A Great Festival in Zimbabwe – History Bit for June 18


Each June 18 in in the African nation of Zimbabwe, a festival is held to remember the service of Bernard Mizeki and his martyrdom on this date in 1896.  As recently as 2005, almost twenty thousand attended the festival at a time when Zimbabwe had massive food shortages and an unemployment rate of 80 percent!

As profiled in the book “Clouds of Witnesses” by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom[1], Mizeki found Christ, was baptized, and became a missionary under the influence of an Anglican order in Cape Town, South Africa.  He planted[2] a one-man mission among the Shona people in an area then known as Theydon, now part of Zimbabwe.  The Shona worshiped a creator-deity they called Mwari and sometimes practiced the killing of twin babies and the murder of those identified as sorcerers by their leaders.

Mizeki befriended Shona Chief Mangwende, learned their language in one year, translated key Biblical texts and Christian creeds, held Anglican services, and sought to reform the practices mentioned above.  He also identified with and invested in the Shona by marrying a Shona woman, teaching children and others to sing, and providing medical care.  His work prospered, and many came to believe.

However, opposition to his work began to grow, especially from those who saw his work as an assault on their culture and authority.  On the night of June 17th, 1896 he was assaulted in front of his home and had a spear driven into his side.  It seems Mizeki’s removal of some “sacred trees” was the last straw.  Then the account gets truly interesting.

Multiple accounts by Africans and Europeans attest to a “great and brilliant white light” and “a noise ‘like many wings of great birds’” around the hut where Mizeki was laid while his friends cared for him, seemingly near death.  There was a “strange red glow” around Mizeki’s hut and afterward his body was gone, never to be seen again. Jean Farrant, who documented witness accounts in her book on Mizeki, says each person must decide what to make of this, but that “something happened that night which to the Africans was beyond explanation, which frightened them very much, and left a deep impression”[3]  This event is still celebrated today, and others have taken up Mizeki’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria!


[1] Noll, Mark A.; Nystrom, Carolyn.  Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia (2011).  This post is drawn from chapter 1.
[2] John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
[3] Farrant, Jean.  Mashonaland Martyr: Bernard Mizeki and the Pioneer Church (1966).  P. 216-22.  Cited in Clouds of Witnesses P. 30.

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