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New Zimbabwean bishop offers vision for church

 


New Zimbabwean bishop offers vision for church

Sept. 21, 2004

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - Motivating and unifying the more than 100,000 United Methodists in Zimbabwe is a priority for the African country’s new bishop.

Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, 53, the new bishop of the Zimbabwe East and Zimbabwe West annual conferences, began his duties Sept. 1. Consultation, trust and consensus building are aspects of his leadership style, he said, and he wants to increase the visibility of the two conferences within the denomination and ecumenically.

Nhiwatiwa vowed to be a people-oriented leader and a minister of presence in connectional ministry.

"You just have to be where the people are," the bishop said, in a recent visit to United Methodist Communications in Nashville. "You don’t impose a ministry, you respond to a ministry. The church is there to respond."

Initiating something new is good, he said, but the new must be balanced with a response to people’s needs. He also plans to increase the visibility of young people - those under 30 - by encouraging their participation in ministry.

Nhiwatiwa, a former member of the faculty of theology at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, said he "envisions a church where people will own the church and the church will own the people."

The challenge for the African church is in finding holistic approaches to evangelism to assist in addressing the social and material needs people face, he offered. He said the United Methodist Church in America must be aware that the church in Zimbabwe is filled with opportunities for growth, which are tempered by a scarcity of resources.

The bishop cited several personal, educational and mission influences that helped him on his spiritual path. Those influences will enable him to respond to his constituencies as a leader who loves them and is mature, wise and patient, but most importantly as one who makes things happen, he said. "I want action."

Nhiwatiwa wants to continue the work of his predecessors, Bishop Christopher Jokomo and Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa, the first non-missionary bishop of the church assigned in Zimbabwe, to lead the United Methodist Church in his country "to greatness in the name of God." He wants to assist in bringing the gospel of love to people and provide them with hope regardless of the situations they face.

The bishop wants to engage the Zimbabwean government in helping people despite the perceived injustices and misunderstandings the people have about the government.

"What is the role of the church whenever there is some misunderstanding?" he asked. "The role of the church is to be the reconciler, and we have to engage the government, but not as antagonists." At some point, people involved in conflict throughout the world must come together and talk, he said.

"The government respects the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe," he said. "My election has been published in government papers. They are letting people know that this is a good thing that has happened. We are a church that is recognized and given its place."

Churches at ecumenical levels have already begun opening channels of communication between the divergent groups in Zimbabwe. The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe will support these endeavors and "the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe will back other churches and be in unity," Nhiwatiwa said.

Acknowledging that misunderstanding will occur, the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe as well as other faith traditions must create channels of communication with government leaders, he said.

The bishop said he felt overwhelmed but also recognized the feeling of grace and the greatness and mystery of God when he was elected bishop Aug. 20. "There is a sense of wonder because you begin to ask yourself who am I to be entrusted with this high task," he said. "It is a humbling effect."

Describing himself as "one whom God has claimed," Nhiwatiwa, although thankful to those who nominated him for the episcopal office, said what led him to this point may be found in the "mystery of God. God’s grace is so mysterious because you never have calculated answers as to why something has happened."

As one who had a primary role in educating upcoming preachers among his duties, the bishop sees Africa University continuing its mission of teaching ethics and Christian values to the students poised to become leaders in churches, business, government and in other academic settings.

Through the years, the university has made the church leaders in the central conferences - regional units of the church in Africa and elsewhere - more visible for African church members.

The continent is already "reaping the fruits" from the university, he said. "Africa University has charted the way ... has already put its mark in Africa and will continue to do so."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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