Transportation is a challenge for pastors serving rural churches in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area, but lay leaders have spearheaded a fund to buy cars for the pastors.
The Rural Pastors Transport Initiative has, to date, purchased 12 vehicles – seven in Zimbabwe East Conference and five in Zimbabwe West Conference. The cars cost $8,000 U.S. each.
“We had seen how our rural pastors were suffering as they tried to manage several local churches which were many kilometers apart without transport,” said Simon Mafunda, Zimbabwe East Conference lay leader. He said the pastors walked or used unreliable public transport such as buses.
“In one instance,” Mafunda said, “a pastor failed to attend a funeral in Mutasa Nyanga district as she had traveled a very long distance to serve Holy Communion to the sick member.” The member died soon after the pastor returned to the parsonage which was several kilometers away in a mountainous area.
Tsitsi Kagurabadza, former Zimbabwe East lay leader, came up with the idea for the fund and the other lay leaders supported it.
“We began the fund as a permanent program for lay leaders to contribute $20 annually for rural churches which would otherwise not be able to raise the money to buy a car,” said Kagurabadza.
“At some stage,” she added, “we did not seem to be making much progress, but I am happy with the achievements to date. We give God all the glory.”
The fund was extended to include section leaders who are supposed to contribute $5 annually and all church members who support the fund with $1 each.
Mafunda said, initially, progress was slow. “As a voluntary program,” he recalled, “it was not easy to push people to pay. … In 2009, we could not raise enough money to buy a vehicle until the following year when we bought the first car which went to Mutasa Nyanga District.”
In 2014, the conference accepted a recommendation to allow a second collection on Laity Sunday to help fund the program. Another recommendation in 2016 resulted in the participation of all professing members through contributions of $1 per year.
Zimbabwean United Methodists working and living outside the country also joined the fundraising drive “and have fully supported our program,” Mafunda said.
“The decision to empower the rural church pastors was spurred by the desire to enhance their work,” he continued. “There is just too much to be done, too long distances to be traveled and vast areas to be covered.”
The Rev. Annascaria Munyoro benefited from the vehicle fund. Her appointment at the time, Rowa United Methodist Church in Mutare District, received a Honda CRV at the 2016 annual conference. She had been using her personal car for three years.
“Rowa charge was made up of three local churches and one preaching point.” Munyora walked eight miles to Murare and almost nine miles to St. Thomas and travel by public transportation to Mandindi three miles away and the only local church accessible by bus.
In Zimbabwe West Conference, each member is expected to contribute a minimum of $2 a year, said associate lay leader Margaret Makadzange. At first, members were skeptical about the initiative, said conference lay leader Shadreck Mataruka.
“When we started the program, people were not sure how far it would go,” he remembered, “but as we started buying the cars, the congregants realized failure was not an option, and more people joined.
“The program is proving to be a great evangelism tool,” he added. “We would like to buy a car for each district every year so that every rural pastor can have a car at their disposal,” he said.
Some members also organized fundraising groups to assist rural pastors. Last year, well-wishers purchased a car worth more than $4,200 U.S. for Nenguwo United Methodist Church in Chitungwiza Marondera District, served by lay pastor Patrick Munodawafa.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.