This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Hope for change in Zimbabwe: an interview with Joy Kauffman

Posted by Tim Nafziger on 08/11/08 at 02:13 AM

Tonight, the people of Zimbabwe hold their breath hoping that tomorrow (Monday) Mugabe and the opposition will reach a power sharing agreement. For the last year and a half, Joy Kauffman has been sending regular updates about the situation in Zimbabwe to a growing network of Mennonites and other concerned Christians around the United States. She’s also worked closely with Zimbabweans living in the United States to organize meetings and prayer vigils around the developing situation in their country.

Tim: Do you have hope the talks that are currently happening between the Zanu PF and the MDC can bring positive change for the people of Zimbabwe?

Joy: I have learned from Zimbabweans that the only safe place to put our hope is in God. Almost a year ago when the 36,00 members of the Brethren in Christ Church (BICC) in Zimbabwe gathered for their annual conference, their leader Bishop Danisa Ndlovu, who is also president-elect of Mennonite World Conference (MWC), encouraged the crowd with these words, “In the oppression we are in, where our dreams for our children have crumbled and families are lost, we must vow to draw closer to God who is our hope and our peace.”

But you asked, do I have hope in the talks? They are quite amazing. Many Zimbabweans are cautiously hopeful; others are extremely frustrated and disheartened. Others are starving to death as I type.

It is highly likely, that there will be a negotiated settlement signed in the next few days between the existing regime (ZANU-PF), that has held power for 28 years, and the two factions of the opposition party (MDC). Fervent prayers are desperately needed. The fact that the leaders of these parties are sitting in the same room is pretty amazing considering everything that has happened over the years. In the past four months alone, over one hundred MDC leaders have been killed in politically motivated violence. Magnify that by 28 years of brutal repression and bitter rivalry and the mere contemplation of collaboration is amazing. The idea of forgiveness is almost incomprehensible and yet an amnesty is part of the deal. Please pray for the leaders and the people.

The talks commenced a few weeks ago with the signing of a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties. A good Zimbabwean friend, Nontando Hadebe, who has been writing for Sojourner’s God’s Politics blog, commented on the MOU saying, “the language of human rights, the dignity of the person, and freedom of speech and press, etc., makes this document a “foreign language” in the context of Zimbabwean politics!”

South African President Thabo Mbeki is serving as mediator and he is drawing heavily from South Africa’s experience. Nontando reminded me in an e-mail of the parallels saying “In order to avoid violence at the end of the brutal Apartheid regime in South Africa, the ANC had to compromise with the National Party … There was realism that as much as the ANC wanted absolute power, they could not wish away the NP and that power sharing and compromise was the best optionthe agreement had its flaws but the good far outweighed the weaknessesthe question for now is whether the same will happen in Zimbabwe.”

She continued, “As Christians we need to pray for the process that despite its obvious flaws, something positive that will benefit all Zimbabweans will emerge and also to be prophetic and watch that the interests of the poorest of the poor are always on the agenda i.e. justice, freedom and democracy prevail. The challenges are great but a small step has been taken.”

Clearly she is one of the hopeful Zimbabweans, echoing the sentiment of Desmond Tutu when asked hopeful about the future before the fall of Apartheid and he responded, “I am always hopeful. A Christian is a prisoner of hope.”

T: Who are the Zimbabweans that you have been listening to in the past few weeks and months in order to understand what’s happening there?

J: The most important Zimbabwean that I listen to, and that I believe every Mennonite must listen to, is Danisa Ndlovu, bishop of the BICC and president-elect of MWC. We have ready access to much of his writing through MWC press releases generally carried in The Mennonite and MWR. Bishop Ndlovu recently gave an amazingly powerful sermon to the BICC general conference in Toronto and I encourage everyone to join me in listening (it is on the Web here).

The Zimbabwean BICC is the largest MWC member denomination in southern Africa, with about 35,000 members. Bishop Danisa Ndlovu will assume the presidency of Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay next summer. I believe his call and how we respond to him is very important to the health of our churches here in the United States and for our global communion as Anabaptists.

I liken myself to the Samaritan woman who encountered a hot, tired and thirsty Jesus at the well. It started in January 2007 when I read a headline from a MWC Press Release that read, “MWC Vice-president pleads for help for Zimbabwe”.

“Plead?” I thought to myself, who is this guy and what’s happening in Zimbabwe?

The more I read, the more I realized why Bishop Danisa Ndlovu was pleading and I felt led by the Spirit through prayer, to offer my cup of water, prayers and funds. I honestly can say I have received “living water” in return. His example and the example of the church in Zimbabwe has quenched a thirst for me of unwavering faith in a faithful God.

Through sponsorship in MCC’s Global Family program, I have learned about the amazing BICC schools in Zimbabwe and the teachers who sacrifice for the children there. Through giving to Forgotten Voices and following their blog, I have learned about amazing local pastors who have taken in thousands of HIV/AIDS orphans across the country and the excellent training available at the Theological College of Zimbabwe. Through MCC’s radio interview with their partner organization, I learned of brave pastors caring for victims of political violence. I am encouraged that there are leaders to follow that will inspire faithfulness in others, like me. Now, like the woman, I feel inspired to tell my village, the U.S. Mennonite Church, and invite them to come back to the well with me and be prepared to receive living water as we offer our gifts to our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters in Christ.

