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The Estranged Church: National Missionaries Train Prosperity Gospel Pastors in Zimbabwe

By Chelsea Rollman, Jun 6, 2023

A middle-aged man wearing a white short-sleeve button up knelt before the clear container in the pastor’s outstretched hands and began drinking. MTW missionary Jorum Mugari watched the man’s eyes double in size as he swallowed the foggy liquid.

The man was drinking some sort of cleaning solution. The rest of the congregation stood in a line behind him waiting their turn. Their pastor has just promised healing to anyone who drank the detergent.

Jorum’s blood was about to spew from his veins. He had recently returned to Zimbabwe from the West with a fresh seminary degree and an eagerness to jump into the church ministry in Bulwayo. But he had come home to a church that he did not recognize—firmly encased in the message of the prosperity gospel.

To America, Northern Ireland, and Back

In 2007, Jorum, Evah, and their two kids moved from Zimbabwe to Boston, Massachusetts, so that Jorum could attend Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. They had planned to return to Zimbabwe after Jorum graduated with his master’s in divinity to do pastoral ministry in the second largest city in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. However, Jorum’s mentor encouraged him to pursue his Ph.D. at Union College in Northern Ireland.

The detour to Belfast provided an opportunity for Evah, who arguably outmatched Jorum in her desire to do something for God’s kingdom, to continue her education. During their time in Northern Ireland, Evah received a B.A. in divinity from Queen’s University in Belfast, and has since added an M.A. in developmental studies from the University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe, and a certificate in biblical counseling.

Jorum and Evah returned to Zimbabwe in 2016 ready to apply the things they had learned and studied at seminary to their work with a local Presbyterian church in Zimbabwe. They had heard Zimbabwe was in the middle of a church planting boom and were excited to participate in the ministry of the larger Church.

Evah Mugari with Children

A Twisted Gospel and a Surprising Opportunity

It didn’t take long for their excitement to be replaced by horror. Instead of formally educated church planters preaching the gospel of grace, they came home to charismatic pastors, spreading the prosperity gospel. These church leaders often went by titles such as “apostle, prophet, the general, or man of god” and invented all kinds of gimmicks to attract and manipulate their congregants. Besides drinking cleaning products, church members were eating grass in the fields outside their church building because their pastor said it would get them as close to the Garden of Eden as possible. Other “men of God” sold people “anointed” cucumbers or maize for five times the normal price, promising an extra blessing from God to hopeful buyers.

These extreme charismatic movement groups were drowning the voice of the theologically sound and Reformed churches. Even the grounded charismatic churches cringed at the tricks and worship styles of the prosperity gospel leaders.

Jorum felt like he had just bought a mansion only to find out termites had eaten the entire foundation. He had invested so much in a rotted structure. It was only a matter of time before the entire thing collapsed.

His first reaction was to scream.

With the help of his presbytery elders, Jorum started hosting a Church Based Discipleship class on Saturday mornings at City Presbyterian Church located in the middle of town. He invited all church leaders in the city to attend.

At first, Jorum’s anger and confusion as to how the church had become estranged from the Bible and the cross of Christ seeped into his teaching. It was common for him to begin yelling during his lectures.

“I wanted to insult them as much as possible so that when they no longer came to my classes then I could say to my family, ‘Let’s go back to the West. That’s where we came from. I can’t minister to these people anymore so let’s go back to America,’” said Jorum.

Despite his frustration, Jorum began to notice that whenever he stopped to take a breath, he would look up and see a group of smiling faces. “The more I shouted, the more they started to engage with me and talk to me,” he said.

Jorum and the church leaders began to build their trust in one another. Their time together on Saturday mornings became richer and more productive. Eventually, the church leaders helped Jorum understand their predicament.

Zimbabwe has one of the worst economies in the world with a massive unemployment rate and an astronomical inflation rate that often reaches 700%. One U.S. dollar is equivalent to 1,000 Zim dollars. These pastors, many of whom had no theological training, told Jorum that they were not selling “anointed” bricks or making people drink things like gasoline because they wanted to. They didn’t know how else to inspire and minister to the needs of the people.

