Do we even realize that things like this are happening in our world today?

I received this email today, via IMB personnel who are on the field in Zimbabwe, detailing the very unstable situation there. (My clearest personal memory of Zimbabwe was New Year’s Eve 2002, when the van that I was traveling in on the outskirts of Harare was attacked by three armed men, and our police “help” tried to rob us as well when they were called to the scene. And this is when things weren’t that bad!) Will you pray for the people there? The letter says it much better than I could, so please take the time to read it and pray as this pastor asks…

From John Bell, pastor of Central Baptist Church, Harare:Prayer and News LetterZimbabwe, June 21st., 2008Habakkuk asked God two questions at the beginning of his short oracle and in those two questions concealed two accusations. “Lord, how long will I call and You will not hear? How long will I cry and You will not save?” Implicit in the questions is Habakkuk’s troubled conclusions; God does not hear and God does not act.I was led, I believe by the Lord, to begin a few weeks ago, short series on Sunday mornings on the prophecy of Habakkuk. As I sit here in my office writing this short update, I have a sense that we as a church have reached the point that Habakkuk reached in the turn of the 7th. and 6th. century. God has brought us to a point in our experience where we ask Him, “Lord, do You hear? Lord, why are You doing nothing?”God was gracious then, He allowed Habakkuk to pray in this way and brought him through troubled questions to faith, the faith that made him stand with hind’s feet on high places. And we are convinced that God is gracious yet, He has heard our confused and pained cries, our veiled, humble yet honest questions about His care and power, and He will yet bring us to a point of faith, and we too will stand on high places. But between the questions of chapter 1:2 to the faith of 3:19 is a hard journey.We need please, for you to pray for us and for our land.There is a facade of normalcy in our nation, as though it was just life as normal; in the hall above me, bouncy Christian music blares and I hear the sound of dancing feet as a ladies aerobic outreach class meets. Outside my office, the janitorial assistant mops the hall floor, friends have popped in on their way to tend a vegetable garden they have started at our Girls Haven, this afternoon we will go as a family to watch the first team rugby match of Jedidiah’s school, St Georges, against bitter, ancient rivals Prince Edward. People walk in the street, young people hang out, bills are paid, people laugh and chat, churches continue to meet …… But dig beneath the surface, probe within the hearts of those whose faces we see. If ever a time when we needed prayer, surely it is now.Friday June 27th. marks a watershed of the history of our nation. Our re-run Presidential election is set to take place, incumbent Mr. Mugabe having lost in the first to Morgan Tsvangarai, but supposedly, not with a simple majority (and that conclusion is debated of course). Whatever happens on that day will determine the history of our nation significantly, it is a watershed. And who knows what will happen? Should Mugabe win as a result of his recent tactics, about which more later, then there is no arresting of the increasingly rapid slide into economic implosion and total societal disintegration. But there may be an end to the violence that has recently gripped us. Should Tsvangarai win as a result of the genuine wishes of the people the future is more murky. In an ideal world, things will start to turn around, the present government will move aside, the civil service will be improved, security forces purged of corruption, politicians held accountable for profiteering, international aid and interest will flow in and slowly but surely the huge ship of Zimbabwe will change course for a brighter future. But we live in a real, not an ideal world. It seems unlikely that the President will relinquish power in any scenario, the army and air force and police are puppets, or rather fellow dominoes who realise that when one domino falls over, the whole lot will collapse. Who knows what might be unleashed upon the nation, it really is a genuine question. So, without wanting to raise panic, or undue fear, my feeling is that the future is most serious indeed.What has been happening? What does lie beneath the facade of normality? Well, after the first election we were shocked as a nation, it was all so calm, so peaceful, the parliament was won by the opposition, as well as the presidential vote. We foolishly believed that we were getting a new government. And many of us concluded that there was no way that the government and the president in particular, could manoeuvre out of this. He had lost, it was clear, it had to be accepted!Oh no it did not! We have seen what can only be described as diabolical cleverness and demonic wickedness in the past months. Long delays in announcements, frustrating the work of the electoral commission, miring the issue in court proceedings ….. and then the violence. Slowly but steadily, well planned and orchestrated the violence has grown. Intimidation has always been one of the political tools of this regime, in this election, it is the only tool. There is one sentence, indeed one word on the manifesto of this election campaign. It is the word “fear”. In past elections votes could be bought, bought with food, bought with promises, bought with land. Now the food has run out, promises are seen to be hollow, land is taken and misused. Now, votes must be coerced, and coerced through violence.And what is happening? In the rural areas, whole villages are being intimidated, chiefs are being threatened with reprisals by the army should a village support the opposition, people are fleeing homes and living and sleeping in the bush for fear of beatings, rape, pillaging, and the burning of their homes by gangs of youths armed and mandated by the government. I do not wish to horrify you, but if you want, have a look at some of the Human Rights reports on Zimbabwe on the internet to see some of the horrific acts of violence. One of our elders said that having read these, he determined not to share them with his wife. Youths are being given ruling party T shirts and formed into mobs, transported to areas other than their home areas and given the go ahead to beat and assault at whim. Rumours are that criminals have been released from prison on the proviso that they fulfil certain duties for the powers that be. Even in the cities violence has come. Commuter omnibuses, minicabs used for public transport are being stopped and the drivers beaten. Passengers have to get out and chant ZNAU-PF (ruling party) slogans or they are beaten. People are asked to repeat the party slogan and if they do not know it, they are beaten. A church member has just come in and shared how she travelled to a near by town, on the way was stopped at 