Walk around the green backstreets of Victoria Falls and you might find yourself at a candyfloss-pink church run by one FATHER CHRISTOPHER SIBANDA. With former President Robert Mugabe finally out of the picture after 37 years in power and Zimbabwe’s national elections fast approaching, THISLIFE ONLINE chatted to this gentle but strong soul about his life and vocation, and the resilience of his people. Watch the video, read his story!
‘We grow through struggles,’ says Father Christopher Sibanda of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls
Father Christopher Sibanda was born in a mining compound 43 years ago. For the past 10 years he has worked as a priest in various parishes in Zimbabwe’s Hwange Diocese. Currently, he ministers to two congregations in Victoria Falls.
‘I grew up as the oldest of six and had a happy childhood. I used to play street soccer with my friends, go swimming and fishing in the mine dams. My father stopped working in 1991 due to the government’s Economic Structural Adjustment Programme. Many people lost their jobs at this time, and he was one of those who was unfortunate. After that he became a peasant farmer, growing maize and other things to help us survive as a family.
I went to a number of schools and after my O Levels I decided to become a priest. I had seen the priests serving in my parish and as I perceived it, they were holier than other men: the time that they spent in prayer, the time they spent trying to help us as little boys. I felt that I too could offer people help.
Despite Zimbabwe’s economic woes, business is starting to boom in Victoria Falls, says Father Christopher. This confident and contemporary restaurant, Zambezi House, opened in July 2017 and in typically resourceful Zimbabwean style is made out of recycled shipping containers. ‘Zimbabweans find many ways to kill a cat,’ says its finance and ops manager Dennis Chitewe
I took a year’s course in human development and spiritual formation at a pre-seminary, then spent seven years at seminaries studying philosophy and theology, during which I also completed a religious studies diploma at University of Zimbabwe. I finally finished my studies at the age of 33.
My two congregations make up a mini-world: all races, tribes and classes, from professionals through to the poor. One is in the suburbs which draws about 200 people on a Sunday. The other is in a nearby township and draws about 500, including tourists who enjoy the rhythm and the dancing and the way the service is sung.
The most pressing problems in Zimbabwe at the moment are unemployment amongst the youngsters and economic hardship. People go to the banks to withdraw their salaries but cannot get any cash out because there is little inflow of hard currency into Zimbabwe. However, I have noticed that in the past year, business is starting to boom in terms of tourism.
Father Christopher has not been paid for 10 years but he has never gone hungry
This year, elections are set to be held in July or August and we’re all hopeful that what we have been crying for will come into existence. It is so sad that Morgan Tsvangirai [leader of the Zimbabwean opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change] died recently. If someone like the party’s new leader Nelson Chemisa gets into office, he can do nothing on his own, but with everyone helping and co-operating we can put things in place. Ultimately, however, God has His own timing for answering our prayers.
One of my joys of my life and work is that even though I haven’t had a salary for 10 years, I’ve never gone hungry. I rely on God’s mercy and His people to support me. They are always there. They give me food, money for fuel and lend me a car. I live in a house that belongs to the community which I use freely.
Streetwise: ‘Somehow Zimbabweans put food on the table’, says Father Christopher
The Zimbabwean church has always been much concerned with the governance of the country and its resources. That’s why it has to speak out. The church has done this not only in our current situation, but also in the 1970s [under an all-white government]. I believe in God because I have seen Him working in so many aspects of my life and in the lives of others, too. Great things happen when God mixes with men. I also get convinced that God is there as I look at Zimbabwe. Many of us may wonder and think that God does not exist, in particular seeing the troubles we have had and so forth, but look how we have survived!
We had times that were so hard: times where we were at war, when people were killed, when there was nothing in the shops, people suffering in the streets, yet somehow people still were given ways to put food on the table. How we would survive, no-one could know. I don’t think it was just by our own efforts. I think God gave us resources and energy to cope. And through the pains and the struggles we have grown.’