Brethren In Christ Church-Zimbabwe
Although from its beginning (ca. 1780) the Brethren in Christ Church (BIC) has placed emphasis on sharing the Good News, it was not until 1898 that the church launched foreign mission work. In 1898 the church sent a party of five, led by Bishop Jesse Engle, to Southern Africa and in particular to the area that was the home of the Ndebele people. The missionaries were confirmed in their choice when Cecil Rhodes granted them 3,000 acres of land in the Matopo Hills in what is now Matabeleland, South Province, Zimbabwe. (Zimbabwe will be used throughout this article, even though the area was known as [southern] Rhodesia for most of the period under discussion.) Two of the first missionaries left in 1906 to begin a new work in what is now Zambia.
Outreach was based in mission stations from which evangelism was carried on in the surrounding villages. In addition to Matopo, stations were established at Mtshabezi (1904), Wanezi (1924), and Pumula (1959). Training and advanced educational schools, as well as major medical facilities, were located at the mission stations. Outstations, centered on a primary school and a church, also developed at an early stage. The religion of the Ndebele people was mainly animistic with a strong accent on ancestor worship.
As soon as they learned something of the language, missionaries engaged in village evangelism. Gifted converts aided the missionaries in these visits and in other forms of evangelism. In 1915 a school was begun at Matopo to train African leaders who would teach and preach at the outstations and pastor churches as they were planted. This school became known as the Matopo Teacher Training Institute. By 1930 national evangelists moved from outstation to outstation (there were ca. 78 outstations in 1948), holding annual evangelistic meetings. The evangelists also gave energy to developing preaching points. The evangelistic mandate was also operative in mission station schools, medical work, and literature outreach. Since the 1960s Church Growth movementmethods have been successful in the conversion of people, especially in urban areas. Another recent means of evangelism has been the Brethren radio ministry, "Amagugu Evangeli," begun in 1974. A new church planting effort (1985) in Binga among some Tonga-speaking people has developed into a church of 64 members at four preaching points.
In summary, Brethren in Christ church evangelistic work in Zimbabwe has shown steady growth, with rapid gains in more recent years. In 1930 there were almost 700 members, in 1950 a few over 2,000, and in 1986, 9,255. To the 148 churches brought into being must be added 27 preaching points. In 1987 approximately 3,000 people were in catechetical (inquirers) classes.
The Brethren in Christ church of Zimbabwe has also worked to spread the gospel beyond the Zimbabwean borders. In 1979 the Brethren in Christ churches in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and North America began a cooperative work in London, ministering to expatriate African Brethren in Christ members there. In 1985 some 200 Christians (13 congregations) in Malawi asked to become part of the Brethren in Christ church, giving rise to the Brethren in Christ church in Malawi.
From the beginning of the work in Zimbabwe, Christ-centered education was given high priority. A primary school was opened at Matopo within three months of the missionaries' arrival. Soon a boy's boarding school was built at Matopo and then a school for girls at Mtshabezi. All pupils were given instruction in basic subjects (reading, arithmetic, etc.) and health and hygiene. In addition, the boys were taught brickmaking, gardening, carpentry, etc., and the girls were taught home economics, gardening, sewing, etc. Above all, the Bible was central to the educational endeavor.
Gradually the missionaries developed a large primary school system. With financial aid and supervision from the government, the system was staffed by graduates of the Matopo Teacher Training Institute. In the 1950s secondary schools were established at the main mission stations. By 1970 these schools had a student body of 17,116 and a teaching staff of 464. In 1971 the government took over the schools, and from that time the mission has limited education efforts to the primary and secondary schools located at the major mission stations. These schools in recent years have enrolled an increasing number of students.
Medical missions became important with the arrival of two professionally trained nurses in 1924. Clinics were opened at Matopo, Mtshabezi, and Wanezi. In 1951 the first medical doctor arrived to take charge of the newly constructed hospital at Mtshabezi. A second hospital was built in 1959 at the Pumula Mission Station. In 1987 two clinics at Wanezi and Matopo were also in operation.
In order to build a self-sustaining national church the first African Conference was held in 1919, the first three African overseers were appointed in 1921, and the first deacons were elected in 1922. In addition to the Matopo Training Institute, the Wanezi Bible School was opened in 1948. When it was moved to Mtshabezi, it was upgraded to a Bible institute (Ekuphileni Bible Institute). It provides pastoral training at the secondary and post secondary levels. Pastors who could not become full-time students have received further training through theological education by extension. Some African church leaders have studied in non-Brethren in Christ Bible colleges and seminaries, and some have studied at Messiah College, Grantham, PA.
Until the 1960s the North American Brethren in Christ Mission Board administered the work in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) as one church body. Since then the churches in each area have become independent self-governing bodies. Philemon M. Khumalo was the first African elected as bishop of the Ibandla Labazalwane Kukristu e-Zimbabwe (Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe)(1970-1979). He was succeeded by Stephen N. Ndlovu. These two men ably guided the church in Zimbabwe through the period of guerrilla warfare, 1970-1980. Under their leadership membership increased from 3,726 to 9,255 in 1987. In 2003 there were 272 congregations with 29,000 members.
The war for independence against the white minority government had a catastrophic effect, disrupting the normal flow of life. Schools, hospitals, and many churches were closed. Some church members met in homes; others fled to Bulawayo. Several church leaders were killed. Most white missionaries left the country. The end of the war did not bring final peace to Matebeleland because the government was largely in the hands of Shona people, giving rise to tension in relation to the Ndebele and other ethnic groups. Zimbabwean government troops swept through Matebeleland in search of "dissidents." Acts of cruelty and oppression were perpetrated. Gradually tensions eased and life returned to more normal levels.
The Brethren in Christ church had the task of renewing, restoring, and restructuring the church. Hospitals, schools, and church buildings were repaired or rebuilt. Staffing was developed, and the church returned to the task of evangelism and church planting—with success. In 1986 2,225 members were added to the church. The social dislocation and personal insecurity of the war made many receptive to the gospel. A new district, the Urban District, was added to the existing districts of Matopo, Mtshabezi, Gwaai, and Wanezi. Theological education by extension was reinstituted. The Matopo Book Center was moved to Bulawayo in 1963 and added five branch stores. The church in Zimbabwe affiliates with the Africa Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship, the Christian Council of Zimbabwe, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and theMennonite World Conference.