The following is a letter written by a pastor in Harare. He has asked to remain unidentified for security reasons.
Zimbabwe, June 2008: Habakkuk asked God two questions at the beginning of his short oracle and in those two questions concealed two accusations. "Lord, how long will I call and You will not hear? How long will I cry and You will not save?" Implicit in the questions is Habakkuk's troubled conclusions: God does not hear and God does not act.
I was led, I believe by the Lord, to begin a few weeks ago a short series on Sunday mornings on the prophecy of Habakkuk. As I sit here in my office writing this short update, I have a sense that we as a church have reached the point that Habakkuk reached. God has brought us to a point in our experience where we ask Him, "Lord, do You hear? Lord, why are You doing nothing?"
God was gracious then. He allowed Habakkuk to pray in this way and brought him through troubled questions to faith, the faith that made him stand with hind's feet on high places. And we are convinced that God is gracious yet. He has heard our confused and pained cries, our veiled, humble yet honest questions about His care and power, and He will yet bring us to a point of faith, and we too will stand on high places. But between the questions of chapter 1:2 to the faith of 3:19 is a hard journey.
We need, please, for you to pray for us and for our land.
There is a façade of normalcy in our nation: In the hall above me, bouncy Christian music blares and I hear the sound of dancing feet as a ladies aerobic outreach class meets. Outside my office, the janitorial assistant mops the hall floor, friends have popped in on their way to tend a vegetable garden they have started as a ministry, this afternoon we will go as a family to watch the first team rugby match at school. People walk in the street, young people hang out, bills are paid, people laugh and chat, and churches continue to meet.
But with our president Mr. Mugabe's win as a result of his recent tactics, then there is no arresting of the increasingly rapid slide into economic implosion and total societal disintegration. It seems unlikely that the President will relinquish power in any scenario, the army and air force and police are puppets, or rather fellow dominoes who realize that when one domino falls over, the whole lot will collapse.
After the first election, we foolishly believed that we were getting a new government. He had lost, it was clear, it had to be accepted!
Oh no it did not! We have seen what can only be described as diabolical cleverness and demonic wickedness in the past months. Long delays in announcements, frustrating the work of the electoral commission, miring the issue in court proceedings-and then the violence. Slowly but steadily, well-planned and orchestrated, the violence has grown. In past elections votes could be bought, bought with food, bought with promises, bought with land. Now the food has run out, promises are seen to be hollow, land is taken and misused. Now, votes must be coerced, and coerced through violence.
In the rural areas, whole villages are being intimidated, chiefs are being threatened with reprisals by the army should a village support the opposition, people are fleeing homes and living and sleeping in the bush for fear of beatings, rape, pillaging, and the burning of their homes by gangs of youths armed and mandated by the government. I do not wish to horrify you, but if you want, have a look at some of the human rights reports on Zimbabwe on the internet to see some of the horrific acts of violence. One of our elders said that having read these, he determined not to share them with his wife.
Even in the cities violence has come. Commuter omnibuses and minicabs used for public transport are being stopped and the drivers beaten. Passengers have to get out and chant ZANU-PF (ruling party) slogans or they are beaten. People are asked to repeat the party slogan and if they do not know it, they are beaten. A church member has just come in and shared how she travelled to a nearby town, and on the way was stopped at two police roadblocks and made to chant slogans. A young man in the church witnessed youths stopping a minibus, pulling out the driver and beating him on the street, without reprisal, without police interference.
We have more and more people coming to the church in need of help as a result of political violence and intimidation. Reports come to our ears daily of acts of torture and oppression, people are rounded up in areas and made to attend party rallies. Abductions happen regularly, murders occur and are unreported. The list could go on and on. And in the midst the government maintains the posture of pretended indignant integrity, hypocritically acting as though their hands are clean and the opposition had better stop the violence.
What does that mean on the ground in our country at the moment? It means that all of us are somewhat fearful. True, some areas are much safer than others, the more densely populated, less affluent areas are more prone to the violence, but even in these other, safer areas, we all drive with great care. I recently went to buy some maize meal for our staff and social concern ministry. I had heard about its availability-on the black market, of course, as there is none in the shops. On the way back I took a longer, more circuitous route just in case I was stopped.
Is carrying food a crime? No, but. Churches have been stopped in fact from distributing food, even an organization that feeds street children was told to stop operations. Our own food distribution we keep as low-key as possible. How tragic, to live in an environment when doing good has to be done in secret, lest it be seen and stopped.
