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Zimbabwe churches struggle to aid countrymen



A young man prays for Zimbabwe, which is suffering from economic and political turmoil. Many churches reserve a special time in their services to pray for their country’s recovery and revival.

HARARE, Zimbabwe (BP) — Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation is spiraling out of control. Independent economists suggest the economy could collapse by the end of the year, bringing the country to a standstill.

A loaf of bread for 50 cents last year now costs around $1,125. More likely, you’d end up spending $2,750 at the unofficial inflation rate found in most stores.

“People can’t survive like this,” says a Christian aid worker. “Even people who have jobs have a hard time buying food. That is the situation in Zimbabwe now. The churches must respond to this crisis.”

This African nation has the world’s highest inflation rate, even at the official estimate of 4,500 percent. Unofficially, independent economists in Europe say inflation rates are as high as 11,000 percent and rising. The U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, estimates the inflation rate will rise to well over 1.5 million percent before December.


‘They walked in’

Ray Motsi, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Bulawayo, says his church members really didn’t have a choice in responding to the needs of their fellow countrymen – the needs walked through the door one Sunday. It happened two years ago, after Operation Clean up the Trash, when the government demolished homes that allegedly had been built illegally. Those left without a home or job were forced back to the villages with no way to support themselves.

“The community literally walked into our church. We didn’t go to them,” Motsi says. “We never planned to go to them. God wanted His church to become the oasis of life in a crisis.”

Churches across Zimbabwe report hundreds of people coming to them each week with needs ranging from school fees to food and medicine. The Christian aid worker says at least 50 people show up on her doorstep every day. The program she directs – which includes a medical clinic providing rent and food for orphans – has the means to help only around 15 people per day.

“By far, the greatest problem is meeting day-to-day needs for the average Zimbabwean,” the Christian aid worker says.


Times are hard for the average Zimbabwean. Many leave the country in search of jobs, creating a new kind of orphan – the “economic orphan.” Parents leave these children behind with grandmothers or neighbors, with plans to send money back when they can. This grandmother takes care of four such children and five others who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

At one time Zimbabwe was considered the “jewel of Africa.” A time electricity and water were abundant and the Zimbabwean dollar held firm. It was the “bread basket” of the southern Africa region, producing enough food to help out bordering countries. Now, many urban centers are without electricity for 10 to 20 hours a day, there’s a water shortage and the United Nations estimates more than one-third (4 million) of the country needs food aid.


A matter of survival

Money devalues in the blink of an eye, so most businessmen try to deal in foreign currency. A pile of Zimbabwean dollars worth $50 in U.S. currency at the beginning of the week might be worth only $10 a few days later. Ray Cross, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Harare, says many of the elderly in Zimbabwe have it rough living on their pensions. One man was told his monthly pension would not be mailed to him any longer because the cost of a stamp and paperwork was more than his monthly check.

“Imagine having a fixed income with an inflation rate in the thousands,” Cross says. “The church tries to respond and take care of the elderly and the orphans, but let’s face it – everyone is so busy living and surviving, there’s often not much room for anything else.”

To make up for the imbalance, Zimbabweans sell whatever they can on the streets. Whether it is vegetables from their gardens or goods from their own homes, roadside stands are popping up all over in an effort to squeeze out just a few more dollars.

“It’s not enough to have a job anymore. The focus of every day is surviving,” a Zimbabwean man says, peddling souvenirs after work. Unemployment is already more than 80 percent, but even those with jobs struggle.

One pastor says basic needs of the poor are being eroded right before the churches’ eyes. “We can’t keep watching,” he says. “People are suffering ... but God’s people must respond.”