In what began as a casual conversation in between sessions at the 2016 “Truth Be Told” conference on biblical gender equality in South Africa, Mimi Haddad and I discussed gender-based violence in Southern Africa, especially Zimbabwe. CBE International, moved by the story of what was happening in Zimbabwe, engaged the Courtship and Marriage Foundation (CoMaFo) to create a partnership.
What Is CoMaFo?
Following the Joint Program Report funded by UN Women that confirmed Bindura, our home, had the highest level of gender-based violence and child marriages in Zimbabwe, a few Bindura pastors came together to tackle this vice and help restore communities back to the heart of God concerning love and marriage. God’s heart for equal worth and mutuality between men and women, with marriage as a divine covenant, had been replaced by greed, patriarchy, and abuse at unprecedented levels.
Overwhelmed by the burden of endless marital disintegration (divorce rates were higher than wedding rates), perennial heartbreaks among dating youths, and the inadequacies of the one-size-fits-all interventions by foreign organizations, a few other area pastors and I designed a home-grown approach to tackle the matters of the heart, and CoMaFo was born. At CoMaFo, we believe that strong marriages are in the cockpit of every meaningful socioeconomic development, hence our statement “Godly marriages make great communities.” We designed four programs:
1. Marriage Dynamics Today—a program for married couples focused on tackling topical issues faced by today’s couples, like dynamics of gender roles today, gender-based violence, and the marriage covenant, among other topics.
2. Iron Sharpens Iron—a special program for pastors and their marriages. We seek to strengthen their marriages first, then equip them with tools for effective marriage counseling. We then challenge them to put the message in their structures and pulpit. We now see women pastors emerging, and these pastors are also seeking counseling concerning their marriages. In 2019, following our lobbying and petition to parliament, the intended amendments to marriage laws that would effectively legalize extramarital affairs, polygamy, and sexual abuse were scrapped. Currently forty-two pastors are undergoing intense training to become biblical gender equality ambassadors.
3. Courtship Chemistry—a popular youth program that engages young people on relationships (dating or courtship) in a contemporary environment. This prepares them to have solid foundations for marriage. This has culminated in over six hundred youths being grouped into three WhatsApp chat platforms, among other channels. In 2020, as part of demonstrating their healing from the trauma of abuse, some of the survivors have volunteered to be part of the cast for a forthcoming marriage movie.
4. Boys to Men—a program that equips and engages men to become gentlemen who are secure and embrace gender equality. It also offers a platform for married men to “let off steam” and get real with their marital concerns. In the process, it builds confident and loving gentlemen in courtship and in marriage. A flagship annual soccer tournament involving fourteen denominations is held. This has attracted their spouses to form cheer or support groups during the tournament. They have since requested their own similar program; a new program, Girls to Women, is in the pipeline.
From a remote area of Bindura, the CoMaFo story is spreading like wildfire. In the last ten months we have been to four of the ten provinces in Zimbabwe, namely, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland, Midlands, and Bulawayo.
In 2020 the global pandemic of COVID-19 presented a new challenge in the form of lockdowns. However, for us, the “waters had broken,” and we had to think outside the box.
CoMaFo Interventions during COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdowns
While the world was preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, an invisible pandemic was quietly yet viciously invading homes. Marriages were at new high levels of distress, punctuated by increased levels of gender-based violence. Gatherings were banned, and people were in lockdown in homes with streets and offices closed, so we had to find a way to reach people. We needed to “invade” homes with the hope and love of God and reach out to distressed marriages. We had to come up with something from our homes.
1. Call Center. We established a 24/7 call center platform for responding to marital distress phone calls while at home. We published a poster on social media platforms (see below), and the response has been overwhelming, especially in the evenings. Initially the phone calls were few, but things changed when we began to offer a “call back” facility where a person without airtime (prepaid credit to phone) could send us a “call back” (voicemail) message, and then we phone them back. Most of the people in this category were women economically abused by husbands or families, who have totally exhausted their cash flows because they were self-employed (street vendors) and had no savings. As the lockdown days increased, we noticed an increase in the violence cases as well. By the third week of establishing the call center, we had handled over forty-one cases from married pastors (4), youths (14), and married couples (23).
2. Weekly audio messages. We produced weekly audio messages that we circulated to various WhatsApp groups we created. These were targeted at encouraging both married people and youths and sought to stimulate discussion about marriage and dating. Two couples on the verge of divorce have since reconciled, and one of the couples will renew their marriage vows at the end of lockdown.
3. Special WhatsApp groups.
- In response to our March 14, 2020, visit to Bulawayo (just before lockdown), a group of over four hundred youths organized big chat groups/conferences where they asked questions on courtship and marriage over a WhatsApp platform. Deborah (one of CBE’s partners in Uganda) has joined some of the platforms. Then, we would give audio or written responses. At the end we would give an address on a particular topic. We now host these chats and addresses every Wednesday and Friday for youths and every Saturday for married couples
- We also now handle two WhatsApp groups from South Africa, marking a CoMaFo entry into the sub-Saharan region.
4. Facebook articles. We produce weekly Facebook videos and written articles on various topics for both youth and married couples.
5. Food hampers. In response to some of the distress cases, which were prompted by food shortages/challenges in some families, counseling only proved insufficient. So, we scrounged around with a few food items we could access and shared with three families.
6. Request for special exemption letters. The pain of receiving distress calls and being unable to go to the scene was traumatizing. Given that pastors and churches were not classified under essential services by our government, the mobility of churches to respond to people’s needs was hampered. As the pressure mounted, there was a need to seek special exemption letters. Only I, from our call center pastors, was able to obtain a special exemption letter (quite recently) that allowed for the delivery of needed items at the gates of people’s homes.
7. Zoom board meeting. In the midst of all this, we still needed board guidance and decisions. The first 2020 Board of Trustees meeting was held via a Zoom platform on May 10, 2020.
For CoMaFo, COVID-19 is not a limitation but an opportunity, for with God all things are possible. With God, we are keeping people connected and continuing to carry out our mission to help restore communities back to the heart of God concerning love and marriage.
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