This year, we shine the spotlight on some of the leaders in the Southern Africa regional family of churches. First up are David and Barbra Gondongwe, who lead the church in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. David and Barbra entered the full-time ministry in 2008 and led the church in the capital, Harare, for 10 years. They moved back to Bulawayo in 2018. Life in the city is tough and characterized by high unemployment, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Poverty is rife, and the population is battling to make ends meet. Most people survive by “hustling”–buying and selling whatever they can lay their hands on. Generally, it is common to see a woman sitting on the side of the street, and trying to sell a heap of very small, shriveled lemons. Some gather wild fruit from surrounding bushes or collect Mopani worms which they try to sell to passers-by. Men beg to clean your vehicle for a small fee. Despite all the economic hardship and death of loved ones, in 2020 the church in Bulawayo grew to 78 members, with 10 baptisms and one restoration. The members are very grateful for the benevolence funds they received from sister churches and praise God for his loving faithfulness towards them.

Where were you met?

David: In 1990, a colleague and I stopped by a supermarket in Avondale, Harare. I was pushing a large trolley that fell over and spilled its contents. For one long, embarrassing moment, the other shoppers gave us their complete attention. Then, as if by magic, a giant white man and his wife (Kevin and Andee Finnerty who are now elders in the New York City Church) appeared to help us. They invited us to church, but I bluntly told them, “I don’t do church.” They gave me an invite to church, which I accepted because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. At that time, I was in the army but on attachment at the biochemistry department of the Public Health Laboratories as part of my Medical Laboratory Technology training. For a whole month, twice a week, we received phone calls from Kevin and Andee inviting us to midweek and Sunday service. Eventually, I said to my colleague, “let us just go once then tell them we did not like it,” because they kept saying, ‘just come and see. You don’t have to come back if you don’t like it.’

One Sunday morning we went to church. I was still single then. I don’t remember the sermon title, but I vividly remember the point the preacher man-made: that any sex outside of marriage is a sin. What convicted me was that I saw in his eyes that he believed it was possible for single people to abstain until marriage. That was a very noble idea. The challenge was that I was still single with no steady girlfriend, meaning if I committed myself I would need to stay pure for many years. I’m always one for taking up a good challenge, so I studied the Bible and a month later, on 30 November 1990 I was baptized.

Barbra: I was met on campus, at The University of Zimbabwe, in 1990. I was at the lowest point of my life. During the previous college break, I had just survived what I now understand to have been a severe depression. I had just collapsed, while I was at my parents’ home, and knew that I was dying, even though I didn’t know why. I had just come out of a seriously confusing time. In my first year on campus, I’d been involved in a lot of sin. It killed something inside of me and I was just a shell of the happy, bubbly me.

What is your favourite Bible verse?

David: My favourite verse is Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (NIV)

Barbra: For me, it’s Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It kept me sane, those many years ago, when I broke up with my American boyfriend. He was an exchange programme student from Michigan, who after the mess of my first year, had just accepted me as I was and loved me. He went back to the States and bought a ticket for me to follow. But, about two or three weeks before my flight, I started studying the Bible. At the end of my studies, I had to make a decision to pursue my relationship with my boyfriend or to seriously pursue and hold on to my relationship with God. I chose the latter, and have never looked back. Now, 28 years later, married to a hunky, handsome guy who loves God more than he loves me, my cup overflows.

If you could witness any great event in the Bible, which one would it be, and why?

David: For me, it would be the crossing of the Red Sea, and the total annihilation of the mighty Egyptian army. I love and feel inspired by a good fight, especially one in which the underdog triumphs. Inspired as I already am, to see it live would boost my faith for eternity.

Barbra: The angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary to tell her she would conceive and be the mother to a son, Emmanuel. The simplicity of her faith, and her acceptance of God’s wish, amazes me. I think that conversation is just so beautiful.

Which person in the Bible would you like to have in your church, and why?

David: I’d be thrilled to have Barnabas, the son of encouragement. The church would benefit a lot from his character traits, and I’d learn from him in relating better with others.

Barbra: That would be Abigail. She would inspire so many of us (the sisters). Her wisdom, as a godly woman, married to an ungodly man, her managing her household; her experience as a widow, and her wisdom as the wife of King David. There is so much wealth there.

Describe your own family in a few words.

David: Adventurous, fun-loving.

Barbra: A gift, fun, deep/strong.