A political impasse and related violence has created a humanitarian and spiritual crisis in Zimbabwe, says a Baptist pastor there contacted by EthicsDaily.com.

“The people are discouraged and depressed, and they need inspiration,” Ray Motsi, pastor of the Bulawayo Baptist Church said in an e-mail. “The situation is desperate.”

Churches in Zimbabwe opened their doors to people facing politically motivated violence in the aftermath of a March 29 election. President Robert Mugabe has conceded that opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes but claims the 47 percent margin collected by Tsvangiria was not enough for an outright win.

The Zimbabwe Election Commission is expected to announced a date for a run-off election in the next three or four weeks.

Meanwhile, there are reports of violence and intimidation directed against those suspected of voting against the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that at least five people died from beatings at Monday’s “political meeting” at a village 60 miles north of Harare.

An African leader said about 40,000 farm workers and their families have been displaced as a result of violence and intimidation by pro-government militias

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the next phases of the Southern African nation’s elections must be free and fair.

Another observer said Zimbabwe is too violent to hold a presidential run-off, and the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has reportedly said the final election could be delayed by up to a year.

Zimbabwe’s churches are not immune from political tensions. The nation’s Anglican Church is reportedly split between current Bishop Sebastian Bakare of the Diocese of Harare and supporters of former Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, a renowned supporter of Mugabe.

Bakare has said he believes Anglicans are being singled out for persecution reminiscent to that of Christian churches under communist rule.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches warned that “if nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide.”

Christians around the world joined in a day of prayer for Zimbabwe Sunday, April 27.

Mugabe, 84, has ruled the country formerly known as Rhodesia since winning independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. His regime has seen Zimbabwe spiral from the once so-called breadbasket of Africa into a country with the highest inflation rate in the world. Some 80 percent of Zimbabweans are jobless and a third of the country’s 13 million population needs food assistance.

Life expectancy has dropped from 61 in 1990 to 37 for men and 34 for women in 2006. More than three million are estimated to have fled the country, many to neighboring South Africa.

British relief agencies Tearfund and Christian Aid told The Baptist Times that post-election violence is hampering efforts to distribute already stretched humanitarian aid.

“People are being killed day in and day out,” Baptist pastor Motsi said. “Thousands have been displaced from their homes. We do not have enough space, food and resources to cater for such numbers.”

Despite the desperation, Motsi remains optimistic. “Only God can move mountains,” he said. “I believe in the Lord with whom there is nothing impossible and whose plans and purposes cannot be thwarted. He is a sovereign God. He is in control of every situation in Zimbabwe and the whole universe.”

But Motsi said Christian believers also have a role to play. “Some feel called for such a time like this, and others are not,” he said. “We all have different calling and gifts. The prophetic work of the Church is risky and lonely and is not done by the majority.”

Isaac Mwase, associate professor of philosophy at Tuskegee University, worked as associate pastor at Bulawayo Baptist Church in 1983 and 1984 before moving to the United States.

“The situation in Zimbabwe is on the minds of Zimbabweans there and in the diaspora,” Mwase said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. “We are praying that our leaders will elevate the interests of the citizens there and abroad above political survival and power.”

Mwase said the announcement of election results was “a source of encouragement.”

“Against a backdrop, however, of what appears to be systematic intimidation of those who are ready for a different government,” he continued, “we have to pray even more for statesmanship to trump narrow political interest.”

Many Baptists around the world felt a special bond to Zimbabwe after attending a Baptist World Alliance Youth Conference there in 1994.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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