On May 7, 2024, the Deaf community in collaboration with the Bible Society of Zimbabwe (BSZ) and funding partners – including SIL International, Wycliffe Global, and Wycliffe South Africa – launched the first Deaf Church that will be led by the Deaf, known as the Zimbabwe Deaf Fellowship (ZDF). The launch drew people from different faith traditions, the Deaf Community, organisations that work with the Deaf and for the Deaf, as well as visitors from various provinces throughout the country. This event, hosted by the United Methodist Church, was also live-streamed on the Bible Society of Zimbabwe Facebook.

According to the World Health Organization, 4-6% of Zimbabwe’s population has hearing disabilities, which means approximately 520,000-780,000 Zimbabweans are affected. Around 360 million people worldwide have hearing disabilities. 44% are women and 9% are children under 15. This Deaf Church initiative will improve deaf people’s ability to engage with their church community and offer opportunities to engage with the Bible.

The launch event commenced with prayer and the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Zimbabwe, Stephen Gwasira, welcoming all the participants. The General Secretary expressed his gratitude to all those who attended and those staff and volunteers who made the day possible. The devotions were led by Pastor Mary Zenda – the first Deaf Pastor in Zimbabwe – from the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe. She preached on the powerful topic, ‘Let there be light’. It was a powerful sermon which reflected on the opening of the ZDF and stated that this has brought light to the Deaf community.

The Deaf translators shared their journey as they were translating the Bible into Sign Language. Martin Rinoona, team leader for the translation team, gave a presentation on the work they are currently doing. The translators had the opportunity to show participants some of the Bible stories they had translated. Participants were shown Genesis 1:1-31, 2:1-30, and 3:1-28, and they showed great interest in the videos. 

Other elements of the event included presentations of songs from the Deaf congregants, drama and poems to celebrate the launch. There were testimonies shared as well and some of the Deaf congregants gave their life testimonies and emphasized the importance of having a Church for the Deaf which was really encouraging to their fellowship. The presentations shared with the participants, including the funding partners and spiritual leaders, how the Deaf community had historically been neglected by the Church. The Bible Society of Zimbabwe Board Vice Chairperson also presented some of BSZ’s milestones and the work they are currently undertaking. 

Finally, the moment anticipated by all those in attendance was the official launch of the ministry by Guest of Honor Bishop I. Makumbe – President of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. In his speech, he stated that, on the launch day, he honours the stories of Deaf individuals who have found solace in their faith – stories of resilience, overcoming challenges, and discovering purpose. Makumbe encouraged all people to remember that our differences are not barriers. Through the establishment of ZDF, the Church would help bridge the gap and lead the Deaf community closer to God and greater connection with one another. He talked about the inclusion of the Deaf into the ministry of God.  Mukumbe also reflected that every Deaf person has gifts and talents bestowed by God. The Church was launched and all the pastors and Bishops present were summoned to the pulpit to give a blessing to the Church.

The Bible Society of Zimbabwe believe that from this Church, there is going to be an increase in the number of Deaf pastors – inspired by Pastor Mary Zenda, the one trained Deaf pastor in Zimbabwe. The ZDF seeks to actively equip and empower Deaf leaders to serve within the community and beyond – evident during the launch where most of the proceedings were done by the Deaf. 

After the launch, the ZDF received congratulatory messages from Church Organizations, Church boards, and Organizations for the Deaf and those that work with the Deaf including the funding partners from SIL International, Wycliffe Global and Wycliffe South Africa. 

The event closed with a vote of thanks from the Rev J. Paradza – the Chairperson of the steering committee – who thanked all those who took part in the funding, organizing, and preparations, as well as all of those in attendance. The launch ended with a prayer and benediction by the Guest of Honour Bishop I Makumbe.

At the launch event, SIL International was represented by Johnson Ndunde and Serge Razafinjatoniary, Wycliffe Global was represented by Matt Meyer who was accompanied by his wife Renae and their two daughters Kalkidan and Melat Meyer, while Wycliffe South Africa was represented by Hennie Blomerus and Ansie der Merwe.

Prayer Points

  • Lift up the newly-launched Deaf Church in prayer. Pray the Lord makes this ministry a beacon of hope and a source of spiritual nourishment for the Deaf community in Zimbabwe.
  • Pray for the Bible Translation into Sign Language. Pray God grants His wisdom, clarity, and perseverance to the translators and Bible Society team.
  • Pray for the calling and anointing of Deaf Pastors and Leaders within Zimbabwe.
  • Pray the Lord continues to bless the partnerships and provide the necessary resources for the Zimbabwe Deaf Fellowship to thrive.
  • Continue to pray for the work of the Bible Society of Zimbabwe and their ministry partners.