By Vincent Gono in Bikita
The continued emergence of new churches in the country and lavish lifestyles of their founders can be traced to the flourishing gospel of prosperity. The wealth that some of these revered “men of God” have amassed in very short periods of time is puzzlingly interesting especially when one looks at it against a shrinking economy.
Although the new churches have taken the country by storm with their founders performing miracles, some of which are controversial, it is the competition in numbers, wealth, influence and miracle power that is more interesting.
Unlike in the olden days where money was seldom talked about in churches, recent times have seen people arguing and laughing at each other at the type of car their pastors drive, the houses that they live in and the type of suits they wear.
Suffice to say some churches have through their doctrines fortified themselves against those that are poor who are often despised and made to feel like they are cursed because they fail to change their suits every Sunday or pamper the leader with gifts.
They are therefore told to go to pro-poor, old indigenous churches most of which are Zionist and Apostolic churches that do not bother about smartness and often conduct their sermons under trees where there are no ablution facilities and where smartness is measured by having a clean garment. Most of these churches have therefore adopted the use of uniforms most of which are made from simple material.
In the olden days, the belief was that such churches are attended by those of little means in terms of wealth and education but lately a number of professionals, executives and influential people are found in these churches.
One of these churches is Zion Christian Church (ZCC) which is an indigenous pro-poor church whose roots in the country can be traced to Bikita District in Masvingo Province.
Sunday Leisure tracked one of the ZCC leaders, Bishop Makuwa Mutendi of Mandadzaka in Bikita who revealed in an interview that the church was growing as evidenced by the developments in the church.
His lifestyle can be compared to that of other popular founders, prophets and overseers of these emerging churches with the only striking difference being that while the bulk of the new church founders are concentrated in big cities and towns, he is based in the rural areas.
And just like so many of his counterparts, the 47-year-old soft spoken bishop was also a professional before he took over the leadership of the church after his father Bishop Rueben Mutendi passed on in 2010.
He was a manager at Europcar in Bulawayo before he retired to take over as the new Bishop Mutendi leading another faction different from that led by popular Bishop Nehemiah Mutendi of ZCC Mbungo.
The two churches are one in almost everything except their leaders who are blood relatives but separated by some family politics of legitimacy that is connected to the running of the church. Bishop Nehemia Mutendi is uncle to Bishop Makuwa.
Bishop Makuwa has three wives and nine children although he is also taking care of 17 of his siblings some of whom are at colleges and universities.
His church is headquartered in Bikita, some 115 kilometres from Masvingo along Mutare road, a few kilometres before Birchnough Bridge.
His home is quite outlandish and typical of traditional polygamous homesteads.
He is also the village head although most of the village work is done by his younger brothers while he expends his energies on administering the church and seeing to it that his flock is attended to.
When the Sunday Leisure crew arrived at the Bishop’s homestead, it was told that he had gone to Chivhu to collect his car that had developed a fault on his way from Mutoko where he had gone on church business.
But before the crew could be admitted into the yard it was taken through some cleansing rites as it was sprinkled with holy water, thrice in the face and once on the back.
The car was also sprinkled.
The crew was given an escort, Darlington Chipuri who took it to the Bishop’s new house that is not yet complete. The house is a tiled suburban one with 12 big rooms. From the house the crew was shown the office structure that is still under construction with a large conference room.
“I want the church office complete more than I want the house. Once complete and well-furnished the administration of the church will be easy and a little more professional than it is now,” said Bishop Makuwa Mutendi.
There are also a lot other structures that are meant for people who come from all over the country to get spiritual healing on various ailments.
That section of the home resembles some ward at a big hospital as mental patients and others with different problems are found. Both males and females of different ages are found with some having been admitted there for spiritual healing for more than two months.
“Most of the people who come here to consult on various diseases would have exhausted all other plans. Some would have been discharged from hospitals after they would have failed to treat them. I have had cases where others come here after hospitals would have failed to diagnose them of the diseases they are suffering from and they are healed just through prayers.
“I will not say I am capable but it is God who is capable. For whatever is impossible in the eyes of man is very possible with God. Some of the people you have seen around came here tied with ropes, having mental problems but today one may not believe it. They have been healed.
“There is a woman who was supposed to have her leg amputated after she was diagnosed with cancer but through prayers she was healed,” he said.
Among some of the notable prophesies is the prophecy that he made at Masvingo Showgrounds last year before elections when he said President Mugabe was going to win thunderously – even more than what he did after independence. And it came to pass as he had said.
He also prophesied a bumper harvest, even giving the dates that the rains were to come in the previous farming season.
Bishop Mutendi has a fleet of some top of the range vehicles most of which are suitable for rural terrain.
He owns a Jeep, a Pajero, a Toyota Hilux Surf, a VW Polo, among many other vehicles. Some of them are fairly new and his choice of vehicles as well as their condition speaks volumes of his appreciation of the wheels probably from his many years of experience at Europcar.
All in all he has 13 vehicles that are in good condition although some are used by his younger brothers.
He also owns a minibus that he hires out if it is not used for church business.
Although his homestead is not yet electrified, the tubing of his new house has already been done.
There is also a big generator that is lit at night to provide lighting to the huge homestead while there are people who have also offered themselves to provide security to the leader as they are taken through the ropes of spiritual power.
“Not only do we help those from our church. We assist everyone free of charge. And we do not force people to congregate with us even after they are healed. We respect their freedoms. But at times those who would have been assisted would end up joining the church,” said Bishop Makuwa Mutendi.
He inherited from his father, the wooden rod that has been christened Mapumhangozi that he often uses in his miracles. His father had inherited it from the founder of the church, Bishop Samuel Mutendi who together with Bishop David Masuka and Bishop Andreas Shoko were credited as the forces behind the current Zionist movement in the country.
Mapumhangozi has been linked with various miracle acts that the founder and his successors have been credited with.
The church has branches throughout the country and also internationally something that has seen their leaders globetrotting. Sunday News