Mennonites call for prayer and solidarity over Zimbabwe vote

By agency reporter
11 Jun 2008

Mennonite World Conference (MWC), which brings together 1.2 million Anabaptists within the Mennonite family, is sending two deacons to Zimbabwe and calling for two days of global prayer and fasting to coincide with the election run-off.

The presidential contest in the troubled country has caused international controversy and protest. The Mennonite-led days for reflection and solidarity will be on 26 and 27 June - the second of which is the day of the electoral contest.

Ferne Burkhardt writes: MWC has also appealed to the heads of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) to intervene in the troubled country.

“Zimbabwe is at a highly volatile time of crisis, and the threat of long-standing violence looms over the run-off and its aftermath,” says Mennonite World Conference president Nancy Heisey in requesting intercession from the global Anabaptist faith family.

“The Brethren in Christ Church in Zimbabwe (BICCZ), led by Bishop Danisa Ndlovu (who is also MWC president-elect) is urging sisters and brothers around the world to support them at this time by praying and fasting on the day before and the day of the run-off election, June 26-27,” said Heisey.

Dan Nighswander and Yvonne Snider-Nighswander, Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in South Africa, will go to Zimbabwe for two weeks, beginning around 18 June. MC Canada has released them to serve as deacons of the MWC community to provide encouragement to Bishop Ndlovu’s family, pastors and others under stress. They will also watch for and report additional ways for the global Anabaptist family to stand in communion with Zimbabwe’s churches.

“We consider this invitation a sacred call and we cannot refuse it,” said Dan. “In our previous visits we have seen their [BICCZ] great courage and faith, their hope and the difficulty of their circumstances.... By representing the concern and prayerful support of the global communion of Anabaptist churches, we trust we can make a difference.”

The Nighswanders expect to accompany the Ndlovus as they go about their business and will help however they can in response to advice from the Ndlovus and other church leaders.

“Our hope is that by walking alongside, the persons to whom we relate will experience the MWC practice of demonstrating solidarity,” said Yvonne.

“This visit is not about programs or activities but about relationships,” explained Dan. He acknowledged that there are some risks, as there are everywhere, but those risks are “less compelling than the urgency of the call for support from our sisters and brothers who have become our friends.”

He said they were motivated by Galatians 6:2, 10: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.… So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

The Nighswanders were part of an MWC Koinonia (deacon) delegation to Zimbabwe last August and attended the global assembly in Bulawayo in 2003.

Their Mennonite Mission Network colleague in South Africa, Phil Lindell Detweiler, offered his blessing for their short-term mission.

“Zimbabwe is constantly on our hearts and in our prayers as the unrest and violence in our own country is so closely tied to the situation there,” said Detweiler. “Our prayer is that the Lord will make a way for transition, healing and restoration that brings hope to the country instead of more pain.”

A 3 June 2008 letter sent to H.E. Levy P. Mwanawasa, Chair of the SADC, H.E Jakaya Kikwete, Chair of the AU and to H.E. Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General cites the distress and concern of international churches over the deepening crisis and rising violence in Zimbabwe.

It calls for an international peace force to be present during the June 27 run-off, for international (SADC, AU, UN) election observers with freedom to circulate, that persons displaced due to fear and violence be protected and brought back to vote, and that election results be quickly and independently confirmed.

The March 29 election results, withheld for more than one month, were never independently verified. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared that incumbent President Robert Mugabe received 43.2 % of votes cast and his challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC candidate, 47.9 percent, short of the 50% plus one vote required to win. The MDC has claimed that the run-off is inappropriate, since according to their count, Tsvangirai won a majority of 50.3%.

The letter also calls for the ruling and opposition parties, representatives of the military, security forces, churches and civil society to come to a negotiating table to map out future directions for the country. Signed by Larry Miller, MWC general secretary, it was co-signed by the general secretaries of the Reformed Ecumenical Council and the World Evangelical Alliance. The complete text of the letter is posted on the MWC web site (www.mwc-cmm.org)

"MWC's initiatives serve to let our sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe know they are not forgotten, and remind us that when the church suffers anywhere, we all suffer," said Heisey.

Officials from BIC North American headquarters reported that Bishop Ndlovu will attend the Brethren in Christ General Conference in Toronto, June 27-30. He is scheduled to preach at the service on Sunday, June 29, which will be dedicated to the Zimbabwe BIC Church. The service will include a time of focused prayer for Zimbabwean brothers and sisters and a special offering for the Zimbabwe BIC Church.

Mennonite Central Committee spokesman Bruce Campbell-Janz said that MCC will continue to provide some funds for Habbukuk Trust, a Christian non-government agency in Zimbabwe that trains and directs election monitors, and does civic education on elections. MCC has suspended a school feeding program around Bulawayo, conducted in partnership with the BICCZ, since Mugabe has ordered humanitarian groups to quit working in the country.

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