After a short sojourn at our accommodation seven of us headed out again to meet Rev. Gaga. The part of the town he ministers in is Sakubva Township and is much more deprived than anywhere else we have been shown during our time in Mutare. Rev. Gaga tells us the houses were originally built for single men to come and help with construction. Now they house at least one family each, some two or potentially more. Apparently Sakubva is the poorest of Mutare’s suburbs and although it is less than four miles square is home to almost a quarter of Mutare’s population. I heard the area referred to it as a slum, a term I find uncomfortably derogatory, the area is poor and over crowded but it is a place of homes, schools, hospitals, businesses and churches.
As we drive into Sakubva there are initially some gazes in our direction, it is probably fairly unusual for a bus filled with white faces to be driving around here. Rev. Gaga tells us that many of the people we see are part of his church, occasionally asking us to call out of a window to someone, but they cannot see him so it causes him amusement as they look on confused. As we wave from the bus children get excited and we have some waving back, some running after us for as short time, some shouting. As we drive past one area we are informed that it is the area where ‘gangsters’ live so it should be avoided, I’ll admit it was the place I felt I’d most like to engage.
Rev. Gaga is keen to introduce us to a young man as we pass by a home. We are told he has been through some challenges but that the church has been supporting him and now he is running a youth project in a shed in his front yard. The young man tells us he has graduated with a degree in music history and we enquire about whether he is able to play something for us. He introduces us to the mbira, shares some of its history and plays for us. His mother and brother gather around, as we gather beneath a mango tree and a lime tree, his mother is clearly very proud. The youth project he has set up is a small shed with a couple of donated Xboxes in which he charges young people to come and play for 50c per 30 minutes. The shed was full of young people, with other peering through the windows and lingering around the outside. We are inspired my the young man, and I am left wondering how we could find a way to support his endeavours as we walk away.
Rather than getting back on the bus we walk up the road past a number of different churches. It seems strange to have churches line up along a street one after another but apparently this is related to planning and is common in townships and other areas to have all the churches collected together in one part of the town. In all of our visits throughout today as we have passed by churches Rev. Gaga has pointed out those which are Anglican or Episcopalian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, and Gospel, but I notice there is no mention of Methodist Churches, only UMC churches. One of our group is a Salvation Army Officer and Rev. Gaga is leading us to the Salvation Army Corps. As we walk along the road some children wave, we greet parents with toddlers, who shyly hide behind their mothers. It is clearly a delight for our Salvation Army Officer to meet with other officers and to see their place of worship, his own joy brings joy to the rest of the group and we each comment on this as we move onwards.
Back on the bus we drive to the summit, where we find Rev. Gaga’s UMC Church, Hilltop Church. The church is located within a compound that includes a school and an orphanage. On arrival there is a girl standing on the opposite side of the driveway and I wave. She is not sure about me and keeps turning away or taking a step back but then turns back inquisitively. I offer her some bubbles I have with me, but she is not at all sure. I show her the bubbles and again reach out my hand without moving forward, she moves away, but in intrigued. I have one step forward and she runs to the door of her house. I cross the driveway and place the bubbles on a rock and then retreat. She approaches suspiciously and studies the bottle of bubbles. Eventually she picks up the bottle but cannot work it out. Her older brother joins her and is much more confident but he does not know these are bubbles either. I try to demonstrate from a distance but he walks over so we meet in the middle of the drive and I show them together how to remove the bubble wand and blow. I leave them with a couple of packets of bubbles and laughter from the brother and a hesitant smile from the girl.
Rev. Gaga shows us to the school. First he introduces us to his daughter who works at the school and the head master who comes over to greet us. We see the administration office and the library. Then, as we are moving on to see the school hall and some classrooms Rev. Gaga introduces his daughter to me saying “she is very beautiful and very single”, I point out that I am very married already to a very beautiful wife. The school is basic and there are some significant repairs required. The ceiling in the classroom has series signs of damp with holes and bits of ceiling hanging down.
As we leave the school through a different door to the one we came in we find ourselves at the top of the hill looking out across Mutare and the mountains beyond. It is a magnificent view. We see the church facilities, including meeting rooms, hall and church offices. I am impressed to see on Rev. Gaga’s wall a poster with sign language signs and the heading “Sign Language is a Constitutional Right! Deaf People have a right to sign language interpreters.” Our next stop in Rev. Gaga’s house where we meet his wife and mother, with one of our team asked to pray for his elderly mother. The house is being developed and the views are sensational.
The final stop is at the orphanage. As we enter the children are singing, I say children but really they are young people and young adults as the orphans range from 10 to 29. We learn this is a non-residential orphanage, meaning that the young people come for breakfast, lunch and dinner, receive homework help, are provided with school uniforms and generally have a place to hangout but they do not sleep here, rather they may stay overnight with an aunt, uncle or grandparent. This is not a concept I have come across before, but it appears to work. We are to sit on a row of chairs, up on a stage like area, facing the young people. We are introduced to Nancy who is one of the mothers who runs the orphanage. Nancy tells us a little about the orphanage and then the young people sing. The singing is great, only this time we are required to dance when our name is called. It is a somewhat embarrassing experience, though fun, I am pleased that none of us are famous enough to warrant TV crews who will share footage far and wide. It is enough to say, white folk can’t dance!
The young people then introduce themselves individually by name and we do likewise. A drama of the story of the Good Samaritan is performed for us and then the young people disappear to get their dinner whilst we are given a tour of the facilities. Some of the old girls have been learning to sew and produced some blankets that we enjoy. I think my favourite room is the kitchen. It is a small hut like building with a wood burning stove and the women working there produce all the meals for the children. We are presented with freshly made ham samosas which are completely moreish.
The original plan we had been given for our visit was to come to a church service at 5pm with a visit to the orphanage beforehand. As it was we went into the church at about 6:30pm. The service had begun at 6pm was a shorter service or prayer and worship to conclude 10 days of prayer and fasting by members of the church. We learned that in this church the front rows are reserved, similar to those we’d seen in the church early today, but instead of being for those who give most generously these seats are for the deaf members of the church so that we they can see the sign language interpreter. We join the approximately 40 church members who are present in prayer and worship and then greet them all at the door as the service concludes and we marvel at a lightening storm over the mountains in the distance. A small group end up singing as we are getting on the bus and then we head off, dropping a few church members at the bottom of the hill as we pass.
What is the Face of the Church?
As a team we are buzzing from the joy of the children, the young people and the worship. My head is conflicted. Having seen the scale of construction earlier in the day, for a new headquarters, and the development of the parsonage compared to a school with crumbling ceilings. Having spent a significant proportion of the day looking at buildings rather than meeting people, then meeting some inspiring young people who are supported and empowered by the church.
I guess the conflict in my mind comes down to the proportion of time allocated to each visit. If we had spent more time with people and less time with buildings it would have been a better day overall. The focus of our time, indicates something of the priorities of our hosts, demonstrating what they have rather than the relationships they have. I reflect on the question that was posed earlier in the trip; what is the face of the church?