The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe is taking its prison ministries to the next level.
The Zimbabwe Episcopal Area has planted a church near the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, which houses men and women, and Zimbabwe Republic Police Support Unit to evangelize to inmates, officers and their families.
This is the first church of its kind in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.
Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa gave the church circuit status in 2019 and appointed a pastor in charge, Edith Madora, to strengthen outreach at the prison.
“The reason for planting the church is to bandage the wounds of inmates, officers, families and communities at large,” he said.
The church started inside a school at the Zimbabwe Republic Police Support Unit and was called Maximum Prison Local Church. As membership grew, the church moved outside the prison campus to a temporary sanctuary in the Manresa suburb.
The bishop suggested renaming the church Maximum Salvation United Methodist Church. “I did not see the godliness in the (old) name. … The coming in of the church is to bring salvation,” he said.
The Rev. Oscar Nyasha Mukahanana, Harare East District superintendent, said the goal of planting the church is to support and counsel prison officers and inmates.
“Prison officers suffer psychologically because some inmates are very dangerous,” he said. “In addition, the economic doldrums faced by Zimbabwe have their effects. There are shortages of food, non-food items and failure to access good medication. This affects every person with a human heart; this includes officers.”
Mukahanana said the officers and their families often are confined within the prison campus.
“They need to interact with the world outside the camp environment. … The children and youth participate in children’s ministries and young adult church activities so that they become part of the Christian society.”
Assigning a pastor in charge has made outreach with the prison easier, Mukahanana said.
“Maximum Salvation Church will be the link between the prison and the church. They will handle all the donations and hand over to the inmates because of the presence of the pastor.”
Madora visits the prison regularly to lead church services and offer counseling.
Tsitsi Winini, 22, a youth member from the Harare Central District, was among a group of youths who visited the women’s prison on Jan. 18. The United Methodist Youth Fellowship donated sanitary pads and evangelized to the women.
“My heart was broken. I cried uncontrollably, seeing women younger than me, some pregnant and breastfeeding — one from South Africa had twins — walking barefooted. (The women) were bathing without soap and (had) no one visiting them.
“But (I am) hopeful that at the end of the tunnel, there is light,” said Winini, who serves as community service vice chairperson for the youth group. “As Christians we were challenged. We need to pray for them and advocate for justice to prevail. To provide them with basic needs for a decent life and visit them often.”
Prison ministries continue to be a focus throughout the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.
Cranborne United Methodist Church in the Harare East District has been working with inmates for the past four years, tending to their physical and spiritual needs.
The outreach started after a church member was incarcerated at Chikurubi Female Prison.
The Rev. Gift Kudakwashe Machinga, pastor in charge at Cranborne, said the church holds an annual event to allow prisoners — non-violent offenders or those who are nearing the end of their sentences — to lead worship and sing in the choir during service.
“The congregants have completely changed their perception of prisoners after listening to their testimonies,” Machinga said. “The stigma from the church on prisoners has been removed.”
He said the team’s focus now is to identify prisoners’ families and their needs and find the best ways to assist. “We are to offer counseling services and assist in preparing prisoners for integration into the community after release from prison.”
Gloria Tamakikwa, second officer in charge at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and chairperson of the projects committee at Maximum Salvation, said she is grateful that The United Methodist Church has planted a church to tend to the spiritual sustenance of inmates and workers.
“Chikurubi Maximum prison is a jail of murderers, rapists, jail breakers and notorious armed robbers ... These would send shivers down the spine of many Zimbabwean citizens, but the prison officers have to find ways and means to rehabilitate them,” she said.
The officers suffer a lot of abuse and stress from inmates, Tamakikwa said, and they need to hear about the goodness of Christ. The male and female prisons and police unit provide fertile ground to win souls, she said, noting that the three institutions have a total population of around 8,000.
“(It’s an) opportunity for the church to evangelize to inmates any time. … The pastor can also organize a revival and inmates will provide music (and) can also do community service at the church.”
Tamakikwa said when the church was without a pastor in charge, members missed out on activities and would receive Holy Communion only about four times a year.
Madora said she is optimistic that her appointment will transform the church and those who attend. She also hopes to improve the infrastructure.
“My wish is to construct a parsonage and the sanctuary, but the economic doldrums are derailing my plans,” she said. “So far, we have a temporary sanctuary structure for the 300 members and are using a rented house for my accommodation.”
Courage Magwegwe, youth president for Maximum Salvation, is excited about the new church and its circuit status.
“We are determined to work for the Lord. We have the faith that one day we will have the state-of-the-art sanctuary and parsonage. Vibrant as we are, we are determined to achieve our best and bring more souls to Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Chingwe is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.