It is 5.30am. The light is coming up in Glen Forest, a quiet but not-quite-forest campsite north of Harare. Twenty-seven pastors are asleep in their beds or crammed into Kombi’s* on their way here now. Our numbers have dropped. Some have encountered accidents, others are daunted by the petrol-queues plaguing the country (in some places four hours long). Some simply can’t afford to come now the bond dollar is inflating, and looks like hyper-inflating. Nevertheless, Dereck arrived at 8pm last night after leaving Shirungwi at 8am. Whisper rolled in at 7pm. He left Chipenge in the Eastern Highlands at 3am! One way or another, The Gospel Confederation of Zimbabwe Preacher’s Conference is set to start. Tawanda is up early. Michael is out on his morning run. I am blogging, otherwise I would certainly also be jogging.
We left the FOCUS National Student’s Conference (Zimbabwe’s NTE, if you like) two days ago. Four hundred and fifty students gathered at Gweru in the Midlands Province. To see government institutions pay for them to come and bus them on the university coin is an eye-opener for an Australian. Our government may fund a Student Union schnapps-binge at the snow, but I can’t see it paying for trips to the National Training Event for Christian students. Not everywhere is Babylon.
As usual the praise is raucous, the faith moving, the joy infectious and the needs obvious.
This is what Iearnt from the Zimbabwean students.
• Travel. Travel large distances to hear God’s word happily, it is not too much.
• Pray. There is a lot of praise that might be given to God and there are greater needs in our hearts and lives than we admit to ourselves.
• Be courteous. The politeness of Zimbabweans is a cultural marvel. I hope it is a fruit of the gospel, and not just culture. I’ll take it either way.
• Slow down. There is just a lot less to do in Zim, even though there is much manual labor, and a busy day (and Tawanda is a busy Zimbabwean) still has some time in it to sit and dwell. It feels….what is that feeling?….oh yes, human.
Not all learnings were as good. I also saw again the gospel needs of a place that looks gospel-rich, but is gospel-fuzzy.
• Students need bibles. (I suspect that 3 out of 5 had bibles)
• Students need bibles open in front of them.
• Much preaching does not demand either of the above.
• If you did have a bible and had it open, you still couldn’t keep pace with what the preacher is doing anyway.
What I am describing is a kind of dazzling preaching that TGCZ hopes to challenge with an alternative model: expositional preaching. Expositional preaching is what we are used to in Sydney. Of course, the way we preach in Sydney would never wash here. Too dull! But the method is good everywhere. We learnt it from others years ago, and the leaders of TGCZ believe in it for here too. It is not the only way to preach, but it reflects some great biblical virtues well. Exposition exposes what is in the text, other preaching risks imposing a preacher’s own scheme, or worse, their own ideas. Exposition unpacks passages according to their own shape and emphasis. It does not leap all over the Bible in a display of preacherly pyrotechnics. It does not read into a passage what I already want to find.
You either expose what is in the passage, or you impose your ideas on it.
Our preacher moved from a great explanation of the finished work of Jesus, to a display of his own prophetic power because (to quote) ‘I carry around in my body the death of Christ’. Therefore, he went on, ‘I have the power of Christ in me to speak to bodily sickness, suffering, poverty’ etc. A quick look at the actual passage (2 Corinthians 4) will reveal the verse means nothing of the kind. About 430 people did not know that and couldn’t find the passage anyway and possibly didn’t have a bible to check and said a hearty ‘Amen!’ anyway. It would have been nice if they realized they could bear suffering so others can grow in Jesus. Jesus’ death in the passage is not for self-sake, but for others sake. That, of course, is what the passage means.
This is how your support of Tawanda and Shupi Masango counts. They are not loud and flashy. They are quiet and persistent. They do not just want to see the name of Jesus broadcast, but proclaimed according to the words God used to give Him to us. Gospel clarity fed by biblical truth is what we are all about.