“People in Africa have responded favourably to the gospel of Jesus and have always turned to God in the midst of adversity,” says Samukeliso Ndebele, a lay preacher, church elder and secretary of the BICC Harare District.
Although COVID-19 restrictions limit the number of people gathering in churches, they don’t limit the church’s message. Congregations of Brethren in Christ Church Zimbabwe hold revival services on a quarterly basis – and they didn’t let COVID-19 stop them.
“When physical gatherings were banned, it was a big blow to believers, however technology was used to continue meetings,” says Samukeliso Ndebele.
BICC Zimbabwe leadership encouraged members to pray and fellowship as families, says Reverend Absalom Sibanda. Services were broadcast in audio, on WhatsApp, livestreamed on Facebook or, less commonly, on Zoom.
“This then gave birth to online WhatsApp revivals,” says Reverend Absalom Sibanda.
BICC Zimbabwe leadership created WhatsApp chat groups for local congregations, but news spread to BIC church members in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, United Kingdom and the USA.
“Since a lot of people were in lockdown and many months without attending church, it gave hunger and thirstiness for the Word of God to many people,” says Reverend Absalom Sibanda.
Additionally, the Omama Bosizo national women’s committee used WhatsApp to hold an online conference featuring the conference evangelist from BICC Lobengula Women’s Fellowship as guest speaker.
“These online revivals were different in that they enabled people to attend the services in different congregations and countries,” says Samukeliso Ndebele. Participants interacted more this way, shared their experiences, and felt comforted, she says.
Due to COVID-19, it has not been possible to baptize new converts, but church leaders match them with a mature church member for mentoring into discipleship and send them daily devotions in the morning.
“It removes the focus from local preacher mentality to think globally,” says Reverend Absalom Sibanda, “and it breaks the tradition of being concentrated into the walls of the church.”
Women’s fellowship chair Suzen Ngulube hopes the women’s conference can provide a model for other national and district conferences to meet as the virus continues to inhibit gathering. “Using WhatsApp is a great opportunity as this allows even those who would not have physically attended the conference due to age and other limitations to hear the gospel message,” she says. “We were able to reach even the remotest areas of Zimbabwe as well as outside the country.”
“There’s opportunity to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth quicker than ever before as well as reach out to people of different ethnicity, beliefs and age groups (particularly the young who are biggest users of technology),” says Samukeliso Ndebele.