7:00 A.M. EST Jan. 19, 2011 | MHONDORO, Zimbabwe (UMNS)
Worshippers in the Stillfontain farming area of Zimbabwe praise
God with body and soul during a recent crusade. UMNS web-only
photos courtesy of Taurai Emmanuel Maforo.
The women moved their tongues rapidly, emitting high-pitched ritual sounds called ululations as the Holy Spirit took over during a crusade in the remote Stillfontain farming community.
Around them, joyful worshippers clapped their hands and lifted their voices in song, filling the night air with praise each day of the weeklong meeting.
“These crusades have challenged me, the community and my family,” said Gradus Dzvene, 26, a new convert. “It is my hope that my family will later join me. My life will never be the same again. God has remembered me.”
In the United States, the megachurch has become the ideal for many religious leaders. Bigger is better, the theory goes, as more people generate more revenue to offer more programs that can attract more people.
Yet in Africa, it is the development of small churches, taking the faith from village to village as those from Christianity’s founders to the first Methodists have done for centuries, that is the key to growth.
Only a small gathering greeted Pastor Future Sibanda when he came to the Stillfontain community on a motorbike, with a modest public-address system at his side, to lead the crusade.
Pastor Future Sibanda leads the crusade.
But he was undaunted. He left the community with the hope a permanent church would be established within a year.
“The passion to reach out for lost souls is the driving force,” Sibanda said. “God makes everything possible”.
The approach is not new.
Outreach from one community to the other was the way the Methodist Church spread across the United States. And it is the model for growing churches around the globe, said the Rev. John Nuessle, a mission expert with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
Fledgling congregations in Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, for example, are taught that “part of the Wesleyan DNA” is to expand. “When you begin a group in a small community, they understand that one of their primary jobs is to start another group,” he explained.
In West Africa, United Methodists in Côte d’Ivoire are spreading out to some nearby countries, including Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
The home of Bernard Majoni is also used as a place of worship.
“That, literally, is a source of strength for the church in Côte d’ Ivoire,” Nuessle said. “They grow and become solid by reaching out and thinking how they can start something new elsewhere.”
Here, the Stillfontain crusade is part of a broader evangelism effort of the Zimbabwe West Annual (regional) Conference to take the church to new areas in southeastern Africa. Nyamacheni Mission in Gokwe and Emsizini Mission in Bulawayo are part of the initiative.
A fertile mission field
The Harare Central District started a “preaching point,” or house church, in the Stillfontain farming area in 2009.
Bernard Majoni, whose family was among the founders of the religious community, offered his home for worship. Ten to 18 people gather each week in a make-shift tent.
There are significant challenges, including a shortage of Bibles, hymnals, Christian-education materials and financial resources. Christian evangelism competes with ancestral worship.
But United Methodists here already have outreach plans beyond the Stillfontain community.
This young boy is among the newest generation of
United Methodists in the Stillfontain community.
During the Stillfontain crusade, the first of six planned for the area, 77 households in four villages were visited. Eight people gave their lives to Christ, church officials said.
Stillfontain is poised to become a fully-fledged local church within the next 12 months.
Allen Sandichonga, 35, who participated in home visits, was excited with the prospect of new members.
“The numbers we came in contact with were overwhelming. If we win more souls, we will definitely move to a more central location, probably at Ringa Primary School.”
Sandichonga, who was the only man at the closing night of the crusade, added: “Yes! We want to send the church to the people and hopefully more men will repent.”
*Maforo is a United Methodist communicator for the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference. United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter Linda Bloom contributed to this story.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.