This time we are writing primarily to the believers in the True Gospel, our partners in the noble task of proclaiming the Gospel, our Lord’s ‘little flock’. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Recently we took the Gospel to the rural areas where Catholicism and a mixture of traditional religion and some version of Christianity are commonplace. We entered the world of the truly downtrodden of a terrorized nation. We saw their grief stricken faces and spoke to their fearful minds. We ate with them. We shared a life with them and so we attended their school. We have just graduated from their school of extreme endurance. We learned the lessons.
We now know how much sometimes our Godly Bible studies and pure doctrines can become sterile and unproductive if they are detached from the real field of ministry. In the rural areas we met also with the confused, those whose ears have been deafened by propaganda…and all the messages of hate. We met with the churched youths who are prepared to maim and murder political opponents. We also spoke to some who had witnessed political murders and assassinations of opposition supporters…. mentally and psychologically damaged young men and women.
In the rural areas the Church youths are used by politicians to terrorize even their own Church leaders during political campaigns. They see nothing wrong as long as the orders come from their party bosses. It is such a confused situation where the cause of the political party’s message to murder political opponents always weighs a lot more than God ’s injunction to love even our enemies. Propaganda is the true religion of the rural folks.
Actually, Zimbabwean propaganda is a complete religion with saviors whose blood is said to have bought for them independence from colonialism. There are shrines in every province. They have martyrs, saints and prophets. Our task was /is always to introduce and re-introduce the true savior to both churchgoer and Sangoma worshiper. So, we learnt that the battle is for sure a battle for the mind. It is a real battle. The mind is where the strongholds are.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
A hopeless and Disillusioned People
We, for the first time since we started preaching the true Gospel about ten years ago, came to grips with the real situation under which the majority of us Zimbabweans live. We didn’t know much ourselves. These were no-go areas for preachers…and most rural areas are still no-go areas. Not much is known. Zimbabwe is a land of the despairing. It is a land of the hopeless and the disillusioned and in most cases a completely brainwashed people that knows no other message of hope apart from the hopeless message of the political party that has held them captive for years.
The people, who, in the 1970s, were hoping for a new dawn as they anticipated what they were made to believe to be independence from colonialism, are disillusioned. They don’t know what to believe next. Their lives have actually worsened after the so-called independence of 1980. They experienced a total economic collapse for the first time. There is still widespread suffering in the cities even with the Unity Government in place. In the countryside the story is a lot worse. All what they are used to is making slogans. A brutalized people, they are almost going naked some of them.
There is in reality no health care system to talk about, just as it is in the cities. Throughout the country the school system is taking just too long to revive. But, in the rural areas it’s incomparably worse. Nothing is attractive there. And, no preacher, even in the absence of political violence, is eager to go there.
No Preacher Dares to Go There
Zimbabwe is not an industrialized country. The majority of people still live in rural areas. Subsistence farming is still the norm. The majority is extremely poor. And, worsened by the prevailing hard economic conditions, the situation is pathetic to say the least. Rural people in Zimbabwe are treated as non-persons. They are people of no economic value.
To the preachers of our day they are a clear epitome of the cursed. They can’t support a pastor or anyone preaching among them. All of them even expect the preacher to bring not just the word of God but some food and clothing. So, even with the lessening of political violence in the countryside, it continues to be rare to see preachers leaving their comfort in the cities to go to the rural areas. There is hunger there. There is filth. Death is always hovering over communities. Starvation is rife. Diseases are ravaging. AIDS is wiping out families. This is what we saw. It was such an eye opener to us.
It shook us yes, but, the moment we settled with them, befriended them, and as it were, pitched our own tent in their midst, we started seeing things differently. It was by the grace of God that we were able to adjust so quickly. It was by His Love. At first they didn’t look like Zimbabweans. There is still much suffering in the urban centers but the suffering in most rural areas is indescribable.
Not Just the Truth
For the past ten years we have mostly preached in towns and among some relatively sophisticated people. We have written beautiful articles in defense of the True Gospel. We have convened seminars to help Christians to understand the Gospel in order to share it with the lost, particularly Roman Catholics. It worked well. We reached out to many urban Roman Catholics. But, the rural Roman Catholics are different.
