EPWORTH, Zimbabwe (BP)–Behind the stalks of the corn, laughter erupts, followed by chatter. In a small clearing in front of a plaster-covered mud-brick home sit 90 women. Some sit on the ground piecing together a skirt, while others work diligently on a hand-cranked sewing machine.
Epworth, Zimbabwe, may not have electricity, but the sparks ignited by a monthly sewing class have been enough to set a local church on fire for God.
The class started 14 months ago as a way to bring people to the local church. The pastor’s wife, Auxillia Ncube, envisioned something that could be done outside of the church that wasn’t a traditional church meeting.
International Mission Board missionary Kim Davis suggested a crafts class with an emphasis on “storying” the Bible, telling stories from the Bible in chronological order. Davis and fellow missionary Amy Fike joined Ncube in teaching Bible stories and sewing techniques.
The class started off small, with only six women. Now, it has grown to 90 women, most of whom have made a profession of faith and been baptized.
“About 70 of these women have come to Christ, some actually at the sewing class but most through attending the Baptist church they started going to as a result of the sewing ministry,” Davis said. “We never advertised the class. The women were invited by other women who attended the class.”
Several Woman’s Missionary Union groups in the United States found out about the sewing classes and donated 200 sewing kits. Before receiving a kit, a woman must attend the sewing class, make a sewing bag and attend the Baptist church for six weeks straight. More than 100 women have met the requirements for earning a kit.
Eight hundred yards of material was donated by Springs Industry in South Carolina. Also, donations from Baptists in the United States and from the Diplomatic Wives Association in Harare, Zimbabwe, helped buy 13 hand-crank sewing machines, 12 stools and several portable tables. The women are contributing to the resources by selling enough items to make the class self-supporting.
Davis points out that while the women are learning skills that will help them provide for their families, the most important thing is for them to hear about Christ and be discipled.
“As a result of the sewing ministry and the pastor’s hard work of following up, the church has grown from a handful to more than 200 people,” Davis said. “It has also spun off to another preaching point where about 90 people attend.”
The urgency about spreading the good news of salvation in Jesus is heightened by the AIDS crisis in the country, Davis said.
“Reaching the women in the class is critical since so many of them are HIV positive,” she said. Eight women in the class have died from AIDS this year. Each week, 1,700 people die from AIDS in the country.”
Political turmoil in the country as June 24-25 elections approach also has hampered the outreach, Davis said. Classes had to be canceled, and people in the community were being intimidated politically. She asked Southern Baptists to pray for Christians and other people in Zimbabwe during the elections.
As word of the sewing class spread throughout the community, so did the Bible stories. One woman summoned Davis and Ncube to her home, saying she wanted them to tell her the “Truth.”
Another woman walked past the sewing group one day and stopped. She had just lost her baby due to advice from the local witchdoctor.
Her baby had been born on the one-year anniversary of her great grandmother’s death, when her people believe the ancestor’s spirit comes back to inhabit someone or something. The witchdoctor counseled the young mother to not feed her new baby for two weeks so the grandmother’s spirit could decide whether the baby should live.
“This woman came to our class in great heaviness and grief,” Davis said. “The new Christians ministered to her, and through the Baptist church she became a believer. She was released from the oppression of the ancestral spirits she had been taught to worship.”
Davis said this woman represented the bondage Satan has over many of the people in Epworth and how Christ can dispel the darkness that binds them.
“Death is a major issue these people face daily,” Davis said. “This woman found that the Truth indeed sets one free.”