For over 20 years, The United Church of Canada has been working in solidarity with partners in Zimbabwe who focus on speaking out for the oppressed, creative responses to hunger, and responses to social justice issues.
United Church partners in Zimbabwe are
For more information on Zimbawe, see:
"Conservation farming has made thousands of Zimbabweans self-sufficient in food production and no longer dependent on food aid."
Christian Care is a relief and development agency based in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, established in 1967 by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. Christian Care is called to witness to God among the impoverished and disadvantaged.
In recent years, Christian Care, working in partnership with the United Church and Canadian Foodgrains Bank, has played a significant role in improving the food security and livelihoods of many rural communities through its promotion of "conservation farming." This method of farming, which uses nature-based planting and cultivation techniques, has enabled small-scale farmers to increase their crop yields dramatically. Entire communities are being lifted out of poverty.
Christian Care conducts extensive training in sustainable agricultural production, integrating spiritual teaching with soil conservation, open pollinated seeds, and seed bank management. Farmers reduce costs and increase their yield by as much as 500 percent. With Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the United Church, Christian Care has facilitated an exchange between Zimbabwean and Canadian small farmers. A video is on the United Church's YouTube channel.
Other programs include emergency and disaster relief, dam construction and irrigation development, HIV/AIDS prevention, livestock restocking, local income generation, and water access.
The United Church of Canada has been partnered with Christian Care since 1996. Christian Care has initiated an Extra Measures project related to food.
"Empowering God's people to live an abundant life"
Prior to independence in 1980, the churches were deeply involved in the fight against social injustice. Since independence, in a context of political repression, fear, and a collapsed economy, the churches' dialogue with the Zimbabwean government has yielded very little change.
The Institute for Theological Reflection Today (ITRT) works to develop the capacity of the churches and its leadership to play a major role in the political landscape, and in the search for alternative strategies.
Founded in 2007 to "take up the challenge of being the voice of God (vox dei) to a nation in crisis," ITRT is working to complement dialogue with the government with peaceful demonstrations and non-cooperation with unjust systems. They call on church leaders to see non-cooperation as being valid and effective, when cooperation can make unjust systems seem fair.
Much of this is done through training seminars for church leaders, empowering them with conflict management and resolution skills, and preparing them to be active in the constitution-making process. "If the Church does not appreciate the constitution-making processes, then the same leaders will fail to exercise their watch-dog role when it comes to matters of social justice."
The United Church of Canada has been partnered with ITRT since 2008. Bishop Levee Kadenge attended the 40th General Council in 2009, and the Rev. Sifiso Mpofu was the Anne Duncan Gray scholar at Emmanuel College in the same year and wrote a reflection on his experience [PDF: 1 p/28 KB].
“That they may all be one”
Growing from the work of United Church of Christ (USA) missionaries begun in 1893, the United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe (UCCZ) became a fully autonomous Reformed church in 1973.
In bearing witness to the creative and redemptive power of the Holy Spirit in the world, UCCZ sustains a far-reaching program of social service ministry. The church currently operates nine primary schools, eights secondary schools, a school of nursing, a horticultural college, and recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the Zimbabwe Open University, hoping eventually to build its own university.
UCCZ oversees the operation of two hospitals and two clinics, and organizes community health awareness campaigns related to malaria, HIV/AIDS, immunization, and hygiene. It also runs three mission farms and an orphanage that offers life-skills and vocational training (including dressmaking and sewing, computers, carpentry, and welding) to children who are vulnerable or have dropped out of school.
UCCZ is in the process of developing a grassroots climate change program involving church-led workshops designed to educate parishioners about global warming, controlling erosion, crop rotation, and living with a smaller ecological footprint. The United Church of Canada has been a UCCZ partner since 2012.
"For liberation, reconciliation, justice, peace and human development"
The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) is a fellowship of 38 member churches and organizations based in Harare. Since 1964 it has been bringing the churches together to speak with one voice in response to political and socio-economic issues.
The Church and Society Department of ZCC has five program areas: Justice, Peace, and Advocacy; Mission and Evangelism; Youth; Women; Election Monitoring. It seeks to "protect the rights of all who are helpless…and address the root causes of poverty, mismanagement of national resources and the absence of the rule of law."
The context is a challenging one. Zimbabwe's fortunes have been closely tied to President Robert Mugabe since he was elected in 1980 after helping to lead a successful 15-year armed struggle against White minority rule in the country then known as Rhodesia. His iron-fisted regime has been marked by repression and human rights abuses, a failed land reform program, economic collapse, runaway inflation, acute food shortages, and international isolation.
Civil society organizations and the churches have faced intense pressure to avoid speaking out against government policies. "We are still trying to revitalize ourselves as a voice to be reckoned with, to be a voice for the voiceless," says Dr. Solomon Zwana, ZCC General Secretary. In recent years, the United Church has redoubled its efforts to accompany the Zimbabwean churches through a period of extended social crisis.
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