The towering grain silos down by the rail track dominate the town, and help us find our way back to base. Patson Katimba, at a sprightly 74 years of age, is my able companion. He’s the chairman of the Malawian oversight, and with a passion for the spread of the Gospel. He quickly shows himself to be comfortable with the climate, lifestyle and community life here – they speak his language too. And I have to confess that he’s much more comfortable with the regular diet of nsima and goats’ liver than I am.
Led by Paul, our days are filled with trailing around the streets and tracks for hours in the hot sun, making home visitations among Paul’s dozens of contacts. He’s well-known in the town, having been ordained here. The lodge we stay at is run by two of his former parishioners, and they soon treat us more like family than visitors. Clergy among the Presbyterian visitors chide Paul saying, ‘You ran away from us!’ He takes it in his long stride. He cuts a gaunt figure now, compared to former times when he was well-supported by the tithes of his church congregation. He now relies on his carpentry skills to enable his evangelical and pastoral objectives. After 6 hours walking all over town in the heat of the day, paying visits and sharing the word with this family and that, even Paul drops the pace somewhat. But responses are good, encouraging.
There’s an intelligent appetite for the word, plainly taught. Often it’s hard to find people at home, such is the scramble to survive, and people are always on the move trying to make ends meet – for example, visiting the forest to cut down firewood to drag back and sell from piles outside their front gates. Teachers, legal consultants, former executives, councillors, gold-miners and maths students form an eclectic group with a good ability to grasp teaching and enquire after deeper truth. Although we have logistical challenges, there’s a core desire to express Church of God truth here. Finding space to rent so we can meet as a church group is far from easy – the demand is so high that the same room is hired out in 2-hour slots during weekends and evenings – and this situation is repeated all over town. African-style worship, prosperity Gospel preaching, and aggressive-sounding tongues-speaking frequently punctuate the air. But Paul has led his group to pursue biblical truth, rightly interpreted. He shakes his head at examples he’s heard of Scriptures taken blatantly out of context.
This work has a history stretching back to the end of 2005. Paul Maremero (a Zimbabwean, now 43 years of age, married, with 2 natural and 2 adopted children) was then a theological student at Zomba Seminary in Malawi. He recalls saying, ‘Guys, come and listen to this!’ By this, he drew a group of fellow students to meet regularly in the seminary library to listen furtively to SFT broadcasts. By his own account, it seemed to be the style of the programme that gripped them – preaching that was based on a Bible text, being treated in context. Somehow, he managed to complete his exams and in due course became ordained among the Presbyterians at Chegutu after also spending time at Harare and Kadoma.
Paul renewed email correspondence with me after resigning his ordination in 2016. He did this because he said he could no longer live with his troubled conscience. For 10 years, Paul says the truth he learnt from those Fellowship radio programmes ‘hunted him.’ He acted out of his conviction that the ‘undiluted truth is found with those in Churches of God.’ A pamphlet I’d written in preparation, and which I had Patson Katimba translate beforehand into their common Chichewa language, found traction there. It’s based on the well-worn theme of any pile of stones requiring an organising pattern to become habitable, and has been used in all 3 countries of East Central Africa in which we are working.
While I was in Chegutu, the Zimbabwe President arrived in the town to rally votes ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 30 July. Either in preparation or in protest, the town was plunged into darkness the evening before he arrived (yet another power-cut). By the end of our visit, we praise God, a Church of God had arrived in Chegutu, and – far from darkness – a light started shining that wasn’t there before. Similar after-care arrangements have been put in place as was done for Mandua. Patson hopes to return shortly to monitor progress in the Church planted with 17 brothers and sisters on Lord’s Day 3 June, and meeting in a shelter built by themselves in one brother’s large garden.