What is the ministry?
This program will begin with a training program for church leaders of the Tonga tribe in the Binga District of Zimbabwe. The gospel was first brought to the Tonga people in the mid to late 1800’s and churches of many denominations are well established. The program will focus on Biblical training and leadership training.
Most Tonga church leaders have a high school education but no formal Biblical or theological training. The typical Tonga believer might have finished high school, probably does not own a Bible, and has had no formal or systematic Biblical training.
The goal of this program is threefold:
- to introduce Biblical studies and study methods to the pastors and church leaders that can be reproduced in their own churches
- to lead church leaders on a journey of growing discipleship that will bring them to being “world Christians,” that is, Christians who have a global view of God’s kingdom
- to assist church leaders in learning and implementing Biblical leadership principles and skills into their ministries.
The second stage of the program will be community development for the mostly rural, subsistence farming Tonga. This will follow later when suitable personnel becomes available to help implement it.
Why did I select this ministry?
While teaching at Zimbabwe Christian College in Harare from 2015 – 2018 several of my students were members of the Tonga tribe from the Binga District. They told us many times in many ways of the scarcity of resources among their people in Binga for Biblical and leadership training and urged us to come help them.
There have been missionaries from various churches who have spent time in Binga through the years, but compared to other regions of Zimbabwe, it has been relatively neglected. My Tonga friends have never mentioned any Biblical training program being available to them in their own language or in their own district. The nearest Bible or theological training would be in Bulawayo, about eight hours to the south. There has been some effort to promote remote Bible training through a school in South Africa, but I have not had an update on the success of that effort for the past two years.
The Tonga tribe is a small minority in Zimbabwe. The Tonga people are found primarily in Zambia (1.38 million) and Zimbabwe (300,000), separated by the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba. Their history, culture, and language are not related to the other, larger tribes in Zimbabwe. The area they inhabit along the lake and the escarpment is not desirable farmland or easy to navigate. Those along the river are fishermen, and most of the others are subsistence farmers. There is one small town in the district, Binga, with a population of 8000. The district has been neglected by the government (both the colonial and current governments) in infrastructure, schools, clinics, and development projects. There are virtually no tarred roads and very few gravel roads in the district.
What will make it work? – Keys to success
We are going into this remembering that Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing.” The most important success factors are prayer, listening to God’s guidance, and following the Spirit’s lead.
My vision is for a program that will be designed and implemented by local church leaders. For that to succeed, we must facilitate local leader participation in the design, location, teaching, and promotion of the program. Our part will be to share the vision, help them think through issues and formulate solutions, judiciously provide resources, and help teach in the early stages. We must have the wisdom to know when to step in more and when it is time to back off.
For the program to fulfill the vision of bringing church leaders to a greater insight of kingdom-mindedness, as opposed to denomination-mindedness, there must be participation at every level from several different denominations and factions within denominations.
There will be challenges, both physical, and spiritual. I do not know how to anticipate most of them. That said, strife and division among and within churches are rife in Binga. Finding leaders of various factions and churches willing to work together long-term in such a program will be a challenge. There is a core group of three or four pastors from different churches and factions who have expressed enthusiasm for this vision and who want to be a part of it, knowing that it is by design inclusive.
The general education level in Binga is relatively low. Most people are literate by the normally accepted definition of literacy, but very few residents of Binga have progressed beyond high school. This presents a challenge of making courses accessible to their educational level.
English is a second language, and some have better English skills than others. I anticipate teaching in English will be a challenge, requiring a translator in most cases. This points to the need for as much instruction as possible to be in their own language.
The education level and language limitation impact the choice and availability of print resources. Beyond the Bible itself, I do not think they have any other Biblical resources in Tonga.
The general poverty, the absence of physical infrastructure, and the rural nature of Binga create challenges. A pastor friend shared with us that he was leaving home to attend a leadership conference 40 miles from his home. He left at 4:00 AM and walked the 40 miles, attended the conference in the afternoon, and returned home the next morning. There are very few roads, less than 4% of the population is urban, and most travel within the district is by foot.