Jorum realized that God wasn’t calling him to move. It seemed the Lord wanted the Mugaris to stay put and help rebuild the church’s foundation.

Jorum continued the Saturday morning classes, using a curriculum from Thirdmill to teach church leaders biblical languages, and Reformed and covenantal theology. A group of 105 men came every Saturday to learn from God’s Word and from Jorum. His goal was no longer to offend them but to equip them for faithful pulpit ministry.

Eventually, these lectures developed into a program in which the participants could earn a theological certificate. This first class, men who served in several denominations and in a variety of roles, graduated a few years ago. The former president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary Dr. Dennis Hollinger and his wife, Dr. Mary Hollinger, attended the graduation ceremony.

A Women’s Ministry Has an Easy Take Off

While Jorum was busy teaching pastors, Evah started getting involved in training their wives and other women church leaders.

According to the Mugaris, any bishop, pastor, or elder’s wife in Zimbabwe is expected to be just as involved in the ministry of the church as her husband. However, no one offered any type of training or equipping for women.

Shortly after she and Jorum arrived back in Zimbabwe, a missionary named Julie Caddick asked Evah to join a program she ran to teach women at the Theological College in Zimbabwe. This program is part of the college’s efforts to empower pastors’ wives for ministry alongside their husbands. Some of the courses offered for women include Spiritual Formation, Critical Thinking, Old Testament and New Testament Survey, Christian Counseling, and Personal Development and Health. Like the men in Jorum’s class, the women who attended this program were from different denominations and walks of life. They came because they were married to a church officer.

“For some reason there was an assumption that once you are married to a pastor you know how to do ministry,” said Evah. “But these women had no idea how to lead a Bible study. No idea how to disciple other women. They came so that we can teach them skills and empower them for ministry.”

In 2020, the local presbytery provided Evah another opportunity to disciple and equip women. They asked Evah to coordinate the Women’s Ministry Leaders Committee. The invitation to coordinate a women’s ministry was a milestone in the life of the presbytery.

Two years later, the presbytery leaders invited Connie Miller, who serves with the PCA’s Christian Discipleship Ministries as a women’s ministry international trainer, to host a conference in Zimbabwe and kickstart a women’s ministry.

Zimbabwe Women's ministry

One hundred and twenty women from seven churches in the presbytery attended the conference. Evah said they had to turn women away because they didn’t have enough resources or space. There was so much interest that the presbytery is planning on hosting another conference in 2024 and hopes to include the women who were not able to attend. The Women’s Ministry Leaders Committee continues to meet monthly for training, discipleship, and cultivating friendships.

The popularity of the conference indicated the need for women’s discipleship. Because of the high unemployment rate, it is common for Zimbabwean men to go find work in one of the neighboring countries and leave the women and children at home. Women make up the majority of church members and they are hungry to learn God’s Word and serve His Church. Grounding them in the truth is vital for producing a healthy church.

The Future of Christianity and the Church in Africa

The church planting movement that Jorum and Evah witnessed in Zimbabwe reflects a phenomenon happening across the continent. The Christian Church in Africa has grown so much that it now stands at the precipice of becoming the world’s epicenter of Christianity.

“Africa is the youngest continent in the whole world. We have a young generation. Not only a young generation but we have a young church in Africa which could carry the mission of the church in the next future that is coming,” said Jorum. “But if that young church is not learning right, if that young church is not teaching right, then what kind of church are we going to be?”

The message of the prosperity gospel has dominated the history of the church throughout most of Africa. Many of the men and women who plant churches have never stepped foot into a theological school. Therefore, theological education remains one of the biggest needs in Zimbabwe and among the larger African Church.

As they and MTW’s other missionaries and national partners across the continent work hard to teach new and old church leaders the truth of Scripture, the Mugaris pray that more denominations would take ownership in training their leaders. They hope to produce more men and women with sound theology and ministry skills so that they can take the gospel to their communities, countries, and the rest of the world.

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