On January 16th, 2019, in Zimbabwe, during the midst of a nationwide internet shutdown Pastor Evan Mawarire was arrested at his Harare home by 18 police officers, many of whom were heavily armed. Pastor Evan is famous for his role in sparking the #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe in 2016.
Pastor Evan has met with more persecution in the last few years than many Christians will experience in a life time. He is currently on trial facing a charge of ‘Subverting a Constitutionally Elected Government’ (a.k.a. Treason) which carries a maximum 20 year prison sentence, along with a charge of ‘Inciting Public Violence’.
His only crime is speaking out against the abuses of the government, and decrying the economic situation which has forced Zimbabweans from all walks of life to near starvation. This is now the second time Pastor Evan has faced this charge.
On the 5th of February Pastor Evan released a video that had been taken of him within his home before he was escorted away by the police officers on the 16th of January. Standing, tattered Bible in one hand and flag in the other, he asked to pray with the police officers. He bowed his head and beseeched God:
“God, we thank you for this day and for your grace and your mercy.
We thank you Lord for the nation of Zimbabwe and what you are preparing for us,
We thank you Lord for peace, we thank you Lord for love in our nation.
Help us Lord, it’s a difficult time for everyone.
We thank you for breakthroughs for the challenges that we have,
My lord, for the things that are troubling our nation, we thank you that you are giving us solutions and help.
I pray including our government leaders together with those that represent the poor, together with those who stand for the weak the oppressed, those that stand for democracy.
We’re doing this together, building our nation.
Help us Lord, it’s a difficult time for everyone.
We give you all the praise and exalt your name as these men and women do their job,
We thank you Lord. In Jesus mighty mighty name, Amen and Amen.”
As I watched this video my eyes welled up with tears, and my heart was gripped with conviction.
As I watched this video my eyes welled up with tears, and my heart was gripped with conviction. The story unraveling in Zimbabwe has left me angry and reactionary at times. The thoughts of vengeance in my heart and the anger towards those perpetrating evil in Zimbabwe have been an area in which I have let down my Christian convictions.
Watching Pastor Evan pray struck me dumb, this man who has suffered so much direct harm from the authorities – to whom this struggle is more personal by lightyears than it is to me – bowed his head, Bible in hand, and prayed for ‘grace and mercy’ and over the very people arresting him he called praise and exaltation to God. He did not ask for vengeance, nor did he call out in anger. He met them not with guns or sticks in self-defense, but with God’s word and with the grace of Jesus on his tongue. St. Peter wrote to the scattered believers in 1 Peter 3:9:
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” [NIV]
As Christians, we are not called to violence. Instead we are called to peaceful determination, to speak truth to power, fight for the orphan and widow and stand up for the poor and needy. When this comes into conflict with the authorities then we are called to live out Christ’s message of grace, peace and mercy to those who seek to do us harm.
As Christians, we are not called to violence. Instead we are called to peaceful determination, to speak truth to power, fight for the orphan and widow and stand up for the poor and needy.
There are few images as powerful as a lone pastor, head bowed with a tattered bible in one hand, praying in the midst of his captors and displaying God’s grace to them.
The strength that it took Pastor Evan to do what he did is a strength that comes only from Jesus Christ, if all Christians could harness not only this same burning passion for the oppressed and marginalized but also the courageous peacefulness and passionate grace then the gospel message would be unstoppable. It would sweep the nations like wildfire, as it did in the days of the early church.
So my prayer today is that Jesus works in my heart to emulate this Christlike response, and to live my life in selfless service to Christ’s gospel message. Not so that I can be more like Pastor Evan, but so that I can be more like Jesus. When we represent him so well on earth, as Pastor Evan did, then our impact is immensely powerful – it changes and convicts people.
It is through witness that we will change the world, that we will win souls for glory.
It is through witness that we will change the world, that we will win souls for glory. Christ’s example is our weapon and the guidelines of scripture are our foundation, so that when we endure the forging fires of persecution we may stand strong in the witness of Christ with grace, peace and mercy.