This presents logistical challenges for us. We are wanting to establish a local training program in an area of over 5000 square miles. We will have a vehicle, but there are no roads. They, for the most part, walk.
Some of the challenges common to new cross-cultural workers, such as separation from family, living in a host culture, and a third world environment we have already encountered, and though still challenging, are no surprises.
Perhaps our greatest resource beyond the power and blessing of the Spirit, is the enthusiasm for this program among church leaders of other tribes in other parts of Zimbabwe. Four prominent leaders within the Christian Church/Church of Christ in Zimbabwe have expressed to us their hope that someone would go to Binga and do what we are proposing. Although they are all from one denomination, their expressed desire is for a program to serve all the churches of Binga. Their experience, wisdom, local knowledge and help with resources will be extremely valuable. They have already offered to host exploratory and planning meetings with leaders from Binga, host us along the way to Binga, and to accompany us to Binga on early trips.
Another key resource is the desire of key local church leaders in Binga for such a program. I have heard reports of many church leaders in Binga being in prayer for someone to come to their district with just such a program. The enthusiasm of the local leaders should provide a solid base on which to build.
A significant number of church leaders in Binga have spent time in other places receiving formal theological and Biblical training. They will provide a pool of potential leaders and instructors for the program.
The general location of the program is the Binga district of Zimbabwe. My vision is for the program to be carried out within the local churches in the district rather than having the leaders travel to a fixed location.
Structure and resources needed
The vision is for a steering committee of local church leaders to lead the program. Our role, from the beginning, will be to facilitate the process, to be available to serve and teach upon their request, and judiciously provide resources as needed. Their own cultural values and traditions will play a large part in determining the details of the structure of the program. The name “Tonga” means “chiefless.” They are noted among southern African people groups for not having paramount chiefs or kings. Based on that, I feel that a suggestion of a leadership committee is a suitable place to start.
Because the actual classes will be carried out in local church buildings, there will be no need for classrooms or other structures.
Teachers will be needed. As well as participating in this myself, I anticipate bringing in teachers from other areas of Zimbabwe and perhaps neighboring countries, as well as other teachers from the US. This will require some financial resources to pay for travel and meals for visiting teachers.
One of the first steps will be to conduct a survey of the felt needs of the leaders of the churches that we have relationships with. This survey will also attempt to explore the worldview of the Tonga, and how they perceive the gospel in relation to that worldview. Based on this information we will be in a better position to begin designing a curriculum in partnership with a curriculum committee chosen by the Steering Committee.
As for our own planning and resources, we will need to find a suitable place to live in Binga. A vehicle suitable for off-road use will be needed. We will be partially self-funded but will require some outside support.
Some physical resources will be needed, such as a printer/copier, school exercise books, Bibles, paper, etc. We will want to take advantage of internet resources when possible. Most people in Binga have access to a cell phone, but not all of them live in places with good coverage. In addition, not all cell phones are smart phones capable of utilizing internet resources. Another big challenge for these resources is the cost of downloading data from the internet. It remains to be seen how useful the internet will be.
How connections will be made
Lord willing, we will be traveling to Zimbabwe in 2020, and much of the focus of this trip will be on logistics for us personally, planning along with church leaders from Binga for the implementation of the program, and surveying the felt needs of the Christians in Binga.
We are personally acquainted with 10 or more church pastors and leaders in Binga, primarily from the three factions of the Christian Church/Church of Christ, but also some from an indigenous Pentecostal church. We know them all from our time teaching at Zimbabwe Christian College in Harare. They will be the gatekeepers for us to meet and build relationships with other leaders in Binga.
We are also personally acquainted with other prominent church leaders in Zimbabwe from the Church of Christ/Christian Church who are well-positioned to provide guidance and assistance and has expressed an eagerness for us to pursue this program.
For Further Exploration
We need a much better understanding of how Christian doctrine and ecclesiology have historically addressed the Tonga culture and worldview in the experience of the typical believer. This will be addressed in early surveys, leading to identifying subjects that need to be addressed by the curriculum.