Ibandla Labazalwane kuKristu eZimbabwe

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Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe
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Zimbabwe: World Factbook, 2009[1]

Location

Zimbabwe

Date Established

1896

Presiding Officer

Danisa Ndlovu[2]

MWC Affiliated?

Yes

Number of Congregations

317[3]

Membership

33,453[4]

Origin and Introduction

The Ibandla Labazalwane Kukristu e-Zimbabwe, or Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe, was started in 1898, when five American Brethren in Christ missionaries were sent to southern Africa. Four of these missionaries moved to the Matopo Hills region of what was then Southern Rhodesia, led by Jesse Engle.[5] Cecil Rhodes, a British colonizer and the founder of Rhodesia, granted the Brethren missionaries 3000 acres of land among the Ndebele ethnic group.[6] The missionaries established an outpost with a Brethren school.

The Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe is on friendly terms with the North American Brethren in Christ Church, and with other Brethren churches in Africa. The church is a part of Mennonite World Conference, the Africa Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.

Several forms of media serve to connect the church to its Anabaptist tradition. Since 1957, the Zimbabwean Brethren Church has published a newsletter entitled “Good Words”.[7] This newsletter contains church announcements, Bible lessons, and prayers. It is currently published twice a year in English and Ndebele. Another form of communication is the Amagugu Evangeli radio broadcast, which is transmitted in Ndebele.[8] Brethren primary and secondary schools also play a large role in supporting church traditions.


== Timeline ==

1898- Five Brethren in Christ missionaries sent to Southern Africa

The North American Brethren Church sent missionaries Jessie Engel, Elizabeth Engle, Hannah Davidson, Alice Heisey, and Barbara Hershey. Hershey decided to stay in South Africa, but the other missionaries, led by Jessie Engel, negotiated with British founder of Southern Rhodesia Cecil Rhodes to purchase 3000 acres in what is now Matebeleland, located in the South Province of Zimbabwe.[9]

1919- first church-wide meeting to include African members

Before 1919, the church was controlled by missionaries. A male missionary led the church in the position of Bishop, and was accountable to an Executive Board, also comprised of missionaries. Local leaders agitated for greater African representation, and in 1919 missionary leaders met with indigenous leaders. The “Overseer” position was created for native Zimbabweans to fill, and while this position was below the Bishop and Executive Board, it gave native Zimbabweans a voice for the first time. The original three Overseers were Manhlenhle Khumalo, Nyamazana Dube, and Ndebenduku Dlodio.[10]

1964- Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe gains independence from North American Brethren Church

The Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe formally separated from the North American church in May 1964. However, the executive board and the first bishop elected after church independence, Alvin Book, were missionaries. Independence led to decreased church involvement by missionaries and a corresponding decrease in funding for church programs.[11]

1970- Philemon Khumalo becomes first African bishop

Philemon Khumalo was the first African to lead the Zimbabwean Brethren Church. Khumalo was elected after heavy pressure by African church-members.

1980 – Mennonite Central Committee begins work in Zimbabwe

Mennonite Central Committee, the main service arm of the Mennonite Church, began work in Zimbabwe to provide relief after the Zimbabwean war of independence and the ensuing civil war.

2003- Mennonite World Conference Assembly held in Zimbabwe

The MWC Assembly meets once every six years. The 2003 meeting in Zimbabwe was the first MWC Assembly held in Africa.

2009- Bishop Danisa Ndlovu assumes presidency of Mennonite World Conference

Danisa Ndlovu is the current bishop of the Ibandla Labazalwane Kukristu e-Zimbabwe. Ndlovu’s presidency of MWC will last until the next MWC meeting. Ndlovu is committed to non-violence, and has worked to end oppression of the Zimbabwean church by the Zimbabwean government.[12]


== Major Challenges Facing Group ==

One challenge facing the Ibandla Labazalwane Kukristu e-Zimbabwe is a commitment to pacifism. The Zimbabwean Church’s official peace position has not always been followed in practice. There has been conflict between the Shona and Ndebele ethnic groups. In the Zimbabwean independence war, many young Ndebele church members joined rebel movements. After the war, some Ndebele felt that they had not gotten a fair share of power, and rebelled against independence leader Robert Mugabe. Mugabe confiscated land from the Brethren Church and used death squads and military veterans to torture and kill opponents. In this instance, the Church was split between those who thought violence against the oppressive state was justified, and those who thought that Anabaptists should serve as a peaceful witness in conflict. Currently, church leaders who oppose Mugabe and call for free elections are discriminated against, but the Zimbabwean Brethren Church has upheld its non-violent stance.[13] An Anabaptist commitment to non-violence and methods to deal with an oppressive government peacefully remain major challenges for the Brethren.

