The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Harare Synod is, true to its motto, indeed a living church, witnessing to the glory of God in very difficult circumstances. It sprouted from the CCAP in Malawi to form the fourth synod of the CCAP, the other synods being the Nkhoma, Livingstonia and Blantyre synods. The CCAP Synod of Zambia was established much later. The CCAP Harare Synod was established more than a century ago among Malawian immigrants working on farms, mines, and other industries in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, bordered by Zambia to the north, Mozambique to the east, Botswana to the west and South Africa to the south. The country is blessed with abundant natural resources, and it has a very high agricultural potential; it was once known as the breadbasket of Africa. Due to severe droughts and the effects of land reform agricultural production has dropped significantly
The struggle for independence, land, and power runs through Zimbabwe’s history. Veteran President Robert Mugabe has dominated the country’s political scene since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980. After Mugabe’s death in 2017, he was succeeded by Pres. Emmerson Mnangagwa, who persisted in the same policies and governing style of his predecessor. Cash-strapped and impoverished, Zimbabwe’s economy faces severe challenges. Unemployment and poverty are endemic and political strife and repression are commonplace. Many Zimbabweans have left the country in search of work in South Africa.
Harare is the capital of Zimbabwe. The country’s population is about 14 million. While 16 different languages are recognised and spoken in Zimbabwe, English, Shona, and Ndebele are the languages spoken by most of the population. Christianity is the predominant religion while a small percentage of the population follows traditional indigenous beliefs. In the country’s young population there is a literacy rate of 92%, the highest in Africa.
A church for migrant workers
Since 1903, thousands of Malawians immigrated to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in search of better employment opportunities. The CCAP Harare Synod is a result of migrant workers from Malawi as well as the north-eastern part of Zambia coming to work in the mines, in industries and on farms in Southern Rhodesia. The spiritual need of the migrants was highlighted when, in 1905, a delegation of workers travelled all the way to Mvera in Malawi. They covered more than 600 kilometres on foot to request the services of a missionary. Mvera was, as already mentioned, the first mission station of the DRC in Malawi.
Rev. T. C. B. and Margaret Vlok with their baby daughter Bessie
The different missionary organisations in Malawi took note of the request, but no missionary could be recruited. In the meantime, the Presbyterian Church of South Africa, who was also working in Southern Rhodesia, started to minister to the Malawians as well. In 1911 Rev. T. C. B. Vlok, then an experienced Dutch Reformed Church missionary already serving for 23 years in Malawi, was so moved by the spiritual needs of the migrants in Southern Rhodesia that he volunteered to go there. When he arrived in Salisbury in 1912, he found a register of about 230 catechumens. He came to an agreement with the Presbyterian Church that he would work among the Chichewa-speaking people in Mashonaland, and they would work in Matabeleland. Rev. Vlok thus assumed the role of representative of the Federated Missions in Malawi. He did a formidable task, working over a vast area as the only ordained minister among Chichewa-speaking migrants all over the country. By 1914 there were already 33,000 Malawians in Zimbabwe. Rev. Vlok was assisted by evangelists from Malawi. He was replaced by Rev. J. Jackson in 1936 and in 1953 Rev. M. S. Daneel took over. Over the years, several missionaries from the Nkhoma and Livingstonia missions in Malawi as well as local ministers from Zimbabwe joined the work. Among them were Revs. A. M. Kuchona, J. Mlozi, J. N. Maseko, T. Chipeta, L. T. Tsitsi, J. N. Chimuto, J. E. Kalema, I. G. M. Banda, D. S. Mwakanandi and J. G. Juma.
Becoming an autonomous church, with a Reformed identity
The first official congregation was established in Salisbury in 1945, followed by Gwelo (1950), Bulawayo (1955) and several others. These first congregations originally fell under the Presbytery of Nkhoma of the CCAP in Malawi. When the Presbytery of Nkhoma became the Nkhoma Synod in 1956, the congregations in Zimbabwe formed the fourth presbytery of this synod. On 1 May 1965, the Presbytery of Salisbury became the Synod of Salisbury of the CCAP which is the CCAP Harare Synod today. The church observes the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort as doctrinal standards.
Currently, the CCAP Harare Synod has four presbyteries, namely Harare, Highfield, Bulawayo, and Gweru. The church has a total of 34 congregations and more than 139 prayer houses or preaching centres across the country. There are 26 ordained ministers of whom three are female. They also have 56 evangelists serving the church.
At one time, the membership stood at much higher levels, but now just over 8,794 members remain. (This figure includes confirmed members and catechumens but excludes children in Sunday school. The Synod meets every two years. It has cordial, cooperative relations with the other Reformed Churches in Zimbabwe and abroad.
Despite the very difficult political situation, the joblessness and poverty, and the many challenges posed by COVID-19, the church is beginning to grow again. It harbours good relations with its sister church, the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe and especially also the Reformed Church in Zambia. Some ministers are trained at The Reformed Church University of the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe and the Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, but the CCAP (Harare Synod) also resumed their own theological training at the Rock Haven Theological College, where three primary schools as well as a secondary school commenced.
Makwechere where displaced farm workers who went to settle in rural areas were ministered to.
The church cannot escape the consequences of the current political situation in Zimbabwe. Its members suffer from very high unemployment rates, and they lack the cash to buy anything they need. Also, the political situation in the country, coupled with conflicts in the region, is very stressful. Many ministers often go without a monthly salary.
Many migrant workers lost their jobs and have had to seek alternatives.
People are now beginning to speak out. Ministers are also raising a prophetic voice on issues like corruption, injustice, unemployment, poor service delivery and the disregard for human dignity.
Instead of facing extinction as Malawian immigrants are displaced, the church places an emphasis on contextualisation and outreach to other cultural and language groups. They do not only use Chichewa anymore but also Shona in their congregations.
The church has adopted the slogan ‘breaking small to grow big’ to imply sharing whatever they have. They aim to empower prayer house members and train evangelists to become ministers.
The church seeks to honour the Triune God by faithfully proclaiming the gospel, administering the sacraments, and worshipping God in orderly liturgical services. They encourage holy living through responsible church discipline. Through its various ministries, the church strives to meet the spiritual, physical, and social needs of the people as it reaches out to those who are spiritually lost (unsaved) while also helping the needy in society with justice and compassion. All of this is done in effective administrative and organisational structures.
The CCAP recently started a primary and secondary school at Rock Haven.