They don’t care much about the truth. Most don’t even care what to believe. They don’t primarily need the Truth. What they need is someone to love them. They need someone to value them. They need a preacher who just spends time with them. They are looking for someone who is willing to listen to them and prepared to befriend them. They need relationship not just the truth.
We had our turning point in ministry. Eager as we were to expound the truth as we were used to, we had to wait. We waited for a long time before we could say anything that contradicted their belief system. We knew that it was not just the syllabus of the sangomas (spirit mediums) that we were to dismantle but also the scary messages of the syllabus of the party, the brainwashing of the political propagandists. This was not easy. It is not easy. We had to pitch our tents in their midst and pretended to be like them. And it worked. The result: We now have a growing fellowship that meets weekly for some serious Bible Study.
The Message of Philippians 2:5-8
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it jobbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Some scriptures you only come to truly understand them when you get into a situation for which they were given to provide an answer. Like so many, we had never understood it to encourage us to also put aside our purity in the understanding of Gospel truth in order to mingle with the apostates for the purpose of winning them to Christ.
It is surprising that we are insulated from our primary calling by the important things of our very calling itself. Paradoxical isn’t it? While knowing Jesus His Word and His heart was supposed to instantly compel us to go down to the echelons of the unsaved and the deceived we are finding ourselves proud and cut off from the heretics, keeping to ourselves everything.
We are called upon therefore, for a moment, to let go of our doctrinal purity and theological sophistry to go down to the mediocrity of our fellow deceived human race just as our Lord Jesus let go of his equality with God in order to come to our rescue here below. This is the only way the truth we have will have the desired impact in the lives of the deceived. We will certainly win more to our Lord. Separatism will only harm the cause of Christ. The apostle Paul shunned asceticism.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
Excellent! After our experience in the rural areas we now find it a little disheartening to note that among true Biblical Christian there has emerged another obscurity. All what Biblical Christians now major in is hoping from Bible Conference to Bible Conference for more and more truth with which they, sadly, insulate themselves further. We now use the Truth more or less to isolate ourselves from the deceived. Each Bible conference we attend adds a layer of insulation upon us and bundles us stronger together to completely exclude the unsaved and the deceived.
It is clear that the main thing that makes us draw unnecessary demarcations between ourselves and our field of evangelism is asceticism. Surprising! As the Lord’s little flock we do have the tendency to bundle together. We usually stick together in such a way that we fight so hard to avoid mingling with heretics and apostates.
We are always by ourselves and usually in deep theological discussions. We just can’t mingle. We fear being soiled by false teachers. We sometimes fail to appreciate the fact that the Lord Jesus had/has incomparably better knowledge of the truth than us. He was /is God himself. He was omniscient, knowing everything. Yet, He came down and became a man like us in order to save us from sin. To show us an example how to conquer sin he had to live a real life with us.
Christ implicitly rejects any ascetic rejection of the world, the “secular” in the image of the salt. (Matt 5) One does not wrap the spoonful of salt in plastic before lowering it into the pot. Salt cannot have any effect if it is not rubbed into the meat.
The Lord Jesus was /is even matchlessly holier than us. Yet, he descended to our mediocrity. He came down to the ignorant. He came down to the filthy. His ministry prioritized the ghetto dwellers and the peasants. These can’t support the preacher. They have no food for the preacher. Such as these are the people we met in the rural areas of Zimbabwe where very few preachers find reason to preach. The broken, especially in Zimbabwe’s rural areas, are prisoners of the political establishment. They have been sentenced to death.
Before we spent time in the rural areas we thought we were the brokenhearted but now we know who they really are. As compared to them, we are still a lot better. Yet, it is to such as these that Jesus was primarily sent. They also need Him whether they know it or not.
This is the meaning of the message of Luke 4:18.
The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD (Lk 4:18).
