Denford Muliliwana (center) stands in repentance between Primrose Chigodora (left) and Mary Mhundu (right) of Seke Central United Methodist Church, Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe. After Muliliwana served a six-year jail sentence for theft, the congregation welcomed his return with celebration. UMNS photos by Priscilla Muzerengwa.
He passed the wide-open oak door and stepped into the church in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe.
Sadness and pity stared back at him. He longed for what could never be. He had to gather courage for true repentance.
Denford Muliliwana, a 33-year-old man released from jail after serving a six-year sentence, walked in. He wore rumpled, dark-green trousers and a white shirt with the top button undone. The eyes of the congregation were glued on him as it murmured the song of a returning prodigal son.
Elbows turned inward and shoulders shrugged, Muliliwana took one step at a time to the beat of the song. It took ages for him to walk down the aisle to the front. Even though he often looked down and closed his eyes with his hands, he could not stop the tears running down his cheeks.
The Rev. Archiford Muchingami, pastor of Seke Central United Methodist Church, stood to welcome him with a big smile and open arms. Muliliwana’s knees wobbled. He fell in front of the pastor who helped him up and hugged him. He sobbed on the pastor’s shoulder for a time and later was led to the pastor’s office.
After 15 minutes, he came out of the office dressed in an immaculate black suit, white cotton shirt, black-and-white tie and shiny black shoes. Hand in hand with the pastor, he walked to the front of the church.
Red-eyed, Muliliwana whimpered, “I sinned against Seke community especially Mrs. (Primrose) Chigodara and Mrs. (Mary) Mhungu. “I was hired as a security guard at the time when they were building their houses. I stole their building and electric material and sold them,” he continued.
The Rev. Archiford Muchingami (at right) and church leaders pray for Denford Muliliwana.
Shivering, he cried for forgiveness. “I come to you as a prodigal son. Please forgive me.”
The two women whose materials had been stolen emerged from the congregation and gave him a big hug. In tears, they both confirmed it was true. “We trusted Denford, and he betrayed us,” one said. “Because God forgave us, who are we to hold it against Denford? We forgive him, too.”
Sounds of joy filled the church, arms flailed upward, voices echoed in varying tones and the congregation sang songs of celebration.
Peter Mandianike, coordinator of the Prison Fellowship, facilitated this service, which was part of the project to integrate prisoners back into society.
“Prisoners are given an opportunity to interact with various churches, and ,in the end, they make a choice of their own,” Mandianike said. “It is our joy that prisoners who are released never come back again.”
“Seke Central United Methodist Church, we are giving you Denford. You are to look after him as his parents, assist him to stand by his decision to be a true United Methodist, get him a place to stay, look after his welfare, get him a job and see to it that he gets married,” said Mandianike in his speech.
The Divine Touch singers, a group of prisoners from Harare Central prison, graced the occasion with melodious songs that pleaded for forgiveness. Their music moved the congregation as it assured true repentance and built a platform for reconciliation to pave the way for acceptance into society. Muliliwana was part of this group when he was in jail.
Muliliwana was in jail from 2005 to 2011. The country went through an economic and political meltdown in 2008. Most service providers were nonfunctional. Basic commodities were scarce. Getting a meal a day was difficult because of inflation. People went to nearby countries to search for food. The situation was even worse in the prison, where many people were jailed because of political instability.
Church members invite Denford Muliliwana to join the choir and help him into his new choir robe.
“I went through sickness, and there was no medication, no food to eat, no water to drink, no clothes to wear or blankets. The situation became so bad that the dead and the living shared a bed,” Muliliwana testified. “I learned to live through good and bad times, and now, with your help, I would like to start afresh.”
His relatives were present to witness this occasion. “We never thought Denford was still alive. We thank God for his unconditional love and forgiveness,” said Tailor Machininga, Denford’s uncle.
The church welcomed Muliliwana with a choir gown, and he was asked to join the Seke Central church choir. A seed offering of $60 to equip Muliliwana was collected.
“We love you, and we shall continue to pray for you,” proclaimed Muchingami.
“We are proud that Muliliwana has made a wise a decision to turn back to Jesus. We shall surely support him,” said Emilia Naite, a Seke Central church member.
“We are all potential prisoners,” said Muchingami. “It is just that we have not been caught and sentenced. But our God is a forgiving God who wipes away all our sins when we come to him with all our hearts. Relatives, there is no traditional cleansing required for Denford. All he needs is support that he grows spiritually.”
United Methodists support a variety of ministries in Zimbabwe through The Advance.
*Muzerengwa is a United Methodist communicator for the Zimbabwe East Annual (regional) Conference.
News media contact: Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.