Another major challenge for the Zimbabwean church is a high poverty level. In 2004, 68% of Zimbabweans were below the poverty line.[14] Hyperinflation and economic mismanagement have made daily life more difficult for most Zimbabweans, and the church has a role in providing both hope and service to the needy in Zimbabwe. The church has welcomed support from the international Anabaptist community, including the “Family to Family, Village to Village” program which partners the Zimbabwean Brethren church with the North American Brethren church.[15]


== Leaders ==

The current church bishop is Danisa Ndlovu. In 2009 Ndlovu became President of the Mennonite World Conference, and he has been active in the international Anabaptist world. He has also been a voice for social justice, and has vehemently opposed the corruption, repression, and violence of the Zimbabwean government while still maintaining a peaceful stance.[16]


== Future ==

The Zimbabwe Brethren Church of Christ is growing rapidly. In 2006, the church had over 33,000 members in 317 congregations. Zimbabwean leadership of the Mennonite World Council and the recent Zimbabwean hosting of the MWC have raised the profile of the Zimbabwe church among other Anabaptist groups, and the church is receiving international prayers and support. In the next decade, the church will likely continue to expand, and be a witness for peace against the oppressive Mugabe government. In the next century, the church will still be dealing with issues of poverty, but with a different and hopefully less oppressive government. The Zimbabwean Brethren church will have to work to maintain Anabaptist traits instead of blending in with other Pentecostal and Evangelical churches.

[edit] Citations

  1. "Zimbabwe," CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/maps/maptemplate_zi.html
  2. Brethren in Christ of North America, “Bishop of BIC Church in Zimbabwe assumes presidency of Mennonite World Conference,” http://www.bicchurch.org/news/churchwide/archives /09_07_17_danisa_mwc_presidency.
  3. Mennonite World Conference, 2006 MWC Africa Directory, http://www.mwc- cmm.org/Directory/2006africa.pdf.
  4. Mennonite World Conference, 2006 MWC Africa Directory, http://www.mwc- cmm.org/Directory/2006africa.pdf.
  5. Robert Reese, “History of Protestant Missions in Zimbabwe,” World Mission Associates, http://www.wmausa.org/Page.aspx?id=163219#_edn90, 1.
  6. Reese 1.
  7. Alemu Checole, Anabaptist Songs in African Hearts, (Intercourse: Good Books, 2006), 132.
  8. The Tide, “Zimbabwe,” http://www.thetide.org/where-we-work/Zimbabwe, 1.
  9. Nancy N. Kreider and Martin H. Shcrag, “Ibandla Labazalwane Kukristu e-Zimbabwe,” Global Anabaptist Encyclopedia Online, 1987, 1.
  10. Checole, 124.
  11. Checole, 126.
  12. Brethren in Christ of North America, “Bishop of BIC Church in Zimbabwe assumes presidency of Mennonite World Conference,” http://www.bicchurch.org/news/churchwide/archives/09_07_17_danisa_mwc_presidency.
  13. Brethren in Christ of North America, “Christian church leaders condemn sham election in Zimbabwe,” http://www.bicchurch.org/news/churchwide/archives/08_07_24_zimbabwe.asp
  14. Central Intelligence Agency, “Zimbabwe,” CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/zi.html
  15. Brethren in Christ Church, “Family to Family, Village to Village,” http://www.bicchurch.org/ministries/compassion/family.asp.
  16. Brethren in Christ of North America, “Christian church leaders condemn sham election in Zimbabwe,” http://www.bic-church.org/news/churchwide/archives/08_07_24_zimbabwe.asp. Ndlovu will play a large role in shaping the Zimbabwean Brethren church in the future.
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