June 1, 2015

Thousands Baptized in Major Outreach Effort in Zimbabwe

, news editor, Adventist Review

Thousands of people were baptized across Zimbabwe on Sabbath as one of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s biggest initiatives to share Jesus resulted in the unified efforts of many groups, including ASI, Light Bearers, and scores of church members who gave Bible studies.

Baptismal numbers were trickling into the Zimbabwe Union Conference’s headquarters on Sunday, but preliminary estimates indicated that church leaders had met their goal of baptizing 30,000 people as a result of a two-week evangelistic meeting that ended Sabbath, May 30.

Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson, speaking in a large field in Chitungwiza, one of 914 sites that conducted meetings, declared that the church members who went door to door offering Bible studies were the real heroes.

“What you have done in Chitungwiza is unbelievable,” Wilson told a group of more than 1,000 people standing before him in the field during church services on Sabbath.

“You have done it through the power of the Holy Spirit,” Wilson said as about 35,000 worshipers listened, many sitting under umbrellas or the shade of trees as they sought refuge from the scorching morning sun. “Thank you for what you have done. Thank you for being used by heaven. I have preached the Word, but what you have done is more important.”

Pathfinders sitting in the shade as they listen to Wilson speak to 20,000 people in Gweru. (Andrew McChesney / AR)

More than 1,000 church members descended on Chitungwiza, a city near Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, from around the country about a month ago to go door to door offering Voice of Prophecy Bible lessons. About 9,000 lessons were circulated in Chitungwiza, and 5,043 people graduated from the course, church leaders said.

It was not immediately clear how many of those graduates have been baptized. But about three-fourths of the 1,085 people baptized in Chitungwiza as of Thursday, May 28, had completed the program, said a representative of Light Bearers, a U.S.-based supporting Adventist ministry that shipped the lessons to Zimbabwe.

The Voice of Prophecy work carried out in Chitungwiza was replicated in many other towns and cities. In addition, church members led some 5,000 small-group Bible studies in the months ahead of the two-week evangelistic series, known as the “reaping time” when the Bible students are invited to commit their lives to Jesus.

The two-week evangelistic series has captured national attention in Zimbabwe, in part because of related events that have grabbed the headlines. Most significantly, an Adventist-organized free clinic ended up providing basic healthcare to 34,100 patients at a Chitungwiza shopping center during the two weeks that Wilson spoke in a nearby field. Patients came from hundreds of miles away, and some arrived in wheelbarrows and trolleys, desperate to be made well, organizers said. A number of patients were among the 20,000 people who attended Wilson’s nightly meetings.

Read “Free Clinic 'Sends Message to World' After Treating 34,000 in Zimbabwe”

The free clinic was among several examples of how the Adventist Church sought to follow Jesus’ lead and care for people’s physical and spiritual needs during the evangelistic meetings. Last Thursday, a groundbreaking ceremony for an Adventist school was held in a district of Chitungwiza that lacks any schools. Grateful local government officials and community leaders attended the ceremony for the $100,000 school, financed by the church’s Iowa-Missouri Conference.

People touring the ASI-refurbished ward of the Harare Central Hospital. (Andrew McChesney / AR)

On Friday, the Adventist Church handed over to the state the refurbished B6 ward of the Harare Central Hospital. Members of ASI, the umbrella organization for hundreds of Adventist supporting ministries in North America and around the world, funded the badly needed renovation to the men’s ward, working nearly around the clock for more than a month to lay a new floor, paint walls, repair bathrooms, install new beds, and hang rows of blue curtains emblazoned with “ASI” between the beds.

The ward had not been refurbished since the hospital opened in 1958, and a hospital worker told the Adventist Review that the renovation made it nicer than many of the other wards. She was particularly impressed with the thick, glossy curtains, which she said would not fade like the curtains in the other wards when she washed them.

Hospital leaders thanked ASI and noted that Adventist volunteers, including from Dorcas, the community help organization operated by hundreds of Adventist congregations, have assisted the hospital for some time.

Local church leaders promised that the church would continue to help, and a choir from the hospital’s nursing school performed a song whose chorus included the line, “SDA, don’t break your promise.”

“By God’s grace, we won’t break our promise,“ Wilson said at the handover ceremony.

Wilson and other church leaders flying between church services on Sabbath. (Andrew McChesney / AR)

The two-week evangelistic meetings changed more than the lives of people in Zimbabwe. A record 30 young adults from the church’s Arkansas-Louisiana Conference were among the 77 non-Zimbabwean speakers who presented ShareHim sermon series. 

ShareHim is an evangelism-training supporting ministry that operates in each of the world church’s 13 divisions and trains thousands of persons annually to conduct small-scale evangelistic meetings.

Wilson wrapped up the evangelistic series with a lightning trip between three cities, preaching to a crowd of about 35,000 people in Chitungwiza before hopping on a plane to speak to 20,000 in Gweru and 50,000 in Bulawayo. He spoke about why he is an Adventist, saying he wanted to belong to a church that fully followed the Bible. He also urged listeners to follow a healthy lifestyle and avoid stimulants such as coffee and caffeinated soft drinks.

People expressed delight that the church president had visited their city, and many recorded his remarks on their iPhones, iPads, or other electronic devices.

Zimbabwe’s vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko, attended the sermon in a Bulawayo stadium and met with Wilson privately. Wilson told Mphoko, a Seventh-day Adventist, about the free clinic and the church’s other recent evangelistic activities in Zimbabwe.

While the evangelistic initiative represents a milestone in many ways, it was just the beginning for the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division, which includes Zimbabwe, said division president Paul Ratsara.

“This is not the end. This needs to be the beginning of the big effort,” Ratsara said.

“Evangelism is not an event. It is a process and a way of life,” he added. “Once you are an Adventist, you are not only a disciple, you are a disciple-maker.”