The Lord Jesus set aside his glory for the sake of the lost world. This was a lesson for us to follow in our own small ways.(Philippians 2:5) He pitched His tent in human history. He became a finite man who could experience pain for our sake. And, when he preached he, like Paul after Him, never used difficult expressions.(1 Corinthians 2:1)
We learned a lesson that we wish to share with our readers, especially those who have embraced the truth. We learnt that authentic and enduring ministry MUST begin with relationship building. Also, we learnt that doctrinal purity is a necessity that must always lead to authentic ministry. That it is much easier to teach the truth to people who feel accepted and loved by us as preachers.
The Mystery of the Incarnation
Philippians 2 also talks about the mystery of the incarnation of Crhist. And, the central teaching here is that we as followers of Christ much always be guided by this principle. With all the Truth we have as the Lord’s little flock, it will be a disservice to our master if we bundle together and avoid incarnating also to those who don’t have it. We do this just as our Lord taught us, by being like salt….rubbing ourselves into heretics and apostates in order to change them.
We can’t win the war against the devil’s lies without going out to the lost and deceived no mater what state they may be in. We will never even offend the devil by simply studying our Bibles just for the purpose of arguing with the unsaved or among ourselves. We are called to win the lost to the Lord to the Lord. This, as we ourselves learnt over the past three months, can only be accomplished if we develop the aptitude to avoid our exclusivist stance and mix with both heretic and heathen.
When we applied Christ’s method of incarnation we saw amazing results when towards the end of our sojourn in the rural areas, a Roman Catholic parish invited us to preach to them one Sunday. What an opportunity it was to present the true Gospel. And, the result was another amazement: many of the youths in that Church became members of our Bible study group. We are still so amazed.
Relationship Before Ministry
The lesson we get from Philippians 2 is not easy to practice. As people who purport to have the truth in all its packages it is not easy not to prioritize its verbal dissemination. We are always more than ready to give it. It is easy. This is the way we know best. We are true sowers. We are never equipped to prepare the soil. This was our biggest lesson.
Preparing the soil is a matter we always wish to leave to the Holy Spirit. We never imagine that the Holy Spirit, just as He uses us in the actual presentation of Truth, He also uses us to prepare the hearts of the people. Establishing relationships with people has its costs also. Because it is painstaking to make relationships with people we always instinctively avoid it. We also fear that the people we intent to evangelize will discover that we are human if we become familiar to them.
Some people are outright heretics and sinners that we are ashamed to be seen to be identifying with them. We wish to present ourselves as superhuman. We think that familiarity breads contempt. Yet, it was never like that from the beginning. Our ministry actually, if it is to be successful, must always be based on familiarity and strong relationships between the preacher and his target group. If familiarity in breeds contempt in ministry then Jesus would never have labored to befriend the twelve so closely. We learnt this lesson so well.
It’s not easy to build relationships. It takes time. Rural people in Zimbabwe have been taken for a ride by politicians many times. Also, they have been lied to by some false money-preachers many years ago. Furthermore, their experience at the hands of guerillas during the civil war makes them trust no one. This was our lesson.
We had been to the rural areas several times before. This last time when we went out there with the desire for better results we tried to apply all the theories of ministry available to us but were always frustrated. We then tried to simply visit them in their homes; fields, gardens and sometimes just helping them harvest their meager crops or water their gardens. We had to learn some chores that we never imagined to exist.
It took us two full months to come to a point where we could open the Bible to them. It was not easy. But, when we finally suggested that we do Bible study with them the turn out amazed us. And, the zeal with which they wanted to get involved was our greatest encouragement.
The Incarnation of Christ, Our Example
In this writing we wish to share with our readers the lessons we learned and how we came to view the mystery of the incarnation in a completely different way. It is now our firm contention that authentic ministry, either to the gay or straight, to the heretic or deceived, to the poor or rich, must always conform to the mystery of the incarnation.
We are always invited to abandon our position of loftiness, either in purity of doctrine or in purity of life and like our Lord Jesus to go down to the level of those whose lives we wish to touch with the Gospel of Life. We are called upon to be the true salt of the world. (Matt. 5:13) It is not easy to operate like salt. As Christ did not feel any shame in consorting with criminals and contemptible people, so also should his followers enter the putrefying world with the message of redemption and salvation