Posted by: Titus Presler | March 30, 2011

Bonda parishioners, forced out of their church, worship outside in village

Writing of the persecution of the legitimate Anglican Christians in the Church of the Province of Central Africa’s Diocese of Manicaland in Zimbabwe, a friend from Bonda wrote to me in late February:

We are in the process of trying to Link up with a Diocese in Chicago. We were visited by . . . Fr Michael Greene and three ladies from Chicago last month. They came to Bonda and police officers came and stopped our parishioners and visitors from getting into the church building. They ended up having the service in an open space near the church, and yet there was no one in the church building. The current situation at Bonda is worse because the police have forced our congregation further away from the church building, just by the shopping centre, along the main road. The bishops, priests and office workers have received threats several times. However, we are soldiering on by the grace of God. We have faith and trust that God will take us through this terrible phase. It is painful but we have grown stronger. Remember us in your prayers. We also remember you in our prayers.

This moving testimony takes me back to my own days at Bonda, when we as well met at the shopping center in Ruwende village, but for a weekday service for the elderly, not for the principal Sunday services, and in a time of church flourishing, not church persecution.

The village is about 10 minutes walk from the church and maybe 150 feet below it in elevation over rough tracks, so it was difficult for the elderly to make their way from their thatched homes up to the church on Sundays.  So we decided to offer a Friday morning Shona mass on the verandah of the village store, Bukuta’s in those days – that particular location because it provided shelter in the rainy season.  The service needed to be early enough to finish before Bukuta would open the store, so we met at 6 or 6:30, the older folks toiling up from their homes with staffs in their hands.  I was often assisted by Sister Alice and Sister Milda of the Community of the Holy Transfiguration.

On a good morning, there might be as many as 20 people attending.  It was an unusual place for a worship service, and I was always amused by the amazement of passengers in the black-exhaust-spewing buses as they arrived from the Honde Valley to discharge travelers at the Bonda Hospital stop a ways up the hill.

The Bonda liturgical schedule was a busy one in those days: On Sundays there was a 6:30am eucharist in the historic chapel of Bonda Hospital, attended by patients and staff alike, followed by bed-to-bed visiting in the wards.  At 8 or so there was an enormous English eucharist for about 600 of the Bonda High School girls in St. David’s Church, which had been enlarged since Independence in 1980, and the students’ singing was such as to transport one into the vestibule of heaven itself.  At 10 or so came the villagers’ Shona eucharist in another full church, including a couple hundred additional secondary school girls.  Then we would travel out to one of the outlying congregations, an hour or so away over rough roads, often with another 300-500 people attending.

Weekday liturgies included a Shona mass with the Primary School in church first thing Monday morning; an English Liturgy ’75 eucharist in the secondary chapel on Tuesday evening before supper; a Wednesday morning eucharist in the Bonda Hospital chapel; and the innovation of the Friday early eucharist in the village.  Thursday often featured a eucharist at an outlying congregation.  And then there would be the occasional eucharist at the convent as well.  Preaching, whether in Shona or English, was a feature of each of these services, with due attention to the daily lectionary and saints days.  For me, preaching became like breathing, moving with the flow of the Spirit, with preparation usually possible only for the Sundays.  It was a joy.

As I say, the church was flourishing.  The current situation of harassment and persecution calls forth our prayers.

It is indeed encouraging that a linkage is developing between Bonda and the Diocese of Chicago.  This is just the kind of grassroots solidarity that can strengthen suffering Christians.

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Responses

  1. “At 8 or so there was an enormous English eucharist for about 600 of the Bonda High School girls in St. David’s Church, which had been enlarged since Independence in 1980, and the students’ singing was such as to transport one into the vestibule of heaven itself.” This brought tears to my eyes. In 1981 I was one of those 600 or so school girls. I remember Baba Tarumbwa always saying,”Inzwaiwo izvo St Johwani anotaura: kana vanhu tichiita zvinyangadzo tinemureveri kuna Baba: Jesu Kristu wakarurama. Ukukutaura ngekwechokwadi”in the Shona service.

    [The writer, Joyce Nyanyira, is recalling a late catechist at Bonda, Mr. Theodore Tarumbwa, and his recitation of some of the Comfortable Words after the Confession in the Eucharist, according to the Shona version of the Central African Prayerbook, which reflected the 1662 and 1928 editions of the Book of Common Prayer: “Here also what St. John saith, ‘If anyone sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous . . .'”]

    • Thanks so much for being in touch, Joyce! I’m glad those times of worship are as vivid in your memory as in mine. Those were among the many instances in which the faith and worship of Shona Christians instructed and inspired me deeply and permanently.

      Another instance was the Sunday afternoon gathering of Scripture Union in the school hall. I would be coming back exhausted from a visit to one of the outlying congregations in the early evening, thinking only that it was time to relax and rest. Passing by the school hall, though, I would hear the stirring sound of several hundred students in full-throated song. Often the Sisters and I would stop and attend the SU meeting for awhile and join in the singing and listen to the testimonies and preaching.

      Exhaustion would melt away, and I would leave joyful and energized.

  2. What a moving testimony. Those days will be back.


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