by - 6:46 PM

This is church, people. This is church. This is what a small gathering of believers and followers of Jesus looks like in the slum township of Hatcliffe. The people of Hatcliffe were mostly victims of Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Rubbish, also known as Operation ‘Restore Order’). It was a large-scale initiative by the Zimbabwean government to forcibly clear out and literally flatten the slum sectors across Zimbabwe. According to the UN, the operation (since 2005) has adversely affected about 700,000 people directly either through the loss of their home or livelihood. Therefore, it could have indirectly affected around 2.4 million people (UN report on Zimbabwean government, 17 June 2005). The UN has described the operation as an effort to drive out and render homeless the majority of the urban and rural poor, who make up much of the internal opposition to the current administration.

As we drove out of Harare into the outskirts and closer to the Hatcliffe township, we passed a huge rubbish dumping ground. It encompassed probably two football-sized fields – and it stunk. The field was covered with mounds of waste and trash and unwanted materials. Sometimes they burn them, other times they leave it all there. I’d never seen anything like it. Anyhow, as we got closer to Hatcliffe you could see the landscape change a little – from the leafy green and potholed streets of the nicer suburbs in Harare, to the muddy grounds and even worse potholed mud-covered roads leading into the township. The typical ‘home’ in Hatcliffe was covered with corrugated iron, bare-brick walls and the poorer dwellings were often patched up with plastic sheets or tarp-like materials. The dimensions of the homes ranged from the size of a small room in a typical Western house to a lounge room-sized structure. There are no electricity wires, no tarred roads, no clinics and no shops here. Only the odd tuck-shop or two, which is set-up like a small road-side stand.

The children saw us walking through and followed us on the bounce of their bare feet. They kept asking about my ‘guitara’ – or my ukulele – since they didn’t know what it was. It helped that I could ask simple questions in Shona like ‘unon-zan?’ (what is your name? – I’m pretty sure my Zim friends would say that’s the wrong spelling and the wrong way to say it, but amazingly people have understood when I said it hahaha) or ‘une makore mangani?’ (how old are you?).

The reason we were in Hatcliffe this Sunday (my second Sunday in Zimbabwe!) was to join Pastor Sean Mullens and Douglas, as they were about to pioneer a new church in this area. It was such a blessing and a privilege to be with these guys as they embarked on this new adventure that God was calling them to. It will not be without challenges, but I believe that there is such a hunger for truth and love and hope in this place, that God will make the way as his people serve Him and those in this impoverished community whole-heartedly.
We were meeting in a small school structure that had three rooms. One of the ladies named Yolanda led us into praise and worship with clapping and full-hearted singing even though we didn’t have the luxury of instruments to accompany us. One of the pioneering leaders, Mr. Lovemore, led us in prayer and an ample repetition of call and response ‘Amen!’ and ‘Hallelujah!’ As we were sitting on benches of the classroom, children outside were poking us through the broken window. It was hilarious. I could hardly believe I was going to ‘church’ – right here. Douglas preached in both Shona and English on some of my favourite passages in the Bible – Psalm 1 and Psalm 86:11 (which is the basis of my other writing website, The Undivided Heart). I was so inspired by what these guys were doing. Their heart for those living in poverty and in dark places, their desire to others develop their God-given potential even in such difficult circumstances, and their love for Jesus and rock-solid faith in Him amidst such dire challenges, has made an indelible mark on my spirit.

At the end of the service, we had the privilege of praying together, and I was also asked to pray for the team of 5 leaders – Lovemore, Mike, Jacob, Theresa and Douglas – and for the future of this ministry. One of the things that I felt most strongly to ask God for is that His spirit would flood this place. That his power and love would fill their hearts. There’s that verse in Zechariah that goes, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD.’ Truly, apart from God, we cannot accomplish anything that would affect people in a way that transforms not only their physical or mental condition, but their spiritual body and their inner identity. Yes, we can do many ‘charitable’ things, we can keep feeding the black hole of poverty and neediness, but it will not last, and it will not ultimately satisfy the void in our hearts and the hearts of those we are trying to help.
This is my conviction now. I believe as I have been traveling this year, experiencing different things, meeting new people, building friendships with those near and far, and seeking God for wisdom concerning the path I will take – God has been challenging me to take it all a step further.

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