petrol station does not have any petrol but people are waiting in line, sleeping in their cars overnight, in order to get petrol when it becomes available. The cars, with their drivers are sat, going nowhere, waiting. The church does not seem to be aware nor are the drivers aware of the church. In others areas I have seen people selling fruit, drinks and other refreshments in to the people as they queue. I wonder whether the church could show hospitality and serve those who are waiting, perhaps offering their restroom and providing water in the heat of the day.

By lunch time we have stood in three buildings and met one person for a few minutes. As useful as buildings are the church is really the people. I feel frustrated with having spent so much time looking at buildings and development. As we leave the building I spot a sign reading “Zebra Crossing Ahead” and smile at the double meaning, I imagine a herd of zebra just crossing the road in the middle of the city, it makes me smile at a time I am feeling exasperated. Buildings, development and a demonstration of wealth indicate a church obsessed with money and power and I feel an internal rage.

We stop for lunch at Nandos and are pleased to be inside as the heavens open. The rain quickly causes a river to run down the road. People are sheltering in doorways and under the overhang of buildings. For the first time in Zimbabwe I notice a small number of Muslim women, another aspect of faith and religion that I have as yet not contemplated since being here.

As we eat Rev. Gaga talks about the social action projects run by his church including an orphanage and a support programme for those in need. He is proud of these things and says he will show us if we come for a service later that day.

We return to our accommodation for a few hours. There is a choice as to whether we stay or go our again later to visit Rev. Gaga’s church. The team is split and ultimately some stay behind to rest whilst others go. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but decided that in order to get a complete picture I needed to attend.

To be continued…

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