From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WCC Letter to Zimbabwe Churches

From Sheila MESA <>
Date 07 Oct 1998 06:57:53

World Council of Churches
Press Release
For Immediate Use
7 October 1998

WCC Letter to Zimbabwe Churches

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr
Konrad Raiser, has written to Zimbabwe churches on a number of
matters concerning the current situation in Africa, as well as the
forthcoming WCC Eighth Assembly which is scheduled for 3-14
December at the University of Zimbabwe, in Harare.

In his 28 September letter, Dr Raiser wrote on behalf of the WCC
Executive Committee which met recently (15-18 September) at
Amersfoort in the Netherlands, and in reply to a 'solidarity message' from
the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) signed by its General
Secretary, Mr Densen Mafinyani.  The ZCC sent its message to the
Executive Committee and to others who came especially to the
Netherlands on 19 September to attend events to mark the 50th
anniversary of the WCC.


In its message, the ZCC said:

"Please assure the Executive and other churches gathered in
Amsterdam that we are gearing up to welcome them to our beautiful
country of Zimbabwe.  As you are aware from the pastoral letter
published by the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (a copy of
this 17-page Pastoral Letter on the Current State of the Nation, dated 24
March 1998, is available from the WCC Press and Information Office), the
local churches are struggling with social, political and economic
questions that are facing them at the moment.  The Churches are
seriously concerned about the closure of the country's university and
they have met with the students and university officials to try and help
resolve the stalemate situation by offering their pastoral counsel. 
However, the University Council and the Government have assured us
that this will not affect their hosting of the Assembly on their campus. 
As we struggle with all these problems, we ask you to pray for us to
find those 'windows' of hope."

Mr Mafinyani says the ZCC will host the Assembly on behalf of Africa
through its membership in the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Eastern
and Southern Africa (FOCCESA) and its churches' membership in the All
Africa Conference of Churches (AACC).  He adds that intense
preparations continue "to ensure that this Eighth Assembly reflects the
spiritualism and welcome of not only Zimbabwe but Africa as a whole." 
The letter concludes, "The whole of Africa is praying for the success of
the Assembly.  We ask you to pray for us so that the Assembly is the
will of God".


In his reply, which is addressed to the ZCC and the Heads of Christian
Denominations, the WCC General Secretary says,

"The Executive once again expressed its deep appreciation for the
invitation so graciously extended by the Zimbabwean Churches to hold
the Jubilee Assembly at Harare.  Even though we know well the
difficulties which you are experiencing, along with many African
countries, the spirit of hospitality for which your continent is well known
shines forth in that invitation which we were honoured to accept.

"Preparations for the Eighth Assembly are now at an advanced stage
and the Executive is well aware of the work done primarily by the
churches in Zimbabwe to make our stay a memorable one.  We are
mindful, as well, of the enabling environment provided by the
Government of Zimbabwe.  The Memorandum of Understanding, the
assistance in moving large numbers of delegates and visitors along with
equipment and other materials into Zimbabwe and the support from
several members of the Cabinet is deeply appreciated.  The Executive
would be grateful if you would convey our sincere thanks to the
President, the Government and the people of your beautiful country for
all their assistance.

"In coming to Harare for the Jubilee Assembly, the World Council of
Churches affirms Zimbabwe and, with Zimbabwe, of course the entire
continent.  We are coming to Africa at a time when the prevailing global
order tends to exclude and marginalize Africa.  However, from the
perspective of the ecumenical movement, Africa is integral to our
commitment to the unity of all God's people.  Africa incorporates a
heritage of community-living and spirit which could, and must, contribute
significantly to a world which so urgently needs to find ways of living in
dignity within sustainable communities.  When the world church will be
gathered at Harare, the Assembly will hear what God is telling the world
through Africa and we pray that the world will listen.

"The Executive recognized with grateful thanks to God the role that the
Zimbabwe Council of Churches and its leadership is playing in the civic
life of Zimbabwe as the country is considering its future.  Your decisive
involvement in the National Constitutional Assembly, your statements
about the need for a humanitarian budget, your calls for economic justice
and civic education are matters for the whole ecumenical family.  We
expect that the Assembly will provide ample opportunities to share
experiences between those confronted by similar concerns, especially
in Africa.

