WE ARRIVE at the majestic offices in Waterfalls more than an hour late after encountering some delays on the journey from the city centre.
But if this is a problem, none of the smiling faces here show that. As we enter the elegant boardroom, our elderly host too does not seem to notice that we are late.
“Listen, I do not want to be known by anyone nor am I hungry for any publicity,” he says as he welcomes us. “I have granted you this interview so you can sell your paper and not for any personal benefit.
“Yours is not a good profession, it teaches you to twist things so do not forget to leave your contact details so I will know how to get hold of you should you twist things about me.”
Archbishop Ezekiel Guti, founder of the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (Zaoga) Forward in Faith Ministries, has every reason to be worried about scribes.
They gave him too much positive coverage during his first days in the ministry, contributing to his arrests and hatred towards him by some sections of society.
After the warning, the man in a white suit and purple shirt smiles and throws a glance at his wife Eunor, who returns the smile but utters no word. That is how they will communicate throughout the 30-minute long interview. The only time Eunor speaks is when asked to remind her husband specific dates when certain events took place.
Our host is now advanced in age and seems to be forgetting some of the things, so instead of giving a specific year, he would rather say “1937/1938 thereabouts” and Eunor would remember the exact year.
It turns out the warning was an aside. So to formally begin interacting with us, Guti delves through an expensive looking briefcase before him.
Everything at this place smells big money — the building itself, the cars outside, the couple’s dressing, the decorations in the building and even the way things are done here, what with all that American Embassy-style security at the entrance.
“Wait, I will need help for me to hear you,” he says fetching his hearing aids which he plants in his ears and smiles with satisfaction. “I only saw your questions today but all the same we can still talk.
“First, are you born again, did you accept Christ as your Lord and personal saviour?”
He seems undecided about his glasses, occasionally putting them on and removing them throughout the interview.
Unlike his secretary-general who asked our three crew members where they fellowship, Guti confines the question to the reporter. That is when we first hear his little cough-like laugh which is going to punctuate most of our exchanges.
He explains that healing is a major component of his ministry. During the first days, he would fail to go out and look for piece jobs as he would wake up to long queues of people wanting to be prayed for.
Women would contribute to his problems by later testifying publicly that he healed them and their children.
“You women like kupupura (testifying),” he says. “That got me into a lot of trouble with the missionaries from whose churches I operated during those first days.
“They would hear the testimonies and chase me from their churches.
“At one point, I went for six months worried, crying, failing to eat and growing thin not knowing what I should do to continue with God’s work as people used me like a ball to start their churches and chase me once those churches flourished and they felt Ezekiel Guti was getting too famous with the people.”
To answer most questions, Guti gives this reporter a number of books on his life and discloses that he is buying them for her. The problem with Africans, he says, is that they do not read.
His story has been told in so many books, some authored by him and others by other people.
Born to peasant farmers in rural Chipinge, Guti was the eldest in a family of three. He had a lot of responsibility in the family as his polygamous father was not always at home, juggling among his three wives.
As a teenager, he went to work near Mutare and one day, when he visited home, his mother told him about a sermon she had heard in which a missionary said everyone was a sinner and would go to hell.
On that night, he did not sleep, pondering over the missionary’s words and wondering what one should do not to go to hell. This drove him to the bush where he prayed to God to save him. As he prayed one day, God spoke to him, advising him to “fear not, sin not”.
This was the first of many encounters he was to have with God to date. All this happened around 1937/8 when he was about 15.
He went to Chipinge and listened to missionaries’ gospel of all sinners going to hell but not getting an explanation on what he should do to avoid that. He later travelled to Harare where he met a man he had been shown in a dream who explained and baptised him. He started to speak in tongues. This happened around 1947/8.
He preached in Mbare but was to be chased from the church after getting extensive press coverage. In 1958, he ministered in Highfield, in a church started by a South African pastor who had been chased from his own church.
Guti too was later to be expelled from that pastor’s church as the leaders the pastor had left on his return to South Africa did not like him.
He says God “advised” him to go to Bindura where no-one was to follow him and on May 12, 1960, the Zaoga church was born under a gumtree. The church is now a big empire, operating in 106 countries worldwide. It has diverse investments, including 120 dressmaking schools in Zimbabwe, bible schools, colleges and vocational training centres, hospitals and clinics, primary and secondary schools, and so many other properties in various countries.
The church is building a state of the art hospital in Waterfalls and plans are in place to build a university in Bindura. The church’s fleet of vehicles in Zimbabwe only is worth $1,5 million.
Some of the money for these projects comes from members’ tithes and Guti says unlike some churches, Zaoga’s tithes are based on net salary as the church understands that gross includes taxes and other deductions which do not necessarily belong to the member.
He says there is a misconception that Zaoga is rich so much that when the church wants to purchase something, the price always balloons.
The misconception can be traced to the inception of the church whereby at one point its books were taken away by the police and for three months, he was investigated on allegations of spending people’s money.
He remembers 1972 when he was about to graduate from college in America when God “stopped” him from accepting funding from a man who had offered to sponsor the church if he agreed to work with him. He says that shaped the church’s policy not to seek any external funding but survive on members’ contributions which have grown into big investments.
Before being whisked away to meet some visitors from Israel, Guti tells of the pivotal role played by his wife who has supported him in his ministry. Eunor was the first woman marriage officer in Zimbabwe and as an evangelist she has ministered across the world and helped groom many pastors’ wives from across denominations.
She has won recognition for her work, including an Esther Award received from the prime minister of Bahamas.
Guti says he draws knowledge gained from the “painful result” of his first marriage in counselling couples and in his teachings on Christian marriage. His children are also members of Zaoga, serving as administrative officers and pastors among other duties.