'Our focus is on unity, reconciliation, healing'

HARARE - The Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) in Zimbabwe has been going through turbulent times in the last couple of years, culminating in the emergence of two factions of the church following the stepping down of former president Aspher Madziyire who had been at the helm of the church for close to two decades. 

The Daily News on Sunday’s Production Editor Eddie Zvinonzwa sat down with the man who took over from Madziyire as AFM president, Amon Dubie Madawo and spoke about the conflicts, reconciliation efforts and other issues in the church. Below are excerpts of the interview.

Q: Congratulations, Rev Madawo, on landing the AFM in Zimbabwe presidency. As the new AFM president, what do you view as your chief task going forward?

A: Thank you. When you are coming in as a new leader, there is need to consolidate and stabilise the church and make sure the damage caused by the split has been mitigated. Besides consolidating, we must heal and refocus the church to its original agenda of preaching and ministering. The major problem was that the church was hurt. The people are confused and some do not even know what exactly happened or what did not happen, let alone what went wrong and where.

Q: What exactly has been the bone of contention in the church?

A: Firstly, the whole thing revolves around the reformation of the church constitution, a decision which was made by the workers’ council — the highest decision-making body in the church. When we started this journey around 2015, the leaders who were there agreed that the constitution must be changed. We were all in agreement through 2016 and the bulk of 2017. Towards the end of 2017, the people who had been tasked with leading the reforms asked for more time, so that elections would be held under the new constitution. 

Secondly, after agreeing that we could not make this decision as the apostolic council, we referred this to the workers’ council. Between that decision and the convening of the workers’ council, the draft constitution was leaked to some pastors who were not happy with its contents and were agitated. Initially, they spoke to the leadership, but suddenly changed and said they no longer wanted to talk to us but instead mobilised other pastors. We called for a meeting with them but they snubbed the first one and only came for the second one. Pastors had become too powerful and so had overseers but sadly, people do not want accountability. We inherited a situation where regulations and the constitution did not seem to agree.

Q: Were there any specific aspects in the draft constitution which they were not happy with?

A: They cited the centralisation of funds, which is proposed in the draft constitution for the purposes of equitable distribution among pastors. Currently, from the revenue an assembly makes, 20 percent goes to the province. A small fraction of that — about 4 percent of that 20 percent — goes to national coffers. And yet it is this national office that should spearhead infrastructure development because it is lagging behind. 

The AFM is mostly known for having incomplete church structures nationwide. We have not agreed yet but the bigger chunk of revenue must go to the national office so that it will drive national projects. Most of the resistance is coming from pastors at big assemblies who were enjoying significant revenue inflows and did not want to leave such parishes. 

Tied to this is the third issue in the draft, that of appreciation. When we started, there was no appreciation. I have over 26 years as a pastor in the AFM. As time went on, there was a realisation that there was need to put together something to appreciate our pastors so about three times a year, we would put something together to give to the pastors. Once revenue gets centralised, this appreciation will fall away. It was now being abused, a thing that would not happen with a consolidated revenue fund. Then came the issue of the pastors’ wives. 

Under the current constitution, when a pastor comes to an assembly, his wife automatically becomes the chairlady of the ladies’ department at that assembly. The proposal in the draft is that any chairlady would have to be elected. The automatic qualification made it impossible for women to elect whoever they wanted.

The proposal has been distorted and there are some who are saying that lady who would have been elected will move around with the pastor on church duties. The other thing has been the chairmanship of the board. Currently, the pastor chairs all, but there is no accountability. The draft proposes separation between spiritual and administrative functions, a development which will bring accountability as well as checks and balances. 

Then comes the proposal that there should be a judiciary manned by competent people to handle disciplinary issues in the church. Other proposals being deliberately and conveniently distorted is the one on baptism and prophecy. It again is being distorted and it is being said the draft wants to equate prophecy and the Bible.

Q: In the past couple of years, there has been a lot of upheaval in the AFM with certain parishioners actually fighting physically, how do you intend to douse these simmering conflicts?

A: The only case that we have heard of and was handed over to the police occurred at the Luveve assembly. But you see, we are Christians and there is no need to fight. We should be able to sit down and talk then part ways or reconcile peacefully.

Q: The AFM international president at some point got involved in the conflict bedevilling the church in the country. Would you like to share with us what he recommended?

A: In March 2018, we invited the AFM international president Rev Frank Chikane and he held meetings with all parties to the conflict. Interestingly, when the pastors were saying they were fighting the draft constitution, the elders said they were going to defend it. 

Rev Chikane’s proposed way forward did not work because the tempers were very high. He recommended though that the draft be taken to the grassroots, which we did although the current constitution does not talk about the grassroots but rather councillor s dealing with the constitution. Our constitutional team is currently compiling the input from the grassroots

Q: As we approach the youth, women and general conferences at Rufaro for this year, what plans have you put in place to ensure the conflicts of the past do not come in as counter attractions to popular annual events on the church’s calendar?

A: Everything is in order with the calendar for 2019 already out. We have the Widows and Single Mothers Conference coming shortly, then the youth and the women’s before the general conference because the structures are there.

Q: In terms of your training wing at Living Waters, hopefully these divisions did not get into those who intend to be deployed in different parishes countrywide.

A: When we closed there was no issue but the dean of students resigned and the dean of students at the Bread of Life in Gwanda was aligned to the anti-reforms and we dismissed him. I hear the anti-reform are starting their own Bible college and they are luring our students to defect and register with their new Bible college.

Q: Somehow, it appears the AFM has formally split.

A: Well, I think some background will do here. A meeting of the workers’ council of September 15 accepted the draft and recommended that it be taken to the grassroots for input from members. The anti-reforms interpreted it as implying the draft had been adopted into law. In the  September 21 apostolic council meeting, Rev (Cosam) Chiyangwa stood up to say he represented those who were disgruntled with the workers’ council resolutions of September 15.

He was supported by six overseers. Chiyangwa called for a meeting of a council of people who were disgruntled. 

Such a meeting can only be called by the president or the general secretary and can only be chaired by the president. That council eventually elected their interim executive.

On September 22, those disgruntled members whom they purported to be the workers’ council elected him. In other words, it was on September 22 that the split really surfaced with the former deputy president assuming the position of president of the other AFM faction. 

There are people who followed them, for instance about two-thirds of the pastors followed but a number are coming back. On the other hand, the majority of members did not follow him and the pastors who defected but remained in the church. 

Q: Is there anything else that you think you would want to share with Zimbabweans on the AFM — its past, present and future?

A: To the members of the AFM in Zimbabwe, we are coming from a past riddled by conflict, factionalism. Our church had grown big but in the process ignored its administration and constitutional matters. Because of the constitutional reform process which we are going through, we believe this will create a platform for good governance in the church.

We must continue to pray, and also exercise restraint where we do not agree. We do not have enemies, we are praying for our brothers and sisters to come back. Our church will be stronger than before. Splits and conflicts are common but we can not be enemies because of that. 

The emphasis now is on reconciliation, healing of relationships and good governance, in line with our theme “2019: The year of apostolic restoration, reconciliation and healing”. We are very excited, come, let us build our church together. Those who want to come back, please come let us talk and mend relations.


 

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