23rd November 2017
It is probably an understatement to say this last week has been eventful!
As many of you will know, Deb and I were in Harare, Zimbabwe at the weekend. This was a trip that had been booked months in advance, our sixth visit to that great nation and to our friends in River of Life Church. We always keep a close eye on news coming from there, and although we knew that the vice president had been sacked a week or so earlier, we did not expect this to be the start of events that led to an apparent takeover by the army and Mugabe being placed under house arrest just a day before we were due to travel!
Naturally, it raised questions about whether or not we should go. We sought counsel from our friends on the ground and also spoke to fellow King's Church elder, William Dalziel, who was already in Harare. Everyone was able to reassure us that, at least for now, everything was peaceful. Deb and I prayed, talked and both felt certain that we should go and stand with our brothers and sisters in Harare.
There has been much discussion about whether or not this was a coup. Some have said that it could be described as 'a very Zimbabwean coup'. True, there were far fewer people on the flight into Harare than normal, but our impression on landing and then driving across Harare was of a country that felt both calm and cautiously hopeful. The army presence, what we saw of it, seemed low key and determinedly friendly.
We arrived in Harare on Friday and left on Monday, and over those four days we had a taste of the rollercoaster ride of hope and disappointment that Zimbabweans have lived with for years. On Saturday, as tens of thousands marched through the streets of Harare, we adjusted our programme so the River of Life Church leaders could join with the masses celebrating what they hoped would be the end of the Mugabe era. That evening we met with some of the Harare church leadership teams and listened to their own experiences of being on the march. Many described it as a street party, and their happiness and optimism were infectious.
On Sunday morning I had the joy of appointing and laying hands on three new elders and then preaching at the River of Life services. This is a church which we love and where we feel very much at home, and to be with them on this Sunday in particular was an honour. Then on Sunday evening we sat with our dear friends Scott and Claire Marques and watched Mugabe's live televised address to the nation. Expectations were high: WhatsApps were flooding in, people were recording it live and we were taking selfies to remember the moment, ready for what everyone believed was going to be his resignation speech. As his rambling statement continued for twenty minutes, it gradually became clear that he was stubbornly refusing to go. What a crushing anticlimax! For a while I was stunned – I'd seen a glimpse of what Zimbabweans have been going through for decades. So the four of us prayed together before retiring to bed, declaring once again our faith that God is sovereign and will have His way in Zimbabwe!
We are now in Cape Town and taking the chance to spend some time with Steve and Anna van Rhyn from Jubilee Community Church, another excellent church. I have also had the joy of spending an afternoon with their eldership team. Just before we met Steve and Anna on Tuesday evening, we received a message to say that Mugabe had resigned! As we watched footage of crowds of people celebrating on the streets of Harare, we shared in their joy and relief and the four of us drank a toast to our friends in Zimbabwe!
Zimbabweans are a people who have suffered greatly for many years, and their patience, tenacity and resilience never fails to impress us. The faith the church has shown, and their determination to continue to share the gospel and express God's kingdom in whatever way they can, is inspirational. To have walked these last few days with our Zimbabwean friends has been a huge privilege. We continue to pray for this great nation, for peace to continue and for God's purposes to be fulfilled.
Deb and I return to London on Friday and we are looking forward to being back at King's on Sunday.
Posted by Steve Tibbert
Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham and Lee. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve is also involved in Newfrontiers and regularly coaches other lead elders. His book, Good to Grow, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.