By Mary Taruvinga,Senior Reporter
THE inviting, melodious echoes flow downhill as we make the final ascend.
In the absence of musical instruments to enhance output, they use their palms to issue out some rhythmic claps which blend perfectly with their voices.
A thrilling spectacle unfolds as we reach a mountain-top clearing used for the day by our guests, consumed in song and dance at the conclusion of their Sunday church service.
This is the scenario that confronted the NewZimbabwe.com crew when it visited the newly established Ziva Mwari Church at Trojan Mine, Bindura, formed by a group of beer drinkers tired of the ill-treatment they received in their original denominations, as it later turned out.
We made the nearly 100km journey to witness first-hand how these folks conduct themselves on a typical Sunday.
We intended to attend the full service, only to arrive minutes after the preachers had left.
It is a unique church comprising of booze lovers, where no one is judged by any known sin as is the case in conventional churches.
The church, formed just under a month ago, has grown phenomenally, with the congregation in Bindura alone numbering 140.
It has already hand branches in Shurugwi and Gutu district.
While in many churches, beer drinking is condemned in the strongest terms possible, here, liberty reigns supreme.
Congregants are allowed to behave anyhow every other time except for the one hour (9-10am) of every Sunday dedicated to the service of the Lord.
You can drink, smoke and do anything else you want as long as you remember the one-hour Sunday worship time.
As if to cap it all, their place of worship is a disused bar with an equally funny name: Six million.
It is located in the Trojan Mine complex.
We were welcomed by non-other than the church’s founder Richard Twabi who led us through the nearby shrubbery to the clearing.
On arrival, we were shocked to see two male congregants leaning against the algae infested wall of a deserted buildings, puffing cigarettes as they nodded to the singing.
Upon noticing the news crew, they put out the lighting and rushed to join the song and dance.
Following proceedings, one is gripped by a powerful sense of unity, the passion and the commitment that these supposed Christianity outcasts have to their cause.
They have already encountered a first test to their faith and passed with flying colours.
As if being disregarded in conventional churches is not enough, they claimed somebody reported to the company authorities that they were up to some political games, resulting in them being locked out of the beerhall-turned church two Sundays ago.
They then approached the local police post; pleading to be given permission to worship under the tree.
“We just came here last Sunday to find the doors locked. We were then told were no longer allowed in. It was so painful. We could not imagine missing the service and so we approached the police who allowed us to worship under the tree,” one congregant said.
It was also quite fascinating to hear that some of the congregants could make it on time for the 9am service despite having spent the whole night clubbing.
Twabi, the church’s founder, is already an odd-defying man.
He said he traded his Islamic Quran for the Bible; only the most daring individuals can entertain such an unthinkable act of crossing the great religious divide.
A diesel fitter/engine technician at Trojan Mine, Twabi was visibly proud of his undertaking.
He said he decided to start the church after realising he was suffering humiliation in the churches he has attempted to fellowship at due to his undying love for the bottle.
“I sat down with my friends and decided to engage all alcoholics, drug abusers and all sorts of rogue elements who want to pray despite the activities they engage in,” Twabi said.
“We want them to always remember that there is God in heaven, hence the name, Ziva Mwari (Know God),” said Twabi.
“Because God created us in his image, so at the end of the day we must worship him. When you wake up every day you must praise him for giving you another day. Being close to God does not mean one has to spend the whole day in worship,” said Twabi.
Twabi said the same day they formed the church; he visited the beer halls and engaged his drinking partners and managed to recruit 65 members in a day.
“I’m very much happy to note and say that the very first service, we had 40 people in church,” he said.
Asked why he left Islamism, Twabi said: “I never understood that religion anyway.”
The church has become popular in Bindura and Mashonaland Central, with some congregants saying they travelled 20km for the service.
However, despite the obedience, it is very easy to pick hangover dominance from their faces.
One would wonder just how a typical service goes on here.
“We conduct our services like any other church. We start with the praise and worship session and then pray before hearing the word of God,” Twabi explained.
“We said since we do not a proper pastor among us, we better invited preachers from other churches and we have hosted a number of them here, including Methodist, Seventh Day Adventists, CCAP and AFM.”
Twabi said they have been fortunate that they don’t struggle to get preachers.
“We have an open-door policy, we want to learn from other churches, that is why we invite them to our church,” he said.
Twabi said they are other people who have shown interest in Shurugwi and have had calls from around the country.
The Ziva Mwari congregants do not take alcohol at their church.
Soon after the service, they disperse and normally get to the nearby compound bar where they enjoy the drink as a group.
Twabi said as a church they are trying to mould their congregants into reputable characters.
For instance, if a member is female who is in the habit of snatching other women’s husbands, they preach against that.
“We also encourage men not to beat up their wives when drunk,” he said, giving a few examples.
One would be forgiven to imagine this is a male only church, but that is not the case. Their congregation has a good number of female worshipers.
One of them, Fatima Samupingo, left everyone in stitches when she said: “I love God and I love my beer. I got home around 3am today from the bar, but still managed to be here on time for the service.”
“Whatever I do after the church service is up to you. People will always judge me but what is important is that I would have had one hour to talk to my creator,” she said.
It is their energy that is captivating.
They jostled to give testimonies, a clear exhibition of how they have come to love their church.
With no shame, they first expose their area of interest before they go on to narrate how the formation of Ziva Mwari has impacted their lives.
Fatima, a former Mugodhi member, said as a single mother she expects to meet her future husband in Ziva Mwari.
She criticised her former church over polygamy, saying each man should have one wife.
Then came Dr Anaconda DRC, born Sani Chikandira (62), the Zinatha comedian.
He said drunkards are often grouped in the low status citizens, who are made to do donkey work during funerals and other gatherings in communities, but they have love which overshadows that of pastors and church goers.
“We even share a cigarette,” he said.
“In churches you can easily tell that now the gospel is targeting me but here you won’t find that. What Ziva Mwari does is to groom drunkards and our aim is to pray.”
Chikandira says he is a traditional healer who can cure all sorts of diseases including STIs and cancer among other ailments.
“What I cannot treat is HIV,” he says as he staggers back to his standing position.
As for Lucky Joe (67), a former Salvation Army congregant who claims he left the church because of criticism over his drinking behaviour.
“When this church was formed, I knew I had found the right one. Because there is no one who is a saint. You will not be surprised that out of millions who go to church, only a few will see heaven.”
“What is important is to know God and live his word,” he said and to confirm that he is a good singer, he started belting the popular Christian hym: “ukashingirira uri pamuchinjikwa dzamara wawana zororo.
Loosely translated, the song means: If you persevere in the Lord, you shall be crowned.
Brian Kondowe (29) said many people hide behind Christianity, yet they do the opposite in real lives.
“We do what we do in transparency, this church will help us fix our behaviour which we always do when under the influence of alcohol, but I will never stop drinking.”
Shupikai Amanda (33) starts by confessing her love for beer.
“I am a drunkard. I love my beer. Those who see me drunk call me names, some label me a prostitute but I’m not a sex worker. I stopped going to church because I would always get judged. In this church no one judges me, now I have about five years as an alcoholic and its game on,” she said.
Twabi said his church has set out to help groom the most well-behaved drunkards in the country.
Twabi has plans to take his church country wide and also has plans to open another a branch in Harare soon.
This is the church of the free, where all and sundry are free to come and worship without being judged.
You, too, can come in any kind of dressing you want.