In June 2015, Maciek and Mary Stolarski, along with Derek French, left the UK bound for Zimbabwe.
For Maciek and Derek, this was their eighth visit to the country since 2008 for the primary purpose of training pastors. This year they were participating in the fifth Training of Trainers course (TOT). Mary’s presence in more recent years has given her the opportunity to lead a ladies’ conference as well. And, this year, all three were involved in a conference for married couples.
Over the past eight years, Chris Boyes, chairman of the Zimbabwe Partnership Trust (ZPT), Roger and Gill Prime (Roger is ZPT’s secretary) and John Rogers have shared in these visits.
In 2008 there was the specific request from Zimbabwe that pastors there may be helped in their study of Scripture, so as to be able to preach God’s Word more effectively. The invitation came from Operation Grace Mission, a Zimbabwean group of pastors and churches.
These visits were initially conducted under the auspices of Grace Baptist Mission. In later years, this responsibility has been shared with ZPT. 2 Timothy 2:2 has been the basis for these visits: ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others’.
During the first visit, the small group of men we met with explained that many pastors have had little or no theological training at all, and that sermon preparation was where they needed urgent help.
We were told that the way many pastors went about sermon preparation was like this: during the week they would think of a theme they wanted to preach on; and then late on a Saturday evening would try and find a verse or passage of Scripture on which to hang their ideas. Inevitably, such sermons were often not related to the Scripture chosen and the context and meaning of a passage was completely ignored.
It was not that these men did not value Scripture. They knew it was God’s Word, but simply did not know how to ‘rightly handle the word of truth’. They longed to be better servants of the Lord.
Initially, the annual visits gathered groups of pastors and elders together, first in Harare and then Hwange and Bulawayo. Practical subjects, such as preaching, hermeneutics and homiletics, have been taught alongside doctrinal subjects, such as the attributes of God.
Sessions helping them to interpret and expound the parables; preaching from the Old and New Testaments; preaching on a Bible character; as well as systematic expositions of various books of the Bible have taken place.
Some of this teaching was shared with William Danyere from Harare, who arranged our visits each year.
Training of Trainers (TOT)
It has been our long-term aim to do ourselves out of a job and hand the training of Zimbabwean pastors over to Zimbabwean pastors.
It was clear that the Lord was raising up a small group among the Zimbabwean pastors, who were showing increased ability in their understanding of Scripture. So, since 2011, we have been concentrating with these men, training them in more depth to be trainers themselves (TOT).
Subjects such as the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrines of grace, the doctrine of the church, union with Christ, the doctrine of salvation, and eldership have been taught. Bible books such as Deuteronomy, Daniel, Habakkuk, Malachi, Zechariah, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Revelation have been worked through.
This group has been teaching numbers of pastors in centres such as Victoria Falls, Hwange, Mount Darwin, Chimanimani, Bulawayo and Harare, and will continue to make visits in the coming year.Repeatedly, we have underlined the need to ‘stick to the text’ (STTT) and also make careful application of the Scriptures. This year, in June, ten men came to our TOT course in Harare. The teaching given covered the offerings in Leviticus 1-7, by Maciek Stolarski, and Hebrews 1-6, by Derek French, and some illuminating sessions on African traditional religion, taught by Wilson Ganyiwa from Zimbabwe.
ZPT covers the costs of these indigenous workshops, because the economic situation continues to be extremely challenging. Please pray for these men, as they prepare and teach others. Each year we leave them with a number of commentaries and Bibles for them to distribute.
Making relatively short annual visits makes us ask how effective such times really are. The Lord, in his grace, has greatly encouraged us in this respect.
Last year one of the pastors shared how, when we first visited Zimbabwe, most of them did not look forward to a Sunday, because they did not know how to preach from the Scriptures.
However, he assured us that now they could not wait for a Sunday to come, because they longed to preach God’s Word. This year we had further evidence of the Lord at work, when we had opportunity to listen to some of these pastors teaching other pastors.
It was evident that the brother leading the day’s devotions, Mutsa Mufukwa, had grown considerably in his understanding of the Scriptures, as he spoke on Galatians 1:13-18 on the theme ‘Salvation is a work of God’.
This was followed by the two main speakers. Upwards Machingura expounded the doctrines of grace and was followed by Mathew Malikebu, who gave a survey of the church in the Bible.
To see these men handling Scripture with understanding and conviction was remarkable. The Lord has clearly been at work and the glory belongs entirely to him. The progress these pastors have made is very encouraging and, although there is still more work to be done, what has taken place bodes well for the work of the gospel in Zimbabwe.
An amusing aside was that the constant point of ‘sticking to the text’ (STTT) that we have been making in all our workshops was added to by these men. They had put SSTTT on the board: ‘Strictly stick to the text’!
As already mentioned, Mary Stolarski led a two-day ladies’ conference, going through 1 Peter with them. We were all involved in the married couples’ conference, and also visited the Wiltshire Christian School, which the ZPT has supported since its inception.
This school is in a rural area and the journey there was not without incident, as the vehicle we were travelling in broke two of its rear shock absorbers!
The school principal, Torevei Munhangu, studied engineering in London and attended West Hill Baptist Church in Wandsworth. He has a farm and, with the help of ZPT and others, has been able to establish a school on his land. It now has over 100 pupils.
It is miles from the nearest main road. Previously, its children had long walks to their schools and were left unattended overnight, leaving them very vulnerable. Torevei and his wife Elizabeth are doing a splendid work, and these children now have a safe and secure environment in which to study and receive good biblical instruction.
Derek French served for many years with Grace Baptist Mission.