She is a mother of eight, a grandmother, human rights activist, teacher, preacher, pastor’s wife and the only surviving founding member of Rukwadzano RweWadzimai, the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area’s women’s organization.
Now, 104-year-old Martha Mudzengerere can add author to that list.
“Granny” Mudzengerere launched her debut book, “Old Time Religion,” at a colorful ceremony Nov. 10 attended by United Methodist church leaders, friends and relatives.
“When I was told of this launch,” Mudzengerere said, “I was gripped with fear and excitement. I started shivering and broke into tears. I never expected people to be interested in reading my book.”
She was motivated to write the book after realizing that there was very little United Methodist history documented in her church.
“A lot of information is getting lost or people are dying without documenting it. With my age now 104, I have witnessed a lot, which should not go to graves.”
The Rev. Alan Masimba Gurupira, administrative assistant to Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, who presided over the launch, said the book is an important tool for church members.
“Our faith is strengthened as we operate from our roots, enabling members to realize the future with hope,” he said.
Mudzengerere has been inspiring young women with her passion for activism. As a young woman in the colonial era, she fought for the rights of women and children.
“My achievement in education did not come on a silver platter. I fought my way out with the help of my mother, hence the need to do for others,” she said.
In 1968, she said, she wrote the Ministry of Education on behalf of the African Women Fellowship of the Rhodesia Conference of the Methodist Church, expressing great concern for the inadequate education opportunities for African children.
“Children who completed Grade 7 were unable to continue their education. These children were too young to seek employment and desperately needed to be in school … We wanted equal opportunity for Rhodesian Africans and Rhodesian Europeans,” she said.
She also fought against the rising prices of basic necessities and the division of power in the country.
“I wanted blacks to occupy senior positions in government because the country belonged to us, not colonial masters,” she said.
Mudzengerere was among the founding members of the popular women’s group Rukwadzano RweWadzimai, which was established in 1938 under the leadership of Mbuya Lydia Chimonyo. She also helped develop the group’s mountain prayer shrine and assisted in designing the organization’s uniform — the women are known for their signature blue dresses with red collars and white headdresses.
The women’s organization now has more than 20,000 members. Mudzengerere served as conference chairperson for 10 years and was an adviser after that. Her role with the organization allowed her to travel to different countries, said Evamae Katedza, Zimbabwe East Conference adviser.
“Granny Mudzengerere’s leadership in church has been superb. … She stood for the voiceless in the church and society,” said Katedza.
Zimbabwe East Conference Board of Discipleship chairperson, the Rev. Gift Kudakwashe Machinga, expressed joy on Mudzengerere’s achievement as author.
“There is high demand for teaching material in the church as the church encourages a culture of reading … Each circuit is encouraged to have a library for research by preachers, pastors and congregants, (so there is) the need to write books to motivate others.
“I believe this book will uplift the spirit of many. People should go back to the root and give themselves time to pray to God. Let us have at least 10 days of praying away from home and miracles will be realized,” she said.
Mudzengerere said God appeared to her when she was a girl and she committed her life to him.
“Now, I can stand firm telling you about the goodness of God. Since the work I wrote is of God, the proceeds will go to the church to beef up the project of writing books,” she said.
Viola Mutema, Rukwadzano RweWadzimai evangelism committee member, said she learned many lessons from Mudzengerere.
“Granny taught us to fast, have ample time with God and to have an early morning prayer (rumuko) around 4 a.m. Before praying, one has to make a true confession to allow the Holy Spirit to enter.”
She thanked Mudzengerere for sharing her wisdom with other women.
“We appreciate the legacy you left to the women’s organization. You were selfless, hence you wrote this book, which teaches, advises and guides us,” she said.
Muzengerere was overwhelmed by the support.
“Today is my great day,” she said, as she autographed the first copies of her book, which were sold to the highest bidders.
She plans to write another book on child abuse and how the church can help combat it.
Angel Zisengwe, her fourth-born child, said she was thankful to her parents for nurturing her and her siblings in a God-fearing family.
“We are proud of our mother, who opens her mouth with wisdom.”
Granddaughter Vienna Zisengwe — one of 67 grandchildren and great-grandchildren — said she is inspired by her grandmother’s legacy.
“We are so excited about this (book) initiative and we are inspired by her … at her age producing such a masterpiece. I am just overwhelmed by her work,” Zisengwe said.
Mudzengerere said people have been asking about the secret behind her longevity.
“The secret is surrendering my life to Christ. Whatever I do, I put God first,” Mudzengerere said. “As we were growing up my father was a cook and we got good guidance to good eating and exercising at an early age. … No smoking, no drinking of alcohol.
“Lastly, keeping your life busy, smiling and forgiving others, despite harsh hardships. (Do that and) you will live long.”
Chingwe is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.