2 Police road blocks and made to chant slogans. A young man in the church witnessed youths stopping a minibus, pulling out the driver and beating him on the street, without reprisal, without police interference. We have more and more people coming to the church in need of help as a result of political violence and intimidation. Reports come to our ears daily of acts of torture and oppression and violence, people are rounded up in areas and made to attend party rallies. Abductions happen regularly, murders occur and are unreported. The list could go on and on. And in the midst the government maintains the posture of pretended indignant integrity, hypocritically acting as though their hands are clean and the opposition had better stop the violence.What does that mean on the ground in our country at the moment? It means that all of us are somewhat fearful. True, some areas are much safer than others, the more densely populated, less affluent areas are more prone to the violence, but even in these other, safer areas, we all drive with great care. I recently went to buy some maize meal for our staff and social concern ministry, I had heard about its availability (on the black market of course, none in the shops). On the way back I took a longer, more circuitous route just in case I was stopped. Is carrying food a crime? No, but …… Churches have been stopped in fact from distributing food, even an organisation that feeds street children was told to stop operations. Our own food distribution we keep as low key as possible, how tragic, to live in an environment when doing good has to be done in secret, lest it be seen and stopped. Many of our church folk learn the slogans of the day for their own protection, minibuses plaster themselves with party posters as a form of protection. We cancelled our youth meetings last night and encourage people to be off the streets during the evening. Late last night, taking our assistant caretaker to catch a ride home and having to drop him in town, I myself was feeling a bit nervous. Even writing these words, letting you know some of the things that are really happening, I have a concern about who might get hold of this and what might it be used for. Such fearfulness is wrong.Friends, we need you to pray please. God must hear, and God must do something. We as a church will continue to do what we can do, we will seek to “trust in the Lord and do good” and we will hope to “dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture”. But frankly, it is hard. The economy spirals in free fall, my salary at the beginning of the month had devalued by about 40 times now by way of example. Food is short, unavailable on the shelves of stores or far too expensive if there for the average person, the black market thrives for all basic commodities, inflation figures make no sense, in the millions of percent now, outstanding fees on our school bill are charged a penalty of 10% per day, people struggle to find basics, for our Girls Centre fees at a college went from 3 billion one day, to 10 billion the next, to 25 billion the following week. Food procurement is challenging and expensive, the government charges an iniquitous duty of 65% on food brought in, a duty charge that is levied on transport as well. Friends in South Africa are sending a food parcel up for our pastors and church workers and the needy, they will end up paying in excess of twice the real price because of government taxes and transport. The wickedness is unbelievable, the lack of concern for struggling people is demonic, the deafness of those in power to the cries of the suffering and the commitment to self-advancement at the expense of others are hard to believe. How can any in power inflict such suffering upon their own people?This is becoming one of my rambling letters, but there is much inside me that churns. We need you to pray please. As a church, in our fear and uncertainty and concern, we seek to remain faithful, we look to God, but we are honestly asking the Habakkuk questions. We feel that we pray and God does not listen, we feel that we cry and God does not act. But our faith is trying to reach beyond our feelings, indeed, what is the alternative but despair?So please, this week especially, pray that we will understand God’s larger purpose and be willing to endure with an eye on that. Pray for many people struggling and wondering, in fear and uncertainty. Pray for young people caught up in the situation, for elderly who are beaten by youths contrary to the deepest mores of culture and African community and disgraced in public as evidence of society’s fabric being ripped apart, for grandmothers and widows, for school children with studies disrupted and classes cancelled, for people in prison for political views, for pastors to be wise and full of integrity, for police and army members, that they will be convicted and refuse to act out the part they are called to pray. And pray for God’s righteous judgment to come, for God to lift His powerful hand, for evil to be crushed, for those that dig a pit to fall into it, and those that spread a net to be caught up in it, that God will be seen to defend the defenceless and father the fatherless.Please pray that God will hear, and that God will act. And that suffering will cease.We are grateful for your interest and concern, let my regular apology for the length of the communication bring it to an end.May God be glorified in all things.John Bell

And this, an article received after the letter…

Tsvangirai withdraws his party from election saying to continue would cost supporters’ livesChris McGreal in Harare and Julian Borger, diplomatic editorThe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai yesterday pulled out of this week’s presidential election in Zimbabwe, saying he is not prepared to ask people to die by voting for him, and accusing Robert Mugabe of “waging a war against the people”. The Movement for Democratic Change leadership met and decided to withdraw from what it called a “violent, illegitimate sham of an election” amid the murders by the ruling Zanu PF militia and security forces of 100 opposition activists, the torture and rape of thousands of MDC supporters, and a state-orchestrated campaign of terror across swathes of the country. “Mugabe has declared war, and we will not be part of that war,” the opposition leader said. The British, American and French governments immediately denounced the Mugabe regime for the collapse of the elections, and the crisis will move to the UN security council today as the international community considers new sanctions against the Zanu PF leadership. “If Mugabe thinks this finishes it, he’s in for a big surprise. He has united the world against him,” Mark Malloch Brown, the foreign office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, told the Guardian. The White House added: “The government of Zimbabwe and its thugs must stop the violence now.”

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