Church responds to Zimbabwe hunger crisis
7/14/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn
By Linda GreenUnited Methodist leaders are calling on the church to provide immediate food relief to avert starvation in Zimbabwe.
Half of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are believed to need food aid, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
food shortage in the Southern African country has been attributed to
the controversial land reform program of the ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe
African National Union - Patriotic Front) party. However, the Rev.
Gladman N. Makwenya, a United Methodist Missioner of Hope, says the
situation is worsened by runaway inflation, pegged by the government at
268 percent, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, unemployment, a breakdown in the
rule of law and other factors. Women, children and youth, and the
elderly are the hardest hit.
The women and young people are
falling prey to sexual abuse and domestic violence, and some children
are leaving school due to increasing fees, he said. The elderly and
terminally ill cannot obtain medical services, and the public health
delivery system is in trouble.
The socioeconomic and political
challenges present opportunities for the church to intensify its
ministries with women, youth and children, Makwenya said. "This
challenges the church to intensify creative ministries and programs to
respond and take services to beneficiaries in their conditions of
In June, the opposition movement implemented a five-day
mass work stoppage that closed businesses, Makwenya said. The movement
opposes the government of President Robert Mugabe.
The social and
political conditions are desperate, he said in an e-mail message. The
"high density" areas inhabited by the poor and elderly are experiencing a
high rate of beatings and other violent assaults, robberies and
break-ins. "We are living in a tension-filled atmosphere," Makwenya
said. "No one knows how long or how soon the pressure could become even
Though whites had owned a disproportionate
share of Zimbabwe's farmland, most of the citizens criticize the process
by which Mugabe's government has allowed war veterans and others to
seize productive white-owned commercial farms in the last three years.
Most of the farms have been lying idle and underutilized, Makwenya said.
The new farmers lack skills and equipment, resulting in reduced yields,
according to reports.
Zimbabwe has no food, petrol or cash in
the banks, Bishop F. Herbert Skeete told United Methodist News Service
in an e-mail. Skeete is serving as interim leader of the Zimbabwe church
while Bishop Christopher Jokomo recovers from the effects of a stroke.
United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe has responded on the conference
level with several distributions of maize to churches and communities as
well as to boarding schools, orphanages and hospitals. The food was
bought with grants from the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Services International made a grant of $50,000 to continue the church's
response to the crisis. UMCOR is helping the famine response with
donations to the church through Skeete and an ecumenical group called
Christian Care, which developed a food distribution process through
UMCOR's Africa Famine Advance was
established last summer, following predictions of famine in Southern
Africa, according to the Rev. Kristin Sachen, staff executive. The
agency has provided funds to Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and
Namibia, she said.
The relief agency will focus on supporting
the local, grass-roots distribution of food, assisting HIV/AIDS-affected
families and orphans, maintaining educational programs and improving
agricultural development to stabilize communities for the long term.
Rev. Josphat Banda, Masvingo District superintendent, said villagers in
Chivi, Triangle, Zaka and Gaza, among others, harvested insufficient
food to meet their requirements.
"The situation is critical, and
urgent supplies are needed to avert starvation," Banda said. She
commended Skeete for facilitating the purchase of maize for distribution
in the districts. Beneficiaries in some areas have received their
rations, but fuel shortages are prohibiting food distribution.
Villagers near Game Parks are surviving on poached game, while others are collecting wild fruits and edible worms, Banda says.
Chief Chikwanda of the Zvishumba area approached the Masvingo District
office, appealing for the church to start Orphan Care Ministries for 325
The Rev. Anne-Grace Chingonzo, responsible for
both urban and rural circuits of the Harare East District, described the
food situation as very critical for her area.
Urbanites do not
receive government rations, and they cannot even afford black-market
food, she said. The Hwedza and Svosve rural areas are also affected.
Any government assistance would help new farmers grow food in the
2003-2004 season, she noted.
"Through it all, the poor are
creatively finding ways to survive and, even more surprisingly,
willingly sharing their meager and very limited resources," Makwenya
The annual conference, with the assistance of the United
Methodist Board of Global Ministries, has also hired an HIV/AIDS
coordinator to supervise and pull together the various local United
Methodist programs. The coordinator also works with ecumenical programs
for care and for prevention education.
"The HIV/AIDS pandemic has
left in its wake an increasing number of orphaned children," Makwenya
said. "These are brought to our churches daily for ease and supervision.
Local churches are responding with community care programs that
schedule adults to look after orphans in their parents' homes in lieu of
institutional orphanages, which are now being stretched beyond
Despite the situation, people - especially the young -
crowd worship services each Sunday. "The spirit in our church
fellowship continues to be a hopeful trust in God and a confident faith
in God's promises," Makwenya said. "'La,' I am with you always.' Truly,
in the midst of want and suffering, there are many blessings of care,
compassion and overwhelming generosity."
Zimbabwe church leaders
ask that United Methodists keep the people in prayer and continue to
support the church, he said. "Our people are sincerely grateful for the
prayers and generous support of the people called United Methodist in
the United States and other lands."
Donations can be designated
for the Africa Famine, Advance #101250-4, and dropped in church offering
plates or sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY
10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.
# # #
*Green is United Methodist News Service's Nashville, Tenn., news director.
Back : News Archives 2003 Main
“We believe in God and in each other.”The people of The United Methodist Church
Still Have Questions?
If you have any questions Ask
Purchase a $20 buzzkill t-shirt and help save a life
Buy a t-shirt