Through this journey, I have gotten to know quite a few Zimbabweans, mostly through e-mail. Many are in exile here in the US and in places such as South Africa, like Nontando. I would guess, with over 3 million Zimbabweans in exile, that most every Mennonite Church USA conference has at least a few Zimbabwean members. Every single Zimbabwean I have ever met believes in the power of prayer and deeply desires us to pray for their country. That has been the chief motivation for an e-mail “ministry” I’ve begun sending out asking people to pray and act.

T: How do you feel about the response of the Mennonite church and Christians as a whole to the situation in Zimbabwe?

J: What have we done well? I believe there are many congregations and individuals praying and giving support. This support is tremendously appreciated by our Anabaptist brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe. The Illinois Mennonite Conference is blessed with a few Zimbabweans and they are inspiring great things in their churches. Mennonite Church of Normal spent the entire month of July focused on Zimbabwe! I’ve organized several fasting and prayer meetings during the past year with former BICC pastor Mankani Moyo, a current member of Christ Community Mennonite Church. I know of many Mennonite churches across the country that participated, including one in Washington State where most the congregation ended up in tears at the altar, pleading with God to intervene. There are two couples that have recently gone to Zimbabwe during this time of turmoil and violence to stand with our bothers and sisters there as a physical presence. A great gift in a time of great need.

What could we change? I believe that we, as U.S.-based Mennonites have been well informed about the situation in Zimbabwe through our church press and this is great. I think what we struggle with is letting this information sink from our heads down to our hearts.

I’ve said about myself that up until this past year, I have known too much and cared to little. I used to be an NPR and political junkie who had opinions about most every situation in the world. I believe this over abundance of head knowledge is a direct cause of a disease in the body of Christ that currently plagues us as a church. This disease affects our ability to feel pain and respond appropriately. Because we do not feel the pain in our Body and do not respond, the small wounds fester and injury compounds. I call it Spiritual leprosy. I also know, from my own experience, that we can be healed.

Part of this healing in my life has come as a result of heeding the advice of John D. Roth, from Goshen (Ind.) College, in an article he wrote for The Mennonite in 2005. In “A Deep Pastoral Concern” (pages 10 and 11) John encouraged Mennonites in the United States to “commit themselves to a five-year sabbatical from affiliations with any political party. That is, we should publicly resolve to sit out the next presidential election and consciously abstain from all literature, Web sites, organizations and lobbying efforts supported by groups partisan to the Democrats or the Republicans.” In the context of the article he encouraged us to use the extra time and energy that would free up to “develop partnership with sister congregations in Colombia or India or Indonesia; cultivate a global awareness through the lens provided by MCC, MWC and Mennonite Mission Network rather than by NPR or FOX. And along the way, consciously nurture the fruits of the Spirit in your midst so that our shared witness to the world cannot help but reflect the love and compassion we bear for each other as brothers and sisters in the church. Above all, do not retreat from the pain and suffering of the world but let the healing of the world begin with the hard, joyful work of reconciliation in our congregations and in our church.”

In his sermon few weeks back, I believe Bishop Ndlovu gave the best advice about how we could change as a church body in our response to Zimbabwe so I will close with quotes form his sermon:

“God is calling us to a different lifestyle. He says, “come to Me, lay your lives before Me, this is your spiritual act of worship, when you do that there is going to be change.” … I think God is calling us to a different culture of change. It is not the change that Obama is preaching, it is not the change that [the Zimbabwean opposition] is preaching, but a different change. A change that makes us a different people, a different people in the world. Because God, through Christ, prayed that we should not be removed from this world, but we should be unique in this world. That is the change that God is calling us to.”

“We are called to unite! To be one. That is what God, in Christ prayed for … What does it mean to be one with your brother in a place you have never been? What does it mean to be one with your brother somewhere who is struggling without anything to eat? What does it mean to be one with your sister who has nothing to cook or put something for a meal? What does it mean?”

“Those who love God, indeed with all their hearts, with all their strengths, with all their minds, will not think twice when God speaks to them and says, ‘Go’. Right now if God is calling you to come to Zimbabwe you’ll say, ‘Wait a minute, God let’s sit down and talk.’ I remember one time talking to some friends of mine and I said, ‘If God were to call me to Calcutta, India, or call me to Mombasa, I will really call him to the table and say ‘Let’s talk, are you really serious?’’ But that kind of thinking is the mind of one who has not fully given himself to God. When God speaks to you He is calling you for such a time as this. It is not your time, it is God’s time. And very often today when God is telling us to go out, we tend to debate with God. And I am challenging us to rethink, have a new attitude, have new thoughts, thoughts that would please God.”

The call for healing from our spiritual leprosy came most eloquently when Bishop Ndlovu said:

“Doesn’t the Bible talk about the widows and orphans? It says true religion is what? It’s reaching out and meeting the needs of those who are helpless. That’s worship. That is what worship is all about. Very often we want to “enjoy” worship. But I think there is pain in worship. There is pain in worship. And children of God must not be afraid of that pain. Those that God calls must rejoice in the pain of reaching out to meet the needs of others.”

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!