LONDON – Churches around the world responded Sunday to the call of the All African Conference of Churches for a day of prayer and fasting for Zimbabwe.
The day of prayer and fasting coincided with the conclusion of this year's annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, during which millions of Christians across all denominations traditionally pray to become one.
The British Methodist and United Reformed Churches were among the many Christian bodies backing the AACC call for prayer.
"With the eyes of the world's media now firmly fixed on the unfolding tragedy in Gaza, we need to be reminded of the immense pain and suffering that continues to haunt the people of Zimbabwe," said the Rev. John Marsh, moderator of the General Assembly of The United Reformed Church.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing the worst economic and humanitarian crisis since its independence from Britain nearly three decades ago. Food, medicine and most other basic goods are desperately scarce and, to add to the misery, waterborne cholera in recent months has spread quickly because city officials across Zimbabwe can no longer afford to pick up trash or buy chemicals to purify water, and most hospitals have closed. Cholera, which is easily prevented and treated, has killed nearly 3,000 Zimbabweans since August.
In rallying prayers from within his denomination, United Reform Church leader Marsh called on member churches to take part in the prayer day by commencing their services with the lighting of a candle and a minute's silence in prayer in solidarity with the people and churches of Zimbabwe.
Steve Hucklesby, public issues policy adviser for The Methodist Church, meanwhile, made clear his hope to see Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe relinquish power after ruling the country with an iron fist since its independence from Britain in 1980.
"We want a process that can bring about the longing of all Zimbabweans for a free and fair society," he said. "Robert Mugabe lost the presidential election. Zanu PF (Mugabe's party) came second in parliamentary elections. Mr. Mugabe must be prepared to relinquish power if Zimbabweans are to be free."
Last December, during its 9th General Assembly in Maputo, Mozambique, the AACC declared Jan. 25 a day of prayer and fasting for Zimbabwe.
In a far-reaching invitation, AACC's general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Andre Karamaga, asked all churches to join the day of prayer, insisting that the current regime is illegitimate and that political violence and intimidation were continuing. He also pointed to the devastating cholera outbreak and other problems, including crippling hyperinflation and food shortages.
"Indeed it is a time of need for Zimbabwe," Karamaga wrote. "May the Lord grant Zimbabwe light to break forth like the dawn and healing to quickly appear. May the Lord bless us all as we pray, fast for the end to the political crisis and resumption of normalcy in the lives of the people of Zimbabwe."
Other groups that encouraged Christians to join in the day of prayer and fasting included U.K.-based charity group Tearfund, which stressed how the need is "urgent."
"We can pray for a new hope around many urgent issues, especially as a new U.S. president steps up to multiple challenges," said International Director Peter Grant, acknowledging the transition of newly elected Barack Obama to the White House.
"Zimbabwe is one of these and we know that prayer can overcome injustice," Grant said. "As Christians and churches pray for Zimbabwe there remains the 'audacity of hope' for those whose single challenge this week is to survive."
Millions of Christians worldwide spent this past week praying for reconciliation within the broken body of Christ. The resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this year were drawn up by the Church of Korea and inspired by Ezekiel 37:15-28, when God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel and said "they shall be one in my hand... They will be my people and I shall be their God".
The annual week of prayer is a highlight of the ecumenical calendar and is traditionally celebrated between Jan. 18 and 25 in the northern hemisphere or at Pentecost in the southern hemisphere.
The suggested reading for the day of prayer and fasting for Zimbabwe was Isaiah 58:6-9. A special prayer was also compiled for the occasion, and reads:
God of power and truth,
May your peace rest with the restless of Zimbabwe
May your love inspire the hearts of all those who long and work for justice
May your healing touch the wounds of those suffering and bereaved
May your truth be spoken in dangerous places
May we not be idle in working, praying, longing and searching for your Kingdom in this broken world.
Christian Post reporter Eric Young in Washington contributed to this article.