‘Charged and Transformed on the Anvil of Scripture …’
Towards a Christian ministry filled with present hope for the poorest in Zimbabwe
Collium Banda is a Zimbabwean Langham Scholar studying at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. Ian Shaw (Langham Scholars) recently visited him.
From the day of my conversion I have been wrestling with the relevance and sufficiency of Christianity in Africa … my African worldview on the anvil of Scripture to be charged and transformed by it has affirmed for me the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and his gospel to meet the challenges raised by my myth-oriented African context. The gospel of Christ is essentially about redemption from the wrath of God because of our sin. It has clear socioeconomic and political relevance.’
Collium’s studies were lit by the Zimbabwean theologian Ezra Chitando’s wry observation that ‘the seed of poverty thrives on the rich soils of Africa’. In Zimbabwe, Christianity’s recent fast growth has almost scandalously paralleled the spectacular rise in poverty. Abandoned office blocks and factories in Bulawayo, for example, are fast being occupied by an array of, largely evangelical, churches in thrall to the ‘health-and-wealth’, or ‘prosperity’, gospel.
‘The Bible is an empowering book, but we [in Africa] read it in a disempowering way – a way that disempowers, especially the poor’, says Collium. So he set out to study the writings of German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, who propounds that excessive focus on the future hope for heaven discourages the poor from dealing with their poverty.
Collium’s research to date has challenged his presuppositions:
I set out assuming that the prosperity movement has a low view of future Christian hope and teaches that material prosperity is attained by faith, with no emphasis on practical work. And that mainline missionary churches [in the traditional denominations] have been overwhelmingly interested in ‘spiritual’ salvation only.
‘But I found that prosperity churches, despite their shortcomings, often acknowledge the necessity of hard work for attaining material prosperity. And, in Zimbabwe, they have been in the frontline of rejecting poverty, with leading entrepreneurs emerging from them!
‘And mainline missionary churches have since their arrival in pre-colonial Zimbabwe demonstrated a practical interest in material issues. At various times they produced individuals who spoke out against socioeconomic policies that resulted in poverty. However, poverty-alleviation projects tend to continue with a low expectation of partnership and are often aimed at relief rather than transferring sustainable skills to the poor.’
Collium hopes to use his studies to formulate a framework for training pastors. Part of his quest is how to apply the resources Jesus has provided for and in his church to facilitate the poorest also earning a liveable income.
‘My immediate task on return to Zimbabwe is teaching at the Theological College of Zimbabwe and providing leadership in my home-church denomination. With the complex challenges faced by the church in Zimbabwe, and in Southern Africa, I hope also to join the wider discussion on tackling poverty, particularly as faced by Christians.’
Collium’s prayer request is for wisdom in juggling his present responsibilities. He is on track to submit his thesis by Easter 2015.
by Ian Shaw for Langham Scholars