Friar Joshua, C.Z.M.K

Photograph courtesy 
of S.S.J.E.

On a snowy morning in early March at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Friar Joshua Musiyambiri, C.Z.M., an Anglican monastic, listened intently as Professor Andrew McGowan began to outline the thought of Origen, the Greek-speaking theologian who died circa A.D. 254. “Origen,” said McGowan in a broad Australian twang, “was one of the most tragic figures of early Christianity.” Swiftly summarizing the key events of Origen’s life, McGowan noted that the theologian’s father was martyred during the reign of Septimus Severus in the same persecution that took the lives of the better known Perpetua and Felicity.

Martyrdom perhaps seemed long ago and far away to most of the students at McGowan’s lecture. Friar Joshua, on the other hand, had learned just days earlier of the brutal murder of the Reverend Peter Wagner, a veteran English missionary to Zimbabwe who was one of his principal mentors as he discerned his call to the priesthood. Wagner’s body was found in the missionary’s church. While robbery, not religious persecution, was the apparent motive for the killing, Wagner’s death was an undeniable sign that the Christian ministry in Zimbabwe has a different shape and outcome than ministry in Massachusetts.

Taking Vows
Joshua Musiyambiri, 33, entered the Chita che Zvipo zve Moto (Community of the Gifts of Holy Fire), an Anglican religious community of friars and nuns indigenous to Zimbabwe, in 1987 and took life vows a decade later in 1997. The sixth child of Christian parents (he has twelve brothers and sisters), church was an important part of young Joshua’s growing up in rural Gokwe. His father and mother are peasant farmers in the area, which is a four-to-five-hour drive west of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. About the time Joshua finished secondary school he began to have extended conversations with Canon Lazarus Muyambi, the Gokwe-based priest who founded the C.Z.M. order in 1977. Its members vow themselves to the practice of love, compassion, and spiritual poverty. From its beginnings, the main work of the community has been prayer and the care of sick and needy in the Gokwe region, with an emphasis particularly on spiritual healing.

Canon Muyambi invited Joshua to come assist at the mission by mentoring a young people’s study group. The invitation was one that “I welcomed very much, with great joy,” the friar recalled recently. “Seeing the work that was going on, and the care for the orphans that it did, I soon felt that was the way God was calling me. So I called my parents and talked to them about joining the religious order.”

His parents were delighted by his decision, Joshua said, but his brothers were vigorously opposed. They warned him that he was choosing a life of servanthood and giving up the freedom to make his own choices. But he entered the order, and was sent first to teacher-training school and subsequently to the University of Zimbabwe. When he wasn’t in school he taught high school.

In 1996 a number of American members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the oldest Anglican religious order (It was founded in England in 1866), came to Zimbabwe to celebrate the centennial of the death of Bernard Mizeki, a Zimbabwean catechist trained by S.S.J.E. missionaries who was martyred at Marondera. After the celebration at the Bernard Mizeki shrine, the American brothers came to visit the C.Z.M. headquarters, and subsequently the society offered to sponsor a C.Z.M. member for studies at Episcopal Divinity School.

Study in the U.S.
The community accepted the offer, Friar Joshua was selected as their candidate, and last July he arrived at the S.S.J.E. monastery in Cambridge after a disorienting journey that had taken him from Harare to Johannesburg, South Africa, thence to New York (with a refueling stop somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, he’s not sure where), and finally, Boston. There a familiar face, an S.S.J.E. brother he had met in Zimbabwe along with two other members of the order, greeted him at Logan Airport. In the following days, he was taken to New Hampshire, where he saw the White Mountains, and then to Maryland, where he stood on his first ocean shore, looking out to sea. He summoned up in his imagination the shores of Africa shimmering somewhere off to the southeast.

Classes Begin
In September, classes began at E.D.S., a few blocks away from the monastery. Joshua has been drawn particularly to the study of liturgy and the practices and thought of the early church. “Before I came here,” he said, “I had the idea that the American way was totally off the traditional way, . . . was allowing too many things. . . . But I found that actually the American [Episcopal] liturgy has gone back to the early church.”

At E.D.S. and neighboring parishes the friar encountered women priests ministering for the first time. The C.Z.M. nuns outnumber the friars in their community by about six to one, and in the community’s leadership they play a primary role. But when the order reflected on which member they might send to the United States for study, Friar Joshua said, there was no thought that the one chosen might be a woman, although one of E.D.S.’s hallmarks is the emphasis it places on women’s studies.

Joshua acknowledged he has experienced a major change since he entered E.D.S. in his understanding of how God works. It arises from the emphasis his teachers and fellow students place on welcoming people as they are—and in not limiting ordination to men. If Zimbabwean women were given the chance, he said, he believes some probably would want to be ordained. But he said he hasn’t heard of many women being vocal in seeking change in their place in Zimbabwean society. “It’s not a debate that’s going on,” he said.

The C.Z.M. practice of spiritual healing, which Friar Joshua said has the support of both Zimbabwe’s Anglican archbishop and the bishop of Central Zimbabwe, the diocese where Gokwe is located, seems strange to those fellow students to whom he has described it, despite its similarity to the gospel descriptions of Jesus driving out demons. “They don’t seem to believe in the power of the Evil One possessing a person and causing all sorts of problems,” he observed. “Everything is taken in the name of psychological problems and psychiatric problems, and so it is to be dealt with in the hospital.” But Joshua isn’t troubled by the skepticism of seminary colleagues. “This isn’t a problem for me because I didn’t come here to be healed. . . . What I am after here is the education and understanding about how people deal with religion here, their views about God, and seeing how that could be applied back home. So whenever I write my theological reflections, I try to focus on my own backyard.”

The Way of Healing
Healing services at the Zimbabwe Spiritual Healing and Manger Center, which are held Tuesday through Saturday every week and are the focal point of the C.Z.M.’s spiritual work, involve extended prayers over those who have come for help, fifty or more people a day. Then, Friar Joshua said, “Father Muyambi, who has the gift of healing, lays hands on the sick person under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. ArchSister Gladys, C.Z.M., a manifester and oracle of the Lord, pronounces whether the supplicant is delivered from the Evil that possesses him or her.” And then for many, he added, healing comes.

In addition to the center, the community operates an orphanage that is home to between fifty and sixty children under 12, most of whom have lost their parents to malaria or AIDS; a preschool; and a primary school with 500 pupils. Members of the community also go from the convent and friary to nurse and teach elsewhere and to evangelize at outlying preaching stations. The community hopes to establish a medical clinic at its headquarters as well, as soon as funds become available.

Friar Joshua’s experience with the power of prayer leaves him a bit impatient with the conflict over homosexuality that currently wracks American Episcopalians and has troubled inter-Anglican relations.

Siding neither with those who argue the sinfulness of same-sex relationships nor with those who suggest they may be natural and God-given for some, he asked, “Are we listening to what the Spirit is saying in this case? It’s the power of discernment that’s being neglected. That is actually causing all this conflict. . . . No one is saying, ‘Let us fast three days, and then pray and hear the solution.’ . . . The power of discernment is right there in Gokwe and elsewhere. The whole world can go and consult today, and hear what the Lord says, and what the Lord wants.

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