THE leader of the DiVineyard Church of His Presence (DCOHP), John Chibwe, says a neighbour is anyone who exists outside one’s own skin, not just the person living in the house next door.
The leader of Zimbabwe’s increasingly popular, but unconventional church, who always insist that no one should trust him as he is just an ordinary human being like anyone else — but trust only God — says many people miss an opportunity to become true Christians by taking the ordinary dictionary meaning of neighbour to exclude people who are physically closest to them when they try to put basic Christian values of forgiving and doing good into their everyday practice.
The founder of a church which has no hierarchy, no high table, no dais and does not ask its members to pay a tithe, made the definition this week during his fortnightly visits to Harare where his sermon focused on how bitterness from past experiences locks people, who claim to be Christians, away from being true Christians; and went on to touch on why there are so many divorces taking place in today’s world.
Chibwe said many people who claim to be Christians cannot let go what has happened to them in the past, the bitterness of which becomes a debilitating albatross around their necks as they try to move into the future.
“Your husband is your neighbour, your wife is your neighbour… they are the closest neighbours one can ever have… it starts from your own house,” Chibwe said.
He said forgiveness is the beginning of a truly Christian life, and Christianity is not a lifestyle, but life itself.
He said the reason why many people, including those that claim to be Christians cannot move forward is because of the bitterness that they cannot let go without feeling empty because they need to always have someone to blame in their lives.
“When you have problems in your marriage, you blame God, but was God there when you decided to marry?” Chibwe asked.
He said the reason most marriages fail is that many people marry for wrong reasons… instead of faithfully asking God for guidance, they instead let their desire for material things guide them in picking a prospective spouse—like what the person has or what job they do—and when these earthly things disappear, the marriages immediately fall of the rocks.
“Many are regretting… I made a mistake, I should not have married that man or woman, but that one… if you think you are married to a wrong person, before you blame God, ask yourself if He was there when you made that decision. God never makes mistakes. You are in that marriage for a reason. It is too late to complain… all you should do is to ask God to make that ‘wrong’ person the right one,” Chibwe said.
Many Zimbabweans, desperately stranded in their lives, because of the unforgiving economic difficulties that the country is going through, have fallen easy prey to the now fashionable gospel of prosperity, going in droves to some churches that are popular for promising overnight earthly riches and in their desperation ending up losing the little they have as they are made to pay tithes, “seed” money over and above buying a whole panoply of highly priced “anointed” material, monies that have seen some church leaders becoming rich beyond the wildest dream of Croesus.
Chibwe uses soil, ash and ordinary borehole water which he says anyone who believes in the power of God is free to take in any quantities they like, but is always quick to warn his followers that when it comes to reaping the bounteous rewards of God’s unmerited favour, it is not a question of quantity, but the quality of one’s faith in Him that matters.
In other churches that specialise in the prosperity gospel, anything purportedly anointed cost real money, but Chibwe insists that for as long as he is truly serving God, he would not turn Jesus Christ into a commodity that is only accessible to those with money.
“Many today are making Jesus Christ a commodity. Why should anyone pay again for the salvation that was paid for in full by the blood of Jesus Christ?” he said.
Ask any hopelessly struggling Zimbabwean what their last wish could be… it is almost certainly something that comes for free. This is what Chibwe is offering
By word of mouth, the name John Chibwe has been spreading like a veld fire, resulting in the current situation in which tens of thousands of people from all walks of life faithfully attend his fortnightly sermons and deliverance services in Harare. Many follow him back to his base in the sugar-producing town of Chiredzi on weekends that he would not be in Harare.
Since it started as a motley of fire-catching men discussing the gospel in 2012, the DCOHP has been growing, initially operated from a private home in Mount Pleasant, but the ever-swelling crowds made the residents of the otherwise quiet neighbourhood feel thoroughly violated, resulting in the church relocating to a piece of land in Stoneridge that it got from the City of Harare.
Many people confess that on their first visit to the church, they were disappointed when what they saw at the church did not even remotely match their least of expectations.
“When I arrived and saw the tents and all the dust around, I was disappointed, but wondered why there were thousands of people — many of whom looked well-up and highly sophisticated—so I became very curious,” a Zimbabwean woman who was visiting from the United Kingdom told this writer on the sidelines of Chibwe’s church service early this month.
