The Zimbabwean government has increased its restrictions on granting work permits to missionaries who come to the country to preach the gospel. Zimbabwean authorities say they will no longer issue visas to missionaries seeking to enter the country unless they come with special skills other than evangelistic teaching.
"We think we have got enough Zimbabweans qualified to be ministers of religion," Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa told News Network International.
Lynn Everswick of TEAM Ministries, a Wheaton, Illinois-based missions organization that is heavily active in the southern African country, views the matter differently. "There are people there who are saying, 'We need your help,' "Everswick told CT, noting that syncretistic beliefs present a major obstacle to the total conversion of many Zimbabweans. "Many of the people are accepting Christianity, but they refuse to let go of their traditions of witch doctors and ancestral veneration. We want to help eliminate those practices."
Since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980, there has been a gradual tightening of restrictions, according to Everswick. "Our people have to renew their permits every two years, but with the new restrictions the government could pull the plug at any time."
Although TEAM and other missions organizations claim their continued presence is needed, many Zimbabwean Christian leaders do not view the latest restrictions as a problem. "We don't see it as a crisis here," says Tim Tavaziva, former general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and now president of Young Life, a teen outreach ministry.
"Our nationals are learning that they don't need to have a Western presence here to be Christians," Tavaziva told CT. He believes Zimbabwe needs missionaries who will enable nationals to stand on their own.
"There has been an attitude of paternalism among many of the missions," Tavaziva says. "What we need is an attitude that says: 'I want to empower you to do what God wants you to do.'"
Tavaziva says some missionary groups are failing to trust indigenous leadership. "The nationals must carry the baton on their own."
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