"In particular, the Executive would like to assure you and all Zimbaweans
that the concerns expressed in the Pastoral Letter from the Zimbabwe
Heads of Christian Denominations about the heavy debt burden which
your country bears in common with most of Africa will be a priority
concern for this Assembly in the context of the biblical understanding of
Jubilee.  We recognize how this unbearable debt lowers the chances
and the quality of life for the vast majority of people.  The globalization of
the world economy is another matter of deep concern for Africa which
will receive the utmost attention of the Assembly.

"The consequence of the debt crisis and globalization is, as the
Zimbabwe churches have stated, the growing poverty among the people
of Zimbabwe.  The Executive expressed its solidarity with the Zimbabwe
churches' call for poverty eradication as the number one priority in
keeping with the Jubilee motif of bringing good news to the poor and the
acceptable year of the Lord. 

"Let me add that, in considering the impact of regional political
developments, we view with concern the events in southern and central
Africa, in particular the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Since you refer in the pastoral letter to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, I want to
draw your attention to the fact that the WCC at its Central Committee
meeting in Johannesburg in 1994 initiated a study process which led to a
report and a public statement adopted by the Central Committee in 1996;
the threat posed by the pandemic continues to weigh heavily on the
conscience of the Executive.  We are saddened to learn that Zimbabwe
has now one of the highest incidences of this deadly disease in the
world.  We share with you your grief and sorrow for we know that the
false optimism of the West that expensive new treatments can mitigate
this virus is a cruel contradiction for Zimbabwe and much of Africa
where structural adjustment programmes and debt have eroded health
care systems beyond the ability of countries to cope with HIV/AIDS. 
There is little immediate hope, little money for treatment and, so far, no
cure.  For Zimbabwe and much of Africa the virus has devastated
families, communities and cities.  There is hardly anyone who has not
been touched with grief.  It is our expectation that the Assembly will
stand firmly with you as you try to cope with this devastating disease
and seek to promote positive action to alleviate the human tragedy.

"We also noted at Amersfoort actions taken at the ZCC's most recent
Assembly, where your theme was the same as that of the Eighth
Assembly "Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope", in particular your actions
regarding the troubled situation at the University of Zimbabwe.  We have
been informed of your efforts at reconciliation through meetings with
students and university officials and the Executive wishes you to know
that we support your initiatives and pastoral concerns and urge you to
intensify your efforts.

"The Executive is aware that our meetings on the university campus
come at a time when the institution is divided and troubled.  We are
concerned for the administration, the faculty and the students who are
unable to pursue their studies, losing precious time which will have a
serious impact on Zimbabwe's human development.  It is painful for us to
meet on a campus which is officially closed to most students.  We hope
there will be an opportunity during the Assembly to learn from you, the
university authorities and faculty, and the students about efforts to
facilitate an amicable solution.  You may be certain that we will pray for
you and the university for those "windows of hope" referred to in your

"The invitation from the Zimbabwe churches was thankfully accepted by
the WCC, knowing that delegates and visitors will bring to your country
many different cultural practices and customs, some of which may even
be unusual or strange.  We do hope that this diversity will not be
interpreted as an attempt to impose foreign cultures.  Rather, it is an
expression of the many cultures within our ecumenical family.  At the
same time, we are conscious that we come to Zimbabwe, a country rich
in its own culture and proud of its heritage and history.  We will be
enriched as we seek to carry out our business and our worship in that
context, mindful that we are meeting in Africa and specifically in

"Finally, the Executive acknowledges the enormous preparation already
accomplished and still required both for the WCC and the hosting
churches.  Together we are challenged and privileged to do everything
we can to make the Jubilee Assembly a memorable event, one worthy of
our theme "Turn to God - Rejoice in Hope".  We know that in all things we
must allow God to use us and work through us as we prepare for the
Harare Assembly and beyond."

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions.  The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but
works cooperatively with the WCC.  The highest governing body is the
Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years.  The WCC
was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Its staff is
headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church
in Germany.

World Council of Churches
Press and Information Office
Tel:  (41.22) 791.61.52/51
Fax:  (41.22) 798 13 46

P.O. Box 2100
CH-1211 Geneva 2

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