“I expected to see someone in a designer suit, with shiny shoes disembarking from a top-of the range car onto a red carpet shielded by an army of bodyguards, while everyone bowed down as he arrives to deliver his sermon, but I should admit that I was so disappointed when I saw someone with dusty shoes and dressed cheaply from within the crowd taking the microphone and starting to deliver a sermon.”
Such is Chibwe’s simplicity that has left many wondering.
In a country where managers of some of the smallest companies have private ablution facilities exclusively reserved for them, it would appear very strange that Chibwe — a business executive himself — does not mind joining a long and winding queue to share the same toilet with the thousands of people who come to attend his sermons — including little children — because to him, every human being is equal to the next.
Chibwe believes no human being should bow to anyone else other than to God, as this is a blatant act of idolatry. It is not uncommon for congregates at many popular churches to kneel and bow down before the leaders of these churches.
He said people who practice this happily do so because they are in the church in search of material things, earthly things that leaders of some popular churches always say they can facilitate… provided the congregants do their part in giving generously to the church.
Chibwe insists that since human beings were created as equal before God, for anyone to bow before a fellow mortal constitutes a pagan act.
While his followers insist on addressing him as Man of God, Chibwe refuses that title, saying he is just an ordinary human being who is also striving for the salvation of his soul just like anyone else. If there is anything that he does — like healing the sick or casting out demonic spirits — he vehemently insists it should be attributed to Jesus Christ and God, not to him.
By local, regional and global standards of church leaders, Chibwe appears to be one real oddball character.
While he juggles his thankless church work (which appear to take a lot of his time) with his equally taxing job as the financial director of conglomerate Hippo Valley Estates—which explains why he is based in the small town of Chiredzi—the “Man of God”, does not sell anything that he says is anointed by God. Chibwe and his wife are paying educational fees for more than 400 children (mostly orphans) from primary school right to university level from their own resources.
He insists that whatever man asks for from God in this earthly life and gets should be used for the purpose of glorifying God, not for personal aggrandisement.
“Whatever it is that you ask from God make sure it is for His glory. That job that you are praying for, that car that you want, that house that you are asking for… is it for the glorification of God or to satisfy the fleeting desires of this world?” he always asks those that gather to listen to his sermons.
He contends that people die rich in the earthly sense, their fat bank accounts will be used as evidence of their selfishness during their existence in a world where there are so many people in desperate need of help.
Last year, Chibwe — who is very happy that he did not go to any Bible school — said that the celebration of birthdays was a pagan act that borders on idolatry, an act that no true Christian should ever indulge in. He said if at all a Christian has to celebrate a birthday, the true birthdays that are worth celebrating are Christmas — the day Jesus Christ was born — because this is the day the sacrificial offering for the world’s sins arrived; and possibly the day one became a born again Christian, on strict condition that the person is consistently living their life according to the word of God.
He says many people appear to be Christians, not because of who God is, but because of what they expect to get from Him.
After his sermons that average about two and a half hours, for the next eight to 10 hours, Chibwe gets busy casting out demons non-stop… something humanly impossible for someone who says he usually goes for three days without a meal.
His deliverance sessions are often dominated by cases of spiritual husbands and wives, which evil spirits cause married people to violently dislike their spouses so much that the marriages end up on the rocks, or cause some seemingly normal people never to fondle the idea of marrying in the first place.
Chibwe, who takes no prisoners when he preaches, often leaves many thoroughly ashamed as he always insists that people who claim to be Christians are some of the worst hypocrites and the most unforgiving in this world and that many today are going to church in search of material things, not to seek God for who He is.
“What makes you the Christian that you claim to be?” Chibwe always asks.
His other favourite chew-toy are women who always spend inordinate hours in hair saloons and beauty parlours busy trying to “correct God’s mistakes”, instead of attending to the beauty of their souls. He says many women—including those that claim to be Christians—spend a lot of money on artificial hair and skin bleaching chemicals in order to appear to be what they can never be. In the process they insult God who created them in his own image.
Chibwe always advises his followers that in the life of a Christian, it is not how that one starts the race that matters, but how they end it.
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