The twin challenges of Islam and the prosperity gospel make Zimbabwe a place in desperate need of mission workers.
As in so many former colonies in Africa, the perception is that they have been evangelised and have healthy Christian populations.
But the reality, as Serving In Mission’s Zimbabwe director, Caiphas Ngarivhume (pictured with wife Sekai) explains, is very different.
He said: “If you ask people in Zimbabwe whether they are Christian, most would say they are but very often they have not been well-taught or well-discipled.
“The country is looking east for investment, with Iran and China providing a lot of the money because few western countries want to get involved.
“But with that turning to the east comes Islam. We now have a Muslim minister for education who has promised to build 3,000 Islamic schools.
“The prosperity gospel is also very prominent here, perhaps as a result of all the economic problems we have suffered. We have many ‘prophets’ who urge people to part with what little they have with the promise they will be blessed tenfold in return.
“I know of one of these prophets who was selling ordinary pens for 15 US dollars each, claiming they had been anointed and would help children do well in exams. Which parent does not wish to help their child do well?”
Caiphas knows of people who go to church in the morning and then to a prosperity gospel ‘prophet’ in the afternoon. This has hurt the church badly because believers are being taught heresy, and so give to the ‘prophets’ and not to mission.
In the face of such challenges, Caiphas, who has been director for two and half years, is delighted the country is still open to the gospel of Jesus — a message he is keen to get across.
He explained: “We have 14 SIM missionaries from several countries here, doing all kinds of ministry from working in a Bible college to teaching people to farm sustainably.
“We also do youth and children’s work, we work in an orphanage, we have a famine relief ministry and we mobilise gospel workers from the Zimbabwean church. We work with young girls who are threatened with getting married early and dropping out of school.
“There is a huge need for theological educators here. Very often our theological colleges are using curricula developed 20 years ago, so we aim to help them make their teaching relevant for today.
“We want to equip our pastors to be able to deal with the challenges of modern society. We also want to run a leader development course and give pastors books and other resources to help them combat the prosperity gospel.”
Of course, living in Zimbabwe presents challenges but the hyper-inflation of a decade ago has long gone and the country is now at peace.
The shops are usually well-supplied and foreign workers are able to arrange their financial affairs securely.
There is already one UK couple — Geoff and Rosaliene Donaldson, with their daughter Lisanne — serving in Zimbabwe and UK citizens can get visas when they arrive.
Caiphas said: “Our doors are open and we long to bring more workers in. There is a huge need here and so many opportunities to serve.
“Whether you are interested in serving short-term or long-term, God can use you in Zimbabwe. The one thing I want to emphasise is the sense of urgency about our gospel proclamation.
“The challenges to the gospel are real and getting bigger, so it is vital we meet those challenges and respond to them with the good news of Jesus Christ.”
For many more gospel workers to be raised up to serve in Zimbabwe.
For the safety of Christians in Zimbabwe and that the country would remain open to gospel proclamation.
For Bible teachers to be equipped with the knowledge to challenge Islam and the prosperity gospel.