Many of our church folk learn the slogans of the day for their own protection, minibuses plaster themselves with party posters as a form of protection. We cancelled our youth meetings last night and encouraged people to be off the streets during the evening. Late last night, taking our assistant caretaker to catch a ride home and having to drop him in town, I myself was feeling a bit nervous. Even writing these words, letting you know some of the things that are really happening, I have a concern about who might get hold of this and what might it be used for. Such fearfulness is wrong.
Friends, we need you to pray please. God must hear, and God must do something. We as a church will continue to do what we can do, we will seek to "trust in the Lord and do good" and we will hope to "dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture."
But frankly, it is hard. The economy spirals in freefall, my salary at the beginning of the month has devalued by about 40 times now. Food is short, unavailable on the shelves of stores or far too expensive if there at all for the average person. The black market thrives for all basic commodities, inflation figures make no sense, in the millions of percent now. Outstanding fees on our school bill are charged a penalty of 10 percent per day, people struggle to find basics, fees for our ministry at a college went from 3 billion one day, to 10 billion the next, to 25 billion the following week.
Food procurement is challenging and expensive, the government charges an iniquitous duty of 65 percent on food brought in, a duty charge that is levied on transport as well. Friends in South Africa are sending a food parcel for our pastors and church workers and the needy, but they will end up paying in excess of twice the real price because of government taxes and transport.
The wickedness is unbelievable, the lack of concern for struggling people is demonic, the deafness of those in power to the cries of the suffering and the commitment to self-advancement at the expense of others are hard to believe. How can any in power inflict such suffering upon their own people?
As a church, in our fear and uncertainty and concern, we seek to remain faithful, we look to God, but we are honestly asking the Habakkuk questions. We feel that we pray and God does not listen, we feel that we cry and God does not act. But our faith is trying to reach beyond our feelings, indeed, what is the alternative but despair?
So please, this week especially, pray that we will understand God's larger purpose and be willing to endure with an eye on that. Pray for many people struggling and wondering, in fear and uncertainty. Pray for young people caught up in the situation, for elderly who are beaten by youths contrary to the deepest mores of culture and African community and disgraced in public as evidence of society's fabric being ripped apart, for grandmothers and widows, for schoolchildren with studies disrupted and classes cancelled, for people in prison for political views, for pastors to be wise and full of integrity, for police and army members, that they will be convicted and refuse to act out the part they are called to play.
And pray for God's righteous judgment to come, for God to lift His powerful hand, for evil to be crushed, for those that dig a pit to fall into it, and those that spread a net to be caught up in it, that God will be seen to defend the defenseless and father the fatherless.
Please pray that God will hear, and that God will act. And that suffering will cease.
As African heads of state gathered in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last week, one elected leader wasn't there: Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition figure who won a general election in Zimbabwe last March. On the agenda was a resolution calling for a power-sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe on the heels of Robert Mugabe's contested June 27 victory.
But this is Africa, and "elected" heads of state here tend to turn themselves into lifetime dictators. Out of 53 countries in the world's second-largest and second-most-populous continent, 19 heads of state have managed to keep themselves in office for over a decade. Thirteen of those have been in office 20 years or more. And the winner's circle for longest-serving leaders includes Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi, who came to power in a 1969 coup; and Gabon's Omar Bongo, who became the world's youngest head of state at age 31 when Lyndon Johnson was president of the United States-and is now its longest serving.
In this crowded field of old men, Robert Mugabe's recent machinations to hold onto power look less conspicuous. Mugabe, 84, has three times arrested the popular Tsvangirai and last spring sealed election results for a month after it became clear the 56-year-old opposition leader had won at the polls.
In the unrest that followed, Mugabe, who won his first general election in 1980 as a Marxist war hero fighting the British in Rhodesia, was forced to call for the June runoff, but so much violence and rigging preceded the latest poll that Tsvangirai pulled out a week before and fled to the Dutch embassy in Harare, where he remained a refugee.
Tsvangirai couldn't be at the African Union meeting if he wanted to: Zimbabwean authorities haven't given back his passport since he turned it in earlier this year to have extra pages added. But a party strategist speaking on his behalf said the opposition in Zimbabwe hasn't given up: "If we get the African Union to condemn the June 27 election, that'd be good," he told The Times of London. "If we can get them to appoint a mediator, we'd be ecstatic. If we can get them to explicitly say they don't recognize the election, and Mugabe shouldn't even be there as Zimbabwe's leader, that'd be historic."
-with reporting by Kristin Chapman