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Church transforms troubled community (UM News)

August 10, 2022

A group of people of different ages huddles together in the front yard, some holding hymnbooks and Bibles that appear to be new. 

They are directed to the page containing the Apostles’ Creed and read together with the Rev. Susan Manyange of Seke East United Methodist Church, who is leading the worship service.

It is 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and this is First Street Group. The 1-year-old church gathering has transformed a community where women often work as commercial sex workers, and alcoholism and substance abuse are rampant.

“This church group started as a result of our community outreach program,” said Manyange.  “Our church and society committee had identified a needy resident … who suffers from cerebral palsy, and brought groceries and other goods to assist her.”

Bridget Chikunguwo is the mother of 20-year-old Gamuchirai, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Gamuchirai was the catalyst for the church’s outreach, and her face lights up whenever Manyange visits. She can understand but is unable to respond to conversations.

“She is not getting any medical attention,” her mother said. “I used to take her for physiotherapy when she was younger.” 

However, Chikunguwo is no longer able to take her to the hospital because she cannot carry her and does not have a wheelchair to assist her mobility.

The presence of the church vehicle with its United Methodist emblem attracted the residents who gathered and asked the pastor to pray for them. 

Irene Kwangwara offered her home to be used for worship services. Some of the women have since joined the main church and attend service after the First Street Group gathers.

“I wish to find better ways of earning a living. I am asthmatic, and roaming the street at night looking for clients is not good for my health,” said Cecilia Jasi, 38.

Exposure to the cold has resulted in her consistently suffering from asthma attacks, and the single mother of five is hoping to find a better line of work.

“After attending the church services held in our street, I am willing to transform my life and need capital to start a project such as selling clothes or find work as a shop assistant,” Jasi said.

Fazila Fero, 28, is also ready to leave commercial sex work after two years and find other means to look after herself and her two children. She said the work is risky and the money she makes is menial, averaging $40 U.S. per month.

“I used to drink a lot (of alcohol) but now I have renewed faith in the Lord and do not drink as much,” Fero said.

“The pastor loves us. She kept coming back and encouraging us to attend church services even when we couldn’t get up due to hangover,” she said.

Initially, Manyange would knock on doors and invite the residents to church services, but now members alert others when they see the church vehicle on their street.

“This is a unique ministry, which now has over 50 members. We encourage those who have transformed to join the main worship service at Seke East sanctuary some 800 meters (about half a mile) away,” Manyange said.

The church has brought messages of love, faith and hope to a shunned community and Manyange believes the residents are ready to engage in better ways of looking after their families.

“We are now seeking partners to assist with capital for projects,” Manyange said.

The Rev. Godknows Risinamhodzi, Chitungwiza Marondera District superintendent, praised Manyange and the church’s outreach after visiting a First Street service. 

“The program is according to the dictates of the Great Commission, which means we have got to move into communities. Jesus was known for reaching out to the people, looking at their demands and responding to their wishes,” he said.

“One writer said the church is not an archive of saints but a hospital of sinners. In this respect, we see the church moving out to ensure that people receive the goodness of the gospel and the love of Christ so that in turn they enjoy whatever God wishes for them.”